Steve 'Zetro' Souza remains one of the biggest names in the annals of thrash, a person without whom the story of the genre's rise to fame cannot be told. Most famously the singer for Exodus, Souza has also been part of several other successful bands, including most recently Dublin Death Patrol. His unique, high-speed vocal style has become his calling card, and it will ring again as he ushers forth his new band, Hatriot. The man and I sat down and talked about...well, damn near anything. Horror, music, the state of the business, concert promotion, retirement and a bunch of other stuff. Read on for an engaging conversation.
M. DREW: Mr. Steve Souza, how are you?
STEVE ‘ZETRO’ SOUZA: Pretty good! I checked out your webzine a little today, I agree with your horror opinion, I hated the trailer for "Texas Chainsaw [Massacre]." It doesn’t look that good, you know?
M.D: Personally, it’s one of those series that I wish people would just stop screwing around with.
SZS: I’m telling you man. And of course, it’s all 3d now, so I’m gonna see Leatherface’s chainsaw come at me. Don’t kill it anymore. Although, the two that were done with R. Lee Ermey, I really like those. But I see what you’re saying, I agree with what you’re saying.
M.D: Not only that, but to me, if you’re gonna remake something, whether it’s a song or a movie or whatever, you’ve got to have an idea to make it better. And what about Texas Chainsaw are you gonna make better than what’s already been done?
SZS: I agree. From the first one, I don’t care how campy it looked and was, it was just so shocking. And then “Texas Chainsaw [Massacre] 2,” when the cinematography was a little better and Dennis Hopper was in it, I loved that one. Bill Moseley played Chop Top, I thought that was just awesome.
M.D: I feel like people now are making it more about the scare than about what it’s actually about. Like, it’s not about Leatherface and a chainsaw, it’s about this crazy family dynamic that kills people.
SZS: Exactly. You are stuck on a farm with cannibalistic people, how would you survive? “Walking Dead,” same thing. It’s not about the zombies, it’s about the survival of the people and what you would do in such an instance.
I’m a horror fanatic. I’m tattooed… I have [Boris] Karloff as Frankenstein, I have Karloff as the Mummy, I have Linda Blair in “The Exorcist,” I have Barnabas Collins with Jonathan Frid, not Johnny Depp, I just got last week the Living Dead Girl, I have “Legend” Tim Curry, the Leprechaun holding a microphone, giving the heavy metal sign that says Dublin Death Patrol under it. I have a lot of classic horror tattooed on me. Every t-shirt I own has either Bela Lugosi on it or Boris Karloff or Lon Chaney or some shit like that. That’s totally what I love, I love it!
M.D: I’m impressed that you have the Tim Curry “Legend” tattoo. I think Tom Cruise doesn’t want people to know that movie happened.
SZS: I don’t care. If you listen to the song from Testament, "The Haunting," Eric [Peterson] and I stole a line from that. Remember when he goes “higher, higher, burning fire, making music like a choir?” That line is in the song “The Haunting,” on the first Testament album. I love all those little goblins and shit, I love that movie, that was great. I do have Darkness tattooed on my shoulder.
M.D: Let me ask you from a horror perspective. Tim Curry: better in “Legend” or better in “It”?
SZS: [pauses] Scarier in “It.” But, to see him play Satan, he did it awesome. He did it like I would expect [Satan] to be. Like, when she was gonna kill the unicorn, you could see the passion in his eyes, like he was just about ready to orgasm, he loves getting people to subvert. But then, when he comes out as Pennywise with those teeth and those eyes, that’s pretty scary. And I loved him as Dr. Frankenfurter, too. I’m an old school “Rocky Horror” fan, obviously. If you’re into horror, you gotta go into stuff like that. “Little Shop of Horrors,” I love that movie, I don’t care.
M.D: The musical one, or the original Roger Corman one?
SZS: The actual musical, I do like the songs. I am a music trip, I get into shit like that. I love “Sweeney Todd,” and I love all the songs in “Sweeney Todd.” I think they’re awesome.
M.D: People are starting to say that the Johnny Depp, Tm Burton combination has started to go over the hill. Do you think so?
SZS: I loved “Alice in Wonderland,” I thought he played the Mad Hatter amazingly. When he walks across the cable and just starts scorching shit, so careless, that would be the idea of the Mad Hatter. I went and saw “Dark Shadows” three times. I have every episode on DVD, I have Barnabas tattooed on my arm, my checkbook says “Dark Shadows” on it. Last year for Christmas, my girlfriend got me this coffin chest that had all the bobbleheads in it, says “Dark Shadows” on it. It looks like a tombstone. I have the very first thing from the day the serial started, and the very last thing. So I’m kind of biased because it’s something I love. I went and saw it three times and I thought it was great.
M.D: Some people thought I was crazy for saying this, but I thought Depp as Barnabas looked a little like Jerry Only without the hair. Agree?
SZS: Yeah, I could see that. I was trying to think of who could do it more justice. When I heard [Depp] was playing it, I think in 2007 I was at a comic book convention and met Kathryn Leigh Scott, who played Maggie Evans on the show and I said ‘what’s this about a movie’? and she said ‘oh, Johnny Depp’s playing the role as Barnabas,” I thought that was cool. I liked him as Willy Wonka, I thought he did a great job, I like a lot of shit he does. He does his roles a lot of justice, I think he does it really well, and I was excited to see that he played Barnabas.
M.D: Hey, you want to talk some music while we’re here?
SZS: I guess so. I guess so, if we have to [laughs]. I saw your site, I don’t get to deal much with silly metal webzines and such, but I saw your site, I said ‘they’re totally into horror! No way! This is right up my alley!’ You know, I think I’m getting The Bride next to my Karloff, and I got a little place for Lon Chaney right when she pulls the mask off his face, I’m getting that tattooed. I have a lot of tattoo ideas, I love horror, that’s where my head is at. Okay, let’s go to metal!
M.D: Dublin Death Patrol just released a second album. What’s different about this album than the first one? And I don’t mean musically, necessarily, so much as where was your headspace the second time around?
SZS: I think the attitude was more aggressive. The first record was cool, we threw a couple Thin Lizzy covers on there, we played some songs from a band that Chuck [Billy], Andy [Billy], Willy [Lange] and Greg [Bustamante] played in the early ‘80s called Rampage. Put a couple of those songs on there, played a Motörhead song, and just let everybody know this is what influenced us. Now the next record, what are we going to do? We’re gonna go where Chuck and I’s roots are. We’re gonna make this record a little bit heavier. I think the whole attitude through the writing process, both musically and lyrically, was aggression. Definitely aggression.
M.D: I talked to Chuck Billy last week, and based on what he said and the attitude of DDP when it was formed, did you or anyone else ever anticipate that there would be a second album?
SZS: You know, I didn’t. And he didn’t, either. I don’t think he did. He and I were content with the first thing, but the other guys in the band got really, really excited about it, and some guys who worked for us behind the scenes thought they could get a record deal, which they did. We thought, ‘okay, let’s do this’, and it was a time when Testament was off, and I have another band with my songs that just got signed to Massacre Records called Hatriot, that’s basically where our head is at. When we recorded the DDP album “Death Sentence,” the album was done around March of 2011, we went to Europe last year. We even played Grasspop on the merits of that album, and they kept telling us they were gonna release it, first Thanksgiving, then the first of the year, then March, then May, then finally I saw the press release, it seemed like the fucking record that would never come out. Then I saw the press release and I knew it was coming out. At this point, Chuck is so busy with “Dark Roots of Earth” and tomorrow I’m going to go listen to the final mix and remaster of the Hatriot album that’s coming out in January, so it’s unfortunate that it’s taken a year for this record to get out, because we can’t tour from it. He’s on tour for “Dark Roots of Earth” and that has so much leg to it right now he can’t stop from doing that and I don’t blame him. Again, I’m trying to get geared up for the first Hatriot record in January and I have a lot of preparation for that yet to go, and so it’s unfortunate that we’re not gonna be able to tour for this record. But I’m glad it’s come out, and it seems like it’s been really well received by everybody so far. [People] say it’s really heavy and more diverse and different that then first record, and that’s really what we were going for. We were just taking another step, and I’m not gonna say that in another two or three or four years there won’t be another one, depending on the time. If I’m off and Chuck’s off, who’s to say we won’t say ‘let’s write another record?’ But right now, Chuck’s very busy with Testament and I’m very busy with Hatriot.
M.D: Chuck did seem to suggest that DDP will go on the shelf for a while, if not indefinitely. Do you agree?
SZS: Yeah, I have to agree with him. Testament has so much momentum right now and I’m really excited about Hatriot. To me, when I do the Dublin Death Patrol stuff, it’s a good time, and it’s just relaxed. When I do Hatriot or I actually wrote a few songs on the new Testament record as well, it’s very serious to me, it’s a formula and I buckle down and that’s just the way I look at it. I’m very focused on that, and Chuck’s out with the tour. So it’s tough for the fans who want to see it, but we look at it as a just a fun side project anyway, while these are our main jobs. If I was still in Exodus, it would be the same way. Hatriot is my new Exodus, basically. I plan on doing a record, a world tour, coming home, doing a record, a world tour. I plan on putting out three Hatriot records in the next two years, we’re not going away. We’ve already started to write music for the next Hatriot album. You might not see me with Dublin Death Patrol, but you’re not gonna get rid of me that quick [laughs].
M.D: Speaking of Hatriot, I saw an interview with you not that long ago where you said it would have been easy to put out something with your name on it, market it to Exodus fans as a cash grab and be done. But you said you didn’t want to do that, so what should fans expect from Hatriot?
SZS: Ten killers, no fillers. Straight up. I swear to God, this album destroys. If I were to say that this is the next chapter of “Tempo of the Damned,” if you like what I did with Exodus on “Tempo” you’re gonna love “Heroes of Origin.” It’s a very good blend of what I did with Exodus, what I did back in the day with Legacy before they were Testament, a lot of what’s going on now new, a lot of what’s happened back in the day mixed together and stuck it into the pot and it came out really good. You’ll see a lot of influences, but it’s very much Zetro.
And my sons are both in the band. My eighteen year old is the drummer and my twenty-two year old is the bass player. So it’s kind of a fuckin’ “Partridge Family” affair we got going on there. It’s really cool.
M.D: What’s that like?
SZS: They been into it their whole lives. It’s one of those things where they’ve been well-versed in their craft, I remember buying Cody the bass off Jack Gibson at an Exodus practice. Cody was like twelve, and I used to have this old little shitty bass around the house and he used to mess with it. So I came home and Jack had sold me this ESP five-stringer and I said ‘here it is, learn how to play it.’ You want to be a rockstar, there it is. He picked it up and took classes online and now he’s a badass [laughs]. The other one, I think when he was ten, 2003 or 2004, I bought him a drum set for Christmas. I said ‘you want to be like Joey Jordison, you want to be like Lombardo, you want to be like all your heroes? Here, take it.’ Both of my boys have taken it to another level. They had to try out for my band. I wasn’t giving it to them. The last thing I want is you guys saying ‘oh fuck, Zetro’s band is just nepotism, these kids aren’t all that good.’ My son’s a badass bass player, and my other son is a fucking amazing drummer at eighteen years old. His feet are fast as hell, his hands are unbelievable. He’s just like Lombardo. I look at him playing the drums and he’s just like Lombardo. He beats the shit out of them. So they didn’t get in easily and they know what it takes. And I grill them constantly, ‘cause every rehearsal is a lesson, this is what’s gonna be expected, this is what we’re gonna do, no one’s gonna fucking hand it to you, you gotta work at it. They know that, they know what it takes. Both guitar players are the same way. Two youngsters, amazing players. I’ve played with some of the best in the world, I’ve been fortunate to play with some of the best goddamn guitar players in the metal world and these kids are the next wave of it, honestly. They impress the shit out of me every practice with the way they play. Friends of mine, too. I brought G Money, Greg Bustamante from Dublin Death Patrol, I said ‘hey, you want to come to the rehearsal before we record the record?’ He comes to the rehearsal and our guitar players are very fast and very talented, their techniques are very original and Greg said ‘I want to put my guitar down, they’re unbelievable.’ I’m running three miles a day, I got to keep up with these little bastards onstage [laughs]. This old man has to keep up. Two of them together don’t even add up to me [laughs]. I gotta keep myself in shape for these little shits.
M.D: Did you ever imagine thirty years ago that not only would you still be in heavy metal, but playing it with your sons?
SZS: No, no. You never think that. You think it’s gonna come and go. When you look at music history, you get your time. And when your time is up, your time is up. That’s just how it works. You don’t think about it while you’re doing it, so you spend, spend, spend, thrill, thrill, thrill, and then it starts to wane. I’ve been very fortunate to…like you say, thirty years in the business and people still want to hear what I have to say and the music that I produce. It’s not fake, I love heavy metal. Twenty eight years in and I live it passionately. So what you hear and what comes out is not something that I just scribble out, it comes from my heart. I’m very passionate about it, I do love it, it is my love. There’s nothing that will change until the day I fucking die, I’ll be banging my probably old, bald, fucking gray…you know, by then they’ll have a machine that’ll be called ‘Old Man Headbanging Machine,” where you’ll stick it on your neck and it’ll automatically be able to bang your head. Because my fucking head will be fucking worn out by that time, but that’s okay [laughs]. I’ll be the first one in line to buy it because it’s my life, it’s what I love.
M.D: You’ve seen all ends of the heavy metal spectrum from when America picked it up to the present. It seems like thrash is coming around again. There’s Havok, there’s Lazarus AD, Warbringer, Toxic Holocaust…
SZS: Municipal Waste, yeah.
M.D: When you see these kids, do you look at them and see yourself all those years ago?
SZS: I think in some cases I did. It’s different now. It’s much easier but it’s harder. There’s a ton of ways to get out there media-wise, but now the competition is huge. In my case, luckily I have a bit of a name, so that makes it that much more of an interest to listen to, a curiosity level, I guess, to see what I have, what’s going on there. Like when King Diamond left Mercyful Fate and formed King Diamond and you wanted to hear what he was gonna do. It was pretty much the same thing. Same thing with Udo [Dirkschneider] when he left Accept and started U.D.O., you wanted to see if it was going to be the same thing as Accept. I think I have that on my back. What’s great about that is, it’s not gonna be as tough as it is for Warbringer and those other bands trying to come up out of it. New thrash has definitely be welcomed on, but it seems like the legendary bands are the ones that hold the waters. Hopefully me having a new band, having my name in the business how it is will help support that. Not just ‘oh, he’s got two young kids with him doing the same thing he did with Exodus thirty years ago,’ and the flag-flying and all that. It’s not me doing another version of Exodus. I could have done that all day long, played Exodus and some fucking old Legacy songs, but the kids don’t sound like that. This is a new band, new thrash. It’s definitely new Bay Area thrash kicking ass.
M.D: I asked Chuck this same question, but if I say to you “Bay Area Metal Scene,” what does that mean to you?
SZS: Bay Area metal scene…that means Ruthie’s Inn, that means Exodus, that means Metallica, that means Possessed and Death Angel. That means Legacy, that means Vio-Lence, that means Forbidden. That means Metal Monday, that means Lääz Rockit. That means the parties after the shows, that means the crazy nights at the Metallica house in San Pablo when they used to live together before they had any money, that’s what it means to me.
M.D: [pauses] I’m not totally sure how to ask this question. How much pride do you take in being part of a scene where so many of those names are still musically alive, and at the same time, are you at all surprised that it’s lasted this long?
SZS: I’ll tell you what, I was proud when Metallica got put into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I felt proud that day. I felt like one of us had gotten there. If you were to come up to us in 1985 and pointed across the fuckin’ hall and said ‘see that guy right there, all drunk? That fucking guy’s gonna be in something called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with the greatest musicians ever, and there will be people like KISS and Cheap Trick aren’t even in there yet, but he’ll be in there,’ I would have said you’re fucking crazy. And to see it go on thirty years later…I’ll tell you why. Because we created a sound that I don’t think we were aware of at the time, but every other form of heavy metal has taken from it. Black metal. Death metal. Progressive metal. Anything from Meshuggah. Dimmu Borgir has used what thrash metal originally started. I think the initial bands, like Exodus and Megadeth, Anthrax and Metallica, Slayer, Overkill, any of the bands that initially did it from the beginning, Testament, Forbidden, Death Angel, are always going to have a place in people’s hearts because those were the bands that started it. They were there in the beginning, and the history comes along with them. There’s a fascination that comes along with them and I think it’s still being received quite well.
M.D: As the scene evolves, not just thrash metal, but metal as a whole, particularly when Judas Priest said they were gonna retire, fans as a whole didn’t know quite how to react to that. As the scene approaches that age, how do you feel? Do you ever look in the rearview mirror and think maybe you’re coming to the end?
SZS: No, never have. I’m starting this new band, I got a new record coming out, I think I’m more excited for this than I was before “Pleasures of the Flesh” came out! I think a band like [Judas Priest] can’t really say that. I got three words for you: No More Tours. You remember that in ’96? Exactly. Do you think you’ve really seen the last of Judas Priest?
SZS: Exactly. Come on. Of course you haven’t. It’s in their blood. Two or three years down the road they’re not gonna be playing more music? Do you know what you get to do all day when you’re a musician? Not a fucking thing. Okay, you play golf…
M.D: Alice Cooper does.
SZS: You can’t go hang out, your friends are working or doing whatever. So to me, that’s what you do. None of those guys except for Rob [Halford] has gone off on his own and had successful solo projects. You think Ian Hill is gonna go start the Ian Hill Project? Fuck no, he’s not. You think he’s gonna get bored? Fuck yeah, he is. That’s what they do.
I don’t look in the rearview mirror. I keep looking thinking ‘how can I keep myself in shape so I can do this when I’m seventy-five?’ That’s what I’m looking at.
M.D: For Hatriot, correct me if I’m wrong, but did you start recording the album before you knew where and when it was going to be released?
SZS: No, we…At first, yeah, I said ‘we’re going in August fifteenth, and we’re doing it, and if I gotta pay for it myself, I will, and then we’ll go.’ And then we had two labels that were interested, which were Massacre and SPV/Steamhammer. Massacre was way more excited for it. Me, back in the day, I probably wouldn’t have gone with a German label for it, but it doesn’t matter anymore. The media is so big through internet, Youtube, everything, you just need to get product out so people can hear it, so there was no concern with that. Two weeks before we were supposed to go in the studio, I actually signed the record contract. Ten days after we started recording. It did kinda start out that way, but I knew in the back of my mind that people were interested, that it wasn’t gonna stay sitting on the shelf waiting for somebody to do it. I knew it was gonna happen and I shot for a January release because I had the timeline and I know how long shit takes. I figured if I’m out of the studio by today or tomorrow, and I’m sending hard drives to Massacre on Tuesday, they’ve got four months to get their shit together and get the album out. So it’s set for release right after the first of the year, because you know, the business shuts down right after fucking Thanksgiving. And I know that, so I’m not even gonna try to put a record out. Most bands go on tour then, the only end of the business [working] is out on tour at the time of the holidays. I remember with Exodus, we fucking toured every year at the holidays, you spend some time at home, then people want to go, that’s how it works.
I’ve hired the artist to do the album cover, which is Mark DeVito, he’s done the last few Motörhead records, he lives here in Berkeley in the Bay Area. We’ve already done shots for it, so everything is in motion, there’s no reason it won’t be out in January, then there’s a complete world tour after that.
M.D: The first DDP album was your first album back in the limelight since “Tempo of the Damned.” Given that experience, and the experience from the second DDP record, do you think that inspired you to make the Hatriot record? Do you think you would have done Hatriot without DDP in the middle?
SZS: Yes, definitely. I was in another band called TENET which released an album in 2009, that was with Jed Simon, Gene Hoglan, Byron Stroud from Strapping Young Lad and Glen Alvelais who played with Forbidden and Testament. I was putting out something, regardless of whether I was touring or not, I was keeping my name out there and keeping myself busy. The whole idea of Hatriot was, I had to do it. I had people around me, friends, confidants, whatever, that love what I do and are constantly saying ‘Zet, you gotta do this. You gotta do another band. If you’re not gonna be in Exodus, you gotta do something.’ I just can’t go to shows and have someone be like ‘hey, what are you doing these days?’ and go ‘nothing!’ I didn’t want that, so I knew eventually I would do something, I just didn’t know with who. Then I saw Kosta [Varvatakis] playing with another band, I told him he was a really good guitar player and his band was really good, he told me it was his last show with them. We were talking back and forth a little bit, I listened to the stuff he wrote, I went and actually demoed [Hatriot] at Testament’s studio, other people were listening to it, Andy Snead, Paul Bostaph. They asked if Zetro rejoined Exodus, and a lot of people compare the two, but no man, this is a new band called Hatriot. Worked out the bugs, and now it’s all a very solid unit.
M.D: As you look at your entire career, with Exodus and TENET and DDP and Exodus again, how is Steve Souza now different from Steve Souza then? How does that influence Hatriot?
SZS: I think I’m wiser now, and I don’t take much for granted. When you’re first a musician and you’re just thrown into the limelight and it seems you’re gonna be this really rich rock star, you’re really naïve about how the business pays, how it works, how you’re gonna get fucked right in front of your face and you’re just gonna take it [laughs]. You know what I mean? That kind of shit. You have to get used to that. So now, I’m less apt to make mistakes. I’m less apt to go and do things that I know are wrong to do and I won’t do it. Regardless of how cool it sounds, I’m not gonna fly, and this is just a for instance, I’m not gonna take ten thousand dollars to fly to play Wacken [Open Air Festival,] for one show then fly home and have that be on my dime. That’s not worth it to me, but I know bands do shit like that. Then they do in debt for one stupid plane flight, just to say they played with Iron Maiden at Wacken, and they played at nine o’clock in the morning on the side stage. I won’t do shit like that, I understand how it works. As enticing as it may sound, I’ve got to make sure everything is right. We have to be careful about who we play with and what venues. A lot of venues come out and say they want Hatriot to play there, but you’re venue isn’t nice enough. I’m not gonna put my band there, because if I put my band there, then that’s the kind of band we look like. Hatriot’s opened for Testament, opened for Forbidden, opened for Death Angel, opened for DRI. So we take good shows, ones that we think are gonna work for us. If it’s not gonna be right, we won’t do it.
M.D: In closing, as you launch another band and another album, what’s the principle thing about the industry that’s changed and makes you think it isn’t the same as when you started? Good or bad?
SZS: I’ll give you both. The good is, a band like Hatriot, we’ve been able to do a video, very inexpensively from a great director who has done great stuff, put it on Youtube so the whole world can see it. Put a demo out that people treat as a record, put it out so the whole world can see it. And that helps parley into getting signed and moving to the next level. Back in the day you didn’t have that. You had a demo tape, you sent it to a label in a folder and hopefully you got signed, and then people heard of you after you went on tour or you were in a magazine or something like that. Now, people in Helsinki, Finland can know tomorrow that you’re putting out something today. That’s the plus.
Minus? I used to sell three hundred thousand, four hundred thousand records. Now one guy goes and buys a Hatriot record, he’s gonna spin it and ten of his friends are gonna have it. That’s the unfortunate side. The industry did not do what the movie industry did when put DVDs out and make it so you can’t just burn the fucking disc and give it to everybody like that. A friend of mine bought “World Painted Blood,” he went home and burned ten copies of it and went to work the next day and gave one to everybody. Unless you’re a hardcore collector as a fan, so long as you got the songs, what the fuck do you care? That’s how the industry has hurt itself and hurt the fans at the gate. You gotta pay more to get into shows and merchandise has just gone crazy.
I have a den where there’s a lot of my achievements on the wall framed, one of them the poster from when Exodus toured with Black Sabbath in 1992. I have it signed from all the guys. It was the only stop on tour, in Sioux City, Iowa, where they actually made a pretty cool poster, and it says Black Sabbath with a picture of them and Exodus with a picture of us, the opening band on was called Skew Siskin, they were on there with a picture of them. And it says ‘get advanced tickets now: $13.25.’ To see Exodus, Black Sabbath and Skew Siskin on a Halloween night. Can you believe that? Fucking try that now. That’s a ninety dollar ticket. Go buy that hoodie that says ‘Halloween Bash’ on there? That’s a sixty-five or seventy dollar hoodie. Everything has doubled on itself. That’s how the industry has failed itself and had to pick it up in other areas to make up for it. Which always falls back on the fan.
M.D: No doubt about that.
SZS: I appreciate the fans. I’m very fan friendly. I always thought if I went to a show and hung out with one of my heroes, I’d go home and I’d fucking pee all over myself. I always made it a point to go out there [and meet the fans].
[And] I appreciate the press. If it wasn’t for you guys, I wouldn’t be able to spew my fucking venom to the world with what I got to say [laughs].