Chuck Billy: Testament Touring With Diverse Lineups Is ‘Great for Metal’ [Interview]
Testament frontman Chuck Billy was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie’s weekend radio program. The singer discussed the songwriting dynamic behind the band’s newest record, Brotherhood of the Snake, touring with diverse metal lineups and more. Check out the chat below.
Brotherhood of the Snake is your 12th album. Is that crazy to hear that out loud?
Yeah, I know. [laughs]
There’s a Testament North American tour kicking off in April. You guys will have Sepultura and Prong. Let’s talk about the record, Brotherhood of the Snake, which was not an easy album for you personally to make.
Not at all.
How did a harder process force you to ultimately become better at what you do?
Well I think it was more of from the gut reaction to the song because by the time we got into the studio the songs weren’t even completed yet. Whatever was going on, me and Eric [Peterson, guitar] had been working on that record for it seemed like at least two years and over the two years I felt that we should have been moving along — the process along — much quicker.
You now there’s a little frustration and anger, a little stuff going into the recording of the record and I think, maybe on everybody’s part because everybody kind of went in blindfolded just with the riffs and parts of the song. But once we got in there, just maybe the pressure of having the pressure on and not being uncertain and kind of just going with your gut feeling maybe just drove everybody over the edge a little bit just to get a little bit more creative and just — fortunate we have Gene Hoglan [drums] and Steve DiGiorgio [bass] playing and they just did a great job on it and tore it up.
But you know, I think at the end of the day the product that finally came out, especially for the picks and song wise, the songs really did come together and what Eric ended up having, a lot of parts ended up being what they were. I just kind of worked around it where a lot of the time I’m really the one with Eric trying to change stuff and I’m going to sing over this riff and that. And this one I just said, “Just go for it right then and I’ll just jump in and do what I do.” And it all really came together by taking that approach and just kind of going for it. The record I felt is probably some of the strongest material we’ve wrote in a while.
Together this tour nicely showcases a broad range of metal.
Yeah, it’s great. It’s perfect timing. We haven’t been in the U.S. on this record. I always enjoy having Prong aboard. So I think it’s definitely going to be a little bit some good metal. Definitely a good bill to come see. And we’re fired up for it though. We’re looking forward to playing this new record for the U.S. fans we have. We actually started off the record over in Europe. Did a tour with Amon Amarth in October / November and we’re looking forward to this one here. We haven’t been fired up like this in a while. Just cause of the record, how it all ended up coming together.
Chuck what keeps you exposed and open minded to new and different subgenres of music?
One is just whatever moves me, it’s always about that first and foremost. As far as what we do, I don’t know if we try to take what genre is out there and put it into Testament. I think Eric kind of stays on course with what he’s always done. He stays pretty true to what he likes and gets creative with. He’s really into black metal, so we knew that this record going into it we wanted it to be a thrash record and I think we definitely made Gene Hoglan really kick it up a couple notches from the last record for sure.
You talked about the European tour you did with Amon Amarth. What do you like the many different directions bands like Amon Amarth have taken metal?
I think it’s great. I just see the fanbase. Definitely when we were on that tour, it’s a different fanbase than, I don’t know, thrash metal style fans. But it was great for us just cause I kept seeing for us — fortunately we’ve seen kind of that generation change from people that have been started with us bring their grandchildren to shows now younger than that. I think it’s great for bands like that because there are new bands out there and they are making a name for themselves. And I think it’s great for metal, it’s great for bands like us that are still around putting out records like we do.
Testament have two very different guitar players in Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick. What makes their combination of different styles ideal for you and the sound of your voice?
Well, I know because Alex — he’s a brilliant player. I think he definitely doesn’t try to walk on Eric’s rhythm. He tries to do his thing, his part, what Eric does which definitely sometimes inspires some vocal melodies because Alex is pretty melodic. That definitely inspires the melody vocally as well. But Alex definitely, since he’s come back in ’05 and the reunion — I knew right away the first day he came back in rehearsal, that was the missing element and tone and feeling that was missing from day one that I remember. He really does fill that void as far as that original Testament sound.
You guys have been doing this for a long time now, Chuck. What changes and what’s the same about your attitude and approach to making music once you’re in an established and respected band compared to when you guys were kids fighting to be heard?
You know I never knew that that would ever change and he and I go back to once I got over the cancer and had the reunion with the original guys. I think that was definitely a turning point for me personally, the way I felt. I just had that sense of confidence with all the guys back together. We were touring and playing harder that we were than the prior to that.
What are the plans beyond the upcoming tour?
We’re gonna go back to Europe of course. But we’re gonna tour a little bit lighter than last year. Last year we did four trips to Europe, that was quite a lot. We’ll go back and just do a few shows in August and July, then we have a big headline tour planned in October / November through Europe. After that, hopefully come back and tour the States again one more time, either headliner or support slot would be great.
Thanks to Chuck Billy for the interview. Grab your copy of Testament’s ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’ at Amazon or digitally through iTunes and keep up with everything the band is doing by following their Facebook page. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show at this location.
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