Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Metal Advisor Interviews Steve Zetro Souza


Not only is Steve Zetro Souza highly in touch with the modern metal scene--he's part of it. Hatriot marks Zetro's full-time return to a band since his departure from Exodus--certainly a reason to rejoice for metalheads worldwide--and a crushing new album that drops later this week. Steve gives The Metal Advisor the scoop on all things Hatriot, as well as his rejuvenated attitude toward metal and music in general. 

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Hatriot currently has one demo recorded. What’s next on the horizon? I hear you have a full-length around the corner…

Zetro: The full-length comes out Friday, January 25th! You can get the single called "Heroes of Origin" on iTunes and Amazon now. 

I haven’t had a chance to hear it yet!

Zetro: Oh, really?! I thought maybe Massacre had sent it to you. So far I have been doing interviews with people that have heard it already. Metal Forces, Metal Hammer, Rock Hard Germany have given it 10/10, 5/5, 6/6—they just said brilliant, amazing. All top honors. I was surprised.

Rock Hard gave it album of the month for January, and it’s not even out yet. They were just blown away by it. The demo is a really, really good depiction of what we’re doing and what we’re about, but the album and the newer songs are better! There are three songs from the demo, plus the video “Blood Stained Wings” that we rerecorded on the new record. We didn’t use “The Fear Within.” We might put that on the second album, but we used “Globacidal,” “The Mechanics of Annihilation,” “Weapons of Class Destruction.” I love all of those songs, but, honestly, Adam, they’re not even the strong ones on the record. Not even. The rest of the album is way more brutal, way more in your face, way more thrashy. Both Kosta and Miguel just shred on this album.

I already let Phil Demmel from Machine Head hear the album because we live in the same town and our history goes back together. I made him a copy last week and said, “I want to know what you think of it.” He came back to me three days later and was like, “It’s brilliant. It’s awesome. It’s unbelievable. You know what? My friends always give me their records and three, four, five songs into it I’m kinda tired of it, but I never got tired of it all the way through the 10 songs. Every song is really killer. You did a great job, and the world is gonna love it.” 

I can’t even tell you how stoked I am to hear this.

Zetro: You’re gonna die. I’m telling you, if you’re a thrash head, if you’ve liked anything I’ve done—this is the wrap on the people that have heard it: they said this is what Exodus should have sounded like after Tempo of the Damned. And I agree with that in some cases, but I think the album has so many other influences on it. I mean, you know, there’s Slayer in there, there’s Megadeth in there, there’s Metallica in there. Kosta, the guy that writes all of the rhythms and the riffs—I write all the lyrics and he writes the music—is 24 years old. He’s a school kid from this stuff! He’s quite well-versed in what Gary Holt and Eric Peterson have done and what Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King have done. And Dave Mustaine and Scott Ian and Mille and Chuck Schuldiner and everybody else in metal! He loves all of that stuff!

Before we even started Hatriot, I spent a three-week question and answer session with this kid just so he knew what the fuck he was talking about because I wasn’t going to start a band with some kid that didn’t know where he was going. I listened to his rhythms beforehand, and I wanted to know what was in his head. He was just solid all the way through. 

Sounds like the writing process with these guys is pretty effortless.

Zetro: The writing process with these guys is easy! Kosta writes the riffs, arranges everything, and tells everybody what to play. When they have it down, they hand it to me on a CD. I take it home, name the song, and write the lyrics. Kosta tells Nickolas what he wants to hear on drums, he tells Cody what he wants to hear on bass, and he tells Miguel how we’re going to approach the leads—he’s a brilliant, brilliant player. Really, really smart kid.

He plays a Greek instrument because he’s full-blooded Greek. He plays in a Greek band and uses that Greek instrument that he’s badass at, too. He’s very talented musically.

How do you find it working with the young guys? 

Zetro: With me, it’s a fucking history, it’s a lesson. Every practice is like, “we do this because we do this. We do THIS because we do this. And I’ve done this, and this is why we do this.” They’re very professional. My sons are as well. They had to be professional because they’ve been around the business their entire lives.

I made both my sons try out for the gig. I had other planned bass players and other drummers interested in it. They just happened, ironically, to be the best that tried out and got the gig. I’m proud of both of them because they nailed it on the record. I can honestly say that my sons are in the band without cringing and going, “Uh, well, he’s just there because I couldn’t get him a fucking job anywhere, so I threw him some drumsticks and said learn how to play this and you can be in my band.” It wasn’t like that at all. Nickolas has been playing drums for nine or 10 years almost and Cody’s been playing bass for 11 or 12—ever since they were little kids. They know their craft, and they know what they’re doing.

As I understand it, you auditioned these guys? Is that how Hatriot formed?

Zetro: I met Kosta because my son Nickolas was just playing in a hokey band that had a gig. And he played a show with another band called Cranial Damage, and Kosta was the guitar player. I saw him, and I thought his riffs were good, his playing style, everything! So, after the gig, I came up to him and said, “Hey, man. You know who I am?” He’s all like, “Yeah, man. I’m a big Exodus fan!” I said, “You’re a great player. Are you guys signed?” He goes, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m quitting this band. This is my last year with these guys.” I said, “Oh, really? Tell you what! Why don’t you talk to me?”

So that’s our thing. We had a conversation about metal music, specifically thrash, and what he wants to do, how he feels, and his influences. Shit like that. And he just came to the party. He nailed it. He just fucking nailed it.

I’m very proud of that kid. That kid deserves to be one of the new faces of metal. You are going to be hearing so much from him. Believe me, you’re not even going to want to talk to me next time, Adam. You’re going to be talking with Kosta because Kosta’s the man.

You already mentioned iTunes, but do you plan on releasing a physical copy of album? You know music nerds can’t live without a tangible product.

Zetro: A physical copy—of course!  The album lands in the stores on February 12th. Next Friday, it’s live on iTunes. But on February 12th, you can go to the record store and put it between your fingers. They are also doing 500 or 1,000 vinyl copies, which will be numbered. You can go to Massacre Records, Hatriot, Amazon, or iTunes and get the album. It’s all there.

Do you anticipate a similar response to the album like the demo? It sounds like you have momentum built up that’s just waiting to explode!

Zetro: I think, honestly, that the album is 400,000 times better than the demo. I’ve had to let the heavy-hitters listen to it: the labels and the magazines are gonna tell me if they wanna flag it or if they’re gonna slag it. Like I said, I’ve done Metal Forces, Metal Hammer, Terrorizer. I’ve done all these different interviews and every one of them is like, “Oh my god. You nailed it.” One guy said it’s the best Gary Holt record Gary Holt never wrote. That’s bit of a stretch, but I thought that was kind of funny.

Because anything is going to sound remotely similar to Exodus with my vocals over it, that’s the first thing people are gonna say. “Oh, it’s just Exodus. It’s great Bay Area thrash metal, with influences from everybody.”

And speaking of those influences, I felt “The Fear Within” was more melodic than anything else on the demo. I don’t know if you’ll agree with me on that or not.

Zetro: I do agree with you on that! And that’s why, Adam, we didn’t put it on the first record! I think the record is way more brutal than that song could muster. When we were writing the album and last couple of songs came in, I went, “’The Fear Within’ ain’t going on this record!” And they’re like, “Why, why?!” And I’m like, “God damn, everything else is so fucking brutal and then we stop and get all sweet in the middle.” You know what I mean?

Yes! I’m getting the feeling that you are going to completely blow away any of the newer thrash bands that are popping up.

Zetro: I think what helps me, Adam, and I’m not gonna be cocky or arrogant about it, but it’s because I was there when the initial bands did it. I have a bit of history in it. I’m not straying from the formula necessarily; I’m hanging with it. I’m staying with what I love because I didn’t want to do something else like Halford, something that doesn’t sound like Judas Priest. That’s not what I am—I’m a thrash singer.

This is my thing. If I was gonna start something myself, this is what I want to be. I couldn’t just find any guitar players out there that could write what Kosta writes. I did “The Fear Within” and “Mechanics” first before I heard anything, and he didn’t have any lyrics. I wrote the lyrics and went in and recorded them over music he had done himself—guitars, bass, and a drum machine. And that’s how we did it. I listened to them and was wowed.

I listened to more stuff he had in his pocket that we would be writing in the future, and he just fucking nails it. He knows what’s taste; he knows what’s right. I’m telling you, Adam, when you hear the record you’re gonna go, “Man, I talked to Zetro. He’s fucking right.”

I’m not trying to bust us because I’ve been in the business for 30 years, and that’s what you have to do. I know this is the greatest thing we’ve ever done. Well, you gotta say that! You know what I mean? Honestly, it’s the fucking greatest thing I’ve ever done. It’s really fucking good, and it’s really fucking solid from top to bottom. We open the record and fucking kick you in the face. And remember what I’m telling you right now—the record opens and just kicks you in the face and then it slowly slays you for the rest of the eight songs. By song number 10, we kick you back in the fucking balls to end the album. And that’s all I’m gonna tell you. When you rip the record, you’re gonna go: “Man, I talked to that motherfucker last week and he said this was going to happen to me.”

It’s the truth. It’s the way it’s sequenced and the way the songs are set up. It’s just unbelievable.

How are you balancing all this madness with your other project? Or are you just doing one thing at a time?

Zetro: What other project?!

Dublin Death Patrol!

Zetro: Dublin Death Patrol is over with! Oveeeeeeer. I won’t do anything else with that. It was just like a fun little project that we did. Now my focus is on Hatriot 100 percent. We have three Hatriot songs for the next album already. When we were waiting for the record to come out, we were still rehearsing. We got bored with playing the same old album songs that we know over and over. You don’t know them, but we do! Believe me, we started recording this album in August. We’re kinda sick of these songs, so we wrote new ones.

I had no idea you were completely done with Dublin Death Patrol. I know your work with Exodus and the demo with Hatriot, but I haven’t heard anything else.

Zetro: Yeah, I’m done with that. I’m Hatriot-bound. That’s all I want to do. I wrote three songs on the last Testament record. Well, the last two Testament records. But on Dark Roots of Earth, I wrote three songs with Chuck Billy, and I’m not even going to do that anymore. I’m saving all my stuff for myself.

Did you find it tough to jump back into music after being away from it for so long? Or was it a smooth transition where you were thinking, “I’m digging this again?”

Zetro: Nothing in music is smooth, Adam. Nothing. It’s a pain in the ass going, “Okay, I’ll start another band. Oh, fuck, what are we gonna call it? Who’s gonna do the logo? Where are we going to write songs? We still need to hire band members. Where are we going to do the demo? Who’s going to pay for all this stuff?” It’s just the rear end of having to start a band. It’s just the part of it. When I was 45 or 46—I’m 48 now—I was like, “Do I want to do at this late in the game?”

But once I had heard “Mechanics” and “The Fear Within” and the response, I had to do it. I had people like the Testy guys, Exodus guys, Paul Bostaph, Phil from Machine Head, and Andy Sneap telling me, “Dude, this is killer! You gotta do this with this guy.” So, it started a little bit there and we got going and did a demo and made a package and sent them out and signed a record deal with Massacre. This is not a project. This is my band.

It’s now what I’m doing. Every year you will get a record from me. Or every year and a half, whatever the cycle takes. When I’m out and I’m touring and it starts to wane, it’s time to go do a new record. We go home and do a new record, and come back out. We’re not fucking around. Our stuff is good, and it’s getting better as we write more and more.

That leads me to this question then: since the band has this one legendary member in it, though I’m not sure who he is…

Zetro: I don’t know either. Still looking for him. He’s there sometimes.

…do you find your old fan base flocking to your work?

Zetro: I think they are. There are a lot of fans out there. I mean, Christ, just go on the Internet: “Join Exodus! We need you back in Exodus!” But I’m trying to give you the next best thing. I’m not going back into Exodus. That’s not gonna happen. They have a great singer, and they have a great band. I’m not going to try to fuck that up.

I have my own thing. Love both bands. So, this is what I did. In fact, go on our web page or go to our Facebook—they’re all glad that I’m back doing this. The magazines are. All the people in the industry are all, “Man, you’re back!” It seems like I feel asleep somewhere. I’m getting a very warm welcome from everybody.

I was never a dick to anybody, Adam. I never had a rock star-fucking attitude, and I hate people like that. It takes you, it takes me, it takes the fans—it takes everybody to make this shit all work, especially in metal.

I never carried myself with an attitude or like I’m better than everybody because I’m not. I don’t look at things like that. Nobody is quick to really fuck with me because I’ve never given anyone a reason to.

Well, I can definitely tell right now! You’re laid back and you just want to talk about the music and anything that comes to mind. You’re not like some other metal artists in the industry these days.

Zetro: I’ve never been that way. I used Chuck Bonnett because he’s a great publicist; he’s a great person to set me up for interviews. As long as you can get a hold of Chuck, I’ll talk to you. If you’re a fucking fanzine from Indonesia that has 20 people that read it, I’ll talk to you! I don’t care. I think the metal needs to be widespread. I do what I have to do. I make time for this because it’s very important to me. It’s important to everybody.

Everything is better if it’s more personal, I think—shows, magazines, podcasts, whatever. I try to make everything personal. I try to answer your questions. You want to talk about Exodus? I don’t care. Let’s talk about Exodus.

Sometimes people are like, “Don’t ask him this! Don’t ask him that!” I don’t fucking care! You know what I mean? It’s not where I’m at all. I’m just a guy who has played music for 30 years. I’m very fortunate to have the notoriety and fame that I have from that. I don’t take it for granted, and I don’t take advantage of it, either. That’s why I’m very easy to get along with, and I just go with the flow. And as long as it’s heavy, god damn it!

I assume Chuck is your main promoter?

Zetro: I have another manager. Chuck does publicity and artist relations, so if I have something to do, for example, Jackson endorses us. He sets up stuff like that. He handles any of the publicity that we do, but I have another manger that handles the business end. Chuck’s personal—that sort of thing.

Let’s go back to the record now. Any particular songs you’re most satisfied with from the new album?

Zetro: It’s changed over the last three months. Now my new favorite song is the opening, “Suicide Run.” I just love it. But I’m proud of everything. I like the flow and I like having my kids in the band. When you’ve done things on your own for so many years with strangers and people you’ve met—just as musicians—and to have a piece of your own self in there and being able to do it in a good way makes everything pretty fucking cool.

The writing, the way it came together, the way it sounded, recording in the studio because everyone was well-prepared—it all was great. It wasn’t something like, “Aw, fuck, he’s not getting this part or we’re really having a problem with this or we spent two days doing this.” It wasn’t like that at all. We just fucking knocked right through it. Within thirty days, this record was recorded, mixed, and mastered. Done. From the first day we showed up to load the drums to the last day it was done, it took a month.

I did my vocal tracks in four days. Nickolas did his drum tracks in four days.

Wow.

Zetro: I’m like the coach, man. When we’re at practice or a live show, there are no stops. We pop through songs. It’s no more fucking, “Hey, how are you guys doing tonight? Everybody have a drink, everybody have a beer.” I don’t play that. Not with this band. This show starts. I’m still screaming from the last song when the next song’s starting. There’s no fucking bullshit. If you wanna be annihilated, we’re coming there and a-fucking-nnihilating you.

What are you basing your lyrics around?

Zetro: Very dark subjects, obviously. The titles are anything from social awareness, like “Weapons of Class Destruction,” which just happened in Littleton, Connecticut—that school shooting. “Globacidal” is about a suicide bombers walking into a public area and going off, and how that affects life over there. And how it’s gonna be if it ever tries to come over here.

The single that’s out now, “The Violent Times of My Dark Passenger” is about Dexter, the serial killer. I don’t know if you watch the show on Showtime, but I wrote that about him. “Suicide Run” is about a guy who just wants to be killed, but he is going to take people with him. He gets in his car and he just starts rampaging and rolling through. Obviously, at the end, the police are going to shoot him and kill him. But he knows that.

I’ve been a big Dark Shadows fan. That’s show that ran in the ‘60s—not the Johnny Depp movie, although I did love that. So I wrote a song called “Shadows of the Buried” and it’s about vampires. It’s a very heavy song on the record. “Mechanics of Annihilation” is about a fight I got into on Halloween night 2009. It’s just anything dark, anything heavy, and anything intriguing. No love songs, that’s for sure!

I didn’t expect you to go all lovey-dovey on me anyway!

Zetro: I’m not going lovey-dovey on you, my friend. Some guy asked me why I was so angry still. I’m 48 years old. I’m still pissed off. I know! I still have a chip on my shoulder! I want to tell it the way that it is. And I still do.

How do you prep your voice to get your signature snarl?

Zetro: I don’t have to. I do it effortlessly. People are blown. Chuck Billy, when we did Dublin Death Patrol, uses a warm-up take. There are a lot of singers that do. I don’t. People are like, “Zet, aren’t you going to warm-up?” And it’s like: (Steve screamed into the phone here!). “I’m ready? Where’s my mic? Let’s go!”

So, yeah, I know how hard to push. I know how hard to sing. I don’t really lose my voice. Thirty-five shows in I’m sounding better on the thirty-fifth show than the first show. It’s like a muscle.

Do you expect a tour to support this record then?

Zetro: Of course! We’re gonna tour, tour, tour, tour, tour! Forever. Of course we have to do that. You gotta see our faces kick your ass. Hell, yeah! This is metal. The only way to sell metal is to tour.

You’ll tour across the United States?

Zetro: I’m trying to do everywhere. I’m talking world tour. I’m gonna catch on somehow. My manager is looking into that right now.

I’m basically hinting at a show in Indianapolis (laughs).

Zetro: Oh, I’d love to come there. I’d love to come to Indy. I’ve been there before! If we do, we’re definitely coming through. I’ve got big fans in Virginia. All through there, man. That’s a big area for us.

I have to tell you, Steve, we just don’t get a lot of great metal concerts out here anymore. Chicago or Ohio usually get them. Everywhere but Indy!

Zetro: The thing is: the packages happen because it’s expensive to travel now. Nobody’s buying records, nobody’s buying concert t-shirts…that’s why it’s turned into the money that it’s turned into. Unfortunately, the bands have to survive somehow.

We used to sell 300,000-400,000 records. Now it’s like if you sell 60,000-70,000 you’ve done great, especially in metal. The Hatriot record’s going to be hot for like a month. And then everybody’s gonna get it and go, “Burn it.” Then it will be over with. That’s how metal works. That’s just the way it is.

It’s not going to be some hot thing like, “I can hear that! Oh, yeah, it’s on the radio. I gotta go get that.” They don’t play that shit on the radio. They don’t do that. That’s not how the medium works here. That’s why I take it upon myself to do every interview that I can with everybody that I want to talk to.

And that’s what I find really sad about the modern day industry. Nobody wants to buy music. They just want it at the tips of their fingers right way.

Zetro: Everybody wants everything for free. It has nothing to do with music. It’s just the way it is.

It’s just something I’ve lamented about music these days. I’m a big vinyl guy and always want something in my hand.

Zetro: You know, I’m great friends with Machine Head, but I just read something that Rob Flynn put up saying that he’s never going to buy a CD again, and I disagree with that. I think the artwork and having the packaging in your hand and looking at the band and reading the lyrics is very important. When the Hatriot single came out, “The Violent Time of My Dark Passenger,” I felt cheated because I didn’t have it in my hand! I mean, it’s on my iPhone and my computer, but it’s not in my fucking hand. If I like it, I go buy it, man. I don’t care. It’s like what? 15 bucks? I don’t give a shit. I wanna have it in my hand.

And if you buy it from the artist, you can support them directly…

Zetro: I agree, I agree… But I’m not worried about making money on record sales. That’s not why I do this. I do this because I love it.

I respect that.

Zetro: I never have. I work. I’m the commercial floor man for a construction company in California.

But music is your passion, obviously.

Zetro: Music is my passion. That’s why I do it constantly. I’ll get up at 4:30 in the morning and be running guys by 6:00 AM. A lot of guys I know work that are in the business. I know Chuck Billy works, and Phil does, too, when he isn’t working for Machine Head. He does the same work I do as a commercial floor man for a commercial door company. It’s just part of it. You just have to. There’s no medical in rock ‘n’ roll. There’s no dental. There’s no annuity. There’s no pension, not on the level that we’re at anyway. So, I have to make it work for myself, you know? I mean, I get royalty checks and the only thing that is really sure is what shows pay.

Until Hatriot, I haven’t even had an active band! And that’s not really that type of money flowing in. But I live a nice lifestyle, have a nice truck, and have a nice house, with a pool. I have things. And I like things! The only way to have that is to go out and get it. So I do work.

So that’s quite different than your musical adventures in the eighties? I’ve wanted to ask someone who was involved with classic thrash scene how it was. How was that for you?

Zetro: How was that for me? That’s great. You know what, I’m gonna tell you something, Adam. That is the most popular question I get. Everybody wants to know what it was like back in the day. Okay, check it out. I’ll give you a typical night back in the day.

Back in the day, you gotta remember—I wanna give you ’85 or ’86 that’s a good time to talk about—you had so many thrash bands that I don’t even have to name to you. You know who they are. There was one club in Berkeley, a very, very famous club called Ruthie’s Inn. There were a lot of clubs around: Omni, The Stone, and all different types of clubs. But this one was the one. We just saw everybody.

So, say it’s Friday night about six-o'clock, and we’re talking and it’s 1985. Legacy (now known as Testament) was just rehearsing. After Legacy’s rehearsal, we would probably go see Exodus, Possessed, Death Angel, and an opener band like Blind Illusion or Mordred at Ruthie’s Inn. We would go there because we were Legacy, and they would just let us in for free.

We’d go in there: I’d walk in the club—a very dark club—and I’d look around and see James, Kirk, Lars, and, obviously, Cliff at the time. You’d see Gary, Rick, and all the Exodus guys. You would see all the guys in Forbidden, all the guys in Vio-Lence. Anybody who was in any Bay Area thrash band that you knew would be hanging out there.

So we’d all be there hanging out, drinking, and partying, and at this certain bar there were no police or anything. I mean, you could literally walk up to a table, put a line of coke out, sniff it, and nobody would fucking say a word to you. This was an old blues club, and Ernie, an old guy, would serve you. He didn’t even ask to see your ID. “Whatchu want? Long Island iced tea?” This motherfucker didn’t even know how to make it. He would just take three bottles of booze and pour them into a fucking glass, and whatever that was—it looked brown—looked like a Long Island iced tea. Then the bands would play. After the bands, we’d go back to Baloff’s house or the Metallica house in San Pablo and have a raging party until six-o'clock in the morning. And that’s what it was like for a while.

For a few years it carried on like that. Every couple days there was a show, even on a Tuesday or Wednesday because there were so many thrash bands and it was so young, so fresh, and so raw that there was always a show going on. It wasn’t just Friday and Saturday. It was a trip. It was a good time to be alive. It was what made me who I am today.

It sounds incredible. I was born in the wrong decade for music.

Zetro: That’s probably the first most answered response I’ve heard to that! A lot of people I tell that to are like, “Man, I wasn’t even born! I missed that whole fucking decade!” I’ve heard that quite a few times. It’s funny because I’ll tell my family or my friends that every time I do an interview, they want to talk about the day! They want to go back to the day. They want to ask me what was it like, and I’ll run you through a day and the life of what it was like.

We would go to Baloff’s house and it’d be fucking raining out and the kitchen would have two inches of fucking water on the floor because people were spilling beer, pissing, and stuff like that. His house was called hell house. It was AWESOME! He had a half-wolf dog called By-Tor, which was pretty wild in the middle of Oakland, which is a ghetto anyway! So, yeah, there were some memories back in the day, my friend.

Honestly, that was the perfect way to end this interview. Anything else you would like to add, Steve? Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.

Zetro: Just tell everybody in Indiana that if you love what I did in Exodus, you’re going to love Hatriot. It’s in the same vein as Bay Area thrash metal. It’s very Exodus-y, it’s very Testament-y, it’s very Megadeth-y, it’s very Slayer-y, it’s very Metallica-y, and it’s very Death-y. It’s very old school. There are lots of blast beats and lots of nuances. Very, very firing guitars. For everybody that’s hung behind me: love you, guys. I’ll see you soon. Hatriot’s coming. 


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2 comments:

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