Recently thrash legends Testament reformed with their original lineup to perform at the esteemed Dynamo festival with their classic lineup. Talk is circulating of a new album with this lineup, which would be without a doubt, a very major release. The last album featuring these members, "The Ritual" was a well received album that reached many a metal listener with it's catchy yet pummeling thrash sound. Chuck Billy took the time to chat with The Gauntlet's Erin Fox about the possibility of a new record, the Dynamo festival as well as the band's handful of one off dates scheduled here in the US.
The Gauntlet: It's great to hear that Testament has gotten the original lineup back together to perform at these upcoming shows. After all of this time, what was it that made you decide to regroup?
Chuck Billy: What happened was, I was talking to Andre who does the Dynamo festival in Europe. I had heard Anthrax was playing with their original lineup. So I called him up and I was talking to him about it and he was getting me all fired up and he asked me "What are the chances of getting you guys to perform with the original lineup?" I was like "I don't know, let me ask everybody", so I started making some calls and within three or four days everybody said "Okay, let's do this", so we decided to do it because we all played the Dynamo festival in 1987, the first time we ever went to Europe, so to go back there and do a reunion type of gig, we all agreed it would work out. The thing is that Alex had a lot of commitments, so we had to of course check with his lineup, because he's doing his thing with his jazz trio.
The Gauntlet: How many of these performances can fans expect to see here in the US?
Chuck Billy: We're playing a string in Europe and then, we're coming back to play three shows in the US.
The Gauntlet: So that it makes it a special thing for fans?
Chuck Billy: Yeah, we're doing two shows at Jaxx (Springfield, VA) and we have the festival in Allentown, that's in June.
The Gauntlet: Have you started to rehearse for the European dates?
Chuck Billy: We haven't rehearsed yet. Everybody's out on tour, Eric's making his solo record; everybody is kind of doing their thing. This week, we're going to start rehearsing, everybody's going to fly in. Alex, Louie and Greg live in New York and we live in California. They're going to come on out and we're going to start rehearsing this weekend.
The Gauntlet: Do you foresee a studio recording coming out of this reformation?
Chuck Billy: Honestly, we've spoken about that. That's actually what we were planning on, doing a record. Right now, Eric and I are working on a new record right now. But everybody decided, everybody agreed that we would work on our next record as the all original lineup. Now, these shows have came along and we decided, let's give it a shot with this new record we have been working on and get everybody on it, instead of waiting until next year. So after we do these shows, we're really going to concentrate on finishing this record with this band.
The Gauntlet: How far along are you in the songwriting?
Chuck Billy: Well, we've got about six songs right now, but with the original lineup, who knows where it will go.
The Gauntlet: What can fans expect to hear from the band at these performances? Do you plan on performing a lot of your most popular songs, or will you be throwing in some things that fans have not really had the opportunity to hear live?
Chuck Billy: We're going to play a lot of songs that we haven't played in a while. Since back then, we have made a few more records and haven't really played a lot of the older songs in our touring. With the original lineup, we are only going to be playing songs that the original lineup wrote. So, it's a lot of classic stuff, but we are trying to pick some obscure songs that Eric and I haven't covered while the guys have been gone which is a little more exciting and challenging because we really didn't really want to perform those songs with other musicians because they never really sounded right. So now we're like "let's pull out these songs that weren't working with other people, that we know will work with the original guys." It's kind of cool; we can pick more songs now.
The Gauntlet: So could fans expect a lot of older songs from albums like "The Legacy", that haven't been played in a really long while?
Chuck Billy: Yeah, actually from all of them. We have about a fifteen song set. What we did was, all of us made up our own set list, picked two songs off from each record that we have, and we compiled a list from doing that. Definitely some classics from "The Legacy". "The New Order", we're playing "The New Order", we haven't played that in a while, "Sins Of Omission", we haven't played that in a while. "Electric Crown".
The Gauntlet: In anticipation of this interview, I went back and revisited your older material; I actually had not listened to some of those records in a while. It was like rediscovering an old friend, remembering how much I really loved those recordings, and in doing so, it makes it really exciting to have the chance to hear this material played live again.
Chuck Billy: It is for us too, like I said we haven't got the chance to play those songs, it just didn't work. Now, we get to give it a shot. It's a challenge as well.
The Gauntlet: What do you envision the new songs with the classic lineup sounding like? Do you think that the music will have a similar style to the material on "The Ritual"?
Chuck Billy: I don't think so. I think it will be more current, like what we are doing now, but with the original guys on it, because that's just where we're at. I know a lot of songs, it's Eric, but what Alex puts in will definitely change the sound of the songs, so that's where we're going to be. I guess we will see when we get in that situation and then we'll be finding out where it's going to go.
The Gauntlet; The band definitely took a heavier turn, starting with "Low", especially vocally, but in this situation, the older material like "The Ballad" will be the same, won't it?
Chuck Billy: That's another thing that we're doing. We haven't really performed any ballads in our set for a long time. So we're going to do a few ballads on this tour.
The Gauntlet: Is it exciting for you to go back and do that type of material again?
Chuck Billy: For me it is. For me vocally, to be able to take that part of a show and be able to bring the tone down and the tempo down and perform in a different way, then to get right back into it and get heavy again, that's great.
The Gauntlet: On those songs, your vocals really stood out and most singers on the scene can't touch that type of work, even today. What is the most aspect of coming back to play Dynamo and the Louder Harder Faster festival? What do you think that you'll gain from coming back as the original lineup to perform these events?
Chuck Billy: Dynamo was the first show that we did outside of America, our first time in Europe happened to be Dynamo, and to have fifteen thousand people there, for us, it was like we were playing Woodstock. For us it was huge. It was such a great time for us that day. It really sticks out in our minds. So almost twenty years later, here we are going back to do it again, with the original guys again. To have Anthrax there with their original lineup, because that was our first tour in Europe, with Anthrax, so it's kind of like a full circle to do this Dynamo show. Hopefully, it gets the guys to think, "Yeah, this is cool, let's play some more shows together", that they have such a good time and a good memory of this that they will want to perform some more shows. So we're taking this whole reunion thing one day at a time and see how it goes.
The Gauntlet: I know that it is really hard for band members to choose a favorite song that they've done throughout their careers, but what songs for you make being the singer of the band most enjoyable? What are the definitive tracks that make you really proud to be an artist?
Chuck Billy: I would say definitely all of the ballads that we have done. We have always been a hard edged band and tried to make it hard and heavy, but to be able to shift gears and be able to play songs like, I don't know if you have heard our live record, but we did four acoustic versions of our slower songs. We did "The Ballad", "The Legacy" and "Return To Serenity" and "Trail Of Tears". To be able to shift gears like that, for me as a vocalist, it does define my part of Testament. Because, I can always be hard and heavy, but to be able to carry a note and be a little more melodic like that is great.
The Gauntlet: What can you tell the younger metal fans that have not been exposed to the original lineup? To be coming back in 2005 really puts the band in front of a whole new audience.
Chuck Billy: I don't know if there is a message, we do what we do. We have always done what we've done without a big message; I hope they appreciate the style that we bring. We really did have our own style of music, especially with the original guys, for sure. But for those kids that have never heard of us, this will be a great introduction, having the original lineup. Looking forward to seeing all of you at the shows!