Just before the Testament gig at the Dynamo club in Eindhoven, since long time returned lost son, guitarist Alex Skolnick sat down with Metalrage to reminisce about the long history the band shares with the club as well as their new record and the future of the legendary Bay Area thrashers.
Dynamo and Eindhoven should be a special place for Testament.
'Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. The first time we ever played in Europe, we played right here. Twenty one years ago. I was probably younger than you are now at the time, I was eighteen years old. When we arrived today, and I saw the club I was very impressed what they’ve done with it (the Dynamo Club has been torn down and rebuilt quite recently -Lex). The interior and exterior.. It’s classy! It feels like it could be on a college campus. It’s nice to see the place has grown up. '
'When we first played here in 1987, I remember it just being chaotic. We were very young, I just finished high school and all of the sudden I’m here in this crazy situation. I rember Alex Perialas (producer of Testament’s debut The Legacy, also known for his work on bands such as M.O.D. and Carnivore) came out and helped to mix us, which was really cool. And of course there was a lot of beer, a lot of hash. When we played the show we did a good job, but we were much crazier then. What you saw back then was a new band, their first time around. Now it’s a much more professional band that’s matured.'
Is Dynamo a known name in the states?
'Well, for a long time I’ve had a Dynamo sticker on my guitar, some the guys wore Dynamo t-shirts at the time. I think it has a place in metal history, and I know it has an important place for Testament. Even though it’s a San Francisco Bay Area band, it would not be Testament if it wasn’t for Eindhoven.'
Why is metal still around do you think?
'I think part of that maturity is that you get older. But metal is a genre that people stick with. It goes through periods where it’s really popular and where it isn’t. It’s not dictated by trends, the media or the market place such as the boy band phenomena, or any other type of music that’s purely industry driven. But other music, like Hip-Hop for instance will always be around, that has a similarity to metal as far as fan dedication. Even though it has gone through this enormous push from the media. But with metal I think it comes and it goes. When we first started out, there was a big media attention. Mainly the more commercial groups, the socalled hair bands. And you know, underground music like Metallica ended up being more popular than any of the fads of the day. In some ways they created more acceptance for metal. Now it’s much more accepted, people who were our age coming to the shows are now bankers and attorneys, they are now the mainstream.'
The new album is definitely among the more relentless stuff Testament’s put out.
'Well, you know, people have different opinions. Some people think the last one (The Gathering – Lex) is the most relentless. With this one there wasn’t really a plan to make it sound one way or another. Coming off’ The Gathering, with me coming back, I didn’t want to get to much in the way of the process. But still when the album came across as to mainstream to some people, I would take the blame.'
Of course, you are the guy who wasn’t into metal for a while. You’re a sell out.
'Exactly, it’s a stereotype. But trust me, it’s really not the case. I just always wanted to make it more interesting. I like to try different keys, I was the first to bring harmony and melody into the band. Somehow it gets mistaken for wanting to be commercial. Some of the stuff I brought in might be more accessible, and the band had quite some commercial success with that. But that’s not my goal, I always try to make things more musical. So I think with this album, for a lot of it I took the backseat than I would’ve on previous albums. I made a lot suggestions, and talked about the ideas that Chuck and Eric were coming up with. Try to help them with the arrangements, say which ones I liked better than others. But I contributed on a few songs, and one whole song, F.E.A.R.
I kind of enjoyed being there and playing guitar without trying to exert to much influence. Because I respect the fact that I’ve been gone for a long time. And it’s funny to me reading stuff on the internet from people who actually worried about me coming back, as I would be trying to wimp out the band. Than some of them criticized the album for not being heavy enough 'because of Skolnick’. The best was someone’s comment saying it was too soft an album because of my return, but he did like ‘that song, F.E.A.R.’ (laughs).'
Doesn’t the whole bitching and gossiping thing on the internet bother you?
'No, I wouldn’t say it bothers me. I try not to read posting on line to often. I try to remember that one of the things about metal is that people are very passionate, and not everybody agrees with each other. That’s part of it, they’re passionate and allowed to express that. It’s freedom, really. And what it is with the internet, now everybody who has an opinion, and that’s a lot of people, is out there shouting out their stuff. A lot of it is just riling things up, you know, saying ridiculous stuff like ‘this band sucks donkey balls’, and then even more people get angry at each other. It’s silly, I don’t put a lot of thought into it. It’s a modern reality.'
What’s your plan with Testament? Are you really back, or is it just this one time off?
'I take things one day at the time. A few years ago we tossed around the idea of doing a couple of shows to see how it would go. Dynamo 2006 was part of that. That was one of the first reunion concerts. It was fun, and going well. Well, no, in fact it was getting better and better. It would have been a shame to stop at that point. We thought that the songs, the music and the fans deserve for this to happen. We went with that, and at a certain point it made sense to make another record. That took a lot of time, I’ll grant you that, but it took the time it needed. I don’t think it would’ve been as good as it became if we forced ourselves to come up with it earlier.
I’ll be honest with you, there’s a been a couple of times I thought there was going to be a problem and it wouldn’t last. Usually because of business decisions, people who were working with the band. But that’s changed.'
This has to do with the label change I’d say (Testament swopped for Spitfire to Nuclear Blast)?
'That was one thing, there was a label that support the band at all. They were hanging on to the band, preventing the band from making progress. This is one of the challenges of the music industry. You’re sort of dependent on other people and other companies having their act together. You can sign with a company, depend your whole life on it and then it goes bankrupt. So many things can go wrong. Fortunately Testament could get out of this bad contract and sign with Nuclear Blast, which is a good label. There’s been changes in personnel which I’ve supported. Since I’ve worked on successful projects out of Testament I have very high standards. I like to see things done right.
So when I came back I was shocked to see how things were being run. But the band knows that, and they’re making the right decisions and as long as this continues to happen I can see this going for a long time.'