By Andrew Bansal
In the eyes and ears of many, San Francisco Bay Area veterans Exodus wrote the blueprint for thrash metal, and in addition to inspiring multiple generations of thrashers over the past three-and-a-half decades, they’ve also stayed hungry and true to form, specially in the past 12 years. Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza, who replaced the then vocalist Paul Baloff in 1986 until the band broke up in ’94, then featured on the 2004 comeback ‘Tempo Of The Damned’, but parted ways with Exodus after that album, and perhaps in an unprecedented move for him and the band alike, Zetro returned for his third stint with Exodus in 2014. They released their tenth studio album ‘Blood In Blood Out’ that year and have been going strong ever since, despite guitarist Gary Holt’s busy schedule with Slayer and on-and-off involvement in Exodus shows. Now, Exodus are setting out on a three-show mini-tour as main support to Killswitch Engage which includes a gig at the Novo in downtown Los Angeles on Friday September 2nd. Last Friday August 26th, Zetro spoke to Metal Assault about all things Exodus. Enjoy the chat below.
Steve, it’s good to have you on Metal Assault. Been a while! As you were just saying, you just got back from a Europe tour. How was everything there?
It’s always good! In the summer time in Europe we usually do festivals, so there were like 9 or 10 festivals this time over 30 days, and then when we’re not playing festivals we fill in headline dates. We played with everybody from Dew Scented to Accuser, and we had Gruesome open up a couple of dates. We’re actually home now only for 6 or 7 days, then we have a 3-day jaunt with Unearth and Killswitch on the West Coast, and then Loudpark in Japan, and then back to Europe with Obituary, Prong and King Parrot for the second half of October and all of November.
Right, that’s the ‘Battle Of The Bays’ tour. It’s an interesting lineup and I’m sure that’s something to look forward to.
Oh yeah, we have a lot of fans in Europe, and what a treat that’s going to be! Prong hasn’t come out in a few years and they’ve just kind of resurfaced, and to put Obituary, Exodus and King Parrot on one bill, I’m sure it’s going to be mayhem!
Aside from the recent touring, what else has been going on in the world of Exodus these days? It’s been two years since you put out an album and since then you’ve pretty much been on the road, right?
Yeah, actually the ‘Blood In Blood Out’ cycle is kind of coming to an end and in the new year I know there’s going to be a break where Tom and Gary are going to start putting some stuff together for new songs. It’s on our to-do list for next year and we know it’s time to put out a record. By the time we write it and get it out we’ll be nearing fall, and we need to keep that schedule going. So we’re going to be busy, man!
I’m sure fans are waiting for the next album too. It’s about that time!
Yeah, it’s definitely that time, and time flies! I mean, I rejoined the band back in June 2014, I think, and here we are in August 2016. It’s been 240-something shows since I’ve rejoined, so we’ve definitely gotten our miles out of this record. Great record, well-written and well-performed by everyone, and I think it’s a preview of what’s to come in the future for Exodus music.
In terms of your own experience, your world just turned around when this whole thing happened a couple of years ago when you rejoined. As you said, 240 shows in two years. Before that, you weren’t really doing anything anywhere near close to being that active. How’s it been like for you personally to live this kind of life now?
I think it was easier this time than it was the previous times. The first time I was just a kid and I didn’t understand what was going on. I thought the whole idea of being a professional musician was reading what you read in the magazines as being a rockstar, party till you drop and destroy everything in your path. And then the second time, I really wasn’t prepared for it at that point, I think, and there were a lot of other things going on. So, that wasn’t the best time for me. But now because my children are older, there are really no distractions in the way. There’s time to just concentrate on music. I know what I do, I know what the band is about and through the past 30 years I’ve learned the intricacies of what to do, so for Exodus fans it’s going to be the best now because we’re all at the point where nobody is substance dependent or alcoholic anymore, or worried about where the party is after. I think the focus is more on the show being amazing. I don’t necessarily say that they were not amazing back in the day, I just think there was a different agenda or mentality at that point.
Right, and as you mentioned, you’ve got these three West Coast shows coming up with Killswitch Engage. That will be a good opportunity to get out to somewhat of a newer crowd and just do a short run, not a long tour or anything like that.
We like the fact that we’re a thrash metal band and we know where we fit in the thrash metal world, but we don’t have a problem playing with different other types of heavy music. We love The Black Dahlia Murder and we just played three festivals with those guys in Europe. We love that type of stuff. It’s not necessarily an Exodus crowd but they were digging what we do. It’s the same thing with a band like Of Mice And Men or something like that. It’s still very, very heavy music, but just a different demographic of heavy metal fans, and I think Killswitch is definitely in that category too. So, we can play with Slayer, Suicidal Tendencies and Testament but we can play with Killswitch, we can play with everybody. Our music has appeal because it’s heavy. It’s good, and I think it stands the test of time.
Exactly. You’re the support act for these shows, and even festival sets are obviously short, like 45 minutes or something around that at the most. As a thrash band and specially as a thrash singer, is that something you prefer because you can just go blast it out and not have to sustain yourself for a longer set?
Both long and short sets have their pluses and minuses, but I like to play an hour-and-a-half. When you have 45 minutes, it’s so quick and it seems like you’re up and you’re off. I don’t mind them, and I like the 30-minute ones too. Just 6 or 7 songs and it’s already over! But the aim is to give it a 1000 per cent every time we go on stage, and that’s what the Exodus fans are getting now, a 1000 per cent from every member on stage.
When you joined the band the first time, you were taking over from Paul Baloff and that was a whole different thing. This time when you came back, you were a successor to Rob Dukes, and you’ve also had to perform songs that were released with him. My initial thought was, how is Steve going to cope with that? What do you think of performing the Rob Dukes material?
On this last European tour we opened with ‘The Ballad Of Leonard And Charles’ (off of ‘Exhibit B: The Human Condition’, 2010) and that was my idea! I was like, let’s open with that. I love the acoustic intro, it’s got such a dynamic crescendo to it all, and honestly, out of all the Exodus songs it’s one of my favorites and I didn’t even sing on it. I also do ‘Iconoclasm’, ‘Children Of A Worthless God’, ‘Deathamphetamine’ and ‘Beyond The Pale’, so I’ve sung a lot of that era’s songs. Because it was an era I didn’t sing on doesn’t mean that I necessarily need to look away from it. I know there’s a lot of other singers that don’t sing songs from other singers. May be they were the first singer, then somebody else came in and then they come back and don’t sing that other stuff. I don’t look at it that way. I feel it’s part of Exodus’ history, whether it’s Paul, me or Rob. So I never had a problem with that.
So there was never really a discussion or anything when you joined in, about whether you’re going to do these songs or not?
Right before when I had joined the band, he was actually in Europe with Slayer and he was just kind of listening to what I was doing at the time. About a week after I joined the band, he gave me a list of songs I needed to learn and they were all from ‘Exhibit A’, ‘Exhibit B’ and ‘Shovel Headed Kill Machine’. I never said, “Oh, let’s go back to doing the six albums that I did.” It wasn’t really something that I was bothered about, although I wasn’t really sure what they had been playing lately and if it was relevant anymore. But I never had a problem with it.
Now in the set, considering that you’re playing songs from pretty much the whole discography the band has, with and without you, what are some of you most enjoyable songs at this point?
I always love playing anything off of ‘Bonded By Blood’. I didn’t sing on it but the reason I started putting the band Legacy together was because of the way Exodus were doing thrash. A lot of the thrash bands from the Bay Area would say the same thing. Regardless that Metallica got the recognition and accolades, I think even when they came to the Bay Area they looked at Exodus and decided that’s the way they wanted to be. So, I think the ‘Bonded’ songs always seem to stand out to me, but of course anything off of ‘Fabulous Disaster’ and ‘Pleasures Of The Flesh’ is always great. There’s songs on ‘Force Of Habit’ that I love, but also songs on that album that I hate. And after so many years of not doing it, I’ve realized that ‘Tempo Of The Damned’ has great songs top to bottom. So, now we have ten records, including the three that Rob did and then ‘Blood In Blood Out’, and it’s hard to pick a 45-minute set with all that material (laughs).
I can imagine. Other than this next mini-tour and the Europe run, what else does the band has in the works at this time?
That’s it, we’re coming back November 27th from the Obituary/Prong/King Parrot/Exodus Europe run and we have to start working on new music and new material. We’re very much aware of that. I think everybody is ready to go to work on that.
In terms of your live performance, to play so many shows as a singer you have to keep up to a 100 per cent, specially as a thrash singer. Considering the time of relative inactivity before you rejoined the band, how did you handle that aspect and how have you kept up your performances show after show?
I wasn’t necessarily absent, I did Dublin Death Patrol, I did Tenet, and I formed that band with my son called Hatriot, so I kept myself busy. If I wasn’t busy like that and it came time for me to come back to Exodus, I wouldn’t have been ready vocally. But I approach my vocals kind of mechanically and I know how to make it sound like I sound on the albums, how to do the screams and stuff almost effortlessly. It’s a technique, and I don’t lose my voice. I never lose my voice, actually, specially on this last run I didn’t. I take care of it, I sleep every night and that’s the key, and I don’t drink booze. Everybody who knows me knows that I’ve done a lot of weed, but that hasn’t really affected my voice, to be honest. I just pace myself, I know what I’m doing and I’m fortunate. I don’t really warm up before I sing either. So, I don’t know, I’m just lucky but I take it very seriously. I try to eat very healthy. When you’re on the road you’re susceptible to being sick because you’re in very close proximity with other people and you’re shaking hands, signing autographs, grabbing pens every day and those sorts of things. So basically you’ve just got to take care of yourself and hope for the best. I haven’t had a problem with it, specially this time around.
It’s interesting you said that the projects you were doing, even though you were not touring extensively as much as Exodus, it helped you be ready for Exodus. But did Gary or any of the other guys in the band take into consideration how active you were, or was it just like they wanted you back no matter what?
I don’t know what their mentality was because we never really got into that, basically. They got a hold of me through their management and asked whether I would want to sing two new songs. I was given no reason why, and I didn’t ask. I mean, I could have speculated all these different things like, oh, they want me to come back because may be they’re doing a retro record. There’s a lot of things I could have been thinking about. But I just learned the songs in 18 hours, went in and sang them, and the next day they kind of told me what was going on and that they were may be interested in having me come back into the band. It was more or less, “Can you do this and are you mentally ready to do it? Can you bring it back or are you just talking it?” It was definitely the right time to do it again and I felt that I could give it a 100 percent. I give it a 1000 per cent now and I think all of them are very much aware of that.
Gary has obviously been busy with Slayer, and I think there’s been a few occasions where Exodus played shows but he was not available, and you got people like Kragen Lum to fill in.
Oh yeah, most of the touring in the last year-and-a-half has been done with Kragen because Gary has been out with Slayer, and I think it’s ironic that their tour cycle has run kind of simultaneously with us even though we put out a record in October of 2014 and then ten months later they put out a record. So it’s been a back-and-forth thing for him, but he’s actually going to be with us on the Killswitch/Unearth jaunt, and I’m not quite sure about this but I think he’s joining us on the Obituary tour two weeks into it. That’s what I was told, and I don’t know, that could change too. Things could happen and they (Slayer) could extend their thing. But I was under the impression of that being the case. We’ll see what happens, but I know for sure he’s doing the Killswitch shows because we’ve already scheduled practice (laughs).
That’s also very interesting and some people probably wouldn’t have expected Exodus to be able to play without Gary. Did that just come along as something you guys wanted to try out, or was it part of the plan?
Kragen actually played with the band a few times when Gary had commitments to Slayer, but this time it just happened more and more because the band wanted to work and we had so much to do, getting out and playing shows with my return, the new record and all that. And Kragen plays Gary’s parts so perfectly note for note that if you close your eyes you’d think it’s him. So, it’s still a great show. I mean, we couldn’t not work and we thought may be we should get another guitar player because we wanted to play those songs. Gary had given us his blessing to do that, but it’s still very much his band and he’s still in it.
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Exodus dates with Killswitch Engage and Unearth:
09/01/2016 – San Francisco, CA @ Regency Ballroom
09/02/2016 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Novo
09/03/2016 – Las Vegas, NV @ Brooklyn Bowl