Testament’s Chuck Billy: I Found My Vocal Comfort Zone on ‘The Gathering’
Testament's Chuck Billy was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. The singer was on hand to discuss the thrash legends' 12th studio album, Titans of Creation and how he manages to keep things fresh after working with the same production team from album-to-album along with his ever-strong trust in his collaborative partner Eric Peterson.
The frontman, who is recovering from testing positive for COVID-19 after returning from a tour in Europe, spoke about his current health status, excited that he's finally able to get back outside after being in quarantine. He's on the mend, feeling more like himself now.
Known for his dynamic vocal abilities, Billy also touched on how long it was before he finally got comfortable exploring the depth of his full range and putting it into action within Testament.
Check out the full chat below.
I'm so happy to hear your voice. It was obviously very scary to hear that you and your wife ended up with COVID-19 and wow, what a scary experience it must have been.
From us experiencing it, being on the road [in Europe], all the way to getting home and by the time we got home, it all hit a group of us in our band and crew right away within a 24-hour window. Then we just locked ourselves down and quarantined ourselves right away and we all got tested within the next few days after being home. All of us just stayed tight with each other and rode it out. Some of us got medicated and some of us didn't. They just told us to go home, ride it out and stay quarantined.
But you're feeling better now?
So far. The last four days we're feeling more like ourselves. We had no energy. We're up and about, doing normal things now. Today was the first day we actually went out in the last 14 days. We finally went out and went grocery shopping with our masks and gloves on and everything.
It is craziness out there.
It's madness. The stores are just... that's even another thing, in itself, how mad that is there.
Well, Testament have a new record out — Titans of Creation. You had an established team already in place to produce, mix and create artwork for the record. How did that familiarity benefit the process of making the album?
We've worked with [engineer and co-producer Juan Urteaga and Andy Sneap who mixed and mastered Titans of Creation] for so many records now and really just trust their opinion and the way they sees us. It's one of my favorite mixes by Andy. I think he's spent a lot of time the last couple years out on the Priest tour and maybe came home and was ready to get back into the studio vibe. We knew he was going to come through.
The artwork actually was created before we ever came up with the title of the record. It all started on this sketch and we watched it come to life over a few months. It's nice to have the same team that we've been working with for a while. They did a great job once again.
Testament, "Night of the Witch"
The songs on this record are very thrash, but also melodic. As a vocalist what is the biggest challenge to incorporating melody into fast, aggressive music?
It's definitely a challenge. Probably five to six songs were written already, but I didn't really have a solid melody. A lot of them, really, are kind of hitting the mic in the studio and letting it roll — whatever the first instinct is comes out. We're just mumbling our way through it, finding comfortable stuff.
That ended up being the way a lot of the songs turned out. We molded them around the way we came up with them on the spot. I think it was really just pushing us out of our comfort zone, being a little creative and not sitting on it too long and overthinking it. In that sense, the record definitely stands out a little bit.
Eric Peterson says the record label suggested that you write songs that are evil. How do you specifically get yourself into that mindset to write songs about evil?
I think that's Eric's approach on it. [laughs] He never told me that one, but we always go back and forth whenever it's time to write. Especially for me, it's like, 'Okay, well, what should we write?' and I'll say, 'Just make it heavy.' That's all I say to them — just make it heavy.
Eric really stepped outside the box on this record. There was some stuff on the record where it's probably not necessarily the most comfortable stuff to sing over and it made it a little more challenging in some of the songs. It definitely gave it a different mood and vibe of the way we created the song, so, in that sense, I'll give that to Eric.
You've been in bands since you were a kid. At what point in your development as a performer did you start feeling fully comfortable with your abilities and technique?
I don't know if I'll ever feel comfortable. I think it's from tour to tour, but, I would say that after The Gathering record, I really found my comfort zone as far as the styling and the way I approach the vocals, mixing the combination of depth of voice with the more melodic tone of voice. From that point, it probably opened up the door and made it a little more experimental.
The albums you're making now are regarded just as highly as the music that first established the band. What's something that's never changed in terms of how you approach creativity?
I'm fortunate enough to be creating songs with guys like Eric and because we've been working a long time, he knows my limits and he knows what I expect from him. But, it always seems to work out with the songs. I bring in guys like [Exodus singer] Steve Souza to work with me. He knows Eric from the beginning as well and that style of trying to get out the early feeling. I just give it to Eric — he's always stayed straight on what is Testament and not being someone else.
Testament, "Children of the Next Level"
Obviously, things are on hold but you guys are usually touring nonstop. Tell me about what aspects of living that nomadic lifestyle continued to appeal to you at this point in your life.
At this point it's what we know and what we do. We're kind of fortunate since we had the reunion in '05, it's pretty much been a solid lineup. We've been pretty consistent on touring, but things like this happen and this affects everybody in society, unfortunately, but it's a weird time we're living in.
It really truly is and I'm so happy you're doing better.
Thank you so much. We're feeling much better and you know there's a lot of people out there. We see it's affected everybody and everybody has to do their part to get a grip on this. Isolate yourself, quarantine yourself — that seems to be the only way we're gonna get a grip on this.
You've been home now and you guys were quarantined. Aside from getting better, how are you passing the time from not being able to get out there?
The first 10 or 11 days it was really a lot of sleep and rest and a lack of comfort. The last three or four days we've finally been getting outside, getting fresh air, and the feeling the sun on our face. I'm feeling normal a little bit again. Not a lot is going on otherwise — a lot of TV and a lot of Netflix.
Thanks to Chuck Billy for the interview. Get your copy of 'Titans of Creation' here and follow Testament on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.
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