Steve “Zetro” Souza is a fire breathing, venom spitting thrash metal legend. He is a veteran of the San Fran “Ruthie’s Inn” scene, the original birthplace of thrash and along with Eric Peterson helped to form Testament, originally called Legacy. When Steve got the call to join the most powerful and popular band in the scene, EXODUS he recommended his buddy (and current Dublin Death Patrol co-vocalist) Chuck Billy to join Legacy and the band changed their name to Testament. Steve then toured the world and taught us all to do the Toxic Waltz from 1987 til his last album with Exodus, Tempo of the Damned in 2004. Since then, he and a young, hungry, powerhouse new group called HATRIOT (which includes his son Cody on bass) have been touring and recording flying the same true metal flag he planted in the collective consciousness all those years ago. We were understandably stoked to get a chance to talk to Steve, a purveyor of real metal. Read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. We are constantly seeking out thrash metal interviews and grew up on your stuff. Your new band HATRIOT has a great name, lots of energy and sounds great which makes perfect sense because you’re working with a bunch of young guys who totally understand and grew up on your stuff. How did you manage to put together this band?
Zetro: It started with my guitarist Kosta V. and myself. I just happened to listen to some music he recorded and I wrote some lyrics over it, then I recorded it, then I let people who I trust. People like Exodus, Machine Head, Andy Sneap, Testament, and on hearing it they had actually thought I had rejoined Exodus, obviously other than the Exodus guys. That’s when I knew I had the right guy in Kosta that I can write songs with and continue this. I painstakingly pieced this slowly together with all the right members to make this the line up it is.
LRI: It’s not out-of-place with other newer heavy stuff happening in the here and now but the one thing that remains unchanged is your new work is still the signature vocal delivery we are all used to. Was it a balancing act between staying true to the old school thrash style you excel at and indulging in the heavier, modern, nature of the beefed up music?
Zetro: That has worked out because not only am I familiar with the old school style but the youth element of this band knows the old school. Don’t get me wrong, that’s why Kosta V. is in the position he is. It’s because he’s very well versed in old school. They all still bring an element of the new aggression though. That power and aggression makes metal today successful and acceptable.
LRI: Some fans have also remarked that they feel the band is basically Mach 3 Exodus which is a compliment. How do you rationalize that comparison, the fascination and questions about your past or the fact that obviously people coming out to the HATRIOT shows might wanna hear some Legacy or Exodus as well as the new stuff?
Zetro: As far as Exodus goes, I’ll never be able to escape that. People are fascinated with that time period and the bay area thrash movement back in the 80’s. With that being said, I will always be expected to answer questions about my time in Exodus, Legacy and the scene in general from that time period. If you do come to a Hatriot show now, it’s a good chance you’re going to hear some Exodus or Legacy.
LRI: You’ve also had side projects recently with your brother, Troy from Tesla and Chuck Billy and his brothers in Dublin Death Patrol and Tenet which is basically a metal supergroup comprised of members of Forbidden, Death, Strapping Young Lad and others. How active are all of these projects and did you think 30 years ago you would still be this busy with music??
Zetro: Well, for the most part, those projects don’t necessarily stay too busy, but on the other hand, I do make room for a lot of things, there is a new Dublin Death Patrol record coming out July 13th by Mascot Records called Death Sentence. Right now, my number one focus is Hatriot, and to put Hatriot up in the ranks where Testament and Exodus are and have been. We plan on full world domination. This isn’t a side project like one of the others are considered. I plan in the next 10 years dominating the world with Hatriot.
LRI: Of course, anyone with an interest in thrash is well aware of your resume but those who aren’t might be surprised to understand the extent of your dark roots. We talked to the creators of the book, Murder In The Front Row, which is a fantastic look at that old Ruthie’s San Fran scene, the book even has pics of Legacy performing onstage in the priest costumes!! You recorded not only the classic demo but also were involved in writing most of the songs on the CLASSIC Testament debut album, The Legacy. Do you still remember those old priest collar days fondly and can you possibly remember your inspiration for classic songs like “Alone in the Dark” or “Raging Waters”?
Zetro: It’s funny that you say that today John! I was listening to Alex and Eric yesterday on Ian Christie’s Bloody Roots of metal on Liquid Metal, and they were talking about when they went and bought the priest collars so it’s ironic that you ask this. I do remember! As for “Alone in the Dark” I wrote that about a series of bad dreams. Raging Waters comes from imagining an experience that’s described there. It was a story that I’ve created about what it would be like to be caught in the Bermuda triangle.
LRI: You joined Exodus for the Pleasures of the Flesh album. You wrote the lyrics on most of those songs and they are a bit different from the Legacy stuff, more killing and cannibalism and less spookiness. Did you have a pretty strong sense of the need to switch gears lyrically and was that sort of a challenge?
Zetro: Good question! It was, most definitely. Legacy I would consider more like Celtic Frost or Venom lyrically. When I wrote the lyrics for Legacy, I wrote more black magic, fantasy-type stuff. After joining Exodus, their music was more tongue in cheek, they wrote more about realism and very violent subjects. So I spent the first record for the most part writing songs along side Gary Holt which was different from Legacy, I wrote the lyrics all by myself.
LRI: Exodus did a major amount of touring back in the good old days when it was actually a possibility and labels forked over money for tour support. You were a part of the infamous Headbanger’s Ball tour with Helloween and Anthrax that I wanted to go to so goddamn bad….how was it??!!! Is that tour or another one of the best moments of your life on the road?
Zetro: I would have to say YES, most definitely. Between that tour and the next tour we did with Suicidal Tendencies and Pantera, we were on top of the world. We were playing sold out venues all over the world having a BLAST. I would say the times between late 88 and early 91 were unforgettable times and I could never replace them. Basically, it was a dream come true for anyone that ever wanted to be a rockstar.
LRI: You seemed to excel at the dark lyrics in Legacy. You have a bunch of kickass tattoos including an Exorcist one so I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that you have a real love for horror, I can appreciate that. Were horror movies a big influence on you as a kid and do you think they had a big influence on metal bands in general? The band Ghost still seems to have some of that vibe of “Rosemary’s Baby” or “The Exorcist” onstage…..
Zetro: Yes, definitely. Heavy Metal has always been considered dark music. I guess of all types of music, it is the horror genre of music. Many people who are into heavy metal are into skulls, vampires, dark stuff and death intrigues most of us that are in Heavy Metal, often to a point where we write about it in our songs. That’s what our fans expect from us too. To answer your question, yes, I love horror movies, especially all the classics. I don’t ever miss them when they come out in the theatre and the whole month of October, I’m knee deep in horror movies, old and new. Also, I just really think it’s a very good premise in Heavy Metal.
LRI: How stressful were the period of years where Exodus was dealing with Capitol Records pressures to sell and adapt? Were those early 90s years a lot less glamorous than people think when they picture being on a major label?
Zetro: It was very stressful having Combat and Capitol tugging back and forth while we’re in the middle just wanting to write and record records for the best possible label for Exodus. And yes, the early 90’s were challenging. That whole period when everyone thought everything was comfortable, all of us were very much nervous about the business decline, not selling the venues out like we used to, and not selling the units like we had in the past. Add to that the pressure that we were then signed to a huge record contract and a huge merchandising deal, they’re expecting you to produce like you had in the past and unfortunately, that’s when it was starting to decline.
LRI: You have answered the call to become the singer of Exodus not once but twice, first in 1987 for the second album and again when Paul Baloff passed away. The fact that the reunion didn’t last sort of sucks for the fans who truly love “Tempo of the Damned” which was actually just listed in the top 5 albums of the last ten years of That Metal Show! Can you rest your head knowing it went out on a high note or do you still feel like there’s some unfinished business???
Zetro: I’m content with my tenure in Exodus. Do I wish the band got as big as Metallica? I think everybody does. But I’m still fortunate to be in the business almost 30 years and still have people listen and want to listen to my music, all over the world and on a big scale, I’m very fortunate for that. That’s why I work hard at every project that I do. Just as when I was in Legacy, and in Exodus, I will give Hatriot the same attention and effort so that I keep doing what I’ve been doing till the day I die.
LRI: Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us and for all the years and metal you’ve crammed down our eardrums….I know HATRIOT has been playing gigs with the DRI and Testament guys….What is next for HATRIOT???
Zetro: Thanks again John for all your support. Right now we are staying in the studio and writing new songs. Actually talking to record labels right now. Summertime, we will be recording an album and by late fall, or early 2013, a full length Hatriot album and world tour.