Testament's Alex Skolnick: "The Main Players in Grunge Were All Metal Fans"
Since 1983, California-bred Testament has evolved into one of the biggest names in thrash metal. If you were a metal fan in the past three decades, chances are such albums as 1987's The Legacy, 1992's The Ritual and 2008's The Formation of Damnation. And of course, the band's most recent album, 2012's Dark Roots of Earth.
Even though the band has gone through multiple line-up changes (guitarist Eric Peterson has been the only constant member) and 20 collective albums, I must say that I still find the band synonymous with the current roster. That includes two of its original members, guitarist Alex Skolnick and bassist Greg Christian, drummer Gene Hoglan, and vocalist Chuck Billy, who replaced singer Steve Souza in 1986 before the first studio album and has been on board ever since.
Testament just released a live DVD/CD in October called Dark Roots of Thrash, and the band isn't slowing down anytime soon: the members have already begun planning an 11th studio album for a 2014 release, described as "an album that destroys all."
Even as heavy metal veterans (although, as you'll read below, Skolnick isn't particularly fond of that terminology), Testament is constantly on the road, and according to Skolnick is feeling in a better place than they've ever been in terms of music and understanding.
Up On The Sun talked with lead guitarist Alex Skolnick about his favorite Testament record, why grunge didn't exactly kill off metal, and how sometimes writing for his jazz project creates awesome riffs for Testament.
Testament is playing at Marquee Theater on November 7 with Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage and Huntress.
Congrats on the Dark Roots of Thrash. Do you have a favorite aspect of the video? I'm excited for the mosh pit camera.
A good period of the band is captured, and we have footage from the early days when I was in my teens or early 20s. It's a good document of us getting back together and just reconnecting like old times. But since then we've done two albums, arena tours, festivals...we've really become resurrected during that time. So I think this video really captures us sort of back in action and fully resurrected.
What made you guys decide to do a DVD?
We had been talking about it for quite some time, and it just hadn't worked out before, timing-wise. Last year and the year before we had a lot of focus on completing the Dark Roofs of Earth album. It made sense to do it while we were on an album cycle and it was relatively fresh.
Is Testament still planning on a new album in 2014?
We are, absolutely. I don't think we are going to start working on it until 2014.
So there's been no writing going on then?
Only the individual writing has taken place. I'm constantly writing music, and I play different genres of music, too. Sometimes I'll be writing for my acoustic or jazz project, and all of a sudden I'll have an idea that I feel could be a great Testament riff.
So I have some great ideas lying around on my MP3 recorder. Next year is when we'll put that all together.
I wanted to ask about the jazz trio. The last album was in 2011, correct?
So do you ever come up with material for one of your projects when you're working on the other?
Generally it's very different, just as the performance is. It's different equipment; in Testament I play a solid body guitar and a very distorted amplifier, and with jazz I play a semi-acoustic guitar and it's a very different sound. But every now and then there are parts and riffs that can work for one or the other.
On the last album, for example, there's a song called "A Day in the Death," and the riff in it originally came from my jazz writing. Especially when I'm warming up for a gig, sometimes I discover patterns and riffs that will work for my other project.
Considering the album next year will be the band's 11th, if someone had never heard Testament and you could give them one album that you felt represented the band, which would it be?
I think it's the most recent one, Dark Roots of Earth. That's probably an easy answer; I know, but I do think that it has the best combination of sounds that the band has had over the years. It has music that's melodic that's pretty far from some of the other music in our catalog that has been very fast and not-so-melodic.
While I was away from the band there was a death metal phase... you know, I think this latest album offers the most elements of the band. There are parts connected with the earlier albums and other parts that definitely have connection from albums during the nineties and beyond.