Testament circa early 90's, sleek backdrop and all...
Blistering.com: Gene Hoglan has been a big point of discussion for this record and this is not the first time youíve worked with him. Is it better working with him than the first time?
Billy: [pauses] Oh yeah. Different headspace, different band. When we wrote the Demonic record, we were coming off the Low record with Atlantic and the change of the times with music and nobody on radio was playing music, so we were pissed-off [laughs]. You can tell in the tone of my voice Ė I sang a lot of death metal-styled vocals on it, but thatís what that record called for. With this record for Gene, I think he got pushed to the limit. Itís not like a Fear Factory record where itís solid double-bass patterns, where a lot of this stuff is more dynamic, so itís different for him to be that kind of drummer. So I donít know if itís harder or easier for Gene to be that kind of drummer doing straight double-kick stuff [laughs]. We pushed him harder to make it sure it was done with feeling and emotion and dynamic in it.
Blistering.com: Singing over the blast-beats had to be a different angle for you as well.
Billy: It really tripped out Eric and those guys. When we wrote it, Iíd sing fast over those parts, but then I flipped it and sang slower. I sang more open lines and it gives it a good contrast; the blast-beat with a simple vocal melody over it.
Blistering.com: Letís switch gears and talk about those post-Low years. As you mentioned, the climate for thrash bands was certainly not healthy, so what are your recollections of that point in time?
Billy: When we got the Low lineup together with Johnny Temptesta and stuff, we were thinking we were going to start a new era. Low was our farewell to Atlantic, so we wanted to write something harder and heavier compared to The Ritual. Then Johnny left right before that record came out, then Greg left. We did what we did, but over the years it got frustrating having to teach new guys the songs all the time and go through different styles with different feelings and vibes. It got frustrating. We forged ahead through it, though.
Iím a big believer in stuff happening for a reason. When I got sick in 2001 [Billy was diagnosed with cancer], I think that was the turning point for Testament. And for myself. If I didnít get sick, I donít know if weíd ever have the reunion. I donít know if I would have written songs or embraced touring the way I do if I didnít go through that. Since then, itís been a different thing for us, just having the original guys, it feels like weíre almost blessed with the opportunity to finish something we started together. When I was sick, I lost all of my hair, I was on a steroid and I ballooned up. I didnít recognize the guy in the mirror. I thought I wasnít going to come back and play music. I thought I was going to beat the cancer, survive, and go on with my life and be with my family and friends.
When we had the opportunity to get back together with the original lineup, it felt like we were really blessed. It made the band a different band. Before I got sick, we were fed up with the revolving door of musicians, we werenít a touring band. We did special shows and short tours, but it wasnít a full-on touring band. We probably suffered the fanbase doing that, but we were content at the time, but it was getting old. Once we got the original guys back, what was supposed to be five shows, turned into seven years of touring and here we are.
Blistering.com: And like the ďfull circleĒ idea, youíve hit 25 years for The Legacy.
Billy: You always think thatís what you join a band for Ė to have a long career. To actually do it, is another thing [laughs]. We went through the 80ís when it was hot for metal, and then we survived the 90ís when metal was a bad word. And now 2000 came, and all kinds of new metal coming, hitting the scene. In 2012, we have a little bit of it all: the old fans, and the new fans. What an accomplishment that we went through this whole cycle. The new bands of the last 10 years like the Lamb of Gods, the Shadows Falls, and all these bands were influenced by what we were doing, and now weíre influenced by what theyíre doing, because I dig their style.
Blistering.com: For the next album, do you think it will be another four years?
Billy: Well, hopefully we can tour for the next four years on this record [laughs]. It was three years of touring hard on the Formation record. It took a year to write this record because Paul [Bostaph], the drummer was injured. We couldnít work on writing as fast because we were waiting for him to get better. Eric was on writerís block and he wasnít feeling it yet. It took us to find out Paul wasnít come back and Eric went to England to work with [producer] Andy Sneap and came back with 12 or 13 skeletons of songs and nine of them made it onto the record. That held us up and I donít think thatís going to happen again. We definitely said that when we end this touring cycle, we better have our next record ready to go right into the studio. We need to be prepared to get on it.
Blistering.com: I have to ask: I saw you last November on the Anthrax tour and it your mic stand was lighting up. What's the deal?
Billy: I just decided I wanted to get something different than a regular mic stand. I found a company in England that makes mic stands Ė the guys from Dimmu Borgir uses them; ZZ Top uses them, then I saw they had a half of stand, which is my thing [laughs]. I bought it and it changes six or seven different colors. Last year, I had it to Formation colors and this year, it will be Dark Roots of Earth colors, green.