For over 30 years Testament have waved the flag for hard hitting thrash metal, and since their debut full length The Legacy,” Chuck Billy has fronted the band. Large in stature, he looks like somebody that might check your ID at a biker bar, yet his smile lets you know he’s also a gentle giant. His low growls and “screaming in key” sit nicely atop crafty and catchy riffs, and when he’s not barking thrash lyrics on stage he’s usually playing air guitar on his signature half mic stand. To say Billy is a recognizable character in the metal scene could be an understatement. Last October Testament released their 11th studio album Brotherhood of the Snake,” and as the band gears up for a proper headlining U.S. tour along side Sepultura and Prong, Billy spoke with El Prezidente of The Chainsaw Symphony.
I’m very excited for this tour that’s coming up with Sepultura and Prong. You guys put together a great package for the fans.
It really is a great package, I think it’s a long overdue one. Us and Prong have spoken about touring together and it just hasn’t materialized. Of course we’ve been friends with Sepultura for quite sometime, and it just made sense we’re both on Nuclear Blast and they have a good new record coming out so the stars lined up.
It’s a beautiful thing. So in the original press release it said you had tried out for Sepultura when Max Cavalera left in the 90’s, so any chance you might treat some fans in a lucky city to a little jam on… what songs did you perform when you tried out for them by the way?
I did “Refuse/Resist” and then on the record that Derrick wrote there was a song called “Choke.” So I had that and I wrote my own version of it with my own lyrics and recorded it and sent it to them. But you know I do Metal Allegiance and Andreas has come in and performed with us, so I’ve done some other Sepultura songs with him as well. So I mean hey, if they invite me I’m sure I’ll be there.
That would be so cool to see you do some classic Sepultura stuff with them. I was wondering – the whole Black Sabbath thing, they announced a final tour, and Motley Crue just did it too, do you think Testament would ever do that? Announce a final tour and say this is it?
Well if we did announce it, it would be real! Not “let’s see how the fans react, if we went as far to go and say ‘this is it,'” it would be it.
You’re not gonna be The Who and come back for 20 years.
No we don’t have any plans to do that, and quite honestly, I still think I’m 20 years old. The body’s not telling me that, but the mind is still 20 years old and the passion for this music and touring and creating songs it’s all still as relevant as it was when I started this.
It’s like, why close the door on it? Toni Iommi is still gonna be playing music, Ozzy’s doing stuff. I guess you wanna fill the seats but why call it a day, it seems like it’d be a real bummer of a tour.
I mean I could see bands like Sabbath and those bands, those guys are in their 60’s now. At some point, you’ve had success in your career, at some point it’s about life. Quality of life, and living on the road isn’t always the most fun thing to do. I’d imagine that if I was in my 60’s, it’d be a little more difficult, but I think the quality of life, they probably take that into consideration, like “hey we’ve done this for 40 years let’s enjoy it now and not have the pressures of going on the road and writing a new record,” especially if you’re successful and you’ve accomplished everything at some point. What do you have to prove but just to play for the fans, but you’ve done that for 40 plus years!
You seem like a guy who’s smart with his money, so you don’t have to go through the motions just to get a pay check. Are you still doing the management thing, Breaking Bands?
I am. We have about a five or six group roster now and it’s keeping me quite busy and I think it’s really a natural progression for me to expand my horizons, as they say, and manage bands. The way I looked at it was, when I look at professional athletes and teams, most of those coaches are players. Players that have been through it. I kinda look at it at that same angle, I’ve been in the business 30 years, I’ve had a bunch of different label issues going through, I’ve toured everywhere, so I’ve done it, so now maybe it’s time to coach too.
Yeah, give back a little share your experience, so do you get approached by bands a lot with demos?
All the time, I get them constantly, which is great you. I’ve heard some great bands and I’ve got a lot of things in the works. It’s a good feeling to have people approach us and have the respect to at least want us to represent them that’s great.
How could they not? You Jonny Z (Megaforce Records) and Maria Ferrero (Adrenaline PR) it’s a powerhouse team you guys got going on. I spoke with Marcos of Shattered Sun and he was saying how he totally respected everything you had to say cause you’ve been in the game for so long. So speaking of getting approached, you’re a heavy metal icon, your style, you’re 6ft 100, you’re easy to pick out in a crowd, so I imagine you get recognized a lot. Could you share a shitty fan encounter story with me? I know you’ve got a few.
I’ve never had a shitty one. I’ve never had someone angry or had a problem with me or anything, I’ve never had that. I’ve had some unusual ones you know, for example in Germany we’re sitting on a bus and watching the fans come into the show and one young gal was coming in with a short skirt and we were thinking, “man she’s not the most pretty gal I’ve ever seen.” Well, it turns out during the show, she was on Alex’s side and thrashing in the pit and getting a little loose and all of the sudden the lights hit just perfectly where the skirt got hiked up just enough to see her ball sack. and I was like ‘Oooooaahh.’ It was one of those things, and she wanted to come back and hang out with the band and do the whole thing and that was the only kind of weird deal.
That’s a weird fan encounter.
That is a weird fan encounter, but I haven’t really had any bad ones, ’cause from day one when we perform or play, we’ve always been the kind of guys that hang out, come outside, drink a little with the crowd or burn or whatever. I’ve had fans for 30 years that’ll still come out and hang out on the bus or say hello, or bring me a little gift, its great that we have a fan base that’s loyal like that.
Well see, fans always mean well, but even myself, sometimes I drink too much at shows. I think you did the Jamey Jasta podcast, and Jasta calls them “punishers,” fans who mean well but they kinda overstep their boundaries a little, or maybe they give you a critique on an album that you weren’t asking about, you know what I’m saying? Have you ever done one of those cruises?
I have, and its funny you say that, cause I was just gonna say there were a couple fans that stood out on the 70,000 tons of Metal cruises which was fans from all over the world. There’s always that one guy who’s just drunk the whole time and every time you see him he’s on you and he’s dragging you down and slurring on ya and slobbering “let me buy you a beer.” There’s always that guy (laughs).
So the 30th anniversary of The Legacy is coming up next month, man time flies right?
Yeah it does. We’ve got some cool stuff, I think we’re working on putting together a DVD, hopefully we’ll get out through Nuclear Blast, just kind of talking about and reminiscing about the early days of the band and before we were signed and bringing back some old management, lawyers, and producers and people that got us into the business from the beginning. We were trying to remix The Legacy record, but the masters seem to be missing. So we’re at that point where if we can’t get those, we don’t wanna release the same mix, why don’t we go in and record it all again? Or let’s do a live recording of all those songs and release it along with the interview stuff. I thought that’d be kinda cool.
Yeah, you’ve done that before right? re-recorded albums?
Yeah we did First Strike Still Deadly, which was a few songs we’d done in the past that we wanted to re-record.
That was cool. Aren’t you putting out a book too? Like a picture book or something?
There’s a book that’s in the works, right now we’re kind of testing the waters to see if there’s a real interest for the fans cause it’s not gonna be a published book, it’s gonna be a book that we release only online through this Rocket 88 company who’s done a bunch of other musician books as well. So I think the vibe has been good, and I think we’re gonna start moving forward, so we’re gonna start talking to a lot more people and it’s gonna be cool cause there’s definitely more than one side to the story, which I think only Alex has written in his book.
It’s cool to get everybody’s perspective on it. So thanks for speaking with me today. By the way, are you celebrating St. Paddy’s Day tomorrow?
We are you know I grew up in Dublin, CA so they shutdown all the streets for the weekend everybody’s drinking green beer and hanging out so it should be fun. One quick thing Affliction clothing just came on this week as our sponsor for the tour and they got some really cool grand prizes going on, if fans goto afflictionclothing.com you can use the code word “Testament” and you get 25% off anything you buy plus that enters you in for a grand prize at the end of the tour we’re going to draw a winner of a $1,000 shopping spree at afflictionclothing.com you’ll also win a Testament signed guitar as well. So it’s something cool that Affliction came on board with and all you gotta do is just register and use the code word “Testament” you don’t have to buy so its something pretty cool.