Tag: James Hetfield
Not too many bands take the path that Crossfade has taken and still manage to find success. The South Carolina natives exploded onto the scene back in 2004, with their hit single “Cold”. They then further established themselves on the rock radar with the follow up singles “So Far Away” and “Colors”, propelling their self-titled debut to Platinum status. Two years later the band’s sophomore effort “Falling Away” was released to mixed reviews and mediocre sales. From there, Crossfade virtually disappeared, it was rumored that the band had been dropped by their label Columbia Records in a disappointing end to a promising career. Here we are five years later and Ed Sloan and Co. are back with a new label, a new album, and a new lease on life. I recently had a chance to catch up with Ed to get the skinny on the aptly named forthcoming album, so sit back and join me as a rejuvenated rockstar reminds us that “We All Bleed”.
AWAY-TEAM: I’d like to first congratulate you on the new album “We All Bleed”, which is being released on June 21st. The album is a little bit of a departure from your signature sound, and the Crossfade that we’re used to. I noticed that Les had alot more songwriting duties this time around, do you feel like that contributed to your new sound? What ultimately led you in the direction that you took on this album?
ED SLOAN: Well, I think you definitely hit the nail on the head right there with Les. Ya know, he really writes alot of dark music, orchestral music, and that definitely added to the darkness of the record. Plus I think the lyrics are a little bit darker than our typical albums, coming out of a three year touring haze I think made the lyrics come out a bit darker. But definitely alot of Les in there makes the album much darker than usual.
AWAY-TEAM: It’s been quite a while since you’ve toured full-scale, I actually had the pleasure of seeing you play a free show outside the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa back on April 1st. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Is this an April Fool’s joke?’ I mean, there was about two dozen people in attendance, and about a dozen full sets of teeth… (laughs)
ED SLOAN: (laughs) Yeah, you’re right.
AWAY-TEAM: …it was definitely a rough crowd! Anyways, aside from that debacle, which to your credit you guys rocked the shit out of as if it were 30,000 people, then of course you just played Rock on the Range, how has the reception been after being gone for so long?
ED SLOAN: Actually it surprised us all, I mean we’ve seen fans from four years ago when we were last on the road. I’ve seen hundreds of fans that I remember from back then, and a large amount of new fans. It’s been great, all the shows have been great, and everybody’s just super pumped to hear the old stuff, but also with the new stuff it’s almost like they’ve stolen the record already or something. (laughs) It’s been received very well from what we’ve seen so far. After every show we do a signing of course, and there’s been a line out the door for that. It’s almost like we never left!
AWAY-TEAM: That’s gotta make you feel pretty good.
ED SLOAN: Yeah, no doubt it does.
AWAY-TEAM: Your debut album went platinum, your sophomore effort only sold about 200,000 copies, and then not long after that you were dropped from Columbia Records. When you first got the news that you were being dropped, what was your initial reaction? Was it kind of a sense of defeat? Or was it more like ‘Ya know what? Fuck You. I’m gonna take my shit and go kick ass somewhere else’?
ED SLOAN: It was actually our decision to leave Columbia. Everybody thinks we got dropped, but they just gave us some stipulations that we wouldn’t deal with. So we said ‘Screw you!’ and we got out of our contract. It was definitely a ‘Fuck You’ to them because they were just, at that time the industry was going to shit, and their whole staff was going to shit, and we didn’t want to have to deal with it anymore so we were just elated to get out of our contract with them. They wouldn’t do shit for us, all they were doing was working to pimp like Beyonce or whatever the big act was they were working with at the time. That was all they could focus on, they didn’t have the money anymore, or the manpower, so we were glad to get the fuck out of there.
AWAY-TEAM: You were quoted as saying “Music has always been my escape, a friend, but then music became my enemy.” Elaborate on that for me.
ED SLOAN: Well that was after three years of touring, on two records, and being on that record label, and then us leaving them, or them dropping us, however it’s looked at. Coming home it was kind of a shocker, after three years you gotta piece your life back together. You gotta find a new place to live, and you realize it’s gonna be another two or three years to write another album, and find a new label to put it out…knowing that I didn’t wanna stop. It just seemed kinda daunting knowing that what lied ahead of me was two years of writing another record, and finding another label, and all that kind of stuff. So music just kinda became… for a while there music became something that I didn’t enjoy. I couldn’t get to my happy spot when I write music, but that only lasted a year or so and then I snapped out of it. That’s kinda why the album took a little while to get out, but we all got through it together.
AWAY-TEAM: Addiction and personal demons kinda seem to be a common theme on the album, obviously spearheaded by “Dear Cocaine”. I may be a little bold in my assumption, but we all know “art imitates life”, so what was your “rock bottom” moment? What prompted you to break from the doldrums of depression and drugs, and whatever else was bothering you at the time?
ED SLOAN: I think it was, I was just not focusing on music at all. I was just laying around depressed, and not doing much meaningful. You know, I really don’t know how to answer that because “rock bottom” comes the same for everybody, once you hit it it’s, ya know… well I guess it’s not the same for everybody but for me it turned out to be that I just wouldn’t do shit, just laid around and did anything to keep music off my mind, or my future off of my mind, so…
AWAY-TEAM: When did you realize it was time to get up and get back to work?
ED SLOAN: I think as soon as the other guys got in gear. Ya know, they were all taking time off for other reasons; family, getting their lives back together. I think as soon as… I lived at our studio where we recorded all of these albums, and I think it was Les started coming in every day and working his ass of ’til like 6:00, putting in like 18 hour days. Slowly I started hearing some of the stuff he was writing, and it just started to infuse into my soul, and started to wake me up. Finally I said “This is enough. I’m enjoying what I’m hearing.” so I joined in and started writing songs. So I think it was just my bandmates kinda kicking me in the ass, ya know.
AWAY-TEAM: Well we’re glad they did it! So now you’re on Eleven Seven Music, a label which Nikki Sixx presides over. How long did it take you to land a deal with them? And how did it happen? Was it through an A & R guy? Or was it Nikki, being ever the opportunist, realizing there was a band of your caliber out there without a label?
ED SLOAN: Well, actually it was Allen Kovac, who is the CEO and Founder of that label. Literally within like two weeks of everybody knowing that we weren’t with Columbia anymore, he called our manager at the time and said “Hey, I’m interested in signing the boys…” At that time, we were like “We’re not even gonna have a record ready for like a year.” ,which wound up being three years. But Allen Kovac called at least like 6 times a year to find out how the progress was going, and he was very persistent. Then when it was finally done, obviously he heard the whole record and still wanted to sign us, so it was definitely his persistence that made us realize that they were gonna fight for us and it was gonna be a good home for us. So his persistence paid off, for them and for us.
AWAY-TEAM: I know you’ve always produced your own albums, on this album you had a GRAMMY-winning super producer in Ben Grosse doing the mixing duties. Did you guys pick his brain at all, from a kind of student-mentor standpoint?
ED SLOAN: Oh yeah! (laughs) Yeah, he’s a great guy. We were only supposed to be there for like two weeks, and he actually gave us two months. We’d slowly start to ask him… we recorded the album ourselves, so anytime you get to see a master doing his work, we kinda try to suck the brains dry! He was very forthcoming with alot of his tricks and gadgetry that makes his records what they are. So we definitely learned alot from him technically as far as recording.
AWAY-TEAM: Will Hunt was brought on in 2009, many thought he’d end up being your permanent drummer, what happened there? Was he supposed to just be a session drummer? Or was the intention for him to become a permanent fixture? What’s the story behind that?
ED SLOAN: I think in the beginning, all throughout the writing of the album, you know we wrote the album with digital drums, and then we were like “Okay, at some point we’re gonna go into the studio, and at some point we’re gonna go on tour. We have to get a full time drummer.” And that drummer was gonna be in the band, and Will was down with it, but he’d always have side projects. Ya know between Evanescence, Black Label Society, Dark New Day, just all these different bands he plays with so the timing wasn’t right. So he was able to come in and record the album, but because it was shelved for 6-8 months I think Will had to make a decision. Ya know, “I’ve gotta go out and make money. I gotta do what’s right for my family, so we’ll see what happens when the record comes out.” During that time, we started auditioning new drummers knowing that Will probably wasn’t gonna be able to do it, and we found Mark Castillo from Boston who’s in the band now and plays live with us. But it was completely amicable, it was just because the record was taking so long to come out that he had to go do his thing, ya know.
AWAY-TEAM: Right. Mark was brought into the fold last year, and I understand there’s a bit of a funny story as to how he was welcomed into the band. Tell me about that.
ED SLOAN: (laughs) Well he drove 18 hours down from Boston, or 12 hours, whatever it is, and we hung out with him for a couple of days, and played 3 or 4 songs with him, jammed with him as far as auditioning him. And we had him film himself coming down here, and we were like “Look man, if this works out we’d like to have some footage of the trip down.” And when he left, he filmed himself the whole way back. So when we’re in the editing room making the webisode, we’ve got Mark coming down and him playing, then we’ve got Mark driving 18 hours back up to Boston, and then he pulls into his driveway saying “Thank God, I’m finally home!” and then at the end it shows “Welcome to Crossfade Mark Castillo. If you ever try to leave us, we will kill you!” And I believe we said “Hey man, there’s a new webisode out. You may wanna go to your computer and check it out.” Right when he got home he found out he was a member of the band that way, and I think he got kind of a shocker out of that instead of us just calling him to tell him he was in the band. (Scroll down to see the webisode)
AWAY-TEAM: (Laughs) That’s great, I love it! You in particular have listed James Hetfield and Metallica as one of your greatest influences. So based on content, compare your albums with their closest related Metallica album.
ED SLOAN: Our first record, to me anyway, I think is alot like The Black Album, because the messages were real dark, and it’s also got alot of heartfelt songs and lyrics on it. And I think this new album is a little bit more like Master of Puppets, it’s darker and heavier, and still the same type messages that Metallica and Hetfield have always had. But you know how Master of Puppets was a little more layered, a little tighter, a little more musicianship going on. I think this one is comparable to that. I mean I would never compare our stuff to Metallica’s integrity wise, I mean I would but… (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: Well don’t take offense to this, hear me out on this one. I think this one is closer to a St. Anger, and it’s not just, ya know, I think it’s a shitty album. I think that you can draw some parallels to James just overcoming some of his personal demons, and the change in the signature sound, it just seems to have that parallel.
ED SLOAN: I got ya. I can feel you on that. You know that was definitely a 180 for them, ya know. I don’t think we’ve quite done a 180 on this one, but I do feel you on the similarities of that change. I guess, sonically their change was so crazy, such a 180, that’s the only thing I would differ with on that statement.
AWAY-TEAM: On that same tangent, I think you may have answered this already, but do you worry about rejection from your die hard fans?
ED SLOAN: Not at all actually. Because I don’t think that it’s changed dramatically, I think it’s just been elevated. It’s still Crossfade, it’s still the things that I think attracted people in the first place, I think are on this album. It just may be a little heavier, although we do think that the messages, and the feeling, and the soulfulness and the darkness is still what people associate with Crossfade, at least that’s what I think. Songs that are backdrops to their lives, songs that you can ride around in the car and be pissed the fuck off, and I think that’s the same with this album. Ya know every album you lose fans, you gain fans, but I think we’re gonna have a winner here, so.
AWAY-TEAM: You landed your first deal through an online A&R firm called TAXI, you had actually gotten to the point where you were actually submitted country music on there in the hopes of getting signed. Were those some of the songs that we now know as Crossfade? Or do you have some hidden gems, and a future as a country songwriter?
ED SLOAN: (laughs) Yeah, actually I’ve got 40 or 50 songs that I’ve written that would never be qualified as Crossfade songs. (laughs) I’ve written almost an entire country album, I wouldn’t call it country, it’s more some of it’s pop… well ya know, it’s pop, it’s country, I mean I’ve written everything. During those years I was actually sort of a musical slut, I’d write anything I could just to get the attention of somebody, anybody. So I’ve definitely got a catalog of all kinds of strange music, including country. (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: Well there’s another case where the persistence paid off huh?
ED SLOAN: Absolutely.
AWAY-TEAM: Well Ed, it’s been an extreme pleasure. Thank you so much for giving me your time. Best of luck with the album. It’s great to see you guys back out there doing what you do best. I look forward to seeing you next time you make your way back through my neck of the woods.
ED SLOAN: Thank You! I appreciate you including us in your thang!
AWAY-TEAM: Well thanks again. Hope to see you soon. Take care.
ED SLOAN: Sounds good. Bye.
Crossfade will be part of the Rock Allegiance Tour with Buckcherry, Papa Roach, P.O.D., Puddle of Mudd, Red, and Drive A which kicks off this August. For all things Crossfade including tour dates and to purchase music click here.
Special thanks to Ed Sloan for so graciously giving me his time, and to Tim Tatulli at ‘Stache Media for making it all happen.
Universal Music will release “The Big Four: Live From Sofia, Bulgaria” DVD and Blu-ray containing footage of the June 22, 2010 Sonisphere cinecast from the Sofia, Bulgaria leg of the touring rock festival featuring the “Big Four” of 1980s thrash metal — METALLICA, SLAYER, MEGADETH and ANTHRAX. The DVD hits the streets on October 29 in Northern Europe, November 1 in most of the rest of the world, November 2 in North America and the full shows from all four bands will be included in the two-disc set along with behind-the-scenes and interview footage.
According to a posting on METALLICA‘s official web site, “you can now pre-order the deluxe set in the Metallica Store. Along with the deluxe box set, you will also receive a limited-edition, exclusive RED ‘The Big 4‘ guitar pick with one of four different print colors (white, black, silver or gold). This red guitar pick is not available in stores!
“To pre-order the deluxe set, click here. It will start shipping on October 15, 2010. To our friends outside of North America, this special box set will be available at your favorite local stores and online retailers as well, should you choose to avoid international shipping charges.”
METALLICA was joined onstage during the show by members of MEGADETH, SLAYER and ANTHRAX for a performance of the DIAMOND HEAD song “Am I Evil?”
METALLICA frontman James Hetfield, MEGADETH singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine and ANTHRAX vocalist Joey Belladonna took turns singing the song, which has been a part of METALLICA‘s live set for decades. The event marked the first time that Dave Mustaine had performed onstage with METALLICA since April 9, 1983. An original member of the band, he was fired just weeks before METALLICA recorded its debut album, “Kill ‘Em All“.
According to Billboard.com, the Sonisphere cinecast from Sofia was beamed via satellite in HD to cinemas and was seen by more than 100,000 fans. It was distributed globally into hundreds of cinemas by New York-based BY Experience.
METALLICA track listing:
01. Creeping Death
02. For Whom The Bell Tolls
04. Harvester Of Sorrow
05. Fade To Black
06. That Was Just Your Life
08. Sad But True
09. Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
10. All Nightmare Long
12. Master Of Puppets
14. Nothing Else Matters
15. Enter Sandman
16. Am I Evil? (with the Big Four)
17. Hit The Lights
18. Seek and Destroy
SLAYER track listing:
01. World Painted Blood
03. War Ensemble
04. Hate Worldwide
05. Seasons In The Abyss
06. Angel of Death
07. Beauty Through Order
09. Mandatory Suicide
10. Chemical Warfare
11. South of Heaven
12. Raining Blood
MEGADETH track listing:
01. Holy Wars… The Punishment Due
02. Hangar 18
03. Wake Up Dead
04. Head Crusher
05. In My Darkest Hour
06. Skin O’ My Teeth
07. A Tout Le Monde
08. Hook In Mouth
10. Sweating Bullets
11. Symphony Of Destruction
12. Peace Sells/Holy Wars Reprise
ANTHRAX track listing:
01. Caught In A Mosh
02. Got the Time
04. Be All, End All
06. Indians/Heaven And Hell
09. Metal Thrashing Mad
10. I Am The Law
For more METALLICA click here.
For more SLAYER click here.
For more MEGADETH click here.
For more ANTHRAX click here.
Members of METALLICA, MACHINE HEAD, DEATH ANGEL, FORBIDDEN, SKINLAB and D.R.I., as well as former members of EXODUS, OVERKILL, S.O.D., POSSESSED, SACRILEGE B.C. and STEREOMUD, are among the musicians who made an appearance at a special event to celebrate the life of Debbie Abono, a well-respected and much-loved manager and promotional machine behind some of San Francisco Bay Area’s strongest metal bands (POSSESSED, FORBIDDEN, EXODUS, VIO-LENCE, SKINLAB), who passed away on May 16 after a battle with cancer. She was 80 years old.
According to an obituary published in the Contra Costa Times on May 30, 2010, “Debbie was in her mid-fifties when she plunged into the Bay Area’s heavy metal/thrash metal music scene. She quickly [started working with] some of the Bay Area’s strongest metal bands (POSSESSED, FORBIDDEN, VIO-LENCE, EXODUS, SKINLAB) as well as Chicago’s BROKEN HOPE, Florida’s OBITUARY and CYNIC, Ohio’s SPUDMONSTERS, and from Texas SKREW. Many of these members who have gone onto further success with their careers with Debbie‘s constant guidance. She is known around the world not only for the work she has done for countless musicians, band crew members and their families, but more so for her heart and generosity and her ability to uplift, motivate and empower all those around her to always be honest and to be their best.
“After recently learning that Debbie was gravely ill, James Hetfield of METALLICA, another Bay Area legend, gave a verbal tribute before singing the hit song ‘Nothing Else Matters‘ at a performance in Belfast, Ireland. Alex Skolnick, guitarist for TESTAMENT, posted the following statement: ‘In the mid-1980s when most folks over forty were afraid of metal, there was Debbie Abono, a kind, sophisticated woman in her 50s. She saw right through the pentagrams, upside-down crosses, leather and spikes and recognized that some kind souls lay underneath the anger reflected much younger, often-misunderstood group of metalheads and became manager to some of the heaviest bands. By doing so, she helped us realize that older people weren’t so bad either.’ TESTAMENT also dedicated the song ‘Alone In The Dark‘ [to Debbie] during the band’s May 16, 2010 performance in Enschede, Netherlands.”
Donations can be made through this web site and via check payable to “East Bay Community Foundation” and should be accompanied by a note designating that the gift is for the Debbie Abono Memorial Fund for Music. Contributions should be mailed to The East Bay Community Foundation, Attn: Giles Miller, 200 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, CA 94612.
This interview was conducted on May 29th, 2009 in Raleigh, NC.
When you think of Bay Area Thrash, you think of four bands; Metallica, Exodus, Testament, and Death Angel. Sure there were others of that time, and many that came later. But those four bands defined Thrash Metal and the ‘Bay Area’ sound. Naturally there were none bigger than Metallica, but close on their heels has to be Testament. After 24 years, numerous lineup changes, a throat cancer scare, and a nine year period of inactivity, Testament is back with a new album Formation of Damnation featuring Chuck Billy on vocals, Eric Peterson on guitar, Alex Skolnick on guitar, Greg Christian on bass, and Paul Bostaph on drums. A new tour that is taking the bands to markets they haven’t played in 15 years or more (I caught the show in Raleigh, NC, and there was much debate as to whether Testament had actually ever played Raleigh before). And a new focus and determination to take the band higher and farther than it has ever been before. I met with Alex Skolnick right before their set at the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh, and talked about Testament, Trans Siberian Orchestra, the Alex Skolnick Trio and life before and after Testament. Here we go….
Away-Team: This is Jim Keller with Alex Skolnick from Testament. Once again I want to thank you for sitting down and doing this interview with us, much appreciated.
Away-Team: What I’d like to do basically is start at the beginning of the band.
Away-Team: Testament was originally started as The Legacy..
Away-Team: By Eric (Peterson) and his cousin. They had Steve Souza in the band as a vocalist who left to join Exodus before you recorded your first album. It was reported that he actually suggested Chuck (Billy) as his replacement. Why did Steve leave?
Alex: Well it was funny ‘cause he was the guy that gave us all serious talking toos about how everybody in this band has to be serious. You know when I joined the band he’s like you’re either serious, you either take this seriously or you take it somewhere else. We don’t want guys that are just in here that are just gonna leave and join some other band. Sure enough *laughs* he’s the guy that ends up leaving. But you know he left because I think he felt Exodus was going farther, faster.
Away-Team: At that time when you joined, you were a student of Joe Satriani’s Correct?
Away-Team: And after you joined the band did you continue practicing with him, learning from him?
Alex: I studied with him for about two years. I was with him, basically for the first six months I was in the band and then he started getting really busy. He did his first solo recordings. He definitely uh got me to learn a lot more on my own than I would have otherwise.
Away-Team: So, is it kind of a prerequisite that if you’re going to be in one of the better thrash bands out of San Francisco a la Testament, Metallica; you had to learn from Joe?
Alex: Apparently!! Everybody studied with him, yeah!
Alex: It was a hotel band…
Away-Team: A hotel band had copyrighted the name The Legacy?
Alex: Yeah. A hotel R&B band in New Orleans.
Away-Team: So the story I had heard was that the reason you changed it to Testament was because the CD artwork – everything was already done and the label didn’t want to re-do everything, so you had named the album originally Testament…
Alex: That’s not true
Away-Team: That’s not true, okay, so how did you come up with Testament, then?
Alex: Billy Milano, the singer for SOD came up with the name. Ya know he was on Megaforce Records. So basically an all points bulletin went out, to find a name for the band that Megaforce had just signed. So yeah, I think the guys from Anthrax were suggesting names. Everybody at the record label suggested. We were trying to come up with names and it was Billy Milano that came up with the name Testament.
Away-Team: Did he know you guys or was it just kind of, this is a cool name they should use something like this?
Alex: We had met him, once. But I think he had come up… I feel like I had met him, like maybe when we were recording the first album, and we just, we knew we had to have a name, before the album was released, obviously and it was just one of many suggestions and it was the one, we kind of lived with it for a while and it felt the best.
Away-Team: Your current album, Formation of Damnation, to me is far and away the strongest album you guys have recorded since Practice What You Preach. It’s probably a more straightforward thrash sounding album than some of the last few albums. Was this a culmination of various writing from the last nine years or did you all sit down and write the album together as a whole band?
Alex: No, it was a combination. I think the previous album the guys did when I wasn’t with the band, The Gathering, that was the first one I felt, a lot of people felt, where Chuck and Eric sort of found a formula that works for them. So I didn’t want to really, get in the way of that formula and try to make it 1989 again. But I made a lot of suggestions with the music they were doing and I did bring in some music of my own. Some of that got used; the song F.E.A.R. is something I wrote. But it was more a combination of ideas that Chuck and Eric had had, playing around with some new stuff.
Away-Team: And Eric being the predominant songwriter, music writer for the band, now with this you’re current lineup which is the semi-reunited lineup or the original lineup with addition of Paul Bostaph is it a more of a collaborative thing now or at least going forward to looking at the next album is going to be more collaborative?
Alex: We’ll see, just kind of going to let it happen as it happens.
Away-Team: And will there be a new album?
Alex: There will eventually be, yes.
Away-Team: We mentioned the many lineup changes you guys have done over the years. You being one of them. You guys all got together in 2001 as The Legacy for the Chuck Billy cancer benefit. That show saw the best of the Bay Area thrash scene reuniting for a great cause. Bands like Exodus, Death Angel, Sadus, Vio-lence and of course you. In the last eight years or so, Exodus, Death Angel, you guys now with the Formation of Damnation, have released what many consider to be the best music of your individual and collective careers. Some amazing stuff has come out of the original Bay Area thrash scene in the last couple years. It seems that it’s alive and well again. What do you attribute the current popularity or resurrection of the Bay Area trash scene to?
Alex: Well I think part of it is it’s not as isolated as it used to be. It used to be this very isolated area of music. Pretty much limited to the Bay Area with the exception of ya know Megadeth from LA and Anthrax form New York. I think it’s now like one of many genres of very heavy metal. Ya know you have black metal, you have death metal from Florida and it all relates to thrash metal. There are all these relatives in metal. And now you’ve got some newer bands that have formed in the last ten, fifteen years that in some cases are seeing a lot of success and that’s brought a lot more awareness to the original Bay Area thrash scene. So when we first did the reunion shows it was unclear what kind of type of fan we would have. Was it just going to be Old School fans? But there are actually a lot of young fans that are keeping it alive and well.
Away-Team: Well, if you go in the venue right now; I was very surprised. ‘Cause that was one of the things I looked at as they were lining up out here. Is that they are all going to be my age or our age like a bunch of older guys standing out here but the entire crowd in there tonight has gotta be 25 or younger!
Alex: And if we depended on guys our age, the audience wouldn’t be that big. Let’s face it.
Away-Team: Yeah. Absolutely.
Alex: People get to be our age and they have jobs, families; most don’t go out to shows like they did when they were in their twenties. So it’s nice to have a combination. It’s not that we have, we haven’t lost the original fans. But we do have this big young following now. I think a lot of other bands are seeing that as well, like Exodus.
Away-Team: You had mentioned what I call, like the second wave of thrash.. 10 to 15 year old bands. Today you’ve got bands like the band on stage right now, Lazarus AD. Very, very similar to the old Bay Area thrash style. Warbringer, Municipal Waste a lot of very young bands, that seeing a lot of good response, that can be harkened right back to you guys. It’s like the third generation now. Twenty years later there’s still bands coming out and they’re not Retro, they’re not recreating the sound, but they are continuing it if nothing else and that’s got to really, for you guys to be their inspiration, it’s really got to be something.
Alex: It’s great. It’s also great because for so long we were told our music’s not going to last. It’s passing. It’s in left field. It was this outcast music that nobody predicted a future for. So there’s the answer right there. Great, new young bands that are doing it today.
Away-Team: And twenty four years later, you guys are still out here kicking ass, so it’s very cool. Going back to the formation of not damnation, but of Testament. Can you name one of your favorite memories of the mid to late eighties in the Bay Area Thrash music scene? Some of the shows from The Stone or Ruthie’s Inn or Mabuhay Gardens?
Alex: Yeah, I will say I remember one time Metallica playing at Ruthie’s unannounced, just to do a warm-up. That was great. They did a lot of, they did some punk covers. It was just a fun gig. Uh, there was also this project called Spastik Children, with Cliff Burton, James Hetfield on drums and it was like comedy like sort of South Park before South Park. Completely politically incorrect, funny, bad, badly played on purpose music.
Away-Team: God, I forgot all about Spastik Children…
Alex: Yeah, some of those shows are pretty memorable.
Away-Team: With Metallica coming from L.A., basically because the L.A. scene just couldn’t handle them. The crowds didn’t get what they were trying to do, with you guys, Vio-lence, Exodus, Death Angel, were you kind of a close knit community? Was it kind of you against everybody else? Was there a lot of camaraderie there, or..?
Alex: I’d say there was camaraderie and competition simultaneously. Everybody wanted to be the best band they could and even though a lot of us we didn’t really sound alike. You always had to keep an eye out for the other bands. It’s like different football teams that are all in the same league. You want, as a whole you want to do well, but you still want to come out on top, above everybody else.
Away-Team: I understand. Your current tour, in support of the Formation of Damnation, is unique in that you guys are allowing the fans to vote, via your MySpace page, for the set list they want to hear in their given town. You have three options, The Legacy, plus hits, The New Order plus hits, or a chronicle set list, basically from start to finish of your catalogue. How did you guys come about the idea? How has it been received? And any regrets on having to keep rotating a roughly thirty song playlist on tour?
Alex: It’s worked out very easily, because overwhelmingly everybody’s voted for the Chronicle stuff, so that’s pretty much what we’ve done. And I’m not sure who came up with the idea, but it’s definitely been a very good idea and it’s just been fun to hear from the fans. And in the process they’ve not only voted on the songs, a lot of them have made suggestions a long the way. “We want to hear a chronicle, but we really want to hear this song. Why don’t you play this song?”
Away-Team: And you guys are actually listening and paying attention to what they’re…
Alex: Oh absolutely.
Away-Team: Beside the main lineup changes, you guys have several label changes over the years; mainly due to simple bad luck and the labels folding on you. Did I read though that somehow you guys ended up on a gospel label prior to signing with Nuclear Blast?
Alex: Well I think what happened was we were signed to Spitfire which got bought by another label, which was a gospel label.
Away-Team: OK. And they had no interest in releasing the new Testament CD? Laughs
Alex: Oh, Exactly. I’m sure at first they thought, oh this is perfect.
Away-Team: A “New Testament” band awesome!
Alex: And then they found out what it was and then they let the band go, no problem.
Away-Team: So did Spitfire have some religious bands on their roster?
Alex: I don’t think so. I’m not sure.
Away-Team: Laughs. Alright, you are currently on Nuclear Blast and they are treating you well…
Alex: Treating us great. It’s a great partnership absolutely.
Away-Team: Good, good. When the current tour with Unearth and Lazarus AD, at least the North American leg of it is over, what are you guys’ plans? Where are you going next?
Alex: We’re off for a couple weeks, then we’re going to be in Europe for July and part of August to do a lot of festivals.
Away-Team: Do you have any plans for a follow up album and will we have to wait another nine years for it?
Alex: No, it’ll be recorded next year, most likely released, late, by late next year
Away-Team: Great! With all the side projects, from your various members, Dragonlord, you in Trans Siberian Orchestra, Chuck’s Dublin Death Patrol and your jazz trio, how do you guys find time to get together, to record and tour? And how does that affect, I mean is Testament now the priority or is it ‘we can fit in Testament around these various projects’? TSO’s a big deal, it’s a big show and you have to…
Alex: Yeah, it’s a unique situation, because I was already, I’d already been playing with TSO for several years by the time the Testament reunion happened. So it’s been pretty understood that during the months of the Winter TSO tour I’m not available. I do my best, as far as my trio and I have couple other projects I’m involved with as well, some as a producer which I can’t talk about yet. They’re…They’re gonna be
Away-Team: Then I won’t ask that question…
Alex: Pretty exciting times and projects… We’re doing an album cycle right now. So, since last year we’ve been doing an album cycle, so this, Testament has been the priority. Soon as we’re done with this album cycle I think there’s going to be a slight shift in priorities. The way this record got created was a lot of the basics were worked on while I was with TSO, I would write ideas, which I think is going to happen this next tour as well, and then I think next year, Before the album cycle, before the Testament album cycle starts, that’s going to be a good chance for me to do a lot more stuff with the Alex Skolnick Trio. But then, of course, once the Testament album cycle starts then that’s going to be the priority. It really depends on where we are in terms of the album cycle..
Away-Team: So everybody’s working together though, with all their side projects, everything kind of fits in OK and there’s no real conflict going on with it?
Alex: Yeah, I mean it’s a different thing with me, because with TSO it’s a very set tour. With Dragonlord, Eric decides, when that tours. With my Trio there are people that decide it with me, so we work to make sure that we capitalize on any available time I have to tour with them.
Away-Team: I have heard that some of your solos for Formation of Damnation were recorded while on tour with TSO and done in someone’s bathroom in New York. Is that correct?
Alex: That’s not true. I mean the part about the bathroom is not true. What basically happened was some of the solos were recorded in Albany, when TSO had some days off in 2007. The first studio that we found was a guy’s basement…
Away-Team: It was his basement, OK
Alex: Yeah. And it just, it was an awful situation. We had like 48 hours, we had two days and the goal was to do all of the solos and basically a whole day was wasted. We were getting all of this radio signal out of the amps and the guy had no idea what to do about it. So then we found a really good studio the one that we should’ve been at all along and I did half of the songs, and I did the other half as soon I was done with the TSO tour.
Away-Team: Now did you already have the solos worked out or a rough idea what you were going to do with them…
Alex: I had a couple rough ideas, but some of them I came up with on the spot….
Away-Team: ‘Cause they’re some outstanding solos.
Alex: Thank you!
Away-Team: Across the board the musicianship and the work on Formation of Damnation is actually very stellar…
Alex: I appreciate that.
Away-Team: Paul Bostaph is currently drumming for you. This his second stint in the band now. He’s played with some other great bands besides Testament. He started out with Forbidden… Slayer, Exodus and another not as well known Bay Area band, but that I’m very familiar with, Systematic. He’s kind of become known as the ‘go to’ metal drummer, almost like a journeyman. Is he now a permanent member of Testament?
Alex: It certainly feels that way. That remains to be seen. Yeah, it definitely feels that way. I know on our end there’s no thought of working with anybody else…
Away-Team: OK, so Louie’s not going to come knocking on the bus one day? Where is Louie?
Alex: Louie comes… Louie makes appearances. He’s always… He always visits us when we play. He was just on tour with us for three days…
Away-Team: Oh, really?
Alex: He doesn’t really play any more. He just likes to hang out. We like having him around. It works out well. We get him away from his job. He’s like a, a relative…
Away-Team: Is there anything you haven’t done yet, goal-wise or music-wise that you still want to? And what is it?
Alex: Yeah there’s a lot of things. Definitely, I’m close, I mean I feel like with my instrumental albums I’m able to do the music that’s in my head. Which is great! For me it’s just getting my instrumental stuff to a wider audience. And I’d like to see Testament reach a wider audience as well. The truth is, what I would really like to see is the trio playing venues like Testament’s playing; those size crowds. I’d like to see Testament playing to crowds more like TSO’s.
Alex: I get this experience of every year playing in front of a packed arena. Sometimes twice a day! And this band has never experienced that. That kind of production, that kind of audience. We’ve had some great support slots in arenas. But I think this could be a great arena band.
Away-Team: You guys have never actually headlined arenas?
Away-Team: Really. Wow, I did not realize that.
Away-Team: There’s many bands out there today that are citing Testament as an influence, as a musician it’s got to be an ultimate compliment. How do you react to something like that? I mean, how does that make you feel?
Alex: Great! It feels great. It’s a great compliment. It’s not something you think about while you’re doing it, while you’re in the studio or playing live; about having an influence on somebody else, you just do what you do. But when you hear that, it’s amazing, ‘cause having had many influences myself, just to think that I was able to be what I saw in my favorite guitars players, other people are seeing in me, which is really, really cool.
Away-Team: Who are some of your influences?
Alex: Well, it started out with Randy Rhodes and Eddie Van Halen, Michael Shanker. I studied their influences, Jeff Beck, Clapton, Hendrix and then the classic Blues players. And then once I got into Jazz, Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny…
Away-Team: What made you pick up a guitar to begin with?
Alex: Yep. I discovered KISS and wanted to play KISS songs.
Away-Team: And it was the guitar always?
Alex: It was piano, very briefly in third grade. And then I had a bad music teacher and I, I quit piano. Now I bought a piano. I still like to play, but I have no plans to play professionally.
Away-Team: We’re not going to see you in a hotel lounge somewhere tickling the ivories…
Alex: Not anytime soon!
Away-Team: Well Alex, that pretty much wraps up my questions. I do appreciate your time… I wish you much luck with the rest of the tour…
Alex: Thank you!
Away-Team: The festivals this summer, of course TSO in the winter and then at some point next year we’ll hear a little bit from the trio again.
Alex: Yeah, yeah, going to try to squeeze out a new trio album. Or at least an EP this year.
Away-Team: Great! Alright, well I appreciate it Alex, thank you very much again for your time!
Alex: No problem Jim, good to see you again.
There you have it. We got some shout outs to Cliff Burton, James Hetfield and Spastik Children, Billy Milano of MOD and SOD, and KISS! My thanks to Brian at Adrenaline PR for setting up the interview, Mark for ensuring it actually happened, Alex for jumping in last minute and rescuing the interview, and Bam Bam as always for getting me in the interviews to begin with!
If you haven’t heard Formation Of Damnation go pick it up NOW!!!! And check out Testament on the road. The show that night was nothing short of amazing. The guys played with a furiousness that belied their age, and a sense of fun and having a good time. The music and vocals were spot on, and I did not hear one person walk away from that show with a bad word.
7 out of 10
1988 – Glenn Danzig released Danzig I. I remember it well. Never having grown up on punk I didn’t know about Samhain or the Misfits. But I heard that James Hetfield of Metallica was doing background vocals on this song about cocaine, and well, I was hooked the first time I heard ‘Twist of Cain’.
Danzig’s first two albums were stellar works. And there are a handful of songs on the last 7 albums that I still listen to, but overall the production and the songwriting has deteriorated from album to album.
2010 – Deth Red Sabaoth is released; it is Danzig’s ninth studio album and may very well be his best in 20 years. Upon first listen he still has that ‘rough’ production feel. Leaving the guitars very gritty while other parts of the production are overlaid quite polished and pristine. The first song to jump out at me on first listen is ‘On a Wicked Night’ with its acoustic opening and stripped down sound. Stark, barren, and ominous it leaves one envisioning a bleak winter’s dead forest, breath hanging frozen in the air, and unspeakable beings swirling around just out of sight.
Immediately following is ‘Deth Red Moon’ almost as a reprise to ‘On a Wicked Night’ the guitar work is nonstop and frenetic throughout the song.
The opening to ‘Ju Ju Bone’ is a spoken piece by Glenn who seems to be channeling Elvis Presley not only while speaking but his inflection while singing gives the listener pause, This ‘sounds’ like a Danzig song, but damn, Is that Elvis singing ‘JU JU Bone’? Again, very solid guitar work and soloing throughout the song.
‘Pyre Of The Souls: Incanticle’ is a direct descendant from Glenn Danzig’s Arias. Leading into the darkest, heaviest of the albums tracks ‘Pyre of the Souls: Seasons of Pain’.
The final cut, ‘Left Hand Rise Above’ starts out almost as an epic, a very grandeur opening leading to a sparse soundscape of verses crescendo rising only to fall on the sparse musical landscape of the next verse.
While this is not Danzig I or Danzig II level music, it is definitely his strongest material since How the Gods Kill and his most cohesive album by far.
You can pick up Deth Red Sabaoth today on Amazon and download it on Amazon mp3.
For more information visit Danzig‘s website here.