Power of Metal.dk Interview


Interview with Steve 'Zetro' Souza - Hatriot, August 2012


PLEASURES OF THE THRASH

Steve Souza, known as ‘Zetro’ since his high school days, is inextricably linked to the San Francisco Bay Thrash scene of the mid-1980s. He earned fame and admiration particularly as the lead singer of Exodus, a band formed by guitarist Kirk Hammet who subsequently left the band to replace Dave Mustaine in Metallica. His voice is instantly recognisable with its Udo-Dirkschneider-meets-Bon-Scott type of harshness. 

Zetro is currently devoting his energies to Hatriot, a band he formed a few years ago with a young group of musicians. In the interview that follows he reveals the latest schemes as his band prepares to take a shot at world domination and also takes time to reminisce on Thrash Metal. All this with an almost maniacal enthusiasm.
 

Steve, when I first heard Hatriot’s EP, I would never have guessed that the band members were so young because the music sounded so tight, so powerful and so passionately Thrash. Can you talk to me about your band-mates?

Zetro: The drummer and the bass player are my sons. My 18-year-old son Nicholas plays drums and my 22-year-old son Cody plays bass. The guitarists are two really young and hot guitar players. One is Miguel Esparza and the other, with whom I also tend to write the music with, is Kosta Vee [Kosta Varvatakis]. Kosta is 23 years old and is very well versed in Heavy Metal and in Thrash Metal…the type of Metal that I play. He’s a really talented and bright kid. Actually when I heard Kosta play guitar is when I put the band together – he writes in the vein of Gary Holt [Exodus] and Eric Peterson [Legacy, Testament] which are people I played with in the past. It’s interesting that Kosta has their dynamics and their style when composing music. That also makes it easier for me when I’m writing lyrics.

So yeah, they are very young. Even if you put the ages of two of them together, it doesn’t even add up to my own age. [laughs] It’s kind of funny because I feel like the Ozzy of Thrash right now because I’ve got these young kids in the band and they’re hot musicians. But you know, I was young too when I was in Legacy and Exodus – I was only 21 and 22 years old back then.

We’re actually in a recording studio right now. We’re in Trident Studios in Martinez, California, where Machine Head have done their past 2 records and where Testament have just finished doing their “Dark Roots Of Earth” album. We’re recording with Juan Urteaga. We started recording the drums on Wednesday – now my son Nick has one more song to lay down and then we start recording the guitars.

The album will be out in January 2013 on Massacre Records.

So your son Nicholas has replaced Alex Bent (previous Hatriot drummer)…..

Exactly. Alex was playing with a bunch of other bands. It’s unfortunate he couldn’t keep playing with us but his schedule wouldn’t allow it. When we opened auditions for a new drummer, Andy Galeon, of Death Angel, was coming down to try out with us. But my son told me: “Dad, I can do it.” My son’s been playing drums for about eight years. I told him: “You think so? You think you can play hard and fast enough?” I had bought him his first drum-set when he was 10. Anyway, he came to the rehearsal and he just nailed it! He nailed it good. So I told everybody that I had hired my son and one night the management people came to our rehearsal to check him out. They said: “Man, he was very, very good!” If I was to compare my son to somebody I would say he’s very much like Dave Lombardo. He hits the drums very hard, he’s got a really fast kick and a really fast hand speed and he’s totally into it.

Will your work with Hatriot diminish your creative input with other bands you’re involved with such as Dublin Death Patrol?

Well, obviously Dublin Death Patrol is a kind of side-project that Chuck [Billy] and I do when we have time. The second DDP record has been done for about a year even if it has only recently come out. We played Grasspop last June on the merit of that record, hoping that that record was going to come out in a month or two but it took longer than that.

In the meantime I was getting ready to sign a deal with Massacre Records for Hatriot and Chuck was finishing a new Testament album. So unfortunately right now neither one of us has time to tour or actually do anything with DDP. Hatriot is my no.1 band now – I want to turn it into what Exodus was for me back then. I want to be able to release an album every year or every year and a half and to tour the world. I want to be on the festivals every year. I want Hatriot to be up there in the ranks with all the best of the Bay Area Thrash bands. That’s what I’m striving for right now, that where my focus is. I’ve had to do a lot of press recently and with the recording of the album I’m just engulfed with Hatriot. It’s unfortunate that we can’t really go too much into the DDP record just because of everybody’s schedule.

I know the other day Chuck left for South America, for Columbia, so I know that he’s going to be too busy to try and put something together for DDP. It’s almost impossible at this point.

The Hatriot album should be out in January and I plan to tour after that. It’ll be about putting out a record and tour, tour, tour. There will be no sleep for the Hatriot boys. You’re gonna see us in Scandinavia, you’re gonna see us all over the world. It has to be that way if we’re going to sell the band properly. It’s just like when I joined Exodus – I’m totally committed to music again. You know, when I left Exodus in 2004, I wasn’t in a great way mentally. There wasn’t time for me to do music. Now, with my kids in the band, my focus is on world domination and fuckin’ Heavy Metal. That’s what I’m after right now, man.

I believe your friendship with Chuck Billy, of Testament, goes a long way back in time. How did you get to know him?

I first met Chuck in 1974 – I think I was 10 years old and he was 12. His father was a baseball coach and we all grew up in Dublin [a region of the San Francisco Bay area in California, south of Berkley]. Everybody knew Mr Billy so you knew all the Billy brothers because they played baseball. My brother John actually went to school with Chuck and he was always playing baseball with Chuck. So I’ve always known the Billys. Then around 1979/1980 there was a few of us who had started playing music and getting into bands and I got closer to Chuck due to that. When I left Legacy to join Exodus, I told Chuck that Legacy were looking for a singer. At that time Chuck played in a sort of Glam band called Guilt with Danny Gill, an amazing guitar player. His brother Andy had played bass.

So I convinced Chuck to try out with Legacy and when I joined Exodus I even went to some rehearsals of Legacy with Chuck and sang the songs through with him so he knew where I was coming from. Because pretty much all the songs on the first Testament album are songs that I wrote.

[When Chuck Billy took Zetro’s place at Legacy, the band changed their name to Testament. Interestingly, many years later Andy Billy was to play again with his brother Chuck in the band Dublin Death Patrol.]

Chuck Billy has done great – he is Testament. Today you can’t think of Testament and not think of Chuck Billy. And I’m happy for him – we both grew up together and we’ve both done well in the music business.

Why had you left Legacy and opted to join Exodus instead?

I think at the time Exodus sounded so brutal and the opportunities to play with a band like that were very few. Besides, I wasn’t sure if anything was going to happen with Legacy - we didn’t even have an album out. When I had the opportunity to play with Gary Holt and Rick Hunolt and Tom Hunting and sing about murder, gore, rape…..fuckin’ hell, I told them where do I sign up?

And I never regretted my decision. After all in the end everything turned out well for everyone. I myself am considered a legend with Thrash Metal and Exodus. Chuck Billy is considered a Thrash legend with Testament. History has brought us all together and I wouldn’t change a thing.

How would you describe your current relationship with Exodus and with Gary Holt?

Oh, we’re fine. It’s great. I’ve recently met him when he was playing with Slayer and had a really good conversation with him.

[Gary Holt is currently filling in for Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman while Hanneman recovers from an ongoing illness. Of course, like Exodus, Metallica and many others, Slayer was another band to have emerged from the ‘Bay Area’ Thrash scene of the 1980s.]

You know, I only want the best for Exodus and I’m so proud for Gary and the opportunity he got to fill in for Jeff. Honestly, nobody deserved to fill in for Jeff more than Gary Holt. Gary helped invent Thrash Metal. Him. Mustaine and Hetfield were amongst the first ones to do it. Slayer is Slayer and for Gary to finally get some recognition with them is absolutely right because Exodus is not on the same level as Slayer and never has been. If we speak about the ‘Big Four’ of Thrash I think Exodus should be the Fifth. It always frustrated us [Exodus] that we were only marginally omitted as one of the Thrash greats but there was nothing we could do about it.

So yeah, it was great seeing Gary play with Slayer from the fourth row. I’m good friends with Joey Jordison of Slipknot who took care of me on that tour.

In the 1980s, the world of Thrash had 2 epicentres: the San Francisco Bay Area and Germany. Did you follow the German scene back then?

It might not have been that well known to us as it is now but every one of those bands was amazing. Sodom, Kreator, Destruction…..all of them were such great Thrash bands. You’re right, there were 2 epicentres: the Bay Area and there was Germany and besides the Bay Area bands I still listen to the German bands and all the other European Thrash bands that came out from that period.

I’d like to ask a couple of other questions about Exodus. With songs such as ‘Toxic Waltz’, ‘Bitch’ (a Rolling Stones cover) or ‘Pump It Up’ (an Elvis Costello cover) I sometimes get the impression that Exodus was trying to widen its appeal in the early 1990s. Was that really at the back of your minds?

Well, we always wanted to do a Rolling Stones song. We wanted to do ‘Paint It Black’ initially and talked about it forever. At the time we were managed by the legendary Billy Graham and when we were putting that album together, Bill suggested that we do that song. In the end we did ‘Bitch’. I think it was a conscious effort because it seemed like the industry was changing and we were trying to evolve even though that didn’t do much for any of us.

‘Toxic Waltz’ was actually done by mistake. Gary wrote the music and told me the name of the song. He told me to go home and write some lyrics to that song. I asked him: ‘Toxic Waltz? What’s it about?’ He said: ‘About what the fans do when they come to an Exodus show.’ So what I tried to do more or less was to take some ‘50s parody song like ‘The Twist’ and ‘The Mashed Potato’ song and I tried to compare it to what a Metal crowd does. So it really wasn’t a conscious effort to write a proper song and in fact when I wrote it I though it was so silly. But everyone in the studio told me that it was great - everybody loved it.

“Bounce back from some blows/And blood runs out your nose/Flailing round and round/And you're injury bound?” Hey that’s brilliant, they told me. I meant it as a joke song but today that’s probably the most requested Exodus song ever.

Exodus and Metallica shared a very close friendship in the very early days.

Definitely.

What do you think of Metallica’s hugely successful efforts to widen their own appeal? Do you still consider them to be part of the Bay Area Thrash scene?

This is the way I take Metallica: I don’t blame them for anything but if you’re gonna play Heavy Metal you’ve got to be very angry, you’ve got to have some type of angst in you. If you’re quite rich, if you’ve got a lot of money and have the world at your fingertips, then you can’t have a lot of anger or angst built up inside you, you know what I mean? It’s just not possible.

So I don’t know if the music that’s coming across is rehashed or insincere…..I liked the attempt of “Death Magnetic” for instance but I didn’t think it was necessarily genuine, especially if you compare it to a Slayer record or a Kreator album, or an Exodus album, or even the new Anthrax album. With these records you’re gonna hear true Thrash, true Metal…..true angst. I don’t know if you can have 2 or 3 hundred million dollars in the bank and have any angst left. I don’t know. I love the guys [of Metallica], I can’t say anything bad about them as persons. They are Metallica. They took a music genre that I play and exposed it to a much wider audience. But to answer your question, I’m not really sure that they now sound pissed off enough to be able to play Thrash Metal.

At one point the Bay Area Thrash scene evolved into what we now refer to as Death Metal. Possessed and Death were 2 of the bands that spearheaded this ‘evolution’. Did you ever feel a connection with that more brutal strain of Metal?

I really think it’s all good. I don’t look at it as something bad, I think it’s all positive. As long as it’s Metal - whether it’s Thrash Metal, Black Metal, Death Metal, Power Metal, whatever – it’s Metal, so it’s part of our community. That’s what I love about Metal and that’s what keeps me going.

Let’s go back to Hatriot. You’ve recorded an EP – will the band’s debut full-length reflect the material in this EP, musically speaking?

The stuff I’ve written for the album is all brand new. It’s all new stuff I’ve written with the band in this last year. And it’s all Thrash Metal. Well, actually 3 of the songs are taken from our Demo…..you guys call it the EP but I call it a Demo. And then there will be the video song, ‘Blood Stained Wings’. So those 4 songs are actually being re-recorded and will be put on the record. So you’ll get ‘Weapons Of Class Destruction’, ‘Globacidal’, ‘The Mechanics Of Annihilation’ and ‘Blood Stained Wings’ on the album in addition to 6 other songs we have written and that nobody has heard yet. Due to the fact that the Demo’s songs haven’t been put out on an album I didn’t think the whole world has really heard them – it’s been more of an underground EP - so that’s why I’m using those songs on the record.

But the album is fresh, every song is great – it’s the way you should do a debut album, like “Bonded By Blood”, like Testament’s “The Legacy”. Every song on the album kicks ass and I’m really proud of it. It will contain some of the best stuff I’ve ever written, lyrically and musically. I think everybody is going to be really happy with it. If you like what I did with Exodus, if you like what I did with Legacy, Hatriot is right in that vein. Straight period Thrash with Zetro’s voice sounding just the way it has always been. I’m pissed-off, mean and angry and I’ve still got a lot of shit to say.

So Hatriot will wait until the album is released before you come over to Europe again…..

It’s probably going to be released in January and then, yes, I’ll come over. I wanted to come before that but I don’t think that unless I’ve got a product out it will be a good idea. You know, people would be coming to the shows and if they’d like what they see, they’d have nothing to buy at the stands. Once the album’s out, I plan to tour quite extensively, and include several festivals in the tour.

Once the Hatriot tour gets going, will the set-list reflect all your career or will it just showcase Hatriot material?

No, I’m going to throw in a few surprises in fact. The guys that know my history will expect me to play Legacy and Exodus stuff. I also have a lot of other good things that I want to pull out with Hatriot. For instance Ronnie James Dio was a good friend of mine so we may even do a Dio song or an Ozzy song. You may hear ‘Raging Waters’, you may hear ‘War Is My Shepherd’, you may hear ‘The Last Act Of Defiance’. All my boys have learnt those songs so they know we may do any of those songs. So I can’t tell you for sure what the set-lists will be but I can tell you that we’ll be going on tour with all guns blazing.

Paul Balhof never managed to dissociate himself from Exodus, which of course is not necessarily a bad thing. Do you hope to achieve this with Hatriot?

Of course. I plan on world domination with Hatriot. I love Exodus and have achieved great things with them but now I plan to take my career to the next step. And that’s why I’ve loaded the band with young talented musicians – they’re fresh and have no problem with taking care of business. So when you come to see us live, you won’t be seeing anyone just standing around ‘cause we’ll be rockin’ your fuckin’ socks off.

Sounds awesome. One more question…in my opinion “Tempo Of The Damned” is the best album you’ve ever done. What is the album you are most satisfied with?

Ha-ha! That’s a good question. I always tell everybody that “Pleasures Of The Flesh” and “Fabulous Disaster” represented a magical point in my career. But musically I think you’re right – when we did “Tempo Of The Damned” we just nailed every single song. There’s not one song on that record that’s just ‘O.K.’. Every one of those songs is fuckin’ awesome. So I would have to agree with you: “Tempo Of The Damned”. Definitely.

Zetro, it’s been a pleasure and an honour speaking with you. I really look forward to seeing Hatriot when you do come over to Europe in 2013.

My pleasure. I want to thank all my Danish fans. They’ve always been very supportive of me and I can’t wait to come over and play there and in all of Scandinavia and kick everyone’s ass!

2012 Chris Galea

Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza discography:

with HATRIOT
- Hatriot (Demo-2010)

with Dublin Death Patrol
- Death Sentence (2012)
- DDP 4 Life (2007)

with TENET
- Sovereign (2009)

with Testament
- First Strike Still Deadly (2001)
(guest on 2 tracks)

with Exodus
- Pleasures of the Flesh (1987)
- Fabulous Disaster (1988)
- Impact Is Imminent (1990)
- Good Friendly Violent Fun (1991)
- Force of Habit (1992)
- Tempo of the Damned (2004)

with Legacy
- Demo (1985)


Hatriot - Hatriot EP

Label: Massacre Records

Links:
hatriotmetal.com
twitter.com/hatriotmetal
‘Blood Stained Wings’ video

 

Steve 'Zetro' Souza - vocals
Kosta Varvatakis - guitars
Miguel Esparza - guitars
Cody Souza - bass
Nicholas Souza - drums