On June 29, Brandon Marshall of Sonic Excess conducted an interview with vocalist Chuck Billy of San Francisco thrashers TESTAMENT. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Sonic Excess: The "American Carnage" tour is just one month away. How have you been preparing for the tour, and will TESTAMENT be playing "The Legacy" in its entirety as you did earlier this year?
Chuck Billy: No, we are not going to be playing "The Legacy", because we did that with MEGADETH early in the year. It's with SLAYER and MEGADETH, so we're pulling out some of our harder songs on "The Gathering" and "The Formation of Damnation" record.
Sonic Excess: What about "Demonic"?
Chuck Billy: Yeah, also that one. It's going to be a harder set then what we did for the MEGADETH and JUDAS PRIEST tour. We have covered a lot of ground over the last couple of years, and we choose our sets depending on who we're playing with and what audience we are playing to. This time around, it's gonna be a harder set for sure!
Sonic Excess: Twenty years ago, TESTAMENT played with SLAYER and MEGADETH on the "Clash of the Titans" tour. How do you think the "American Carnage" tour will be different, and why not call it "Clash of the Titans II"?
Chuck Billy: I don't know why they didn't call it that, but I think this time around... Shit, that was 20 years ago, that (the "Clash of the Titans" tour) was a big party with all the bands and crew. There was a lot of Jägermeister going around. Of course, back then the partying was more intense. We thought we would perform better being drunk, but that's what we thought. [Laughs] As for today, I can't speak for SLAYER and MEGADETH, but for TESTAMENT, it's more about the performance, and the show for the fans that are paying money. Before it wasn't. It was more about ourselves and how much fun we're having and how much we can get fucked up; we never thought about the people who are paying money to see us. Now, in our life and in our career, our number one priority is performing good and sounding good and giving our fans their money's worth, especially in today's economy. We want to give them as much as we can for their buck, and that's why we offer the VIP passes. We have never done that before, and when we did, we just started seeing so much fan appreciation. So, we kept doing it. It really is a chance for fans to speak their minds to us in person or just hang for an hour. This time in our career, it's all about the fans and the performance.
Sonic Excess: TESTAMENT toured with HEAVEN & HELL on the "Metal Masters Tour" in 2008. What will you remember most about that tour and about Ronnie James Dio?
Chuck Billy: We toured with BLACK SABATH back in '92 or '93. It was the last tour he (Ronnie James Dio) did with them before leaving the band. To do a tour like that again, and see everyone, was like old times. It was always special with Ronnie. He was a guy that cared about how things were going. To me, he was a guy with a remarkable memory. He remembered people's names that he met years prior. He was just a down-to-earth guy. We toured with him in Europe, in the winter, and we would always be in the dressing room and just hang out. It was pretty cool. It was special doing it out here too, with JUDAS PRIEST, another hero of ours.
Sonic Excess: TESTAMENT held off on touring Europe to work on the new album. What can you tell us about it?
Chuck Billy: Progress is slow. We are still working on writing the record. There's all kinds of things happening. We decided we weren't going to tour, then the "American Carnage" tour came up in February, and, of course, that was postponed. After that, we had planned not to tour and just work on the record. But that tour got postponed, and we went out with MEGADETH and did a few shows here and there. So it's been slow, with progress of the record, but it's coming along. We are leaving for two shows in Europe, then we gear up for the "Carnage" tour. So, we will see if we can write on the road. We may have some inspiration from the tour, so we'll see.
Sonic Excess: Do you have a projected release date?
Chuck Billy: Definitely early next year; first quarter next year.
Sonic Excess: How many songs do you have written?
Chuck Billy: We don't have any completed. It's just a lot of riffs.
Sonic Excess: Would you say it's a continuation of "The Formation of Damnation"?
Chuck Billy: No, I would say it has elements of it. I think where we're at is finding that ground. I like the elements in "The Gathering". I enjoyed the straight-forward power of "The Formation of Damnation". So, somewhere in there, there's got to be a combination of them both. We know what we are looking for and what we are trying to write, but until you write the lyrics and the melody, with the grove that makes you feel good, that's when it will happen.
Sonic Excess: Earlier you mention that you have quite a few riffs. Do you have one song structured enough to maybe play it on the "American Carnage" tour?
Chuck Billy: Possibly, but I'm not sure if we will, because Alex [Skolnick, guitar] isn't here with us writing and rehearsing. So we would want to be prepared. With the rest of the band, we write. Alex does his thing and goes on tour with different bands, and he meets us prepared and does his thing. The new stuff could be ready, but I think we are going to keep it under wraps for that tour as well.
Sonic Excess: What is the lyrical content looking like?
Chuck Billy: I haven't really written about my cancer experience and the whole spiritual experience I went through. So I might tap into a little of that. Just things that we go though, and what people go though on a daily basis. I like to write about the planet, so there is plenty of shit to write about.
Sonic Excess: With a nine-year gap between "The Gathering" and "The Formation of Damnation", were you surprised with its success, and do you have any added pressure with the new album?
Chuck Billy: With "The Formation" album, we were very excited. Well, honestly, not when we wrote it. I knew we had some good stuff. I was happy with the melodies right out of the gate. With a couple of songs, and literally the first time hearing it, we knew we had a great melody and pattern. It stuck the first time around and was very natural. We wrote a lot of songs like that. Until we actually went and mixed the record, we sat down and were like, "Goddamn, this record is pretty fucking good!" We couldn't wait for everyone to hear it and have the same reaction. Our goal was to be better than on "The Gathering", because there was a lot of hype on that record for us. With it being nine years, there was a lot of pressure.
Read the entire interview from Sonic Excess.