Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza is a living metal history. A fixture in the Bay Area Thrash scene for 35 years, he played a pivotal role in that era coming about to be one of the most dominant forces in metal music history. As the front man of Legacy, the forerunner to Testament, he laid the foundation that band in its early days that led to their future success. As the second front man of Exodus (from 1986-1993, 2002 -2004) he not only helped cement their status at thrash kings, and even helped jolt the band back to life with the excellent Tempo of the Damned in 2004. In addition to some other bands (Tenet, Dublin Death Patrol), Steve has fronted Hatriot which continues his own journey in music, continuing the tradition he helped put down long ago.
Hatriot has been a fast riser musically. In less than four years the band has cut their teeth touring, released an excellent EP, and a full length in 2013 Heroes of Origin. Coming right back with their new album Dawn of the new Centurion (Massacre), Steve told Ghost Cult about the difference between the two albums:
“I think that Heroes of Origin was kind of a quick killer. The songs were very intense. I like to explain that it was like putting a fist up to your face, keeping it there and not letting it go until the album was over. And then when the album was done, it was like a breath of fresh air. Dawn of the New Centurion is more like a stealth killer. It’s still brutal and fast. If you know any history, the Romans were the ultimate warriors, and Roman soldiers were the ultimate warriors; and they were called the Centurions. So we are the new Centurions. So we blew your faces apart with Heroes of Origin, but with Dawn of the New Centurions; now we are the stealth killers. We are silent, but just as deadly.”
Steve has always been a strong lyricist, able to keep heady concepts and verbose lines sound smooth. Upon listening to the new album, we couldn’t help but notice a few politically charged tracks such as ‘From My Cold Dead Hand’, ‘Superkillafragsadisticactsaresoatrocious’ (the title might make you chuckle, but the song is sick), and ”World Funeral’, we though we heard a loose theme in these songs. Steve dismissed talk of a concept album, or even overly political motivations for his songs:
“You are the second person in two days to ask me that! I don’t write in concepts at all. I don’t write like that. I write what intrigues me. A lot of them are social and political themes, although not necessarily about what they mean to me. You are clearly talking about ‘From My Cold Dead Hand’ which opens the record. I’m not even a gun owner, nor have I ever shot a gun, and I’m not a hunter, but I believe in The Second Amendment. So I believe in freedom. With the internet you get that good information, but also not we have internet predators, which we never had before. Like all things, you get good and bad. With guns it’s a life ender there, or at least a game changer definitely. So for people like Ted Nugent, who I mention at the end of the song, who are hunters, avid hunters and have been their entire life, who preach safety and the gun rights laws. I watch his show, Spirit of the Wild, and I love it! Just because it’s Ted, I like to see it, and he’s always talking about gun safety, and gun laws, and to be aware of that. Now I grew up in California, but to people who grew up in Wisconsin, when your son turns 10, you go buy him a shotgun and you go hunting. So for all those people, I would never change any of the laws that were implemented at the start of this country. That is basically what that is all about.”
“Just like ‘Weapons of Class Destruction’ on the last record, it’s things that intrigue me socially and politically. Things that I am socially aware of, but neither for nor against, just interested in them. I think it happens that way, not purposely. There are always things I write about in that respect. Obviously the Pussy Riot thing was very intriguing to me. That song itself is about world leaders who have the power to run their countries with tyranny, and eventually they end up with a violent ending and eventually they get ruined. That’s what the word ‘Superkillafragsadisticactsaresoatrocious’ in the song is about (the song has an ending chant calling to “free Pussy Riot”). I think Putin, and they way they are looked at in Russia, I think that is the same way subtlety almost the same thing, but the way people look at free speech. We are in 2014 and there is so much social media with everyone has a camera and a microphone is everywhere. I don’t think it should ever be regressed or oppressed. It should always be out front. To put three girls in jail, for something malicious… I think it was much more malicious act, more than just something just illegal. And to make such a big case against them and a warranting a big trial, and all this media attention, to make a large statement in a world so free now. And the anti-gay laws and the things that country is still stuck in. Even though Pussy Riot is now free, “Free Pussy Riot” stands forever. It doesn’t just mean “Free Pussy Riot”. It means free anything directly that has to do with that sort of thing. When we go to other countries, and I do interviews all around the world. I talk to everyone, and believe me, the United States is still, by far, the leader of freedom and the way of life.”
We discuss with Steve the noticeable improvement on Dawn of the new Centurion from their earlier material. The songs are more adventurous and and the band overall sounds a lot tighter. Steve credits this to his enforcement of a strong band work ethic, and some new blood in the lineup too:
“Like you said, it’s the maturation process. Basically, these kids that I have thrown into this world, who are all really great players in their own right, even my sons who have grown up around this. They see Chuck Billy and Gary Holt as dad’s friends. Phil Demmel, and guys like that are dad’s friends. They don’t see those guys how other people see those guys. They are not easily conned-out on that. They know what it takes to do this. They are reminded of this all the time and they know how to do it this time. Plus we have a system down. To let you in on something: we already have two new songs written for the next record. This record is not even out yet, and we have two new songs written for the next Hatriot album. So I think with the youth in the band, to keep it going, and my direction we can keep it going. I gave you one album twelve months ago. And I’m giving you a new just one a year later. Bands don’t really do that anymore. It seems like there are so many years between releases and I don’t know why. I don’t know why it takes bands so long to put out new music these days. For us, we work every week. Whether it’s writing, or rehearsing for a tour, working on the live set, that’s how you keep a tight band. And they realize this works. We are a real tight machine now, because we play all the time. It’s the only way I know. It’s how I learned it. When I was in Legacy, we practiced every night of the week. That’s just how we got there. That’s all we cared about. I try to make these guys realize that to do records, to get go to Europe, to do interviews; this is all a plus and you have to be very, very thankful and appreciate it. It doesn’t come to everybody. I don’t ever let them lose sight of that ever.”
One source of pride for Steve is that both his sons, Cody (bass) and Nick (drums) are both in his band now. Neither of them had anything handed to them, both earning their spot through a grueling process of wood-shedding, and auditioning to win the jobs outright. He talked about how his sons got interested in playing music, and eventually became skilled enough to pass muster:
“I remember being in Exodus for the second stint, during Tempo of the Damned. And I remember hanging out with Jack Gibson. Jack was in the middle of changing endorsements at that time. Cody just had an old bass in the house he was just banging around on. So I bought this ESP custom bass from Jack and I brought it home, and here you go Cody, there it is. And my son taught himself to play. My son Cody, especially my oldest, is really smart and he basically looked up on the internet and taught himself how to play bass. My sons being younger were really into newer bands, like Slipknot. And as it turns out, those guys were big Exodus fans, so we got to meet them. And my son got to meet Joey Jordison, see him play and he was like “That’s what I want to do!” And he knows all these guys: like John Tempesta would come to my house for dinner, and he’s friends with Dave McClain. He knows all these guys. You know, real heavy hitters who do this for a living. So I bought him a drum kit and he continued to play it. I remember coming out to the garage and I told him you need to get better if you want to be as good as your idols like Joey and those guys, you have to get better. You need to practice harder. And he took that on. And we had another drummer in Hatriot who wanted to play in other projects, so his departure was inevitable. Nick kept saying “Dad I can do it! Dad I can do it!” And I was like uh, “sure no problem.” He practiced really hard and he learned all the songs. Actually, Andy Galleon, the original Death Angel drummer was going to try out, and I told Nick, “These other guys want your job!” So I made him audition, and I was really tough on him, because my other son was in the band, and I didn’t want to show favoritism. So he came in and I was really skeptical. He went in there and he nailed every one of those songs. For three nights he went in there with four other guys watching his every move. I didn’t even tell him he got it for a month. He just fit in and he was the best one for us. Now he is a really strong link for the band, and he an Kosta (Varvatakis, guitar)have a writing process that they do together.”
“Tonight’s rehearsal includes our cover songs and some Exodus songs. For our tour in South America in May, we were asked to play extra Exodus songs. And we said okay we would. So we are playing six Exodus songs. They range from stuff that they don’t do anymore: songs like ‘Chemi-kill’, ‘Til Death Do Us Part’, ‘Faster Than You’ll Ever Live To Be’. We are also doing ‘Toxic Waltz’ and it has to be down tonight. We don’t show up and run through the set first, we learn that song we need to know and nothing else. So when I sent them all a reminder by email or text messages, I told them to make sure they know ‘Toxic Waltz’ and when I say have it down tonight at rehearsal, they know I mean it. They need to come in knowing it. And I am known as “The Emperor” so when I say I mean it, I mean it. And I really mean it! I told them I want it done. I know how lazy bands can be. You have to work, work, work, work to get it done. I will call my manager at 5:30 in the morning and say “Hey, we we have to do this, this, this, and this.” I just rattle off shit, and I get straight to the point. I don’t have any other hobbies. This is what I do. This is all I do. That’s all I’ll ever do. And next year, you will get another new record.”
We asked Steve how is two grown sons also balance being in the band with their father, seeing some possible pitfalls as well as obvious benefits: “They are both very smart. They know what to do and they know what I did, because you can read all about it from our history. As anyone who knows us, we (Exodus) weren’t the greatest ones in the land. We were the baddy baddies… all the sex drugs and rock and roll. Those things were underlined on the sign on our (Exodus) tour bus door. They live on their own in an apartment. They both make a good living and have good jobs. One son is in the union for refrigeration. He makes almost as much as I do and I am a union foreman for a construction company, and have been for 20 years. I’ve been doing that since we got spit out from Capital 20 years ago. The business is all they have. Everyone does something in the band, everybody works. Practice nights are work nights and everybody works. Band guys, management, everybody. That’s the way I do it. I don’t stand for no-shows. And I’m the boss. That’s why we changed a member since our last record. Miguel (Esparza) is not in the band anymore, in case you noticed, that we have a new guitarist Justin Cole. Miguel did not like to work like I work. And you need to show up when I say you need to be there. And if you don’t want to be, you will be gone. I’ve been in many bands. I have been kicked out of many bands, and I have quit many bands. Big bands! So I know what it takes to do this. It takes a full effort from everyone. And being young, you have to put every ounce of effort into doing this to make it what you want to do. I talked to Nicolas today and I said what are you going to do tonight, and he said “I am going to the studio to work on my parts and practice more.” I told him “That is good. You are the drummer. You need more practice, and you need to get better. If you want to be like your boy Joey and you buddy Jason Bittner, and all of your heroes, and guys you are friends with and do this, you have to do the work.” You can’t be sitting around, it’s your job. And they all do put the work in.”
“We have shows booked mainly in California and Nevada right now. In May we go to South America. June is going to be pretty light for us. In July we have some stuff in the states and then we are doing Europe for three or four weeks. And then back to the states again for some one-off stuff. And we have a US tour booked with a band called Gamma Bomb. And Onslaught. So it’s Hatriot, Gamma Bomb and Onslaught this fall. I think in October. And in the meantime, we’re going to write new songs and keep busy. We did some other recordings, ‘Last Act of Defiance’ from Fabulous Disaster we re-recorded that. And we re-recorded ‘Reign of Terror’ from the Legacy demo. So those will be released throughout the year. And the B-side to the record is ‘Midnight Maniacs’ by Krokus. It wasn’t even my idea. I don’t write the riffs or come up with the music. People say to me “Zetro, when you write, this really sounds like Exodus and Testament when you write.” But I don’t write these rhythms. I just do the vocals to them. If you hear my vocals, you know it’s gonna sound like Exodus or Testament, and it would be good for a song like one from Krokus. And Kosta out guitarist, writes everything. I came into rehearsal and he was playing that riff to ‘Midnight Maniacs’. He was doing it for a long time actually. He said Zetro, we’re gonna do this song for the B-Side. And he held me to it! I think it came out really really great.
KEITH (KEEFY) CHACHKES