It was a motherfucker!

Testament

Testament was a surprise opportunity for us! This band has been on our wishlist for quite some time, and with their new album about to be released into the world, we didn't have to think twice when we got offered on a Thursday, to interview Chuck himself the next day. It was one of those highly memorable talks.

Hey, what’s happening Randy!

Hey Chuck, everything is fine here, are you melting as well?

No, I’m actually in a nice air conditioned room, so *laughs* I’m doing okay!

That’s a lot better than me then! *laughs* Well, thank you for taking the time to talk to us, how are things in your world?

It’s good, actually! We’ve just finished the European leg of the summer festival touring and now we’ve got a little bit of a break until we go out with Amon Amarth in October, so right now it’s nice to have a little bit of a break.

Yeah I bet, it’s been a busy time for you. I learned about the opportunity to interview you only just today, so I spent all day listening to your amazing new record “Brotherhood Of The Snake”.

Did you just get it today?

I just got it today, yeah. It’s a monster of an album. It goes right for the throat. What can you tell us about the record?

Thank you. Well, we’re proud of it, but it was a motherfucker trying to write it *laughs*. It took us like a year and a half or more to get this record finished. Over that year, year and a half there was a lot of frustration being built up. Maybe a little bit of anger, maybe a little bit of nervousness, and maybe being a little scared that, you know, how come we can’t get it together and finish this thing. All of the writing fell on Eric’s shoulders for this record, nobody else contributed anything to the record. So, I was fighting with Eric and calling Eric “What’s up, when are we going to finish, when are we going to get together, when are you going to finish writing all the songs so I can complete the lyrics”. It just kind of didn’t happen. There was a lot of anger in there. Like when Steve and Gene and Alex went to record, they never even heard the songs. And it’s the first record we probably did where we didn’t rehearse or do a demo or any of that kind of stuff.

We knew that we wanted a record this year, so we had a small window. Gene had some stuff going on, so we had a small window in May of about two weeks. So we had no choice, we just said if we want a record, we have to book the studio, we just need to go do it. So we booked it and put the pressure on us, thinking maybe Eric will just get it together and finish it. But it really didn’t work out that way. So, going into the studio I think that anger and frustration and the unknown, maybe it pushed everybody out of being comfortable, and made everybody reach deep and do the best that they can, and maybe get a little more creative. Maybe not having time to second guess your work and just play what feels right from your gut, you know, from the first time.

A little deadline pressure there.

Yeah, totally. And the songs really came together. A lot of them I worked out vocals, I had a lot of verses done and a lot of the parts, some of the choruses just weren’t there yet. A lot of those were just built and created in the studio. Like I said, we didn’t get to second guess, we just kind of went with our first instinct, and at the end of the day, when it was all finished, because we still didn’t know is it going to meet up with the expectations and meet up to the standards of the “Dark Roots Of Earth” record. But after it was done, listening to the tracks of everything coming together, we were very happy and surprised that it came out as good as it did, as strong as it did. Maybe it was something that needed to happen, to get that pressure and anxiety and get everything, the emotions going, to get this thing done and take it to something special.

I’m really surprised to hear you had such a hard time to write this, because it seems like a really well put together album, and it might be just indeed the spontaneity in the studio that created that.

Yeah, I mean we didn’t have time to second guess what we were doing. When we laid it down, we knew that we didn’t have a lot of time. It’s like, this is my first instinct, and history showed me that your first instinct is probably the way it should be.

So perhaps it’s an idea to keep this going for the next one…

*laughs* no way! It wasn’t fun, I mean I told Eric it wasn’t fun, and we had arguments, it wasn’t the normal way when you write new music and new records. You should be very excited and have fun with it and enjoy yourself, and this wasn’t an enjoyable experience.

Normally you do more stuff together while writing the album?

Yeah, most of the time Eric does the demo on the drum machine and have all the songs structured. Then we go into the rehearsal room with the band and show them the songs, and play the songs, and then go into the studio. It didn’t happen like that this year.

Sometimes life throws you a curveball.

Yeah and I think, maybe if we took this record and these songs and did that, maybe we would have polished them up too much, and it would have been too polished of a record and songs,. We would have lost the edge.

What really hit me about this record is how uncompromisingly fast and heavy this record is, and how well everything flows together. For me, that’s what Thrash should be all about.

Yeah, and when we were creating it, it was just a bunch of riffs. When I first started writing I was asking Eric “Where’s the lead, where’s the chorus, where’s this”. He said don’t worry about it, just write lyrics and find melodies, and we’ll put it together later. And at the end of the day, and that’s why it was so frustrating, it never did finish, it was still the same as it always was. Somehow, vocally and the patterns I did put together, worked really well together. If you listen to the record, it’s not predictable. It’s not just a verse, chorus, verse, and it all mirrors as the same. It goes to different riffs for different parts, and it keeps moving. So, it worked, but you know, it was scary creating it, because we had all these parts. We didn’t realize that all those parts were supposed to go together. *laughs*

You dropped a puzzle box, and you’re looking at the mess on the ground and think, what the hell are we going to make of that.

Pretty much, pretty much you know.  

One thing indeed this album is absolutely not, is predictable or boring. That’s one of the things I noticed as well. It’s an issue a lot of Thrash albums suffer. What to you makes a great Thrash song?

First of all, the drums. They need to be pretty busy for me, because I like a Thrash song that has a faster pace, but still carries a melody, a little bit. It has to have a hook. Straight barking and yelling, straight through a fast song, to me doesn’t have the impact of a hook you know, something that you remember. So in a Thrash song, you’ve got to have some sort of element that catches you. Everybody that I played the song to for the first time when we got the final mixes, we were on tour and I played it for our road crew, and right away, I only played it for them once, and right away the next day they are humming some of the riffs and some of the melodies of the choruses. They’re like “I just can’t get that out of my head” and I’m like, that’s it, you know? It works. They listen to it one time and they remember the melody.

Yes, it sticks. Not only the melody by the way, the lyrics as well. I just listened to it a few times today and I already have “doesn’t matter what the people say” stuck in my head.

Right, see? It’s just got those little lines that stick with you, and that’s how I knew, maybe we found something here, we created something a little special, because you remember it right away.

Yeah, absolutely. There are also some pretty epic guitar parts on this album and I do detect multiple influences beyond Thrash in some of those parts. Where did you find your inspiration?

Well there’s a lot that’s going on, I mean I didn’t hear any solo’s until the record was recorded either, so to me there were just really long parts *laughs* and I was like man this sounds kind of boring, a little bit. But once I heard all the leads and everything that was going on, the guitars and all the parts, it made sense to me then. Alex did a great job on leads, but Eric is playing a lot of leads on this record as well now.

I really like how it all flowed together, and I understand that if you just listen to the base structure of a song, you might not have the complete picture yet.

Yeah, I mean, if you just heard the skeleton of the song, you wouldn’t hear a song in it. You’d just think it’s a bunch of riffs.

Yeah, that’s hard. Lyrically, what’s the new record about? I already mentioned the line “doesn’t matter what the people say” from the song “Stronghold”, what did you write about this time?

Well, in the past I was kind of tending to write songs that were kind of real, about maybe losing a parent or getting sick or cancer or something. There is always something real that I was trying to write, because it had more meaning to me. I know Eric this time really wanted to get away from writing more personal stuff, and getting back to writing something more cool of a story, with some cool lyrics and stuff like that. So I said that’s cool. At the time I was watching a tv program called “Ancient Aliens” and there was a lot in there that caught my eye. There were different religions around the world and their writings and stories and scriptures and drawings showed all these beings, these long beings with arms and big heads, and flying objects across the sky, and it kind of made me go  wow. What is the connection that all these different religions have and documented? Maybe there are aliens. Maybe there is something to that. Maybe we are created by aliens! *laughs* I thought that and then I came across the brotherhood of the snake story I found online, and the brotherhood of the snake was a secret society over six thousand years ago in sumerian times.

Their belief was Anu the alien king basically used planet Earth and created mankind to work as slaves on planet Earth, to mine for all it’s gold and minerals. I thought, okay, this is a cool thing, especially all the aliens and religion. I thought this is kind of a cool start to find some ideas of the storyline. When I told Eric about brotherhood of the snake, check out the story, read it, he said that would make a good title of the record. Brotherhood of the Snake. So we went okay, now we have our title and kind of the direction we’re going to go in lyrically with the story. We just kind of built it on that. Then at some point in the middle of there, you can only write so much about the same thing or the same connection, so we started getting off a little bit with songs like “Canna-business”, “Black Jack” and “Neptune’s Spear”. They still have a connection, but they weren’t so direct with the story of the brotherhood of the snake.

Also, when I listened to the song “Born in a Rut”, the lyrics, especially the chorus, really remind me of Lemmy. Could it be some sort of a tribute?

No, I didn’t think of that. When I wrote it, the song was basically about someone who is born in a bad situation and never really got out of it, who was living his whole life just with bad things happening and going on. Someone who really just doesn’t care anymore, you know? He’s had enough, I don’t care.

Yeah, that doesn’t sound like Lemmy.

No, that’s not Lemmy. No, it’s just one of those songs that where it comes to “Born in a Rut”, the real slowest part, was the hardest part to write. When I came up with “Born in a Rut” it kind of just all flowed together. It kinda fell into the chorus of “I don’t really give a damn”, “I was born to lose”...

“Born to lose”, “I don’t want to live forever”, so I thought, that all sounds really Lemmy *laughs*

*laughs* Right. But it’s just about a guy that’s like I don’t care anymore. I know I’m fucked up, I know I’ve got problems, but I just don’t really care. It doesn’t matter.

I’m in for the ride.

Yup.

What do you feel is the strongest song on the record?

I don’t know about strongest, I think they’re all strong, but I know the ones that kept standing out to us the most was probably like “The Pale King”, and for me meaning wise  “Seven Seals”, because that was a song that was one of the last ones written. It was a song that I was just told that there was a new song, that Eric didn’t show me until I was in the studio.

Surprise!

Yeah, Surprise! Here’s a new song Chuck! And I was like thanks, when was I gonna get it so I can write some lyrics? So that just added to some more anger and frustration, so I studied the song a few days, went home and I wrote it in one night and recorded it the next day, and it turned out to be one of the stronger songs. Whenever you write a song that comes together so fast, it ends up being pretty special, that doesn’t always happen. So that song to me was the one that stands out, that’s special.

Are there any personal lyrics on the album still, even though you said you wouldn’t do it this time?

The only one that kind of had a personal feeling, was “Canna-Business”. I got my medical marijuana card last year, and after I got my card I can have 11 ounces of weed in my car, and I can grow 99 plants in my house. I have some friends that have their cards, and they told me to get this app called Weedmap for your phone. And I got it, and it’s just like using Uber on your phone. It shows where you’re at, and it shows all the people around you that have weed that they can deliver to you. And you can just hit the little button and you can see the menu of what they got, and you can get an order in, and the next thing you know, within the hour they are at your house. So I thought, wow, what a business. *laughs* And it just kind of fit together with the “Canna-Business” together thing, you know?

Yeah I get it. I think if you were to use such an app in Amsterdam it would drive you nuts *laughs*

O yeah! Well, it gives people some jobs! *laughs*

You are currently in Europe, you just finished one leg of the tour and you are starting another one later this year.

Yeah actually we did three legs of the tour here in Europe so far, and now we have some time off. We have about a month and a half off before we start with Amon Amarth in October/November, so that should be good.

So you’re spending your downtime here. Is it a relief to be out of the political circus formerly known as the United States?

Yeah, that just drives me crazy. I don’t like what’s going on. I just don’t see a presidential candidate you know, between Clinton or Trump. I definitely am not a Trump supporter. I don’t believe in his ideas. Yeah it would be great to make America great again, but what does that mean? Have we ever been great? *laughs* You know? I just think that what he says and stands for is crazy, some of those ideas. Building a wall and keeping people out of our country, it just sounds crazy to me. Especially for me, because I have to travel the world to make a living, that everybody I probably meet… If he does come into office, even if he doesn’t, they will probably go “Oh, you’re American, Oh Trump, you like Trump, fuck you!” you know? I don’t want to be associated with that.

Nah, I get that. It’s a weird world at the moment.

It totally is. And the world is so upside down right now, and all the news is about people going crazy.

Did the current world influence your lyrics in any way? Or did you just steer clear of it?

Well, not political, no. I mean, the song “Neptune’s Spear” was kind of like a reality thing, you know? Because of all the terrorism going down and everybody searching for Osama Bin Laden for so long, and him hiding and not being able to be found. That song is about the Seal team six that went in to get Osama, the name of the mission was called Neptune’s Spear. So that’s what that is about. It’s about going on that mission and getting the green light to kill. That’s why it’s like “one shot, one kill”.

I was already looking for the meaning in that song, by the way.

Yeah, but now you know. *laughs* It’s Osama.

Yup, got ‘em. The last few years there’s also been a lot of talk about the Big Four, a party Testament somehow wasn’t invited to. How do you look at this phenomenon?

I don’t look at it, because when they came up with that title “Big Four”, it was true. Those four bands were the bands that started before us, that sold gold and platinum records. The next generation, Testament, Exodus and some other bands coming up were maybe in the next line to have success and hit those gold and platinum records, but I think the climate changed for music. Especially with the Nirvana’s and Pearl Jam’s kind of taking over a new thing in America. When they say Big Four, yeah those are Big Four. I would say today, if we are talking about today, I would say we write songs just as good, some even maybe better than some of those bands that are Big Four. And I think we are a lot closer now, except for Metallica, in record sales. Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth even, we’re pretty close in record sales. Before they were selling millions and we probably sold 300,000 or 400,000. Now it’s much closer.

I think it all depends on how you define the term “Big”. If you look at it like “Commercial”, they’re absolutely right. They’re the biggest commercial success. But if you look at the biggest impact on the Thrash scene itself, I don’t know.

Yeah I mean, we’re all contributors, but when you say “Big Four” it’s kind of confusing what you mean by that, you know?

Maybe you should do the Next Four!

Yeah, the Next Four! The Medium four.

If you were to make your own list of top Thrash acts right now, who would be on it?

I think Death Angel came a long way, and are writing great records still today, great Thrash records. The new Exodus stuff is real good and Thrashy. I love Anthrax, but I don’t think Anthrax is as Thrashy as they were younger.

They changed a lot.

Yeah. New younger bands, I mean bands like Battlecross and Whitechapel and stuff like that, and Goatwhore and stuff like that are more Thrashier and faster and have attitude.

Is there any band out there that you feel is underappreciated?

Testament! *laughs*

I like that answer *laughs* I agree!

Yeah, me too. *laughs*

So, what are the next couple of months going to look like for you?

Well you know, we’ve been pulling our hair out trying to get the record done, and then jumped right into a couple of months over in Europe doing festivals, so now it’s time to enjoy that the pressure is off writing the record. We’ve got some good tours coming up, we are just doing a lot of promotion to let everybody know about the record, and so far everybody has been very humble and gracious about the record and it’s exciting and it’s a good feeling of accomplishment, to have people like the record. So now we’re going to take a month and a half off and just kind of relax and get prepared to go on tour and promote this record now for hopefully a couple of years.

What do you do to relax, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I go boating! I live on the water now, so I have a boat and I have a loud stereo with satellite radio, and so we load the iceboxes up with drinks and food and we just go out on the river and listen to loud music and jump in the water and just relax, you know?

That’s really nice. Then you’re in the right country by the way at the moment, Germany has a lot of beautiful rivers.

Yeah, I’m in Germany, yup.

That brings us to our last question; do you have any last words for our readers?

I know we’re not going to take four years to do a new record, I pointed out to Eric that, look at how we started our career, we put out a new record every year for four years, and we really built the momentum of the band. I think it helped the band, to make a name for ourselves. I told him we need to get back to that mentality. Let’s concentrate on writing some more records and putting out music a lot quicker, because right now we’re not getting any younger. We’ve been here thirty years and who knows what’s going to happen in the music business or the climate or what’s happening. We’re all getting up in our fifties now, you know?

Just keep enjoying the moment and keep pushing forward.

That’s it! That’s it you know? We’re focussed on that, we’re a Thrash band. We’re gonna keep trying to write Thrash, faster songs and aggressive songs.

Well judging from your latest effort, you’re still very capable of doing just that.

Well thank you!

Thank you for your time, and enjoy your time off!

Cool, and maybe we will see you at the 013 in Tilburg!

I’d like that, yeah.

*laughs* Alright man

See you on the road, Metal On Loud!

Randy Gerritse