HATRIOT – The Thrash Beast Beckons Again
- by Matt Coe
- Posted on 31-08-2013
Eternal Terror journalist Matt Coe in conversation with STEVE "ZETRO" SOUZA, former vocalist in Exodus and Legacy, now in HATRIOT.
The circle of life continues in metal. We are in a rare time where a lot of the veteran acts are slowing their touring schedules down, or retiring. Yet the current generation of thrash can be quite content in hearing plenty of new studio records from the innovators (Sodom, Kreator, Destruction, Testament, Anthrax, Death Angel) and a new generation feeling the need to churn out their own creative songwriting on the masses.
Hatriot have the best of both worlds- fronted by ex-Legacy/ Exodus vocalist Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza, the band contains his two sons Cody and Nick on bass and drums, along with guitarists Kosta V. and Miguel Esparza. They are gearing up for studio sessions to record their second album for Massacre Records- "Dawn of a New Centurion", scheduled to hit the streets in early 2014. And for those lucky enough to live on European shores, a late 2013 tour will be coming with Death Angel and Toxik on the bill- providing Hatriot a chance to spread their songs to more audiences in a blistering live fashion.
I reached out to ‘Zetro’ one afternoon recently to catch up on all things Hatriot, and we also delved deep into his background. Enjoy this chat where we learn more about the Bay Area thrash scene from the eyes of one of the innovators.
Can you tell us your personal background, when you first became interested in hard rock/ metal music and how you came upon performing in bands?
"Well I am almost 50 so this goes back awhile. My father was an old school biker, this was in the late 60’s and early 70’s. He listened to a radio station called KSAN, the jive-95. This was a Bay Area radio station that would play Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, the Allman Brothers, more of the hard rock style. When you look back on it this was the prototype for what would become metal. So I got into that sound when people my age were more into the Osmond Brothers or the Jackson Five. I always tipped towards the heavier and harder types of music that were out there, so as the 1970’s moved along I listened to AC/DC, Judas Priest, and then into the 1980’s I would take in Saxon, Iron Maiden, Sex Pistols, and the Dead Kennedys for their rawness. I always seemed like I would imagine the bedroom was my front row at a concert, and I always wanted to do it. In 1983 I put my first band together with my brother and Phil Demmel from Vio-lence and Machine Head and it was called Metal Warrior. Within 3 years I went from that into Legacy and then into Exodus. I started out playing guitar- I loved Jimmy Page when everyone loved Eddie Van Halen. I was never afraid of a crowd so I thought that being a singer would be a good thing to do. I tried singing and I knew I could do it- I remember seeing Bon Scott from AC/DC at a Day on the Green show in the Bay Area in 1978. They were held in the football stadium where the Oakland Raiders played, they were called Day on the Green because you got to go on the grass and take in the show. I knew that was what I wanted to do."
Hatriot is ready to head into the studio to record your second album "Dawn of a New Centurion" for release in February 2014 through Massacre Records. How did the writing go for this effort, any new twists and turns we can expect in comparison to your "Heroes of Origin" debut, or are you pretty happy with the style and direction you established?
"I think the direction will stay the same- there is going to be more musicianship because we have been together as a band now for another year. I felt that "Heroes of Origin" is kind of like our "Kill ‘Em All" and that "Dawn of a New Centurion" is going to be our "Ride the Lightning". A little bit longer songs, more melodic and more heavy, a little more vocally- lots of back-up vocals, more shouting going on- still in the same vein so I’m not going to stray away from the thrash formula. We didn’t have as much time as we had for the first record, because obviously you have all the material you are writing up to that point as a band for the first effort- now you have to write another record so it’s less time. All of us as musicians are getting better creatively, even myself as I get older."
How is it performing material with your two sons Nicholas on drums and Cody on bass? What have they thought about the legacy you created with the thrash movement between your work in Legacy (the pre-cursor to Testament) and then Exodus?
"That’s the one good thing is that Nicholas and Cody are very well versed in what’s going on with me and with themselves, they’ve been around rock stars their whole lives. It’s automatic to know how to act so there is nothing I have to get in to teach them. They know what is involved in it to be a successful band and to make it as a successful musician. You have to dive into it with both hands, I am not taking this lightly to make this the best and biggest thing I’ve ever done. The kids are very much focused."
The debut album "Heroes of Origin" is a stellar display of thrash with heavier death nuances from time to time- are you pleased with the critical acceptance and fan response to this material?
"To be honest, yes- because all the critical response has resulted in high praise. Back in the day the first three Exodus records were given high praise- 10 out of 10, 5 out of 5, 95’s out of 100’s, whatever the ratings were. When speaking with the press, the fans that see us in the clubs, and the response from the fans on the internet, they are very pleased with the direction that we’ve gone in and what we are about to do. It makes us very excited about that."
What types of warm up exercises do you employ in the studio and live situation to keep your voice in shape? I would imagine it can be challenging sometimes to get the faster verse sections to flow right with clarity- especially when you are screaming at the top of your lungs…
"I don’t do anything! I do another side project with Chuck Billy from Testament called Dublin Death Patrol and Chuck has to do a 40 minute warm up before he goes out on stage to sing. I remember the first couple of shows he asked me if I do any warm up- I just go "Ahhhhhhhh!" and I knew I was warmed up to go. I keep myself in shape, I exercise- I don’t do any drugs or drink alcohol, I take care of myself so I know that my vocals will be in good shape. I make sure that what I sound like on record can be pulled off when I perform live."
Was Legacy the first original band you sang for- and what can you tell us about those early years where you replaced Derrick Ramirez as well as the demo you recorded with them?
"Actually when Alex Skolnick came into the picture, we didn’t know how that was going to work out for us. Now we look at it as amazing, especially 30 years later. It was a magical time- I thought every scene in the world was like the one we have in the Bay Area. I thought every city in the world had 15 thrash bands in it, and that every city had a Metal Monday, or went to metal shows on a Wednesday night, right? We thought that this cool scene that we had going on- you could walk into Ruthie’s Inn and there at the bar would be James and Cliff from Metallica, then you would see Gary from Exodus, the guys from Possessed, Forbidden, and Death Angel- Vio-lence, you could go down the list, doesn’t every scene have bands like this? I thought it was like that everywhere, once I went on tour I noticed that some cities didn’t even have a thrash band in their hometown. When I was 19 years old, I didn’t know what we would be embarking on. You don’t say to yourself you are going to write history, it just gets written, if you know what I mean."
In a class act move when you got the job to replace Paul Baloff in Exodus, you recruited your replacement in Legacy Chuck Billy- when the band changed their name to Testament. How long had you known Chuck at that point and did you have any apprehension moving into Exodus where the band had established a strong reputation for their live shows and "Bonded By Blood" debut album? Did you put in extra effort because of Paul’s reputation?
"There is apprehension when you try to replace anyone. When you go into it it’s a great move on paper, but is everyone going to love it? The contract is great, are the karmas going to be the same- am I going to hate these guys after a month or so? A lot of that stuff goes through your head. You have to haul ass and take chances. Chuck was singing in a glam band, so I went to rehearsals with him for the first month or two to figure out how to do the lyrics, how to enunciate, how to breathe and go up and down- and as you can see, Chuck Billy is a legend in our industry. Rick Hunolt noticed that I was headbanging even harder those first few shows. I had to do two nights back to back at a club that no longer exists in the Bay Area called The Farm, the first night I blew out my voice. I was a bit nervous, I was trying to go all crazy and most of the crowd was not having it."
What are some of your favorite memories surrounding the studio albums and tours you performed with Exodus? Did you see a major difference in the type of support you received when the band made a jump from Combat to Capitol Records- or did you feel like the major label didn’t understand how to really support a thrash band?
"You have to go with the latter on that- the major label didn’t know what they were doing. Everyone thought going to a major was going to make us a rich rock star- not necessarily true with our genre. A lot of bands went to a major label and then got dropped- us, Megadeth, Slayer were on Def Jam and I think still are- but they were never considered a real major. Testament was on Megaforce/ Atlantic- then at one point on Spitfire Records, and now Nuclear Blast. I think it was a hurtful time- we were the number one priority on Combat and I saw the decline in the shows and the people when we jumped up to Capitol. The money was there to make the records but that was it."
In retrospect did you feel like "Force of Habit" was a compromise to appease the major label- or by that point was the band struggling to find a sensible direction with internal strife and substance abuse occurring with some of the members?
"We were afraid of what the major label people expected from us- ‘hey rock star, bring that piece of board over to us’. Capitol wanted us to demo all the material so they were very sure of what we were doing. I can pick through the album and cringe at some of the songs on there. There are great songs on there- "Architect of Pain" is amazing, "One Foot in the Grave" I love, even "Thorn in My Side". "When It Rains It Pours" and "Climb Before the Fall" should not have been on that record. I will be the first to say I didn’t want to have to pick up boards, and that became a reality because I’ve been in construction ever since- 20 years now. I am a foreman now but I can tell people what to do."
When the band had a reunion show in 1997, were you disappointed you weren’t asked to perform a few songs with Exodus, especially from the "Pleasure…" days?
"Well, they had a reunion show last year called Bonded by Baloff and I wasn’t invited to that either. What are you going to do? I don’t worry about that- it’s too bad from the fans standpoint. That’s their decision- it’s actually Gary’s decision."
You will be touring Europe in late 2013 with Hatriot- what can the fans expect in terms of a performance and set list? I’ve heard you may be performing a couple of new songs- is there any chance of possibly digging into the archives for a classic Exodus track or two as well?
"Yes, we are going out with Death Angel and a band from the 80’s called Toxik in Europe. We play "War Is My Shepherd", "The Last Act of Defiance", and "Reign of Terror" by Legacy, and we will change things up and do "Toxic Waltz" also. I’m not trying to hide my past, and if people really do their homework they know I was in Legacy, and the band still perform a lot of those songs from that first album live that I helped co-write. When you went to see Ozzy over the last 30 years, and Halford- you want to hear the classics."
Do you see many differences between this latest generation of thrash bands and the originators? Did it surprise you to see such a resurrection of the movement where multiple generations can now enjoy new albums from the classic acts as well as new bands putting out their own material?
"I think that what’s great about the originals is that they will always be the originals. You are considered an innovator- ‘the legendary thrash vocalist Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza’ – what a great moniker. I had a real famous rock star Robin Trower tell me you can go from being a rock star, to a has-been, to a legend. And I did the same thing- when Nirvana and all that grunge shit came out in the 1990’s, I was a has-been. I love a lot of the new bands doing this- Municipal Waste and Havok as examples. Thrash is a great hub for other music, if you listen to black metal, progressive metal, it all has a form of thrash in it. Every couple years you see new albums from Megadeth, Testament, Death Angel- there was a point in time where none of us were putting out new music. You are looking at a sound and a scene where the grandfathers are putting new music out, and the new kids are getting into it and starting their own bands."
Is it easy to channel your frustrations of the world into a lyrical platform as a metal vocalist? What would you say are some of your favorite lyrics that you’ve written through the years?
"That’s very hard to say. The stuff I have been writing recently has been more politically and socially aware. I write about horror as well, there’s a new song on the upcoming album called "From My Cold Dead Hands" – that is about gun control, so I keep it current. I pick at the government and things that go on socially. I was a big fan of the Starz network, and I love the Spartacus show, so I can write about that too. I’m still very pissed off about things, and I never run out of ideas."
How do you keep up with the fast pace of technology with everyone wanting instant communication and social media?
"I have assistants that help me with all of these areas because I’ve barely caught up with it yet. A lot of the Facebook media and e-mail interviews I need help because I’m not the greatest typer in the world. It is easier for me to talk than type, and I understand a lot of people like to e-mail. Back in the day, being a rock fan in the 70’s- when did you get the chance to see a video of your favorite rock band ever on television? I remember when I was 13, on Halloween Paul Lynde who was a comedian had a special on television and Kiss happened to be on it. I came in at 8pm on Halloween so I could hear Kiss do one song. Same thing with a midnight movie, I would watch "The Song Remains the Same" every time it came on, because you didn’t get to see Led Zeppelin anywhere. Now you can go to YouTube and see 50 million things- back then you felt the excitement. There are too many cameras now that tell you what’s going on backstage, I think the mystique is kind of lost. This all has to do with the speed of technology. This is a double edge sword, there is a good thing and bad thing. Texting can be good- but doing it while you drive could kill some people."
Can you name your five favorite albums of all time- be it metal or otherwise? Also, what is the best concert or live performance you took in as a fan through the years?
"The Day on the Green would be one of the best concerts. In one day you would see Cheap Trick, Van Halen, Foreigner, AC/DC, Heart, Styx, all on one bill. Nazareth, Thin Lizzy, UFO, J. Geils Band, and Journey all on one bill- I thought that was an awesome concert. Five greatest records- Metallica- Ride the Lightning, Exodus- Bonded By Blood, Slayer- Reign In Blood, Iron Maiden- Killers, and Judas Priest- Unleashed In The East."
How do you balance your work in music with a personal/ family life? What types of hobbies or activities do you like to pursue to re-charge your batteries so to speak?
"I don’t have any my friend, I do music and I work. I do construction starting in the morning, get off work at 2pm, and then pursue music. I am a big Oakland A’s and Oakland Raiders fan, I love horror movies. I go camping, I perform in an AC/DC tribute band. I like what I do. Some people would be tired or slowing down after being involved in music for 28 plus years I still get into it- I love the bands, I love playing live. I have a beautiful girlfriend that I love, when we can get away we go to the beach and chill. My life is heavy metal."
What are your thoughts of the metal scene in 2013 in comparison to the heydays of the 1980’s and early 90’s?
"The heydays had a lot to do with videos. When it is being shoved down your pie hole, you are going to dig it. Metal will always be that music that is alive because bands are loyal to it. You never hear, ‘yeah I was into Slayer last summer.’ You are who you are- I can’t have it heavier or louder. Metal bands are that way- I love this music and I can’t toss it away to buy a Maroon 5 album. Metal is the only true form that is raw, dirty, and never compromised. The stuff we write about is deep, we don’t repeat the same lines over and over again like pop music. The one award they give us for the Grammies is never shown on television, they do it during the day- and they never give it to the right bands, Iron Maiden should be winning."
What are some of the things left on your bucket list of goals to accomplish- be it professionally, musically, or personally?
"Just to keep going to the day I die. I want to be relevant- I get to talk metal to people like you. I am doing what I was meant to be here to do. I don’t have to have the number one album, or play in front of the biggest crowd. I’ve had the chance to tour the world, I am very lucky to keep doing this- I have almost 30 years in! I am having a good time, heavy metal, rock ‘n roll- it’s all about having a good time. I have a whole new slew of kids that are into it, I am looking forward to banging my head until it falls off."