Testament’s Chuck Billy Discusses New Album ‘Dark Roots of Earth’ + Randy Blythe Situation
Testament frontman Chuck Billy was the guest on Full Metal Jackie’s radio show this past weekend. Billy spoke all about the band's 10th studio album 'Dark Roots of Earth' as well as touring Europe and America for the rest of the year. He also shared his view on the current situation with Lamb of God's frontman Randy Blythe being incarcerated. If you missed Full Metal Jackie’s show, check out her interview with Chuck Billy below:
Happy to have you on the show and really excited about this new album ‘Dark Roots of Earth’
Yeah it’s going good, we’re all really excited with everything that’s been happening. It’s always exciting when you get a new record goin’ and all the hard work is behind you and you’re like, “Alright, now we just get to play.”
’Dark Roots of Earth’ is the name of the new record and I was actually lucky enough to get to hear some tracks in the early stage when you guys were working on some stuff in Los Angeles. Is a lot of what happened during that time what ended up being on the record?
Yeah, I mean I was working lyrically, I re-wrote a bunch of stuff. I think at that point re-wrote three times, I really wanted to make it right instead of just settling. I waited until everybody in the band was happy with the lyrics, melodies and everything.
Chuck, ‘Formation of Damnation’ kind of set the bar high since it was such an awesome record. Are great expectations a good creative fuel or just a lot of stress?
It’s stress [laughs] but I think it really makes you work harder and definitely like ‘Formation’ it was going to be a hard one to top but it really did make us work harder. I think out of this record we’re pretty confident and comfortable as band members and friends at this point with Testament having Alex [Skolnick] and Greg [Christian] back in the fold and we’re seven years back into the reunion now so I think a lot of that really shows in the songwriting. We worked so long together we know what our limits are what we can do and what we expect of each other so it kind of fell into place. It was real natural.
Following up such a well received album, do you search for inspiration that becomes a starting point or it is as simple as just writing more songs?
At this point about writing more songs, like I said the task is more focused on this being a concept record but I think we found our self, where we’re at writing and I think the title ‘Dark Roots of Earth’ was kind of perfect when Eric [Peterson] came up with the title because to me it represented a reunion and us grounding our self with the earth because we’ve always been a planet conscious band. The title was pretty appropriate and like always each song usually stands on their own there’s nothing that feels like it’s been done before by us.
I want us to talk about this contest that you guys are running because I want us to win. So could you talk about this free Testament show that you’re offering to fans pre-ordering the record?
Nuclear Blast has been doing an awesome campaign on the record and we just wanted to keep it rollin’ and keep the more cool things and ideas going and we were like “What better reward than to have a free concert by us?” It’s just as simple as having the advanced record, which has three cover songs on there, there’s a Spanish version of ‘Native Blood,’ so we thought “Let’s see if we could really push and get that sold” so whatever station gets the word out and the kids by it and request it at their local station, heck we’ll come out and play a free concert and let it rip.
Most fans know Alex Skolnick has an ear for music beyond the metal genre. What about you, what non-metal music impacts the metal music you write and sing?
I don’t know, I’m pretty metal but I think it’s just what I enjoy listening to. When I was younger bands like UFO and Thin Lizzy I was drawn to the melody of the vocals and I think that’s where its inspired me no matter how hard or fast the guys will write something. I always try to infuse a little bit of melody in something and that’s the part that I’ve always focused on trying to bring to Testament without trying to do what is expected or what some of these stereotypical heavy metal bands – you say you play heavy metal – and right away they think growling and grunts right away. Then when someone hears you and hears a little melody it’s like “Oh wait, that’s not what I expected.”
Do you like surprising people like that?
Well I do because I think over the years I’ve gotten better and I’m more focused on singing and what I do. Yeah I enjoy it, like on this record I sing a song called ‘Cold Embrace’ and it’s a ballad. We haven’t done a ballad in 15 years and I actually found a new tone of my voice that I haven’t really used on a record before so I’m even surprised at myself finding things. You just got to keep pushing it and see what happens.
Tell us what we can expect in terms of touring.
We’re going to be leaving [in late July] for Europe. The first stop is in Italy and once we get back the record will be out in America and we start the third leg of the Anthrax, Death Angel tour in the U.S. and Canada and then right away we go back to Europe to fill out the rest of the year and by that time hopefully by that time all the promoters and everybody will want to have us around to come place. So next year’s calendar should be busy, I hope.
Looking forward to checking you out again, I feel like it’s been a minute.
Yeah it has. We’ve toured three years on that ‘Formation’ record and it took maybe a year to write this one so it’s well overdue, get some new songs out there and start the process again.
I want to talk to you a second about the Randy [Blythe] situation. The metal community is closely following Randy from Lamb of God’s detainment. You kind of wear the same boots, you’re the frontman of a metal band, you’ve seen a fair share of stage diving, what’s most unsettling to you about the situation?
Well about that situation, I mean when you’re onstage -- in Randy’s situation he’s a guy that wears glasses and I’ve read that it’s hard to really see especially in the dark when things are going crazy and you’re banging your head. I’ve had guys come up, banging my head and next thing you know they’re almost tackling me. It’s surprising and you can handle it different ways. In my young years, there’s forty people offstage onto the top of the crowd and you don’t really think about that, about the impact.
In Randy’s case it’s unfortunate because you really don’t know what happened beyond that stage, you don’t know what happened after the kid was off the stage, something else could have happened or involved in the end result. It’s just a really bad situation, even thought the parents are maybe lookin’ for justice but to bring it onto the band like that, it’s not like Randy assaulted somebody or was purposely coming after someone.
It was almost kind of just protecting himself from being either pushed out into the crowd or somebody actually really up there to hurt him so you’re put in a weird situation and it’s happened to us before. I’ve gotten sued for hitting someone with my mic stand and made it through it but it makes you think “Wow, what kind of protection do you have up here?” Ever since those day I’ve told promoters, we got to have a barricade, we got to have security. We’re not playing unless we have it because it’s so out of control. It’s just a sad situation.
Do you feel like there’s going to be big changes due to what’s been going on?
I hope. It’s just a shame when you go buy a ticket for this concert that there’s not some sort of clause or something at the back of the ticket and you’re buying the ticket at your own risk. There needs to be something like that, some sort of protection, if there was something like that and someone who violated who came up and been approached three times it’d be pretty cut and dry but there doesn’t seem to be anything that protects the musician, artist, or venue order of that kind of situation.
Yeah, it’s pretty scary.
It’s like me up there getting up there saying “Okay I want everybody in the pit or do the Wall of Death” and somebody gets hurt. It’s the old saying “If I told you to jump off a bridge, would you jump?” So it’s a really tough spot to be in.
This coming weekend, Full Metal Jackie will welcome Fear Factory frontman Burton C. Bell on her show. Full Metal Jackie can be heard on radio stations around the country — for a full list of stations, go to fullmetaljackieradio.com.