The best Christmas gifts are the most useful ones. Slapping a bow on a bottle of Jack is the easiest gift you can give a metalhead. The great thing about it? Even if they have a preference, they aren’t going to turn down free alcohol. Type any brand and the words “gift set” into Google and you’ll find something. However, premade gift sets have a tendency to be overpriced and generic. You’re better off grabbing an empty box and filling it up with a variety of airplane bottles. It’s kind of like a box of chocolates—But booze.
I wish I could say I knew Jonny Zazula back in the day, but I wasn’t quite old enough. Sure, I had heard all the stories. As a major Metallica and Anthrax fan, Jon and his wife Marsha’s life stories are Metal history as much as any riff, album or chorus. I bumped into Jon about twelve years ago at Starland Ballroom in New Jersey. I was there to see a Testament headline show. Jon and Eddie Trunk, who owes his career to Jon and Marsha to an extent, walked right by and I totally fanboyed out. I’m pretty sure I blurted out something lame like “Holy shit, Jonny Z! Thanks for everything!”, since that what was in my heart. He gave me like a half-pat on the arm, half a “hey dude I need to get by you” move and slipped past me on his way backstage. Trunk just smiled. That was my in-person brush with him, until a recent phone interview (coming soon) for this book release. The book is a memoir about an enterprising music lover who put a genre or two on his back and raised up everyone around him toward greatness.
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. Continue reading →
Alice, Texas is hardly the hotbed of music when it comes to finding the next big thing. Even finding any musical acts can be somewhat like finding a needle in a haystack, but for the members of Shattered Sun, they beat the odds and found themselves opportunities that their peers have yet to reach.
They have released their debut album Hope Within Hatred earlier this year (via Victory Records) and have toured with Testament and Exodus and on the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Fest’s second stage. But prior to all of this happening, how they were discovered became quite the story.
Marcos Leal of Shattered Sun. Photo Credit: Kevin Estrada.
The original incarnation of the band began in 2005 but solidified a modified lineup a year later and the seeds were planted towards building the foundation of what is now Shattered Sun.
“Basically we’ve been doing stuff since we were kids,” explained frontman Marcos Leal. “Bands…you know how it goes with switching members and all of that stuff.”
“In 2010, me and our guitarist Daniel [Trejo] sat down and said ‘we want to make this our lives and we want to do this the right way, so let’s go find some members that want it as bad as we do.’ We found the right lineup and we immediately went into the studio and recorded our ep Confessions. We just rolled from there.”
Being in a small town, they pushed themselves to get their name out across their home state of Texas. They immediately began to book shows around the state and got their name out everywhere they could physically get themselves a show. The plan worked and built a steady following.
“What you have to do is you kind of have to make a name for yourself in those bigger cities. That’s exactly what we did. Once we finished putting out our ep Confessions together, we got out there and hit all of the major markets – San Antonio, Austin, Dallas…all of those places and slowly making a name for ourselves in those places and building a fan base,” said Leal.
They drew inspiration from bands from Texas such as Pantera and Drowning Pool to carry the flag across the music scene and keeping the musical spirit alive.
“It’s been great. Those bands are influences and we want to be the next band to represent Texas. We want to be that Pantera status. They’re obviously huge but we intend to set the bar too for our state.”
Henry Garza of Shattered Sun
He talked about the areas of Texas that responded to Shattered Sun immediately after they began playing out. They traded shows with local bands in each area, which helped them building bonds to help spreading the word.
“Immediately right off the bat, Corpus [Christi] is a major market. It’s an hour away from our home town. Our producer is from Corpus Christi too. He was tied into that metal scene. We just basically got with all of the big bands in the local scene there and started opening for them and slowly got a following.”
Prior to the recording of their 2012 self released EP Confessions, they caught the attention of Testament frontman Chuck Billy, who at the time just started their management company called Breaking Bands. He explained how he found out about the band.
Joseph Guajardo of Shattered Sun. Photo Credit: Kevin Estrada.
“It had to be after we had spoken. I think within a month I might have flown out there. Me and Maria [Ferraro] flew out to Texas. We’ve only heard a few songs so we wanted to hear the full record and hear it in the studio. I wanted to sit down with all of the guys and see where they were at. Within a month from starting communication we were out there and at that point we got back and said ‘ok…let’s do this. I think Johnny Z flew out a few weeks later and that solidified it,” said Billy.
“As our management company, we all have to be on board for the band and everybody has to have a unanimous vote if we’re going to work for something. So Johnny finally went out there and that was it. We were doing it so right away we got other guys to examine the mixes they had and improve on it.”
Spineshank guitarist Mike Sarkisyan originally was instrumental in helping to get the band’s attention to Breaking Bands as well. They met him while touring together and learning the ropes of touring nationally. Following this tour, he also worked with Shattered Sun on pre-production on their EP.
“When we had put out Confessions, we did the local band and touring but we wanted something else. We’re a very hungry band so we figured out ‘ok you’ve got to buy onto these tours’ so we got some money together, we knew somebody that knew somebody who could get us on that tour. So we paid a pretty big chunk of money and went out and toured with them. We gained a relationship,” said Leal.
“When we saw them, the first few nights that we played with them they’re such a complete band. They’re veterans so they know how to do everything right. Their stage show, how they mix the brutality with the melodic. We saw them the first few nights and they were amazing.”
“We had talked to Mike and said we wanted to channel some of what they have into what we have. We’re kind of…I won’t say a similar style because they’re not. They have a lot of elements we’ve infused. So we brought him down to Texas, he helped arrange some of our songs and that’s how it’s worked out,” he added.
Leal admits that Sarkisyan’s influence did rub off on the band to incorporate melodic parts into their already aggressive metal sound, and helping to diversify them.
“We were always a band that wanted to stick 80 riffs in songs. We thought that was cool. When we saw them, we were like their choruses and their pre choruses, they connect. We wanted that too so he showed us how to arrange our music a little bit better.”
During the recording of their EP, Billy visited the band and gave his input on the songs, as to praising their strengths and how to enhance certain parts on their songs. His veteran knowledge became a huge part in bettering them.
“Only thing was I was suggesting in some of the mixes things I would have liked to hear, improve on the mixes, and what I thought was missing [in the mixes], but at that point I don’t think they were done. I think they were still getting it all together. [Marcos] was still singing some vocal tracks…just right up to when it was time to get rolling…we need a single…we need to get some songs out there on AOL. We’re going to announce that we’re managing you. We want to have something when we do that. You’ve gotta have something ready to roll.”
Billy had nothing but praise for the guys when it came to the performance on the EP.
“They worked hard on it. Robert [Beltran] did a great job producing and mixing it. We thought we could use this record to go out, get a record deal pretty much and use this and not spend your whole budget to record a whole record. We took care of Robert and take care of some stuff to get new gear to get the ball rolling.”
Original Megaforce Records co-founders Jon and Marsha Zazula are part of their management team, and their experience rubbed off on the band immediately.
“He told us not to hang our heads when things happen. He tells us the things Metallica went through back in the day. He has actually compared our career and our path to when they first got started too. It’s definitely a great honor,” said Leal.
Lastly, being that the members of Shattered Sun are from Texas, one of their biggest pastimes is barbecuing. They shared their passion for it and possibly winning over people, not only musically but through their stomachs.
“We’re big time barbecuers. It was cool because when Chuck and Maria came down, we got to throw a big barbecue for them. We did the same exact barbecue when Johnny and Marsha came down. It was awesome. It kind of let them know about our heritage and where we come from,” said Leal.
“When we go on tour, we’re going to take a barbecue pit,” said Trejo.
“We figured that’s a good way to get in with the bands. We’ve barbecued in rain, the cold and all of the elements,” added Leal.