Jay Rollins talks with Zetro about His Toxic Vault, Exodus, and ???
Many a metalhead has argued that either Exodus or Testament deserves a seat at the “Big Four” table. Of course, the bands themselves would be too humble to suggestion such a thing (I guess Gary Holt has now entered that ring in his own right). Nevertheless, Exodus was there in 1979, beginning what was to become a global phenomenon. 40 years later the guys are commemorating their headbanging legacy.
The official press statement for the release of the “unearthed live recording of ‘No Love (Live At Day In The Dirt 1984),’” expresses, “there is no debating that the early 80’s was a time for major growth in the world of Thrash Metal.” Which is a colossal understatement, these early bands not only showed incredible musical growth in a short time span but birthed an entire heavy movement. Thereby, redefining rhythmic aggression in a way which assimilated into heavy music forevermore.
Universal metal ambassador Zetro, who went from founding member of Legacy (now known as Testament) to long term Exodus frontman, is here with Metalheads Forever, thanks man.
Zetro, I greatly respect that you celebrate all eras of Exodus, not just your contributions. With that in mind what are the top three Exodus songs you love to perform live?
They’re always non-Zetro songs, it’s like when you write the song and you know you’re beating through it, it’s cool and it’s fun but – “Ballad of Leonard and Charles” is probably one of my favorites to play. I’m always the one going “lets play ‘Ballad of Leonard and Charles,’” that’s off the Exhibit B [The Human Condition]. I love playing “Deliver us to Evil.” I love that song, that’s off of Bonded by Blood. Out of one of my own, we just started playing it last year on tour, I love playing “Parasite.”
To help score your monumental 40-year reign, you’ve released the single “No Love,” a snippet of the unbridled energy that transpired at a Day in the Dirt. An event that has entered the cannon of thrash metal history; when Exodus, Slayer, and Suicidal Tendencies took the stage in 1984 to showcase early thrash. Zetro, can you take me back to the first time you heard Exodus?
It was probably 82 or 83, I think I was going to see another band from the bay area, I had a friend who played in Lȧȧz Rockit. I went to go see them and Exodus was like the support, and I remember Baloff singing, “Kick in your face and rape and murder your wife” in the song Exodus. And I looked over at my friend and go, “did I just hear that right? Did he just say ‘kick in your face and rape and murder your wife’?” Then every time they played, even when I was in Legacy and I wasn’t in Exodus, I would go. I called it Exomess, it’d be like, “where you goin’ tonight man?” and I’d be like “I’m goin to see Exomess!” They’d say “Exodus?” I’d go, “no, Exomess!” Cause if you ever see what happens at Exodus at The Stone or Ruthie’s Inn, it’s a mess, it’s a straight up mess. That was the reason we started Legacy, I mean all the bands were emulating (Exodus). I don’t think anybody in the bay area emulated Metallica necessarily, everybody wanted to be Exodus. I think when we, Eric and Derrick and myself and Louie, started the first inception of Legacy we were definitely like, well we want to be brutal, like Exodus. We wanna be fast, like Exodus. You know, so that’s kinda my first inclination with Exodus.
The well-known metal photobook, Murder in the Front Row, has become a documentary. It was written and assembled by Brain Lew and D.R.I.’s Harald Oimoen at the suggestion of Sound of the Beast author Ian Christe. The films first showing fittingly took place on 420 but was an invite only event in Oakland. The next showing is May 31st in San Francisco, have you seen the movie yet?
You know I didn’t, unfortunately I had to go to a funeral that day, but I didn’t get a chance to see it so I have not seen it yet. I heard there’s a lot of great pictures and it’s got some good history on there. I have not got a chance to see it.
Oh I can’t wait to hear your opinion on it considering your love of films and you’re a part of the legacy of Bay Area Thrash, so your opinion, moreso than others, is one I’m really interested in hearing.
Well a few years ago they made that movie Get Thrashed, I don’t know if you ever saw that, and I did a few interviews for that and I thought that they did quite well. They really talked to a lot of people in Thrash that I think were important and I liked that, so hopefully it’s got the same effect.
Yeah Get Thrashed was great, I came across it at a local record shop just in a bin off to the side and I picked it up and thought it was wonderful, one of the better metal documentaries I’ve seen.
Yeah it was very very very good. I think, that’s with Thrash metal in general, there’s no bullshit with us. It’s all pretty much straightforward, lyrically, musically, socially. People seem to identify with us really well. I don’t think our lyrical content is as much fiction, we talk about a lot of social issues and religion and things like that. If you go through our history there’s a lot of that, from songs like “Chemi-kill” to songs like “Fabulous Disaster.” “Chemi-Kill” is, this was in the eighties, about people dumping toxic waste and politicians taking kickbacks and letting them do it. “Fabulous Disaster” was about the two world powers, being the USSR and the United States, having the power to push the buttons and you and I and not having anything to say about it, that was “Fabulous Disaster.” Songs like that are very socially aware. Even the stuff that I wasn’t on, through Rob’s era there was a lot of stuff that was religious and I love that kinda content. Gary is always kind of tongue in cheek when he’s writing, and he’s very well versed on what he’s writing about. I think that stands for a lot of other Thrash bands as well.
Absolutely and I think the topic of the USSR and the nuclear threat and stuff, I was editing an interview earlier with Snake of Voivod and that topic came up. Being a part of the eighties he was like, it was hard to write serious music and not be influenced by [nuclear warfar] just because of the climate of the time.
I think that that was completely the climate of the time. I know that we were all very socially aware. When we were writing Pleasures of the Flesh, there’s a song on that record called “Till Death Do Us Part,” and a lot of that song was about the way that the PMRC and Tipper Gore were stickering albums at that time. They didn’t realize that that was a double-edged sword for them because obviously, if you sticker something the curiosity level is gonna drive [youth] to say, “ok wait a minute.” If you’re a kid and you’re 13 years old rebelling, you’re gonna see that this record’s got a sticker on it for being an explicit record, which one are you gonna buy.
Well when I was 13 those stickers had already been placed on the albums and there was a period from like 13 to 15, like you say, where I would only buy albums with the explicit content sticker. Now I’ve opened my mind and realized there’s all kinds of great albums without that, but at that time if there was no sticker my money wasn’t goin’ on it.
Right that’s the point I’m making if you’re gonna spend your 9 bucks or 11 dollars on an LP you want something that’s gonna say, “Satan, death, blood, fuck,” on it, ha ha. What’s the most extreme shit I can get? That’s what metal is, you know?
In a recent interview with Fueled by Death Cast you mentioned that Gary Holt and Tom Hunting had some writing time scheduled. Have you heard anything from those writing sessions or about how they went?
They never let me know, I never get to hear it until he’s ready for me. In fact I always get that from Gary, like “you’re not ready, it’s not ready for you yet. No it’s not ready for you yet, Zetro.” I know there was a meeting, I know things are going on of course. He’s filling his commitment with the final Slayer tour and they’re very busy this year kinda finishing that off from what I understand. I know what everybody else knows though. We know there’s gotta be a new record, I’m salivating at the thought but we can’t do an Exodus record without Gary Holt, it wouldn’t be an Exodus record.
No absolutely and like you say everyone in the metal community knows what he’s up to these days, I just thought on the off chance…
That’s right and I gotta say to all the metal community thank you for being so fucking patient with us! Because we know what’s at stake here but we support each other as well. You know we support those guys, we’ve been friends with Slayer forever. We know the time is coming, they’ve announced unfortunately they’re not gonna continue to do it, but we are! So that just means Gary’s gonna come right back with us.
I guess that’s the great think with being an Exodus fan. I’m not going to be worried about where Gary’s gonna go, it’s not like “oh is he gonna go back to Exodus?” no he’s gonna go back it’s just a matter of when we get it.
Right and I think that’s why the fans have been so accepting of us. I mean even playing live, cause we use Heathen’s guitar player who actually does an amazing job of playing Gary’s part. Amazing, I mean you can close your eyes and it’s like Gary’s playing right in front of ya, that sort of thing.
Man, getting back to what you’re up to, I’ve been watching Zetro’s Toxic Vault, which just started last month, and it’s been a laugh. The 420 episode was basically a brief rundown of your experience with marijuana and how you watched the culture develop. The first Tales from the Road edition covered the madness at Headbangers Ball in St. Petersburg, FL. But all that left me wondering about the hotel trashing in Birmingham, England that you quickly referenced. Would you mind sharing more?
Did we not put that up? I’m putting up an episode a day so, I don’t know. I actually did a full episode about that, I have them backlogged right now. I don’t think that episode went up yet. But I go into detail, I got a guy working with me his name is Walter Morgan. He comes on a lot of the segments, and Walter was with us on all of this tour. I don’t know if you watched the other day where we took the hotel down. Walt was in England with us and he stayed there, he was loading the gear. People have been telling me for years that I should have my own thing to tell stories and stuff because I have so many anecdotes, I like movies, and I’m kinda your pop culture fun guy who likes to do fun shit. I’m still a little outlawed, I smoke a ton of weed and I’m not afraid to hide it. One episode I show everyone how to make a pipe can in case you need a pipe in a pinch. I actually have a four-part interview with Craig Locicero and he tells us the history of Forbidden. It’s like a two-hour interview so the segments are 30 minutes long. It’s absolutely riveting, he starts with his childhood all through every member of Forbidden. Everything that happened, who got fired, who said this, who did what, it’s cool. I’m getting stuff like that.
That is awesome, I cannot wait, I will be keeping close to that, I’m just a fan of the whole culture. I’m Canadian so cannabis is in my blood.
Oh you’re Canadian? It’s legal up there, exactly, so you know what I’m talking about.
With Gary tied up in the Slayer farewell tour you’ve redirected some of your energy into working with Metal Allegiance, a beast generally featuring Alex Skolnick, Mike Portnoy, and David Ellefson. What is it like being a part of that roster and working with friends you might not have otherwise played with on stage?
Well I played with Alex a long time ago. We’ve known each other, I mean Thrash metal is a small fraternity, man, it really is. We all kind of know each other and cheer each other on. It was actually funny because on the one we did in Anaheim at the House of Blues around the time of the NAMM show, there was about five or six of us that were Bay area musicians: me, [Mark] Osegueda, Phil Demmel, Chuck Billy, Alex Skolnick, and there was one more. Everyone is hugging each other, and one of the guys from the East coast was like, “man, look at the Bay area guys. They have such a good comradery, each of them know each other and they all kinda hang.” It’s true, The Bay area especially. Vio-lence played their first show in years a couple of weeks ago in Oakland and every one of the Bay area musicians that had any notoriety in doing that sort of thing were out there in full force to check it out, it was great.
I heard about that, you and Phil spoke about it on Toxic Vault.
These are my friends. I’m going to get my friends to talk about their projects. Phil gave us an overview of Vio-lence. Craig Locicero wrote a book for us, it’s an awesome four part episode.
And you gotta be pretty metal to get past that spider too I hear if you’re not metal enough you just don’t get through.
The spider’s awesome man, once you come down he sits in the corner because we all look at him. We don’t even have a name for him yet, I think we’re gonna turn that into a contest eventually. It’s like I tell everyone that spider sure is fuckin’ big. You know I just leave him alone. My creepy little set and my friends on it and all my cool toys and shit, it’s cool to hang out.
Zetro, your involvement in the scene is so vast that I honestly didn’t know half of it, and I consider myself a solid fan. One interesting project that eluded me is that you write lyrics for other artists. What are some of your favorite songs that you’ve written for other bands?
It’s pretty much not a lot of other bands, I mean I wrote for Hatriot on this new record but I’m not singing on the Hatriot record. Obviously, that’s my son, but I just wrote three for the new Testament. I wrote five for Brotherhood of the Snake, I wrote three on Dark Roots of Earth, and I wrote two on Formation of Damnation. I wrote a song for the Jasta band. So, I do get asked from time to time to write lyrics but a lot of it is for Testament. Chuck and I work really well together. Actually, I like the challenge that I get out of it, I really do.
Yeah and after speaking to you and Chuck and knowing about your history, obviously, and your spare time habits shall we say I’m sure you and Chuck get along great.
Oh yeah, those California spare time habits, you’re Goddamn right! That’s what I’m saying, I burn on my show. It doesn’t matter, I live in California and I’m in my vault all tucked away, exactly what the law says. Kiss my ass, suck my dick, I like to smoke weed and that’s the way it is.
Perfect. I’m hoping the whole legalization thing will draw some bands up to Canada just for the sake of smoking on tour.
Oh my God, I mean we’ve only done like a handful of shows since I’ve been back in Canada. I think five total: we played in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Toronto, and we did Heavy Montreal. I’m like the hugest Calgary Flames fan and I’ve never even fucking played there. I’ve watched them play for like 35 years, I live in the land of the Sharks and I hate the Sharks.
Ha ha, reppin’ Calgary. Man and all across Canada, we have a big metal following especially considering our population size. Exodus fans throughout the whole nation without a doubt, I know the East coast.
Oh I know you guys have fuckin supported us forever, any show we have in Canada is fuckin bonsai bonkers man. Any show, I don’t care if we’re in British Columbia, if we’re in tiny little Ottawa, Winnipeg, Toronto, it don’t matter. There was a place in Toronto it was called Rock and Roll Heaven we used to play there all the fuckin time. It was downtown Toronto. Great. Metal. Fans. You guys are up there with the best in the world man.
Wild. In Montreal the government just passed a motion to be recognized as a City of Excellence in Heavy Metal, I believe.
Well I’ll tell you what, Heavy Montreal is one of the best festivals I’ve ever played in my life and I’ve played them all. They know what they’re doing there, they’ve done the backstage right, the amenities, the set times, the crowds, just the whole atmosphere. A lot of people ask me all the time is there any cool festivals in North America and I say yeah like Welcome to Rockville, Rock on the Range, and Lunatic Luau, Rocklahoma, but the best one in North America is Heavy Montreal, they just do it right.
Fuckin eh, thank you. Well that kinda leads me into my last question before I let you get back to things, you’ve been a part of some legendary shows and tours, Metallica, Pantera, and Thrash of The Titans just to mention a couple, we’d be here all day listing the shows you’ve performed. Looking back on your 40 years, what event or tour would you want to relive?
Oh Headbangers ball, I always said that. I mean we were fuckin kids, it was 1989. April of 1989 I just turned 25 years old, I’m on tour with this band who’s already got 3 records out. Everybody knows who you are, it was the upswing of Thrash, something still new, people were still discovering it and coming out. That tour was packed, sold out every night. It was mid-theatres to arenas. We were two nights sold out at the Felt Forum, which is downstairs at the Madison Square Garden, called the Paramount now. It was just cool being in a hotel in New York City and the next day waking up and I went down and had lunch at Greenwich village. Man, that tour was just fun and like I said we were young and we indulged, that fuckin’ tour was decadence. We partied hard on that one. We were definitely Mötley Crüe The Dirt on that one.
Ha ha nice, to be a fly on the wall.
Oh fuck I would love to be a fly on the wall just to be the fly on the wall man.
Let alone to have lived it yourself, ha ha.
That must have been fuckin’ amazing to look at bro. Inside looking out, holy shit. And it was on every day.
Nice, life on the road. With that I’ll take the time to say thanks again Zetro for speaking with Metalheads Forever, wishing you all the best brother!
MHF Magazine/Jay Rollins