Testament Singer Speaks On Music Business And More
Band Photo: Testament (?)
Dr. Abner Mality from the Wormwood Chronicles webzine recently conducted an interview with TESTAMENT frontman Chuck Billy. A few excerpts from the chat follow:
Wormwood Chronicles: You grew up in the Bay Area during the most exciting period ever in heavy metal.
Chuck Billy: Right.
Wormwood Chronicles: What was it like in those times? It seems like a legendary period in history?
Chuck Billy: Well, there were a lot of parties. Everybody was pretty tight with each other, there was a lot of camaraderie. Everybody was young, it was a new scene. METALLICA was up and coming with their sound and they sort of gave the Bay Area scene the flavor it had. They played a lot of New Year's parties and a lot of gigs at their house. It was a time when everybody was close and the same people were at the same shows and the same parties all the time.It was this whole community that was really cool. We came from Dublin, which is about an hour from the San Francisco/Berkeley area where everything was happening. The Stone, the Keystone Berkeley...
Wormwood Chronicles: Ruthie's Inn...
Chuck Billy: Ruthie's Inn, for sure. Everybody wanted to be a part of it, they wanted to be a part of something. It was a very comfortable scene. You'd say, I'm going out to Berkeley this Friday and I'm gonna see so-and-so and you knew you'd see your buddies and other bands there.
Wormwood Chronicles: Your two brothers are in DUBLIN DEATH PATROL. Were they diehard headbangers like you? Were you the family ringleader that got them into it?
Chuck Billy: In the end, I became that, but my little brother Andy, who's playing lead guitar and rhythm on the DDP album, he actually played in the band RAMPAGE before me. They were doing their own singing and they asked me to sing for them and that's how it got started. He was in RAMPAGE before me, he started the band. He's one of those guys who's a great guitar player and can play anything but he just never had a break in music and was never in the right place at the right time. So it's really cool that my brother is getting a chance to get his name out there and show people what he's got.
Wormwood Chronicles: One of the ironies of DUBLIN DEATH PATROL is that you're in the band with the guy you replaced in LEGACY (later TESTAMENT), Zetro Sousa. What's it like working with Zetro?
Chuck Billy: Well, me and Zet have a lot in common. Zet used to be one of the roadies for RAMPAGE and he was my brother Andy's best friend. That's how I know Zetro. When Zetro left LEGACY to join EXODUS, he called me up and said, "Hey, I got a band that sounds great, maybe you should give a call and audition for them." So I called up and got the gig with TESTAMENT because of Zetro.
Wormwood Chronicles: What's the chemistry working with Zetro now?
Chuck Billy: It's great! If you think about it, I probably couldn't sing with another singer out there and he probably couldn't sing with another singer than me. Because I sang all his lyrics on the first TESTAMENT record, I basically sang in his style on that record. He knows my style and I know his style. We're really good friends so there's no tricks. We actually found out that his and my voices blend really well together.
Wormwood Chronicles: From the little I heard, it sounded like a natural pairing.
Chuck Billy: Yeah, it is. So far it's been a lot of fun. The whole project's been fun because it's basically all our friends that we grew up with and it's not so much of a band. It's friendships and it's fun...
Wormwood Chronicles: It looks like thrash metal is getting really popular again. Do you think it will reach the heights it did in the '80s?
Chuck Billy: I think it's gonna go beyond that. In the '80s we didn't have the Internet like we do now and the potential to get exposed is much greater. It's a lot easier to get to people's homes now.
Wormwood Chronicles: You can expose yourself much easier now but can you make a business out of it? Nobody seems to sell any records any more.
Chuck Billy: Through the Internet, you're not going to make that much money. The only way a band makes money is by touring, play live concerts and sell merchandise. That's how bands survive now because there's a lot of downloading and bands don't get paid for their records. Record companies, they rip off a lot of bands. That's just the way it is.
Wormwood Chronicles: I recently heard a quote that for every one song that is legitimately downloaded and paid for, that same song gets downloaded for free at least 20 times.
Chuck Billy: Oh yeah. We found out that DUBLIN DEATH PATROL...there's some website out there that's offering the whole album for download for $2.22!
Wormwood Chronicles: That's not even really a marketplace anymore. Now you formed your own record company, Godfodder Records. Tell us a little more about that and what led you to start it up.
Chuck Billy: Of course, when you do your own music and sell it on your own website...we're selling the album on Dublindeathpatrol.com...you do things by yourself and eliminate the middle man. We decided to start our own label. That way, we own all the masters. If we wanna license it to Roadrunner or Nuclear Blast or some other label, at least Godfodder Records will still own the masters.
Wormwood Chronicles: Has there been interest from those labels?
Chuck Billy: We haven't really been out there searching. We're just selling ourselves, having fun and pushing ourselves right now.
Wormwood Chronicles: I would think that with all the high profile names involved in DDP, somebody would come sniffing around.
Chuck Billy: Oh there is, there is, they're coming around. It's coming slowly. I think people want to see what happens with this, how much exposure and press we get out of it.
Wormwood Chronicles: What's it like being on the other side of the record business? Somebody who produces and owns as opposed to just performing?
Chuck Billy: You know, as just a performer, it's wrong not to know the business end. Living through it myself and talking first hand, there's a lot of people you can't trust and nobody's gonna come give you money unless you come asking for it.
Wormwood Chronicles: Has it been a real education, running the label?
Chuck Billy: Oh, big time! I've had companies file bankruptcy one me...two of 'em...and you just kinda learn by living through it. We [TESTAMENT] put out two of our best records and the record companies folded up on us. We didn't see a penny from that stuff. You just learn that you can't trust anybody in the business.
Wormwood Chronicles: Were these legit bankruptcies or were they just trying to avoid paying what they owed?
Chuck Billy: One guy did the bankruptcy to avoid paying. He's still in business and did a "Best of Testament" record, which we never saw a penny from. The other company in Europe folded legitimately, they're done and there's no more label.
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