Last week I had the pleasure of having a chat with one of the original members of Testament, Chuck Billy. Billy, having recently recovered from COVID-19, contracted while touring Europe on the Bay Strikes Back Tour, is relishing having a new album out. Titans of Creation is the latest offering from the band, has been out a couple of weeks to some great reviews. It’s a beautiful day outside here in Canberra, sun is shining and is heading for a decent day when I kick off our chat, but with the current situation of COVID-19 I’m following the Stay Home rules. It is what is it is, and we’ll hopefully get through it and be able to make the most of it soon.
Hi Chuck, how you doing? “I’m doing pretty good. I know, right. Yeah, we’ve just got to ride it out and wait. It’s actually a nice day here today but everyone’s still quarantined and hiding out as nothing is open. Everything has been shut down”.
Titans of Creation is Testament’s thirteenth studio album is now out and is garnering some great reviews. What’s the feeling of the band of releasing with the current situation? “There’s a bunch of downers about it as people can’t go out and get a physical record at the moment. That’s a downfall but the upside is that people have got some time on their hands, so maybe something new will cheer them up a bit. We didn’t want to slow down the process, we already had the promotion set in motion. So we just thought we’d keep carrying on, put out the record and people can hear it and talk about it. Things will clear up here eventually and carry on once that happens”.
What things are you planning? I know you’ve got things planned out, like usually there is a tour to support a new album. I know you had been out doing some pre promotion in Europe, which unfortunately ended up with you capturing the virus. “We were out on the Bay Strikes Back Tour with Death Angel and we made it through the whole tour, and we got home and got ill. Since then we put ourselves in quarantine and we’ve been hiding ever since, you know getting better, feeling better”.
That’s really good to hear. Obviously, it can be deadly, quite intense or some people don’t even know they have it. “Yeah, some people don’t even know they have it, that’s why it is so dangerous”.
So you’ve had things planned but now they’ve all been postponed or cancelled. What’s the plan moving forward? “Well, the American one we’re postponing and of course, unfortunately Australia was cancelled. We’d been planning putting together an American tour for September that hopefully we’ll be able to carry on with the one we’ve put together. Hopefully everything is back to normal by then”.
On the album itself, was the writing process itself different to the last few? “Oh big time, especially from the last record – Brotherhood of The Snake. It was a two year process, it was tough where we couldn’t just get our heads together and complete it. It was crazy. This one, we came into the writing process right after the Slayer farewell tour that we did. So once we were done with that I think we were in a good mind set, ready to go, eager. No plans and just got to it. We really did follow the same process as Brotherhood, but this time we didn’t do a demo and just went into the studio with songs that weren’t complete and under prepared. Some without lyrics at all yet. We kind of did the same process but we went in with lots more risks and ideas this time. It just came out, there is something about just being under pressure that kind of works. Your nerves are heightened because you’re ready and there’s a lot going on. But we took that and got creative with that and did things different, approached things differently. On top of that, Eric (Peterson, guitars) really delivered some really different songs for this record, that had a lot of different type of moods. I think that was really different and unique”.
It’s a really solid album and I’ve been listening to it the last few days and I’ve been impressed. Is there one song on there that really stands out for you? “There are a lot of them that stand on their own, but I think Children of The Next Level just because that was the first song that we wrote, and it came together pretty quick. We played that live on the last tour we just did, and it felt really good as a live song. It just grooves good”.
Testament has had quite a resurgence since 2008’s Formation of Damnation with really strong albums since then. What do you think has been the key to that? “When we did Formation, it was coming out of The Gathering and we hadn’t done a record for eight years. I got sick with cancer and lost a few years and didn’t think we were going to continue as a band at that point. Then we had that reunion with the original guys, it started out as a few shows that turned into three years. Then we decided to write that record. Once we started getting into the writing process and the touring in that first three years, there was something about all the guys really had a sense of confidence in the performing side and the writing side. We were writing for ourselves, just doing Testament, really doing Testament as we had the original guys back. Finishing something that we started together and that’s what the mindset was. We’ve carried it on ever since then; fortunately we’ve been comfortable”.
Your vocal efforts are quite tough on the voice, how do you keep yourself vocally fit going into studio? Going out on the road? “When it’s time to go on the road, there’s a lot of cardio to work on to get my wind going. But I really try to cut down on the herb, smoking weed, especially on tour and when I’m in the studio sometimes as well as it clears me up so I can breathe better”.
So when you can get out on the tour and other than Children of The Next Level which we’ve talked about is there any other songs off the new album you can’t wait to play? “We were playing Night of the Witch along with Children already, but I think WWIII and False Prophet will work. We may even experiment with City of Angels”.
You’re feeling a lot better now, I had read the interview you did with Rolling Stone. Were there times you were worried about the impact of the virus on your ability to come back and do this again? “We’re still not one hundred per cent, it’s going to take some time. All this sitting around doesn’t help as well, we’re just cooped up and I think everybody feels the same. We’ve been doing a lot more exercise and getting out of the house. Going for walks and riding the bikes, trying to keep our lungs going, but you get worn out pretty quick with this virus, it just wears you down. You feel like you’re getting better but then wham, you’re just wiped out again”.
So what do you think this virus mean for the world of touring, do you see changes into the future for things like venue sizes? Meet and greets? “Oh yeah, it’s going to be even more different for tours into the future, I think you might find tours won’t be as long. You may have to go back to the beginning and play smaller venues, smaller clubs. Make it more exclusive, I don’t know but it’s going to have to come up with different ways. It’s going to change because people, I think, will hopefully practice social distancing, or wear masks. Hopefully people try to continue and practice that stuff”.
Yeah, when you consider that these have now been around for about fifteen or so years, I don’t think this’ll be the last of these types of viruses. “Yeah, we were just talking about doing tours, meet and greets. You know getting close, shaking hands, it’s all going to change. There will be plates of glass!”
For the music industry, the entertainment industry, it’s going to be devastating. For those fans who idolise, or just love their ability to meet their heroes, people they look up to, the fallout from this will be immense. “We’re just going to have to see where it goes, I don’t think anybody knows, the world wasn’t ready for this”.
When you joined Legacy in 1986, did you ever think you would see yourself banging out classic thrashers thirty four years later? What would have been your back up if it didn’t work out? “Well I assumed that was the plan (laughing). We had a six record deal with Atlantic, so we knew, wow, we had six albums. Some people don’t get that in a career, so we were lucky. Didn’t have a back up plan!” (more laughter)
Chuck Billy, thanks so much for your time.
Read Michael Stronge‘s review of Titans of Creation HERE
Buy Titans of Creation HERE