Steve DiGiorgio is known for recognizable bass playing on several outputs and bands such as Death, Sadus, Sebastian Bach and the list goes on. He has been chosen one of the most influential bass players in the music world a number of times. Besides being the Testament member, he is also involved in a couple of projects; Gone In April and Spirit Of Fire. Above all Spirit Of Fire is such an exciting project consisting of well-known names; Chris Caffery, Tim Ripper Owen, and Mike Zonder. However Metal-Rules.Com has sat down with Steve Digiorgio a couple of times before, but once again we sat down with the legendary bass player and talked about Testament, those projects and if the new Sadus album is finally in the works…
Interview by Arto Lehtinen and Marko Syrjala / Live pics by Marko Syrjala
Welcome to Finland again.
Thank you. Good to be back.
We heard that you and Alex spent last night at Tavastia. How was it? Did you meet the guys from King Crimson?
I met all the guys, they’re nice. I took a picture with the one I care about. That was awesome. Thanks for the reference. The news, heads-up, whatever you say. Yeah. Because I didn’t know the show was going on. So I was planning on spending a quiet night at the hotel being bored. So that was a nice alternative. I told Alex, and we went. Yeah, it was cool. Apparently, it’s kind of a legendary club. So it was nice to see it. Every city has their hot spot, where the bands go. So, it was cool, all the way around. Very mellow, very polite audience. We’re used to a metal show, and that’s fine, because when it’s time we know what to expect, but you need time away from it. So to go to a show like that, where everybody is just not the metal way. It’s refreshable, it’s nice. But then the show was over so fast; we had time to shoot down the street and join the Trivium guys. Yeah. So it was a pretty busy night off.
So you didn’t have that peaceful night then?
No. We stayed there for a while. Watched the show and then we got into the metal crowd.
THE CURRENT BROTHERHOOD TOUR
This is the second leg of the tour, as you started with Death Angel and Annihilator in the fall. So I think this has been quite a success. It was all sold out in the mid-Europe, and I think this is going the same way.
Yeah. So far I think this is only the 5th show of this part. So it still feels like it’s beginning, but so far across Sweden and Norway, the shows have all been excellent. So yeah, you’re right. It’s a good package deal, and it seems to be the only way to tour in these years. It’s not like the main headliner guitar, all the teaching and then two or three bands that are trying to work your way up. It’s not like that anymore. Now you have at least two, maybe three bands that are kind of older, veteran experience level and you have to put it together like that. Because everything is just more expensive and more of a production, and it’s just the way you have to adapt to the times. So I’m pretty lucky that in 2016, we supported two big bands, with Slayer and Amon Amarth. That helped build the level of the band up, while this new album was coming out. So after the release, we were ready to go out on our headlining tour. We took Sepultura and Prong and then later Death Angel, Annihilator and Vader to tour with us. So far so good, hopefully, it keeps going. I mean the main thing is that the fans are happy and they get really excited when they see a flyer or advertisement with so many good bands. So that’s the first step to a good show.
We just counted yesterday that it’s been 18 years since Testament played a headline show in Finland.
I survived long enough to come back. Yeah. As you said, this is our first show inside of a building in Helsinki since then, since 2000. That’s okay. We come back to Finland all the time. We play Tuska and all the outdoor festivals and stuff. There is nothing wrong with that either. Finland is maybe not part of every single European tour, but we come here pretty frequently.
From a fan’s point of view, of course, I always love to see Testament, and I have seen most of your festivals and shows as well. But of course, indoor shows are different, because then you have time for more songs and some obscure stuff as well.
In the combination of playing indoors and headlining. A festival, even a headliner, probably doesn’t play for less than two hours. So yeah, you’re right. This is a proper Testament concert. So we’ve been getting off stage by an hour and forty-something, like that. So it’s kind of good variety, the set-list is indeed spanning.
Testament has a huge back catalog of songs, so what kind of process is to build the setlist nowadays?
Yeah. It’s never easy because it starts with the band members. What we want to play and we discuss what makes sense. Balancing what the fans would like to hear and what we’re able to reproduce. So some songs have kind of lost their time, and they’re stuck in the past, some songs we can drag out and bring life into them. When you have a band like this for so many years, there are so many albums. There is always that element of you can’t leave a show without certain songs or certain classics, that people always want to hear. So, there is a bunch of categories and you just kind of fill them in and everybody talks, and eventually just kind of works out. Then sometimes we’ve even planned on highlighting a specific song, and it just doesn’t work for some reason. Like we’re not playing smoothly, or the cloud is not reacting. So when you have 3,000 songs like this bit, it’s easy just to put another one.
RETURN TO TESTAMENT AND WORKING WITH GENE HOGLAN
You spent close to seven years with the band between 1998 and 2005. When you were asked to come back in 2014, your former colleague from Death, Gene Hoglan, was also a part of the band. How was it to get to play with Gene again?
Yeah. In my previous run, we went through a few dramas. They’re all good in their own ways, but nobody really felt like they own that position. They just felt like, “How long are we going to last until we get another one?” Then during one time away from the band, Gene came back himself, and he was there when I came back. So I mean that helped make the decision really easy for me. But in my time away, everything about the band had gone up a level, everything. Not only the album sales and the kind of popularity of the band but just everything internally in the way it’s run. It’s a little more professional; they have agencies doing a lot of business. Where when I was in, it was one guy doing everything. The main manager. They have accountants and booking agents, and it’s done very well. Everything runs smoother. It’s more professional, the state of production got bigger. Just everything came up. So it was cool. I have all the memories with these guys, but when I came back, it was like starting in a new place with the old band.
You and Gene, you definitely have a kind of special chemistry when you’re playing together. How is your common history and when you first learned to know each other?
We made friends from the interaction of Dark Angel and Sadus. So we knew each other personally, and we shared a stage in our own bands. But when Chuck pulled us together in Death, was the first time we got to play as a rhythm section in the same band. You can hear on that album; it wasn’t just you do your part, I’ll do my part. We made a part together. So we continue that growth on the tours of those years, on stage and there was a lot of experimenting and stretching things differently than we recorded one album. That’s what I appreciated, not only with any drummer but especially in a death metal context. It’s not really so much room for improvisation and spontaneity in death metal, but we made it happen every night. So we knew we had a cool connection and since we… After we no longer played in Death, we obviously kept in great touch and visited each other and communicated. But it was weird that, and as much as we tried, especially Gene really tried to hook us up in the same project. It really didn’t happen until we both came back to Testament, 23 years later or something. So that’s pretty amazing when you can create something and then 23 years later just pick up like you were just there.
So you did something right then “Laughs.”
I guess. There is kind of on average when it comes to humans; you’re able to work together and have this connection at an average level. Then below the average, there is this way of not working out. Then of course on top of the average, there is just this super harmonious flow and meaning that big guy has it and it’s great. So we’re enjoying both being back. Actually, Eric and Chuck have stuck with the band the entire time, but Alex had to come back. Gene came back; I came back. So all of us returning. Alex, of course, is an original guy who came back, but he was gone for many years. So all three of us have returned to the band. So maybe that makes it a little more special at this age. We’re older, but we don’t have anybody young or inexperienced in the group.
I was thinking one thing, have you ever worked with Alex Skolnick before?
Not live. We had a brief time where we did the album that we re-did the old songs, the FIRST STRIKE. That wasn’t really… Not that any album really is recorded with the whole band at the same time, but that’s when we first got to meet them and work on some music that he did. So that was kind of official, I got to work with them. But until I came back at the beginning of ’14, that’s pretty much the first time that I got to be with them every day.
How familiar were you with the former Testament bassist Greg Christian. Do you know each other in person?
We’re friendly with each other. I think we’ve met maybe three or four times in our entire lives. I don’t know. That’s not to the exact quote. But my point is, we have met just a couple of times, I’ve run into him. He’s been nothing but the nicest, sweetest guy to me. I’ve got along great with him and returned the kindness. Being a bass player, we’ve never had to work with each other. So I don’t really know the extent of his history. I know his bass playing very well. He plays bass lines all the time, but yeah. The official answer is we don’t really know each other, but when we have met in the past, he’s been super kind. He seems like a very friendly person, but I’ve met him just so few times in my life. So I don’t really have much to say about him, except for that little bit that he’s nice.
THE GATHERING AND DAVE LOMBARDO
When Testament did THE GATHERING album, you had James Murphy and David Lombardo in the band. What kind of process was it to work with those guys? Because David Lombardo has his reputation as a Slayer and Grip Inc drummer?
Right before joining Testament at that time, for me, I was working on James Murphy’s second solo album. So we were already kind of in a process. I met them way back in the day when we were little death metal guys. So I knew him pretty good and that particular summer I was seeing a lot of him. So when I got brought into Testament, it was kind of just caring. So with James, it was pretty smooth. Having been kind of pretty good friends with him for years and working on other music stuff with him. Dave was brand new; I never met him. I never saw him in person. I saw Slayer a hundred times but never got to sit down next to the drummer. So I had to get used to that. In fact, I came on really early in that cycle. So we did a lot of rehearsal and early versions of the song. Working out different ideas how the songs would finally be. So for some days, it was just me Eric and Dave in a practice room just like the old days. Just, hey. What if we did this part like this and I’ll change it over here. It was working like that. At the end of the day, you put your stuff away, you get your car, and drive home and I found myself driving home and, wow, I am working with the Slayer drummer. So it was cool to have that. But Dave’s a unique person. He has a really strong ability to be creative, but he doesn’t stay. He’s always creating that sometimes he kind of didn’t remember what he did a few days before, because he’s just ready to do the next thing. Yeah. It’s kind of like a dog without a leash. He’s a great drummer, and he goes straightforward, but it’s like it was a lot of work. I’m trying not to say anything cruel about him. But it was in a period for Dave when he was out of Slayer, and he was kind of looking for a home. As you said, he was doing Grip, and in those days he had just started a band called Fantomas. His manager was hooking him up with any kind of job he could find. We had to postpone production for awhile, while he went running and performed Vivaldi Classical Symphony music with death metal drums all speed thrash, whatever. So he was doing all the different projects, and we knew, he knew. We all understood from the beginning that his time in Testament was very temporary. That he agreed to do the album and then when we had an offer to do a US tour, right on the release of the album, they asked him if he would stay just for that. He said, okay. So it’s like that tour was like an extension of his commitment. So once that tour was done, he was gone. But that was by plan. So he wasn’t fully invested in the band mentally. So that part, it was a novelty to have a Slayer’s drummer, and it was definitely cool. It was definitely something I always remember. But he was in and out and like I said; then we had Jon Dette and Steve Jacobs and Jon Allen, Nick Barker, Paul Bostaph. A lot of drummers coming, but never found a position.
At that time when Lombardo was in the band, Paul Bostaph played with Slayer, and it was a kind of public competition between those two, or what you think about?
I suppose. Maybe stupid people thought that way, but nobody would ever take the crown off Dave’s head. He was doing that stuff when we were all in high school. So just like all the youth, not only in music and musicianship level and technology and anything. The youth is able to take what’s there and just make it better. So it’s like that in music. The young people come up, and they do what we did five times faster, five times better and all the technical and everything. But it doesn’t matter, because you have your space and time, where no one else can take that from you in that state. It was really cool after seeing him bounce around all these different projects and be not so kinglike in Testament. That when he returned to Slayer and went to a big arena and watched him play and we all just nodded at each other. He’s got our respect back. He was just crashing it. So still Dave Lombardo.
We saw him last summer with Suicidal Tendencies, and he was still kicking ASS!
You remember the old Slayer interviews when they discussed their influences. Because when thrash and speed metal was kind of newly created, they always wanted to know what the impacts are because the style of music is so new and Dave would always talk about DRI and punk. The guitars maybe were more into like Priest and Venom, like more the metal stuff. But Dave always said, punk, punk. So when he’s in Suicidal, he probably feels like that’s part of his upbringing.
It was easy to see that he loved to play that stuff.
Yeah, sure. It’s not super confusing that he’s doing that. As I said, he’s very creative and always likes to move forward.
THE FUTURE OF TESTAMENT?
It’s close to two years since Testament released the album BROTHERHOOD OF THE SNAKE. Do you have plans for the next one, because you used to have really long breaks between the albums?
Yeah. Of course, we talk. Like first it starts with, “Are we going to do another album?” Then everybody says, “yeah. I think we could do another one.”
Well, are you saying that there was an option where the band wasn’t going to do more albums in the future? Were you afraid of the overall state of record sales or were the other reasons?
No. I’m sure that’s a big reason when that is an issue, but the last album did excellently. As far as current standards, but its relative. Because everyone is having the same new standard, new issues. But no, it’s not like there was any kind of doubt of the success or anything. In fact the opposite. The album charted so high in many, many countries. It was Sweden’s number one album. So, there is lot’s of reasons why and why not to make a new album; there are a lot of reasons. Especially when you get up to this age.
So you’re kind of saying that you thought if you want to do this the next five years from now
Yeah. You can’t ever assume that it’s guaranteed, you have to start with it. But it went pretty fast, and everybody said, “Yeah. Why not? Let’s do it.” So we have to balance out and try to stay busy and to support the record, and also have time at home to get away from touring. Allow your mind to be creative and come over something new, to where the graph won’t suddenly die, and nobody cares about you anymore.
I have seen within the past five or six years that the popularity of this kind of stuff is rising again and there are more people at shows nowadays. Imagine, when you played in Nosturi eighteen years ago, and it wasn’t even close to sold out, and now we have close to 1500 people in the house, and you will also have more than 1000 tickets sold already tomorrow in Tampere.
Cool. That’s nothing but good news, for a band that’s been going over 30 years.
I think that doing this still wins over instead of going to work in a factory when you have an option to choose.
Of course. We all know that. Yeah, keep buying those records. It’s more about the ticket sales these days
I read somewhere that the drummer of Exodus said it sometimes feels like they’re nowadays more traveling merchandise salespeople than real musicians on tour. Do you ever feel that way?
I don’t feel like it, but I acknowledge that that’s the way it is. I still feel like the real musician. Whether it’s real or not, I don’t know. But that’s how I feel.
PROJECTS AND INFLUENCES
When speaking about you, that you’re more or less a metal guy, but you also like different kinds of music, like Jazz and stuff like that. Where do you get influences when you’re playing? Because you have or have had so many different projects.
The other current projects are pretty good variety. I don’t know. To me, it’s like this kind of we need a better creche because we keep using the same one, but it works for this purpose. So, music is a whole tree and the different styles are just the branches, and you can cross over to the different branches of it. That’s what I mean. I wish there were a better way of saying it than it sounds so intelligent, but really it’s all music. That’s just all different versions of the same music. Gone in April, Spirits Of Fire, still have double bass. It still has power chords, that’s just arranged and decorated differently. So metal, metal. Jazz, metal, progressive metal, whatever.
How do you adjust yourself to playing different bands and different projects, because basically, the people around you are changing all the time then? Is it easy for you to play with different people all the time?
I got exposed to it at a young age, and it worked, fortunately. So I guess I have always been kind of a chameleon. You know the lizard who can change whatever color he’s walking on. So I can just go to music and become that and go to a different one and just change right away. So it keeps me really busy, and I’m lucky.
As far as Spirits Of Fire is concerned, we spoke about Spirit Of Fire last summer. It’s very interesting project, but how did it start in the first place?
That’s definitely a project. The beginning is really simple. The record company, Frontiers Music from Italy. They’ve done this a few times before, quite a few times. They just pick musicians that they want and put them in a group, and the results have been everything from the complete shit, failure. All the way up to the musicians decide to keep it going and become kind of sideband or a new band and keep releasing music.
They like to sell the well-known names.
Sure. Like I said, sometimes names are just names, and they’re not cohesive and sometimes they are something else. We have yet to see; this project is not finished yet. I guess their foons of us was kind of this American metal thing and they envision something.I think their directive from the beginning was just… It wasn’t a strict rule, but it was just a quick guideline, just to be something kind of like Judas Priest meets Savatage. Just like classic style metal. Because of Chris Caffery in Savatage and Ripper in Priest. But they said, obviously when you get together. Whatever comes out, it’s okay. Because that’s why we put you together, we want something cool. So Chris Caffery and Roy Z wrote all the songs, and I’m sure Ripper did the vocal. Ripper probably wrote with Roy Z together. It took quite awhile for it to get started because everybody is in their own bands touring around. So I think eventually somebody finally said, all right. “If we’re going to do this, we better stop and do it.” I think that the final recordings were finished in January probably. I don’t know. I know that it’s in the mixing phase right now. It’s probably really close to being finished. I’ve been traveling around, so I haven’t been in touch every day with what’s going on. But it’s getting really close to finally coming together and being finished. We recorded I think 13 songs and I think they only wanted like 10 or 11 for the album. So there might be a couple that they… Or maybe they’ll save them for later as more structure or something. I don’t know. But it’s finally done. I haven’t heard anything finished and polished. I know my part and the drums very well, and I’ve heard some examples of the songs, but for the whole album, I’ve only heard such a small percentage. So we’ll see.
How would you describe your relationship and friendship with Ripper? You have done lots of stuff together over the years.
We’re really, really long distance friends. We’ve only been in the same place so few times. But yeah, we’ve done all the Charred Walls album together and now this Spirits Of Fire project we’ve done together. So it’s just one of those relationships where it’s basically done through email and our music.
And that’s why all your band photos are made with Photoshop “Laughs.”
Yeah. Everybody lives in a different part of the country, the drummer Mark Zonder live in California, but even so, we’re seven-hour drive distance apart. Mark was excellent throughout the project, the Spirit Of Fire project. We’ve met in person a few times, but mostly in the past. But having to do projects that are so remote, where the guitars are in New York, and the drums are down in Los Angeles, and I’m up in Bay Area. It’s all about email, but it’s as warm and nice as you can be with an email. That’s Mark. You could just sense that he’s just a real passionate guy, but it was great to work with him in that regard. I wish we could set up in a room like the old days and play and have a connection, but that was impossible. So the next best thing just has a good relationship. Yeah. So I talked to Chris and Roy and Ripper, and we all exchanged ideas. But Mark and I had to have some kind of connection, having that rhythm section down. So he did a really good job, keeping a line connected to us. So I really appreciate Mark in the project. He’s an awesome guy.
BEING A SESSION MUSICIAN
When you were doing so many projects all the time, I think that most of the stuff that you’re doing, you’re doing is like one-off pay off things as a freelancer. When you do the session, you get paid for your work, and then you move to the next one, right?
Of course, yeah. Once in a while, there is like what we call like a free job, but they’re based on exchange. Like I’ll record for you this time, but I’m going to need you later for the same price which is zero. But if you do that all the time, you can’t…
You can’t make a decent living that way.
Yeah. There is so much involved. Food and mortgage and everything.
What was the worst offer you’ve got in your career so far? Have there been many “zero offers”?
Yes but, I mean zero is not a bad offer like I said if you set an understanding in the beginning.I’ve gotten so many bad offers, it’s hard to even pick one out of the cloud. I don’t know now. Just like anything in life, you just laugh at the bad and move on with the good. So whatever.
So, you don’t want to remember the bad ones anymore?
I can remember, but we don’t need to dwell on them. To be 50 years old and still have offers and be requested to play bass tracks for bands – I had never thought when I was younger that it would exist at this point, for the fact that I’m pretty, pretty busy. I just make it sure I keep doing a good job and just be so thankful for it. Because not that I don’t want to get super depressing and say I see the end coming, but there is a logical age where you can’t physically do what you did as a young man. So, while I’m still with this ability, I’m just going to focus on the positive side of it. Then maybe when I turn into an old granny man as you said, get really nasty. We’ll just talk about all the bad offers and all the bad drummers in the world.
Steve, our time is up now but one more question. Is there anything going on with Sadus?
But someone recently posted a teaser or trailer about new Sadus album?
Not someone. That was Darren. It was only three guys, and I was one of them.
What’s up with that? Are you serious working on the new Sadus stuff?
Those two guys have been working on the new stuff for a long time. I have been busy. So, we haven’t come together. We haven’t really talked about much with me, those two guys. Yeah. But I haven’t had a chance. So from my point of view, I really don’t know anything. From their point of view, they could tell you all their new ideas, all their new plans. But I’ve just been really busy with like he said, paying jobs. This is always on the ground, building back up. Always starting over it. Step one, sailors never had a flow. We would have a peak. New ideas, new album, shows and then when it’s all over we go away for a long time. Then when we decide to do something new, start over from the beginning again. So I don’t know. The last time we were together and did anything was 2009. So this year is making it nine years that all of us did it. As I said, those two guys have been working on something together. So I don’t know.
Okay. Thank you, Steve.
Thank you, guys. It was great.
PICTURES FROM TESTAMENT SHOW IN HELSINKI 2018