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BILLY, CHUCK


Chuck Billy - Back In the Game

Interview By Dr. Abner Mality

 It's been a pretty tough road for Mr. Charles Billy the last few years. A scary bout with cancer. Tumultuous times for his band Testament, struggling with some lousy record deals. A music scene that seemed to have turned away from the powerful melodic thrash Testament showed such graceful mastery of, but which now appears to be righting itself again. And, I'm sure, the same sort of day-to-day travails that are part of being a metal musician in this day and age.

The valley has been crossed and Chuck Billy is climbing the mountain again. 2007 sees the debut of Dublin Death Patrol, the oldschool thrash metal project featuring his brothers Andy and Eric, as well as long time buddy Zetro Sousa (ex-Exodus) and many other pals from his youth in Dublin, California. DDP is a "new" band that was only 25 years in the making. On top of that, Chuck has put together his own record company, Godfodder Records, which he has complete control over. And the mighty Testament, dormant for so long, finds itself ready to roar again, this time on rock-solid label Nuclear Blast.

So it was a relaxed and contented man (green herbs might have had something to do with the relaxation part) who greeted me when I gave him a call a while back and asked him about his suddenly busy schedule. Here you will find answers to questions about Dublin Death Patrol, the new Testament and the state of heavy metal in general...


WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: First thing I wanted to ask is, how are you feeling these days? Are you back to normal after your cancer scare?

CHUCK BILLY: I'm 100%. I'm feeling better than ever!

WC: I just got a little teaser for the Dublin Death Patrol project...

CB: Did you get the whole album or just the two songs?

WC: Just the two songs. What I did hear, I really liked a lot!

CB: Killer!

WC: When you were in Dublin Death Patrol the first time around, did you think it would still be kicking in 2007?

CB: When we started, we were a band called Rampage that terrorized the town of Dublin. When we all got together to do this project, we came up with the name Dublin Death Patrol.

WC: When you started DDP, was it a real band with long term goals or just a fun project?

CB: At first, it was like, hey, you guys wanna get together and jam and play some old songs and cover songs? Things sounded really good and the way things evolved, we wrote some new songs from scratch and decided hey, let's take it to the next step and do a record and go all the way with this thing. We took from ?February of last year to February of this year to do the whole project.

WC: Back in Dublin all those years ago, when did you realize that heavy metal was going to be a career for you?

CB: Of course, when you're a kid and you're in a band, you think you're taking over the world, you know. (chuckles) Once I got into my first band, I thought I was the shit and that this was gonna be it. So I'd have to say when I was in that first band Rampage and that all took place.

WC: You grew up in the Bay Area during the most exciting period ever in heavy metal.

CB: Right.

WC: What was it like in those times? It seems like a legendary period in history?

CB: 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...

WC: Ruthie's Inn...

CB: 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.

WC: Your two brothers are in Dublin Death Patrol. Were they diehard headbangers like you? Were you the family ringleader that got them into it?

CB: 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 guy's 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.

WC: 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?

CB: 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.

WC: What's the chemistry working with Zetro now?

CB: 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.

WC: From the little I heard, it sounded like a natural pairing.

CB: 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 its fun...we're gonna go to Europe this summer and play a bunch of concerts.Half of the guys have never been to Europe so it's going to be exciting just to see their first time in Europe. I've been enjoying that for over 20 years and it's going to be fun to share that with them.

WC: One of the names that popped up in connection with DDP that suprised me was Troy Lucketta from Tesla. How did he become involved?

CB: Troy was one of Steve's (aka Zetro's) neighbors. Steve and John both play on the Dublin Death Patrol record. Everybody on the record grew up in the town Dublin. When we started doing this, we sent out word that anybody from the town of Dublin who wants to participate on the record can. Steve and John called Troy up and Troy said, "oh yeah, I'll play on it." It is totally different from Tesla's stuff but it's cool, it's killer, it's fun! He had a good time and he got to do some stuff he doesn't normally do.

WC: It's looks like thrash metal is getting really popular again. Do you think it will reach the heights it did in the 80's?

CB: I think it's gonna go beyond that. In the 80's 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.

WC: You can expose yourself much easier now but can you make a business out of it? Nobody seems to sell any records any more.

CB: 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.

WC: 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.

CB: 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!

WC: 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.

CB: 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.

WC: Has there been interest from those labels?

CB: We haven't really been out there searching. We're just selling ourselves, having fun and pushing ourselves right now.

WC: I would think that with all the high profile names involved in DDP, somebody would come sniffing around.

CB: 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.

WC: What's it like being on the other side of the record business? Somebody who produces and owns as opposed to just performing?

CB: 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.

WC: Has it been a real education, running the label?

CB: Oh, big time! I've had companies file bankruptcy one me...two of 'em...and you just kinda learn by living through it. We put out two of our best records (he is speaking of Testament here) 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.

WC: Were these legit bankruptcies or were they just trying to avoid paying what they owed?

CB: 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.

WC: Are there any other projects coming up for Godfodder Records besides Dublin Death Patrol?

CB: No, no. I think it's just gonna be Dublin Death Patrol.

WC: Would you have any interest in branching out into something else as time goes by?

CB: I'm sure, definitely, Especially now that we have our own recording studio so we can record a band and produce a record.

WC: What's the new Testament sounding like and when the hell is it gonna be out?

CB: We were actually working on it last night and tonight. It's coming along and it should be out by the end of the year. We've got 8 new songs right now. It's very heavy but melodic, with some catchy grooves and hooks.

WC: Is there any one past Testament album you could compare it to?

CB: I don't think there's a comparison. We're all at the top of our game right now and the record is showing that. Eric's written some great songs and we're playing better than ever. We got new energy with Nick Barker playing drums. Everything's been going positive since we got out of our deal with Spitfire Records. We're free agents.

WC: What's the chemistry with Nick like?

CB: It's definitely been a plus. Nick's the kind of drummer who brings a new element into it. On "The Gathering" record, we had Dave Lombardo from Slayer playing drums. Most of the time, Eric Peterson needs to explain the drum parts to a drummer. With Lombardo, he didn't, because Lombardo was just a player. He just played. That's where Nick is at. He's a natural player. He's got the chops, he can play fast, he can play slow, he can do everything we need him to do. He just plays. I think that will bring the energy Eric needs for the new Testament.

WC: Have you got a name for the new album yet?

CB: Not yet.

WC: The last time I saw you in the flesh was in Chicago on the Gods of Metal tour, with Halford and Immortal. That was the comeback for both you and Testament. What were some of your memories of that tour?

CB: It was pretty short. (laughs) It didn't finish. But just being out there with Metal Mike (Chlasciak) and Rob Halford was killer. Those are two good friends and it would have been a great tour if it had worked out.

WC: You got a chance to work with some of the newer bands like Immortal. Do you keep up with the newer bands and developments in metal or do you stick to the older stuff?

CB: I listen to current stuff.

WC: Any current favorites?

CB: Ummm, let's see. My current favorite bands are like Soilwork, The Haunted. I listen to a lot of the current but I still love the old classics like "Kill 'Em All", "Ride the Lightning", "South of Heaven".

WC: Any touring plans for Testament or Dublin Death Patrol?

CB: Yeah, actually. We just got back from South America on Tuesday from a tour as Testament. It was great, we had a lot of fun. We're planning on headlining the Earthshaker Festival in Germany in July and then we're going to Korea at the end of July and then Russia.

WC: Are those your first times in those countries?


CB: First time in Russia and Korea, yes. That's always exciting.

WC: What was the last CD or album you picked up just because you wanted to listen to it?

CB: Hmmmmmmm. Let's see. I think I got the live Rainbow, from 1977.

WC: What was the last gig or show you checked out just because you wanted to?

CB: I went to go see The Haunted.

WC: How was it?

CB: Awesome, I love The Haunted.

WC: In the long history of Testament, has there ever been any Spinal Tap moment you'd like to share with the listeners?

CB: Well, we did play a show in Mexico City once. We showed up to play at a bullring. The PA was basically all electric lamp cords strung together. (laughter) We were waiting and then the backline never showed up. The drums and amps never showed up. So we showed up to a bullring in Mexico City and never had a show because the equipment never showed up.

WC: Did you get some sort of compensation for it?

CB: We got paid half of the money up front. It would have been a good show. There were a lot of fans there and the bullring was kind of weird and looked trippy.

WC: Any final message for the fans out there?

CB: As far as Dublin Death Patrol goes, they can find our record and merchandise at www.dublindeathpatrol.com. The new Testament is coming out before the end of the year and it's really gonna kick some ass. Leads are coming back and Skolnick's gonna shred.

WC: Has he slipped right back into Testament easily?

CB: Very easily! Just like a glove. We all are playing together just like it was 1985.

WC: Everybody's looking forward to it!

CB: You'll see us by the end of the year in Chicago, we're trying to get into the House of Blues.

WC: That sounds great.

CB: We're trying to put together a package tour for early next year with Testament, Exodus and Death Angel all on the same bill.

WC: Oh, wow!

CB: So we're lookin' to kick a lot of ass next year!