Every longtime metalhead dreams of the day when some of the icons they grew up on may be on the other end of the telephone. I recently got to check one off the bucket list when I called the one and only Chuck Billy from TESTAMENT for an interview. I tried (and failed) not to fangirl all over the place, but he was fine with it, and we laughed quite a bit. We chatted about this upcoming tour with SLAYER and CARCASS that’s set to destroy cities all across the U.S. as well as some of his other passions. So pull up a chair and join us:
Amps: I’ve seen you live so many times since 1989 and this last tour in April of 2015 with EXODUS was easily the best I’ve ever been to. How is it that much like your contemporaries in OVERKILL, ACCEPT, and EXODUS you’re doing some of your best writing and sounding better than ever live this far into your career?
Chuck: Cool, thanks man. That was a really fun tour. I think for me vocally I’m taking better care of myself when I’m touring. It’s nice to wake up not hung over (laughs) with my voice shot from partying too hard the night before. I run and try to stay in decent shape. I’m not getting any goddamn younger so I have to take care of myself. And I think as a band we’ve gotten better with time. My stamina is better, my singing tones are better, I have more control. I feel stronger than I did when I was younger. As far as the sound of the band we’ve always stuck with crew guys for a long time so they really know our sound and what we’re looking for. That’s so important for us.
Amps: You mentioned that you’re taking good care of yourself. How are you health-wise? Everything good and a clean bill of health?
Chuck: Everything’s good. I do my check-ups once a year. So far, so good. You never know, though. I’m getting up to that age where everything starts breaking down (laughs)
Amps: Let’s not even think that way, sir! You’ve got this tour coming up with SLAYER and CARCASS and you’re here in Philly March 3. I can’t wait, I gotta tell ya! What can we expect from your set?
Chuck: We’ll definitely play a few songs different from the last tour. We just toured South America with CANNIBAL CORPSE so we dug out some deep tracks of heavy shit that we haven’t played in awhile, which felt really good. We might break out some of that stuff. We only get a 40-minute show, so we’re playing about eight songs. I probably won’t talk a lot. We’ll be like, “GO! BAM, BAM, BAM!!” and plow through it.
Amps: I’ve seen you a few times as direct support for some bands who had NO BUSINESS being the headliners and you blew them off the fuckin’ stage. My friends and I were PISSED you weren’t headlining.
Chuck: When you’re support and you have 40-45 minutes, and you’re a band that plays an hour and a half all the time, sometimes you’re like, “Man, I barely started sweating and we’re done?” Those ones are easier, though. Because when you come out, you come out hard, fast, and bangin’. You go for the knockout the whole time. That’s the beauty of having that slot, and that’s why so many bands in that slot come out kickin’ ass, you know? As a headliner, you have to be more diverse and maybe pull out a ballad or whatever, talk more, etc. It’s a completely different show.
Amps: That’s why I was so thrilled to see you co-headlining with ANTHRAX in 2011.
Chuck: THAT was a great tour! That brought back so many memories. ANTHRAX was the first cross country tour we did back in the day, so it was cool that so many years later here we were hooking up again.
Amps: I’m really excited for their new record because I think Worship Music is the best album they’ve ever put out.
Chuck: That’s a great record, every single song.
Amps: Will you be playing any tunes off of The Formation of Damnation and Dark Roots of Earth on this run?
Chuck: Oh yeah. We’ll be playing “Rise Up” and “The Formation of Damnation” for sure. Those are two strong tracks, and then we’ll add six classics. I’m sure “Into the Pit” will make the list, along with “The New Order”, we’ll see. “Disciples of the Watch” would be a good one to put in there. It’s tough, but at the same time easy when you only have eight songs. You gotta pick the thrashiest, right (laughs)?
Amps: Have you done any writing for the next record?
Chuck: Actually, we’re deep into that right now. We’ve been writing for about a year and a half. It hasn’t been easy but we’ve got all the songs and the majority of lyrics. I need to do a lot more, but we’re gonna have a lot of time on this tour where we’re gonna bring out some recording equipment and work on my vocal demos on the road. As soon as the tour’s over we’re gonna jump in the studio and record it.
Amps: You guys are one of the biggest road dogs around. I’m pretty much guaranteed a TESTAMENT show every year. Does that ever wear on you?
Chuck: Not anymore, really. When we overextend the amount of shows we can do in a month it gets a little tough and challenging. That’s about it, but besides that not at all. We dig every minute of it.
Amps: What’s your pre-show ritual? Because you come out like a fuckin’ maniac night after night. What do you do to get all amped up for the gig?
Chuck: It all ties in with getting rest and taking care of myself. I warm up every night, and then it’s like, “OK, time to flip the switch and here we go!” Once the lights go out and that intro rolls it’s time to turn it on. There’s no turning back. You can’t say, “Stop the tape!” (laughs).
Amps: Are there any songs that you get particularly psyched for when you look down at the setlist?
Chuck: “3 Days In Darkness” is always one of those for me. It’s so fuckin’ heavy and it’s got such cool parts. It’s just one of those live songs that’s killer.
Amps: Whether you’re on the road or at home, what’s in your CD player/iPod?
Chuck: I’ve been stuck on the new LAMB OF GOD for awhile now. That’s a great record. I listen to SiriusXM a lot so I’m always trying to see who’s new and hear what’s going on. I always go back to my classic standards as well like UFO, THIN LIZZY, stuff like that. That’s what I enjoy listening to.
Amps: What does Chuck Billy do to unwind when he’s not prowling the stage like a lunatic?
Chuck: Well, I’m a boater. I just moved last month out to a water community. Now I have my boat in the backyard. I get to use it more often. I rode Harleys for 30 years and I said, “You know what? I’ve never gotten in an accident so I’m gonna retire it.” And then I started boating. It’s hot out, I’m not putting on my leathers, I’m fuckin’ putting on my shorts, filling up my cooler and going out to see some boobs on the water! That sounds like the smarter plan, doesn’t it? What was I thinking all these fuckin’ years?? I get to relax and listen to my music. I put a killer stereo in the boat and I can just enjoy myself.
Amps: What do you want to say to all the TESTAMENT fans out there?
Chuck: I just appreciate all their loyalty from day one to where we’re at today. Any of those fans out there who’ve never been to a TESTAMENT show, this tour coming up with SLAYER and CARCASS is their opportunity. It’s gonna be an awesome show by all three bands, so get out there!
The mighty Chuck Billy has spoken, people. As someone who is a veteran of many, many TESTAMENT shows I can attest to their power and fury live. You’d be doing yourself a major disservice by missing this tour. I’ll be there in Philly for sure! You can find tickets and dates HERE.
B&W LIVE PHOTO: BRIAN MATUS PHOTOGRAPHY