TESTAMENT To "Possibly Get Back To The Studio In Early 2010"
August 16, 2008, 12 years ago
BW&BK; photographer Patryk Pigeon spoke with TESTAMENT guitarist Alex Skolnick recently about a number of topics including the band's highly-praised comeback album, The Formation Of Damnation. The chat reads as follows:
BW&BK;: The reviews are great for The Formation Of Damnation album. Some also think it's the thrash album of the year. Can you tell us more about the album?
Alex: "Well, the album came out this year, but we'd been playing together with most of the original line-up for about 2 years and there was a lot of pressure to do a new album right away and we took our time. The band hadn't done a record in a long time for a number of reasons and when this line up got back together we just decided to play some shows and build on our strength to really just get together. We did have some complaints from the fans that we shouldn't tour so much we should just put a record out. But you know what? That touring really helped prepare us and I think the record came out naturally and better because of it. I don't think it would have been as good if we had rushed it."
BW&BK;: Did you enjoy getting back in the studio with the band after so many years?
Alex: "Oh yeah, I did!! It was a very different experience doing it now than doing it before."
BW&BK;: And were the vibe and writing process the same or did you decide to take a new approach for this new album?
Alex: "Well, it was a slightly different approach. I've been out of it for a long time and I've been doing very different music. So, for me, it felt right to just kinda ease back into it. And the previous Testament record, The Gathering, I thought is the one where they really sorta found their formula outside of the original line up and I wanted that process to continue, 'cause that's a great album. So I didn't just wanna come in and expect it to be like it was 20 years ago when everybody was writing."
BW&BK;: One cool thing about the new album is that you have the old school that meets the new school. So it makes it an actual record with strong 80/90s influences.
Alex: "Absolutely! And I think I was able to bring some of that influence, not just by writing music but also by listening to what they were coming up with and really making suggestions and I did write some stuff that's on there."
BW&BK;: Did you write a lot on the new album?
Alex: "Not a whole lot. I did more of like arranging and listening and suggesting. There is a whole song, 'F.E.A.R.', which I wrote music and lyrics, and it's kinda funny I got this reputation of being like the melodic guy in the band by writing more mellow stuff. A lot of people think that's one of the heaviest songs."
BW&BK;: On the song Leave Me Forever, the last song of the album, there's a jazzy feel to the verse… Do you have something to do with it?
Alex: "Not really. Only with some of the guitar stuff but as far as the arrangements and the concept of it, we tried different things. Eric and I have tried some different ideas and it seems to come together naturally. That was supposed to be an instrumental. We were practically done with the whole song and Chuck came in with some lyrics for it and just to try it, it just took on a whole new life. And now it's one of the most popular songs on the record."
Singer Chuck Billy walks in:
BW&BK;: By the way, Chuck, the bridge near the end of that song is killer!
Chuck: "Thanks, man! That part of the song was written for the Demonic record, when we worked with Gene Hoglan. But it didn't end up on the record. It was supposed to be an instrumental and as far I was concerned it was meant to be that way until the last day of recording. They were putting leads on the song and I said, wait a minute, I know that song! That's the song that we have worked out and never finished. So the instrumental that they were putting leads into made me wanna try something. I had an idea…"
Alex: "Chuck, it's so good that you did that!"
Chuck: "So I said, let me go in and try something. The next Monday, I came up with the lyrics and recorded it and it fell just right."
Alex: "It just became a completely different type of song and it's a good closer song.
BW&BK;: Any plans to release a DVD of this tour?
Alex: "I think so… I think it's a possibility. We have a friend that is coming to some of the east coast shows that is going to film. We haven't filmed so far on this tour. But if we capture the stuff that our friend is gonna shoot I think it's gonna be cool."
BW&BK;: I think you can agree that the fans deserve some pro-shot material instead of the YouTube crap.
Alex: "Oh yeah, absolutely! But that is funny, everything we do is all over YouTube. So the fans need a good quality DVD that captures the energy of the shows. You know, the first thing we did when we got back together it was to film a DVD, but I think right now we are light years beyond that. So a DVD of what's going on now will just destroy the last one."
BW&BK;: How do you see the music industry these days? Do you think that if the album had been released in the early 90s it would have been better for the band?
Alex: "I think more so now because in the early 90s there was the whole alternative music revolution."
BW&BK;: Yeah, but the band was at its peak at that time…
Alex: "Yeah, but not for long. There's also the fact that the record couldn't have come out back then 'cause we didn't sound like this. This record is the result of the experience that we had in those days. This line up been going separate ways then coming back together and finding a new place to work from and also the fact that the environment out there is exciting, because there's a lot of young fans that are re-discovering our classic music and they are supporting the new music, so we have this fan base that looks like the one we had 20 years ago and it's the same age crowd mixed with some of the older fans out there too. So I really think that the new record is the result of that. So touring now is much more inspiring."
BW&BK;: Is this line-up of Testament a one-shot deal or are you guys back for good?
Alex: "We didn't expect it to go this far. We got back together for a few reunion shows that went really well. The line-up kept changing as well on drums, but I feel this is the line-up that feels the strongest. This is the line-up that created this new record's end resurgence. So we don't see slowing down anytime soon."
BW&BK;: So we can expect at least one other album?
Alex: "Oh yeah... at least."
BW&BK;: Also talking about the early years. The band has released an album called First Strike Still Deadly. Do you think one day we will be able to hear some songs from the Practice What You Preach and Souls of Black albums been re-recorded?
Alex: "Yeah, it's possible. We actually re-recorded the Souls of Black album but it's not out yet. We did it during the Formation of Damnation recording. It may show up on a video game, nothing I can talk right now 'cause it's not official. But we have the tracks, so it's possible it could come out on CD as well."
BW&BK;: You are also involved in a few musical projects. What made you decide to get back with Testament? Did you feel the urge to play real raw metal again?
Alex: "Well, if I'm going to play metal, it's gotta be real! There's a few reasons behind it. I didn't play metal in years and in fact I'm proud that the metal I played was real metal. I kinda took a risk by playing metal, cause most other guitar players would go play more commercial stuff. And at one point I was really comfortable with my jazz playing. Like I never expected to be in Downbeat magazine, which is like the ROLLING STONE of jazz, and I was in Jazz Is magazine, played a few jazz festivals. So once my jazz thing was going, I felt that there's room if I wanted to be in a metal project. So I think I was in a place where I wanted to re-explore metal and right around that time LAMB OF GOD called me to play solo on the title track of 'Ashes Of The Wake', Chris Poland is also on that. I went to see them at Ozzfest, then I met the guys from Slipknot and they were very complimentary about my playing. Even Zakk Wylde has heard my jazz stuff! But it was also clear that it would be cool to do some metal stuff and, a very short time later, I got a call from Chuck. It was perfect. It was like fate. So here we are!"
BW&BK;: You must now feel complete with your jazz trio, the TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA and Testament?
Alex: "Absolutely! They are three very intense, different and hard-working projects. It could be a little overwhelming sometimes, but it's very fulfilling, it's great!"
BW&BK;: You have booked a September 7 date in Montreal and a few others in the States with your jazz trio. Can you tell the Testament fans what they can expect from your project for those who never heard about it?
Alex: "Well, it's a very different environment. It's the type of thing where you sit and listen and you don't talk loud… There's no moshpit… It's just about listening to the music, it requires paying attention to the music, but a lot of people have showed up not thinking they will like it and really like it because when you pay attention and you just listen it can be as exciting as another metal show in a very different way."
BW&BK;: You are also doing some classic rock/metal covers jazz style that may attract some metal and rock fans to your music?
Alex: "That's true. I think when you first listen to jazz it's not in your face like metal. It takes a little effort. It's like art in a way. There's certain type of art you have to learn about to really appreciate it. And, with jazz, that's often been the case because a lot of the songs are these old standard jazz repertoire and you have to study them to really appreciate what's going on in a jazz concert but, with us, the standards that we do you'll recognize because there's song by the SCORPIONS, JUDAS PRIEST, OZZY and even KISS. So you recognize the form so you don't have to be a seasoned jazz listener to get it, but the process totally comes from jazz, so the pure jazz fans like it 'cause they can relate to it, so are the rock fans. Some rock/metal fans have been checking more into jazz because of us and it's a huge compliment. But we play originals too, the originals have their own excitement."
BW&BK;: What are the future plans for you and Testament?
Alex: "This tour takes us to the rest of the month, then I have the trio tour the first half of September, then Testament goes to Japan, then Australia. We have 10 city dates in October in the States, then I'll do Trans-Siberian Orchestra in November/December and, in early spring, Testament is gonna start up again so there will be a lot of Testament activities in 2009."
BW&BK;: Maybe a new album?
Alex: "Well, we will definitely write some material while we are not touring and possibly get back to the studio in early 2010."
Check out pics of Testament opening The Metal Masters Tour In Toronto, ON at The Molson Amphitheatre On August 13th at this location.
Patryk Pigeon's photography can be found at www.patrykpigeon.com.
(Photo by Aaron Small)