There’s no denying that Steve “Zetro” Souza left a massive imprint in Exodus, having sung on five albums between 1987 and 1992 (as well as the thrash legend’s 2004 comeback album Tempo Of The Damned). However, Zetro’s return to Exodus last month was nonetheless a shocker. For starters, things seemed to be going swell for Exodus with Zetro’s replacement, Rob Dukes. On top of that, Zetro’s second stint with the thrash legends didn’t end on great terms in 2004. Plus, even though they played nice over the past nine years since the split, both sides also shot down any potential reunion (while Gary Holt didn’t sugarcoat it). So naturally, Exodus regrouping with Zetro seemed to come out of nowhere.
Yet Zetro is the first to admit that both people and situations change over time. He’s also the first to display humility about being given another chance to front Exodus. Metal Insider recently spoke Zetro about what’s changed (for the better) in Exodus, how he approached recording vocals for the band’s new album Blood In, Blood Out, what was going through his mind during his first show back in Exodus, how he’s determined to play songs from Rob Dukes’ era with the band, and how he’s learned to focus on the present rather than overthink about the future.
First off, congratulations on your return to Exodus!
Thank you very much, thank you!
Let’s start off with the moment you were asked to rejoin Exodus. When and where were you when you got the call?
Actually… well, I was at home because I live in the Bay Area, but I really don’t want to go too much on that. I’m kind of staying away from everything about that. It was really emotionally high for everyone, myself as well. So I don’t want explain; I’ve always been good with telling everybody what goes on, but this is something I’m kind of just like “Uhhh…” I don’t really want to discuss about how that went down, I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s was cool though, and I appreciate your question, and I hate to say “I can’t answer that,” but I’m gonna leave that one alone. But I was at home when I got the call and it went from there.
Fair enough, but do you mind if I ask if you were surprised about getting the phone call?
I don’t know if I was surprised…Yeah, I guess I was surprised, being this is my third stint in the band over a 30 year period, and things have happened in the past. So to say something could never happen… It can always happen, everybody can always make amends, you can always go back home, basically. I never thought that I would be back because you just don’t know, but you see what happens in the music business, and my own things. So I have to say I wasn’t shocked, I was kind of like “Oh… Okay,” kind of accepted it like that, basically.
You mentioned it yourself that a lot has happened since your last stint in the band, nd a lot of not-so-nice things have been said back and forth.
I mean, through the history of the band, I got three stints in the band, and I think Tom Hunting [drummer] has three stints in the band, we’re tied for the most stints in the band [editor’s note: Hunting left the group in 1989 and 2004, but rejoined in 2007]. Things happen, people change, things go on in life, and the life of the band is not like a football player or a sports guy who’s got his time and his time is over. It’s like you can always do this, so some times are right for you better than others, and it wasn’t right for me, especially the last time. It was all on me. It just wasn’t right. Now it’s perfect, everything is perfect, the stars are aligned, it’s great. I’m very excited and I think that this is the best time so far. Everybody’s mature, we’re all older, we’re all 50 [laughs]. So it’s like “we get it now.” What went on in the past, between all of us and between bands, it’s just water under the bridge. It’s all good now, like it should be, it should be like that.
It seems like you got started working on the new album, Blood In, Blood Out, really fast. What would you say is the biggest difference while you’re in the studio with Exodus this time around compared to the past? I know you mentioned everyone’s matured, but was there a different kind of excitement going on in the studio?
I think the vibe was a lot different because Jack Gibson [bassist] was actually engineering the album when we did it at Tom’s house, like we recorded it in a house. So it was kind of more comfortable than going into a studio doing it. Even though I went in real quick after joining the band, I had no problem with it honestly. I’m in tune with what I’m doing because of Hatriot, DDP [Dublin Death Patrol], Tenet and every other project that I do. I’m in tune right now with my voice, I’m in tune really well. I feel I’m at the best that I ever sung, and I’m feeling very confident about it. That part I didn’t hesitant or sweat that at all, which I might’ve thought I would being that I came in so quickly and had to do that and had to produce. But I know myself, and I know what I’m capable of, it’s like “Bring it, bring it on! Yeah!” That kind of the attitude instead of “Oh my… Okay. I hope everybody likes it.” It’s just like “Go be me, just go do what you do,” and that’s basically what I did and they were all good with it.
What (if anything) was the most surprising thing to come since rejoining Exodus and heading into the studio with them?
Nothing’s really surprising to me, because after being in the business for 30 years nothing really surprises me anymore and anything can happen at this point. I like the way everybody is with each other now, and how close we are with the management and the label. It seems like this time opposed to the other times, I’m not saying anything they were or they weren’t, it seems like the ball is moving a lot better this time. It seems like everyone’s got a grip on what they’re doing in their own way, and they’re just being professionals. I mean come on, we’ve been doing this forever, since we were little kids. I don’t know anything any better, it’s become second nature. There wasn’t any like “Okay we’ve got to be like this.” I don’t think there were any expectations, it was just “Be Zetro, come in and do what you do, sing like you would in Exodus on an Exodus record,” and that’s basically what I did. I listened to the new songs, I learned them, read the lyrics, put my stamp on them, and we worked in the studio. Then we sent them to Gary because he’s was Europe with Slayer and he listened to them. He’d say “fix this” or “change this part” or “do it like this” or “don’t be some gremlin on that thing,” and it was actually really cool. It came together really easily.
I’m working with Chuck Billy [Testament], because he and his management team manages Exodus, and when I’m doing my vocals Chuck’s there. He and I have known each other forever, obviously. So we work really well together, we know each other really well. So if I’m doing my vocals in there and he’s there, I can trust him to go “No way Zet, doesn’t sound good like that. Do it like this,” or “Yeah that’s killer.” If he says it sounds killer, I know it is. He’s not going to let me go in there and put just anything there, he knows better. We both work well with each other that way definitely, because I still write Testament songs. The last two records I wrote a Testament song. So I keep myself busy.
I mean if there’s anyone you can trust with vocals, it’s Chuck Billy, he knows what he’s talking about.
He does, he really does. Aside from being the singer for Testament and running that whole thing, he’s really good at keeping track on how the business is running. So between him, Maria Ferraro, Jonny Zazula and his wife Marsha, they just really know the business, they know what to do, how to attack it, and that’s great. I love that whole feeling about that, that everything is running on all cylinders right now, so all I have to do is go be me.
It must be a relief knowing that after things use to be so confusing behind the scenes in the past, you now have an actual, solid team working with you.
Right, and it is. And again, my attitude has changed; I mean it went from 180 degrees over the last 10 years. I know how I was during the Tempo of the Damned stint. I know how I was, I know the mentality that I had, and that wasn’t the way to carry myself. I can’t change that. All I can do is be the best guy that I can now, be the best frontman and the best singer, go up and do my job to the best of my ability, and kick ass every fucking night and rage. That’s what this is all about.
That’s the best way to look at it.
Yessir, I don’t take it for granted. I don’t go, “Oh I’m back. Shit, I should have been here the whole time!” I don’t have that attitude whatsoever, not at all. Rob Dukes did a great job when he was here, it was his time. I had to learn some of the songs on the last three records. So I’ve to listen to them recently, [it’s] great stuff.
So you’re actually playing songs from the Rob Dukes era with Exodus?
I’m going to, yes definitely, why wouldn’t we? The songs are great. I didn’t want to shun that at all. It was a big part of their history as well, it was nine years and three records. You can’t just turn away that, why would I? No way, I welcomed it on. I wanted to sing some of those songs. They’re great songs.
That’s really cool. What was going through your mind during your first performance back in Exodus at Germany’s Bang Your Head Festival?
“BREATHE! BREATHE! BREATHE ZETRO, BREATHE! DO IT” [laughs] Because I walked out there and it was like [makes a startled/choking sound]. We opened with “Bonded by Blood” and I’m like “Black magic [choking sound] on his black evil night [choking sound]. Begin with the [choking sound].” I just couldn’t get it, it was overwhelming to me and I tried to calm myself down. It was in the daytime in the sun, it was hot. The fans were going crazy, and I’m trying to get my step back. I hadn’t been with these guys in ten years, so I wanted to go out and be the best I could be. So it was a trip, the adrenaline got me for sure. It was neat though. It was awesome, the feeling was the greatest, it really was.
That’s really awesome to hear. Well now that you’re back in Exodus, what do you hope to accomplish that you think you maybe couldn’t have back in the day, or even 10 years ago?
You know, I’m not looking at that, and I think that was my problem before. And not to use this as the reference, but you’re always looking at Metallica, you’re always chasing Metallica. I guess that was the mentality, you’ve got to be THAT good; they’ve done it so you can do it. It was like “Okay, we’ve got to be this, or we’re not gonna be this, or we’ve have to be this.” Now it’s like, the band is what it is, we’ve been around for 30 years, it’s time to go out and rock. Don’t worry about nothing, go out and bang your head, play metal like we know how to play metal. We’re very fortunate that after 30 years people are still listening to our music, we’re still relevant. That’s the greatest feeling in the world. Think about that, 30 years and people still want to see us, they still love our records, they’re still looking at us. Who ever thought that would happen? Look at other genres of music when we came up, and those bands don’t even exist anymore. We’ve been very fortunate, our genre of music as well, to be relevant for this amount of time, and I’m very thankful for that, very thankful, that’s the best thing ever.
That’s very true, 30 years for any band, no matter what genre, is really incredible.
Exactly. I think with metal, you don’t shove it down anyone’s throat necessarily, you either love it or you hate it. We’re not on award shows, so the people that like the music, it’s like their music, and they’re not going to throw it away. You never hear anybody go “Yeah I listened to Slayer like last summer, just in and out.” Nobody says that, come on. You don’t say that, that’s sacrilege! Metal fans don’t do that, that’s why they’re very loyal to us, and we appreciate that. I totally appreciate our fans, they’re the greatest. They’re the reason why we are still who we are, because the fans still support us. The nights of those shows, they’re still chanting ‘Exodus,’ that’s amazing. It’s amazing to me, so I’m very thankful, believe me, very thankful to have what I have.
Well now that you’re back in Exodus, I know you’ve made a point to make sure that Hatriot is still going to continue on. You’re no stranger to doing multiple groups at the same time, but what would you say is going to be the biggest challenge for you keeping all those ducks in a row?
I guess just to make sure that Hatriot doesn’t get pushed under the wayside by any means, but on the other hand, Exodus has to be given the attention to make Exodus what it is. So I’m gonna be doing double duty, I’m gonna be working hard. Like when I’m on tour with Slayer and Suicidal Tendencies, Exodus only gets a 30-minute set. I’m gonna write Hatriot lyrics then, that’s when I’ll do it, we’ve already got new songs coming up. So as long as I’m busy musically, I’ll be okay, and they understand that me being back in Exodus will only help the word across the street in Hatriot, they know that and they’re ready to go. I don’t want to do anything but play metal the rest of my life until they put me in a box anyway. I’ll be like Gary. Gary plays with Slayer, when he’s done with Slayer he’s with Exodus. When Gary’s with Slayer, I’ll go with Hatriot. Then Exodus calls, I’ll be with Exodus. I’ll do both jobs 300%! Neither of these bands are going to get lackluster, I’m going full on.