Testament’s Chuck Billy Talks Touring, Creating Music + More
Chuck Billy of Testament was the guest on Full Metal Jackie’s radio show this past weekend. The frontman spoke about the band’s tour with Overkill, as well as the pressures of creating music and his feelings on the progression of Testament’s sound . Read Full Metal Jackie’s interview with Chuck Billy below:
You guys are out on this monster tour, how are you guys feeling so far?
So far so good, we started in San Francisco our hometown so that’s always a hectic place. You always want to end the show at home but it ended up being a great kick off and so far the response from the fans have been awesome – they’re really excited for the tour and it’s been great.
You guys are going to be filming on this tour for a fourth coming DVD. Which will be more stressful: incorporating more than half of your new album into the set or being conscious of the cameras running?
Probably just the new material, the last DVD I think was ‘Live in London’ ’05, I believe, and the one before that was the Filmore Show so a lot of it was the classic stuff so we really wanted to play the newer stuff from ‘The Gathering,’ ‘The Formation’ to ‘Dark Roots’ so we’ve kind of been building a set on this tour building up to that.
This is probably the most songs we’ve ever played in a live performance right off a brand new record. Usually we test the waters with one or two songs on the set, right away we’re nailing five in the show so it’s been pretty cool.
Overkill, Flotsam & Jetsam are also on the bill, and like you, Overkill goes way back to the beginning of thrash in the early ‘80s. Back then what impact did Overkill have on the scene and what do you like best about them now?
When it first started we were young and it was about the East Coast / West Coast battle of styles of thrash. It was funny because Overkill was actually one of the first bands we toured with on ‘The Legacy’ record and it’s funny because we’ve seen each other and toured that tour and in the 25 plus years we haven’t even ran into each other anywhere, not festivals in Europe, nowhere.
It was weird coming to this tour, it’s going to be déjà vu all over again like I wonder how it’s going to feel, when we were young it was that East Coast / West Coast rivalry, I wonder how it’s going to be this time. We’ve seen each other and we talk about families and the kids and me and Bobby [Blitz] were actually just talking about how it’s a new generation of metalheads now and how both of us have just forced through with our own styles of music and still doing what we do best. It’s great here we are again 20 plus years later doing it again.
Chuck, do you hear music differently now in terms of the kind of music you like and even your own music?
I think in our own music it’s definitely matured just because there has been so many newer, younger bands coming up, putting out great metal and it does influence us because we listen to that and it’s this full circle. I’d say our last three records, they’re really current sounding material and I think it doesn’t sound like a nostalgic act. I think we’ve evolved, I guess, into what we perceive as being modern metal.
For me music, because music is what puts me in a certain mental place and what makes me happy and feel good is the music that I listened to in high school. I still listen to Thin Lizzy and UFO and stuff like that and it takes me back to the good times when you didn’t have much worries going on.
At the time ‘The Formation of Damnation’ was arguably the strongest Testament album to date then ‘Dark Roots of Earth’ was released last year so you’re two for two. Do you think that will create much pressure when it comes time for the next album?
It does, it always creates pressure but like with ‘The Dark Roots’ record and we knew with ‘Formation,’ we were like, “How are we going to top that’ and before that it was ‘The Gathering’ and how we’re going to top that. With this record, we really went into it with, especially having close to the original lineup now, a big sense of confidence just in the live shows and writers and friends and bandmates.
This record was one where the songs we were writing – we didn’t really think about fans or what critics were going to think about it because we wouldn’t have put songs like ’Cold Embrace’ or ‘Dark Roots of Earth’ on records of the past because somewhere in the back of your mind you’re going to be thinking, “What are they going to think? Are they going to think we’re slowing down or letting up?” With this record that didn’t really even cross our minds.
When we were writing it and hearing the riffs it felt good and it’s like, “We’re digging it, let’s go” and it didn’t really strike us that way and then to get the reception from the public on the record it’s almost like, “Man we’ve stuck with our gut feeling on this one” and it’s really gratifying where we’re at with this record.
I think it’s Testament’s time, that’s what it feels like to me and well deserved.
Thanks, I mean I think every record you put out, you think it’s your time and this is going to be the one. The record industry is so different from when it was when we started in the ‘80s. Metal was a lot stronger radio was a lot stronger, MTV and all that kind of stuff, record stores were all over the place in your local cities. Now everything’s changed so to get recognized like that where we’re at with less than what we had back then it’s definitely an accomplishment.
Full Metal Jackie will welcome Steve Von Till of Neurosis to her program this coming weekend. She can be heard on radio stations around the country — for a full list of stations, go to fullmetaljackieradio.com.