Chuck Billy (Testament) Interview

Chuck Billy (Testament) Interview

21st May 2016 0 By Jon Deaux

Chuck Billy (vocalist with thrash legends Testament) graciously took time out of his busy schedule to sit & have a chat with AATR about the past, present & future of Testament.

You’re due out on tour very shortly. Who actually decides where you tour?

It’s down to our agent & what offers come across his desk. If we’re not playing a certain town i.e Scotland in the UK it’s because the offer didn’t come across our agents desk.

What about final say on packaging for physical product?

That’s myself & Eric (Peterson, bass player), Eric more so on the artwork side, designing the packaging as well as the layout. Then talking to Elrin Kantor, who has done the artwork for the albums about the art concepts that Eric has come up with. Once all that is done we sit down & we both agree on what looks best & what grabs us.

What’s been the proudest moment of your career so far?

I guess that has to be beating cancer in 2002 & after that having the reunion of all the original members. I think because I think at that point of my life & career I wasn’t sure where it was going or even if it was going to continue. Due to the illness I lost all my hair, I didn’t see the same person in the mirror & I didn’t expect the music side of things to keep going.

So after that & getting Alex & Louie together & still having the opportunity to still play was a big highlight. I think in terms of Testament, it gave us a boost in confidence & we came out with some pretty good records at that point. The reunion was definitely the start of it all.  Which came about at the start of my illness.

There was a benefit show where there was Death Angel, Exodus, Forbidden, Anthrax, SOD & all these amazing bands for the show. Alex, Greg & Louie came through the benefit show. Myself Alex Greg & Louie had a talk. We’d spent some Christmases together but we hadn’t seen Greg in a while. I got up & sang Disciples of the Watch, which was the 1st time we’d all been on stage together since 1994. So we all got up & jammed & the very next day we had Alex record guitar for the First Strike is Deadly record, which is a bunch of re-recordings of our early material. So that kinda opened the door to maybe whether or not we could reform Testament. We wondered if we could play a reunion show together & see what happened from there. That 1 show turned into 5 shows, which then turned into 10 shows until Louie couldn’t play anymore due to arthritis problems. So we brought in Paul Bostaph & from that moment it kept going & going. With Greg, Alex, Eric & me & we put out some pretty good records at that time.

It’s been 4 years since Dark Roots of Earth & 3 years since the live DVD & CD Dark Roots of Thrash. Is there a new album on the way?

We’ve actually been in the studio setting up drums & tracking. We’re hoping that by the time we come over to Europe in June we’ll have quite a bit done. We have the single finished & the lyric video is finished & hopefully that’ll come out just before we come over.

Have you a title for the new album as yet as well as lyrical content?

It’s going to be called The Brotherhood of the Snake. Which is basically about going back 6000 years where the actual Brotherhood of the Snake was one of the secret societies. So there will be a lot that talk about the secret societies power & control over us & where we are at now within OUR  societies. So there’s going to be a lot of that. There’s also going to be connections to Aliens & religions which is a fascinating topic that we’ve kinda stumbled on to.  But in true Testament fashion it’ll be about the planet earth & whether we survive.

You’ve always written cerebral tracks Like Greenhouse Effect from Practice What You Preach (1989)

Yeah, even back in our early days we were always writing about Nostradamus & now growing up & living through it, it’s kinda like there’s so much more that I’ve learned  & have been opened to. Especially as far as religion goes,

We’re still grabbing lyrical content from every where. You know Disciples of the Watch from The New Order (1988) record was inspired by the movie Children of the Corn. With stories like that we’re influenced by what happens in our daily lives which can affect everybody.

Do you still talk to previous members of Testament.

Yeah. I’m friends with all the old members of Testament. People come & go for their own reasons which is their thing.  When Testament broke up back in 1994 there was no hard feelings.People just chose to do different things for different reasons. We’re not here to hold anyone back we’re here just to play music & do what we do. We’ve been very fortunate to have so great musicians along the way to play in the band with us.

The album Low would’ve been a testing time for Testament what with the line-up change after The Ritual.

The Low record is pretty much when the band broke up. That was the last record that Eric, Greg & myself did together. Alex was gone & Louie was gone & that was around the time the industry started changing aswell with bands getting dropped off the major labels. We were a little angry & upset with what was happening. That was the last record with Atlantic which is why the Low album was a harder record than previous Testament records. That’s where I stared single a lot more death metal style vocals with the growls like on Dog Faced Gods.

That set the tone for the album Demonic (1997) which was a little more aggressive & I was sticking with the death metal vocal.

Low & Demonic where a lot different to The Ritual album which was incredibly melodic. Coming out of that album to be faced with 2 really pissed off albums was a surprise.

The Ritual (1992) album is where we were at the time. I base a lot of my vocals on what the music does for me & at that time that’s where I was.  I think we were growing apart as musicians & wanting to do different things. The industry was changing, so there was a lot going on for us & I feel it when I listen to the music from that record.

I enjoy the songs still but I listen to it with my metal hat on. I think maybe it’s not hard enough,we lost the metal edge, the thrash aggression that we started with. The songs were a lot more polished. From The Legacy (1987) to Souls of Black (1990).

Compared to those records the songs are definitely more polished. The pace of the songs were definitely slowed down. It doesn’t have the same feel as the older stuff like Over The Wall. The songs were more constructed with lots of room for melody & vocals. It was a different band.

Is there an album that you’re most proud of?

I would have to say The Gathering (1999).That was the album where we found ourselves I think.  We found our style & everything that we had done at that point culminated into those songs.

When I listen to that record today, it still gets me fired up. There’s some great songs on that record. That was the album that established Testament as still being relevant. It doesn’t sound as though it’s coming from a 25-year-old band, which is what we were at that point.

Is there anything at the moment you enjoy listening to outside of Testament?

Right now I havent been listening to a lot of stuff because of the writing period. Lamb of Gods last album got stuck in my CD player for a while, but because I’m writing lyrics at the moment I’m stuck in my own little bubble away from all that so I’m fully focused on the new music.

Lets go back to touring. Are there any pre-how rituals before you hit the stage?

I do vocal warm ups that I’ve been doing for the last 30 years as well as getting into my head space right before I hit the stage. I think everyone else has their own rituals that they get up to in their own dressing rooms but I do vocal exercises.

When you’re working hard it’s important to get into a rhythm & routine. Especially for me as a vocalist. If I stressed on my voice I’d probably lose it more often. When I don’t stress on my voice & just do my thing it’s like I’m still at yesterdays show.

What’s next after this current cycle of  Testament & Savage Messiah shows?

I don’t know if it’s been announced yet but we’re looking at coming over with Amon Amarth at the end of the year which will hopefully be the start of another 3 years of touring for the new album So there really is no down time for Testament right now. Which is why I’m looking forward to my birthday.

You’ve got something special planned for your birthday this year. The Thrash & Bowl tournament. What can you tell us about that?

Yeah. The Thrash & bowl actually falls on my birthday (Thurs 23rd June) & the fans are going to come down & spend some time bowling with us. When we have days off in America we’ll often find ourselves in a bowling alley. They asked us to do an event for the show & it made sense to us as we’re into that. We’ve never done anything like that in London so I think it’ll be interesting & something different for the fans.

Chuck, As always it’s been an absolute pleasure to talk with you. Good luck with the Tour & enjoy your birthday.

Will do & thanks

Catch Testament on tour with Savage Messiah

19.06 Oxford, UK – O2 Academy
21.06 Leamington Spa, UK – The Assembly
22.06 Southampton, UK – Engine Rooms
23.06 London, UK – Brooklyn Bowl

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