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Voice Of Experience: An Interview With TESTAMENT Frontman CHUCK BILLY

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Monday, March 23, 2015 @ 6:50 PM

“I'll do TESTAMENT until my throat falls out. As long as I can have fun and do it, I'll keep doing it.”

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Live Photo By Junkman

Before they begin work in earnest on something new, Bay Area behemoths TESTAMENT will be giving the old-school one last whirl for a while. The band is set to embark on the Dark Roots Of Thrash Tour II with fellow Bay Area veterans EXODUS – with several-time ex-frontman, and original TESTAMENT (then LEGACY) vocalist, Steve “Zetro” Souza now back behind the mic – and newcomers SHATTERED SUN in April. The tour will feature TESTAMENT showcasing its first two albums, The Legacy and The New Order, with a few tunes from the third, Practice What You Preach, thrown in to round the set out.

From there, it's off to Europe for festival shows then, if the stars align, TESTAMENT – vocalist Chuck Billy, guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick, bassist Steve Di Giorgio (who replaced original bassist Greg Christian last year) and drummer Gene “The Atomic Clock” Hoglan – will begin recording, or at least finish the songwriting, for the follow-up to 2012's Dark Roots Of Earth, which nearly landed the band in the Billboard Top 10. At least that's the plan for now, and, as Billy noted during a recent interview, plans can always change.

Betwixt and between, Billy also will be handling the behind-the-scenes affairs of both EXODUS and SHATTERED SUN, along with SOILWORK - much as he has been doing for a while with TESTAMENT - as part of Breaking Bands LLC, a management company he formed last year with Adrenaline PR CEO Maria Ferrero and former MegaForce Records and Crazed Management owners Jon and Marsha Zazula. This same team helped launch TESTAMENT with The Legacy album nearly 30 years ago.

On the phone from Northern California, Billy spoke about his new gig, his long-time gig and what we might expect from the next TESTAMENT album, whenever that may be.

KNAC.COM: I wanted to start by talking about Breaking Bands since that's been up and running for a year or so now. How has the experience been for you, working on the other side of the equation, as it were?

BILLY: It's been real busy. We've been taking on more bands pretty quick throughout that year. It's been fun, it's been good working with Jonny and Maria. I think we've got a pretty good team. The first year went by quick (laughs). But if you're busy and it goes by quick, I guess a that's good thing. For me, the management, the Breaking Bands thing, was kind of a natural thing. I've been doing it for 28 years and went through a lot from being on the road to being in a lot of deals, so I can see it from a band member being on the road and not just from a management standpoint.

KNAC.COM: Working with people you've known and have worked with since you first got started has got to be pretty gratifying. The way the music business is, it's rare that relationships like that last for nearly 30 years.

BILLY: Yeah. It's working and it's friendship, which is cool. It's the best of both words and like you said, it's stood the test of time. It's a good thing with everything we bring to it. We didn't know how it was going to go, but so far it has been a good experience. You learn something new every day.

KNAC.COM: Other than the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day, and you're obviously also are quite busy with TESTAMENT, what has been the biggest challenge so far?

BILLY: For me, coming from the band side of it, being in the band and doing what I've done with them to negotiating for other acts is something that has been a bit of a challenge. There's a balance there that takes some getting used to. I've been involved with just about everything with TESTAMENT for a long time, and we've had our own company [Burnt Offerings] for over 20 years, so I think I've got a pretty good handle on the business side of things. It always seems like when it comes to technical questions or on the road questions, I'm the one that everyone seems to be calling (laughs). It's just now there are other bands calling too.

KNAC.COM: I guess if anyone was perfect for the role of management it would be you, since you have been through just about every imaginable thing with TESTAMENT over the years?

BILLY: Yeah, we've been through a few labels and merch companies, we've had some good times and some lean times. There definitely has some struggle along the way.

KNAC.COM: And all the lineup changes and dealing with your cancer a while back and a bunch of other bumps in the road, yet here you still are.

BILLY: Yeah, life's good right now. We're living good right now. Working on some new music, we're still chipping away at that.

KNAC.COM: Where do things stand with that right now? There were some studio shots of you and Eric not so long ago?

BILLY: Me and Eric are working a lot on it together because the other guys are out on the road with their other projects [Alex Skolnick with his trio and Steve De Giorgio and Gene Hoglan with DEATH TO ALL]. We haven't worked the songs we've worked on with the group yet. Me and Eric are just demoing stuff together. Gene will fly up and do some drum tracks and me and Eric will do the rest. But I'd say we're more than halfway into the record, but we're always tweaking. We don't want to rush it, we don't want to be in a hurry, so we sit on it, listen to it, tweak it. Right now, with us getting ready to go on tour, we thought we'd get out, take a breath and get together as band, because all of us will be together for the first time since the last tour, and we can home in on some of the stuff that me and Eric have been working on, bring it to the guys. We'll have a lot of time on tour, at sound check and on the bus, so there will be a lot of time spent going over what me and Eric have done demo-wise. So we'll accomplish two things at once, we're doing the shows and we're together working on the new record. KNAC.COM: I guess it's fitting that you're bringing out EXODUS on this tour, now that Steve Souza is back in the band and you're actually managing them?

BILLY: We've been trying to get us and EXODUS to tour together for quite a number of years. We've talked about it but never seemed to be able to work it out, so it's finally happened and we're all psyched about that. It's gonna be fun, it will be good to go out on the road with those guys. We're going to go out and play our classics, we'll be doing The Legacy and The New Order, so that will be pretty fun, bring back some old memories on those old tracks.

KNAC.COM: Any plans for Steve to guest appearances, since he had a hand in some of that material?

BILLY: Oh yeah, I'm sure some nights Zet will come out and do a few songs. That whole first album, The Legacy, Zet helped write a lot of those songs. So don't be too surprised if you see him come out and join us.

KNAC.COM: The last time you were on tour with EXODUS you both were opening for MEGADETH and both did retro sets, are they going to be doing that on this tour as well?

BILLY: I think they are just doing a straight set. They been on the road for Blood In Blood Out, so they actually have something kinda new to support (laughs). So they're focusing on that, as they probably should.

KNAC.COM: As far as Breaking Bands go, they're not a bad first client to have?

BILLY: Yeah. They'd been talking and working with Maria, and when we started the company they were a logical first client. Of course, they knew us and we knew them real well, so it made sense. And it's kind of grown from there.

KNAC.COM: The other band on the bill is SHATTERED SUN, another client of yours. You're kind of throwing those guys to dogs, asking a relative unknown to open for you and EXODUS, aren't you?

BILLY: It will be good for them. You've got to start somewhere, this will be their first big national tour and first full album release. They're signed to Victory Records. It's gonna be a good time for them. I'm happy for them because I remember when I was 21-22 years old jumping in a van and going across the country on our first time tour. Good times (laughs). It's exciting, it's fun and I get to actually see them and be with them on their first trip, so it will be a cool deal.

KNAC.COM: I don't know how audiences will take to them, since they have more of a metalcore thing going on. Hopefully they will have a thick skin if people aren't really into them and you won't have to spend all of your time consoling them?

BILLY: No, no. They're big boys, they're ready to rock. They're ready to bring it, so they're up for it. They're ready and they're excited and hopefully they're gonna win some people over. I think they will.

KNAC.COM: Another act you're managing now is FORREST DAY, who I don't know anything about other than they are not metal, are you looking to find more acts like that and branch out?

BILLY: Yeah. To a certain extent. It all comes down to whatever floats your boat. Forrest is one of the artists that we've seen, that we know, who is a hell of a singer, songwriter. He plays saxophone and he is just a great artist, so we've been working with him and hopefully he'll be releasing his record sometime this year. But we just started working with SOILWORK as well, so you could say we're on more familiar ground with them.

KNAC.COM: I assume FORREST DAY will probably not be going out on the road with you?

BILLY: No, they are a whole different thing (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Just like with EXODUS, it's cool to see SOILWORK getting a boost after all these years.

BILLY: They're a great band, They've been good friends of mine for many years, Bjorn [Strid, frontman] especially. It's been good, they're keeping us busy for sure. They're working on a new record right now, they are in the studio recording it.

KNAC.COM: When will you guys actually start the physical recording of your new album?

BILLY: Well, in a perfect world, hopefully when we're done with this tour. We start this American tour, we have about eight days off in between, and then we go to Europe. But after that, we're leaving it open. Our plan is that hopefully we will spend enough time together and we will have it all worked out so we can just go right into the studio right after Europe. In June, July or August. In a perfect world (laughs).

The whole business is getting more difficult, and you've got to choose the right time and when to go because your livelihood depends on it. I wish we had a record now that we were out supporting, but that's not the case, we've still got to get out there and play. I think it's gonna be great, though, don't get me wrong. We're looking forward to it.

KNAC.COM: Will you be working with Andy Sneap again this time?

BILLY: I think so, but you never know. I think that's the plan, but you never can predict when plans might change. He knows our sound by now. The first record we worked a lot with him, but the last one we just let him have at it and he did a great job.

KNAC.COM: I saw somewhere descriptions of the new material as Gathering-like, is that an accurate take?

BILLY: Well it's definitely faster than Dark Roots. It's like “True American Hate” fast, thrashy stuff, a lot of blast beats in there. I think we've done different records every record we've done, so again this one is a little bit different. It's great for me because I love the challenge because there's some different timings for me to sing and some challenging parts I've got to come up with.And hopefully when we get on the road and start jamming on a lot of these songs they'll start coming to life live for me and maybe I'll find my way through them a little easier, too. That's what I'm looking forward to. Just working it out out there.

KNAC.COM: Steve played on The Gathering, so it seems fitting he's back for this album, if it has that vibe. It seems like it was pretty smooth transition from Greg back to him?

BILLY: Oh yeah, shoot, he's been with us for a year already. He rejoined us for the Soundwave Festival in Australia last year and just locked right in. It's good to have him back.

KNAC.COM: You'll be focusing on your early albums on this tour, and you've done a few tours where you've done old albums, will this be the last time for that type of nostalgia treatment?

BILLY: Well, if anything, I'd say it's the last time we do these records: The Legacy and The New Order. Me and Eric have talked about it and shit I'd love to do The Gathering album in its entirety or Dark Roots or Formation in its entirety. Those records are fucking killer. Those records would be fun to play in their entirety. We have never done that yet, so if there's any nostalgia thing or doing that kind of thing, that's what I'd want to do next instead of doing the old school stuff. But, hopefully, there's inspiration when we're going to be rehashing some of the old school classic stuff that maybe someone like Alex can re-interpret in to some newer songs or vibe. Who knows. Hopefully something will come from it.

KNAC.COM: To get back to what you've been doing with Breaking Bands, I'm assuming that's something you'll be looking to do more as a full-time thing once TESTAMENT calls it a day, whenever that may be. Have you given much thought to the band's future?

BILLY: Well, as far as the band's future goes, no, not really. But I would imagine that would be a next step, or a plan [to do management full time]. You've gotta have a plan (laughs). I'll do TESTAMENT until my throat falls out. As long as I can have fun and do it, I'll keep doing it. But we'll see, because I can't speak for everyone else.

KNAC.COM: Lastly, I did an interview a couple weeks with Nergal from BEHEMOTH who had health issues similar to yours, how has your health been? I haven't read or seen anything about it for a long time, so I'm assuming no news is good news?

BILLY: Yeah, so far so good. I still get my checkups and blood tests and everything's turned out good, so knock on wood. I feel good, I've got plenty of energy, which I'm gonna need on this tour because of the old school stuff. It's gonna be a good time.

KNAC.COM: Cool, that's good to hear. I'm looking forward to seeing you guys in D.C., I was psyched when you added the show here on that last batch of new dates.

BILLY: That's the Silver Spring show, right? I found out we're actually be doing a live stream of that show. It's the one show on the tour that's going to be live streamed. That'll be cool, that'll be fun. Everyone can watch that one.

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