It’s the hottest day of the year so far in London and before you start imagining a lovely picture of a sundrenched European capital with happy citizens, joyfully going about their business, well, think again. The heat is cloying and claustrophobic; offices without air conditioning units become like bakers ovens. Everyone is sweaty and grumpy. Everyone it seems with the exception of Testament’s lead vocalist and driving force Chuck Billy.
Chuck is in Europe for a couple of days of press and PR as part of a drive for the anticipated new Testament album- their eleventh – Brotherhood of the Snake,scheduled for release at the end of October from Nuclear Blast. Chuck is laid back, ebullient and, dare we say it, excited as a kid in a sweet shop ahead of the release of his his band’s new album. As you’d expect, Chuck was happy to talk about the new record but, as it’s Chuck, you can talk just about anything so we took him up on it offer, talking songwriting, studio pressures and, err, Donald Trump….
So, Brotherhood of the Snake. How are you feeling about it now it’s done and just about to hit the streets?
Chuck: Well, with Brotherhood of the Snake we wanted to go for a far more thrashier record, a harder and much more aggressive record than Dark Roots of Earth. From a personal perspective, I wanted to focus this time on doing a lot more singing, but ultimately it was about doing something more aggressive and heavy and I think we have accomplished all of those things.
Talk to us about the recording process. How easily did things come together for you?
Chuck: Frankly, this was one of the hardest, if not the hardest, records that we have made. Eric (Peterson) and I had our battles getting this one done for sure. For a start, because of our scheduling and our touring commitments we had to get this record finished by the 15th June or we wouldn’t have gotten a record out this year. We have our European commitments lined up (ed: an eight week tour with Amon Amarth) and so it was essential we delivered an album. That brings a pressure. Consequently, we had to simply get into the studio and do things live. As a band. From scratch. It is the first time in years that we went in without all of the band knowing the songs and laying their parts down. So we were in the studio without Alex (Skolnick) and Steve (DiGiorgio) knowing any of the songs that we had done for the record. That can be quite a scary thing but I also think that just going with things and just getting things done also paid off because it’s given the record a pace and an energy that you can hear on the record. It’s record where we have written quickly, performed as an organic unit and dispensed with over production and that sort of thing.
We see that you’ve teamed up again for production duties with Andy Sneap….
Chuck: Oh, he did a great job once again. With Andy, he has got such a great ear for this sort of thing. Nothing ever gets by him; he has a great understanding of what we were trying to achieve and knows exactly what we need. Randy (Staub) did a great job on the recording. Like said earlier, all of the band have contributed to
We have read you talk about this record in terms of it being like Slayer’s Reign in Blood…
Chuck: Well in terms of how much of a thrash record this is like Reign in Blood; how immediate this is, the energy we had when we recorded in the studio: then, it that sense, it is like Reign in Blood. If nothing else, this has got some of the fastest stuff that we have ever played.
Given the forthcoming tour, have you decided how you’re going to be deciding what songs you’re going to be playing?
Chuck: Oh, for sure. There are already at least four or five tracks that are going straight into the set. With Dark Roots… there were three or four songs that we wanted to put in so the fact that we are putting four or five into the set straight away probably gives you an indication of how we are feeling about this album and how we think the fans are going to react to this album. You know though there are songs that we HAVE to do because it’s a Testament show, ya know? We know the fans are expecting us to do some of our old classic stuff and, for sure, we will be doing that too but there will be a lot of the new album too- we haven’t finalised how the final set will look and will probably shake it up from night to night but we will be doing
Brotherhood of the Snake’s title track deals with secret societies and power and so on…given the forthcoming US presidential election- how are you feeling about who the next president of the USA might be?
Chuck: (exasperated) Oh man, I don’t wanna know. I try not to get involved in politics. I have a bad taste for politics and politicians. Of course, I have interests in what’s going on in the world, whether it’s the interest in the secret societies that we have looked at on the new album or the environmental stuff like we did on Dark Roots… but I have little hope that these guys will do what is needed. If I think about my own tribe and their reservation. They had no help from politicians and no help from government. No one wanted to know. So we had to look out for ourselves and our kids and our communities. Mind you, once we developed ourselves and had tourists coming to us and we built ourselves a casino, for sure, the government started getting interested then! They wanted their own piece of our good fortune..but you know, I don’t care much for either of the candidates; it will still be the same.
Outside of Testament, you’ve been busy with Breaking Bands, your management company. How has that been going?
Chuck: It’s great. We have six or seven bands on our roster now. It’s great to be able to contribute something and it’s a team effort you know? If you think about the energy and management experience that Jon and Marsha (Zazula) bring to things and Maria (Ferrero) from a PR perspective and then me: I think I bring something too, from experience of what it’s like to be in a band, what it’s like being on the road constantly, what you need to do to survive in this business- I think we all bring something to things and I hope that the bands that we love and support recognise that we are doing this because we love the music.
That’s a nice segway to our next question. Aside from your own record, what band’s have you been listening to?
Chuck: Oh Man! I have been listening to so much stuff. Let me think. I guess that I should really answer this in the sense of which records have I been listening to over and over. The latest Anthrax record I love. Love, love, love. And the last Machine Head record- I know that’s not quite so new, but I love what they did with that record and, given everything that happened, the last Lamb of God record I also thought was amazing. But the Anthrax record…I keep meaning to take it out of the CD player but…I don’t know..I keep going back and back to it!
Back to Brotherhood of the Snake. What do you hope for it?
Chuck: We are excited; Despite the challenges- not having everything mapped out, the logistics of needing to get everything finalised in the studio. Going in like that, even after all this time, was a scary thing but I think we have pulled it off. Our initial anxiety pushed us out of our comfort zone and really opened up the creativity..I am really proud of the final product.
Testament’s Brotherhood of the Snake releases on October 28th via Nuclear Blast Records. You can pre-order it here!