The power of the mosh
Exodus is one of the pioneers of the Bay Area thrash metal scene, they have been around since the beginning and helped shaped and create thrash metal. With a catalogue of 10 studio albums and many line-up changes they still managed to remain a constant in the metal world. They are now still going at full speed with the return of legendary frontman Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza which re-joined the band permanently in 2014 and Exodus loyal, Gary Holt, which splits his time between Exodus and Slayer. The band was back with another pure thrash metal album ‘Blood in Blood, Blood Out’ (2014, Nuclear Blast) and they are currently working on new material. We sat down with the man himself, Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza to talk about the music world, the beginning of Exodus, the Bay Area, the birth of thrash metal and everything in between.
HMA: Your latest album ‘Blood in, Blood out’ came out in 2014; do you have any new material? Are you planning a new album?
Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza: Actually, we’re leaving after this tour ends in November 27th, we’re going back home. Pretty much our main songwriter plays the guitar for Slayer, too. It’s kind of like our tour cycles have run simultaneously. They’re taking I think 5 to 7 months off. He’s already written excess songs. We are putting it together in the first part of the year not even slowly. We planned it this next year at this time, to be releasing ‘Blood In, Blood’ Out Part 2 or whatever we’re going to call it. We want to work. It’s not like we’re in a position, “We’re just going to take a year off.” I just got the band back again two years ago. What are we going to do? Then all of a sudden take time off? No, this is a vacation; I live in the Bay Area, when I’m on tour I’m on vacation!
HMA: Do you feel the band had a strong comeback with the release of ‘Blood in, Blood out’, is an album that is back to the roots of pure thrash metal?
Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza: I think that the initial bands that helped to revolutionize the sound. That goes with us, and Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeth, Testament, Death Angel. They’re all putting out quality records. Nobody’s put out sub-par thrash metal album, especially of the bands that have been doing it in our fraternity, for such a long time. I think the success of ’Blood in, Blood Out’ was well-written songs. I mean really good songs on there. I’m sure my return had a little bit of … Sparkling powder on it. I’m like everybody else, and I’m not pumping my own horn. I like the original guys. I like the guys from when they were the first band. Those were the guys that I liked. Especially in a singer, and I know this, being one. In a band, when the singer changes, a lot of the dynamics change in the band itself. It’s not the same guy, in that same, “Here, oh fuck, if this was Zetro, Zetro would’ve been ‘Whaaaagh!’ I know, because I think the same way about other singers. No disrespect to Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens, he did a great job when Rob wasn’t playing in Judas Priest. But it wasn’t Rob. And Blaze Bayley was awesome in Iron Maiden, but it wasn’t Bruce. You know? We all accepted Brian Johnson after we all thought that Bon Scott was the voice of AC/DC. There are those exemptions. Paul was the first singer, and then I took on. I think more people identify with me as the vocalist of Exodus. It was through the period of when the band was being built, and the band was being stabilized and modelled.
HMA: With all these changes in the line-up, how do you actually keep the sound and creative process intact?
Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza: I’ve always said, regardless if I was in or if I was out, because this is my third tour of duty, in this regiment. You don’t have to teach me how to be Exodus if that makes any sense. For us is our element, I know how to do this. I know how Gary is and I know what we’re looking for, I know what our mentality is musically and lyrically. It’s not like, “Oh, so, we write about violence.” It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek, we’re kind of funny about it and we make fun of it in a funny way. Although some of the songs are very serious. Jack’s been in the band now, next year it’ll be 20 years. We haven’t replaced the bass player since they got back together with Paul and they did the live record, Another Lesson in Violence. Lee’s been in now … I left in 2004, I think Lee came in 2005. He’s been in the band about 12 years. Gary is Exodus, so. I love Kragen, Kragen’s my boy, but Gary is Exodus. It’s just the way it is. I feel Tom. Tom’s drum sound is signature Exodus. Very much I think, especially with the three kinds of original elements. Coming back to Exodus, or being in Exodus, creates that, that original thrash metal vibe again. If you went back to 1986, there are three of us that are out of the five. At one point, there was like, one. You know what I mean?
HMA: Last man standing.
Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza: Exactly! And the last man standing was Gary. Again, the dynamic of it is that we are all so much. And now, it’s like, I’m more excited to be here, and more appreciative of the things. I am more appreciative of the fans, the shows and the tours. A lot of things happen to you in life, If you’re going to do something for 31 years, things are going to happen. You’re going to have children, you may get divorced and parents are going to die. Things happen. My whole life, I was like, the fucking band is number 1. There was a time, maybe even 10 years ago when I had to leave when the band was like, number 3. I had children. I had a family with little kids. Those kids are now 27 and 23 years old, and Nuclear Blast needs to sign them because they’re heavy as shit! Fuckin’ A for Christ’s sakes! There’s my blood, right there
HMA: Are you still involved in many aspects of your son’s band Hatriet and how are they doing, are things taking off for them?
Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza: They got a full record ready. I think it was a transition. My son who played bass is now the singer. He had to think, “I can do this. Oh, can you do this?” Now he can do this. They’ve actually released a couple of songs with his vocals on it. You can go on YouTube and get them. Just to give the fans something. It’s good stuff. He sounds like me, but he does the death, “Ruuuugh.” That shit, too. But he’s really good. I told him because we did two records with Massacre. They put the record out. We want to be with our home company, Nuclear Blast. They’re good, they’re ready. Like I said, none of them is little kids anymore. I got 27, 23, 19, 18, and 17. I got no little kids. I have 3 biological and 2 steps. Everybody works, everybody lives on their own. My girlfriend and I have pugs now. Two. They’re so cute. Those are the babies now, one of them I rescued about a month ago, they are so cute, they’re my babies Anyway going back to my son’s band, I am still involved, I make sure that everything runs smoothly, In fact, I wrote a couple of songs, lyrically, on the stuff. I also was like, you know, “I need you guys,” because they were coming to me and going “So Dad, we want to do this, and we’re going to do this, so what do you think?” I’m all, “Well, you need to talk to your manager and have him do this and this and this.” I don’t manage them. But I’m right next to the guy who’s managing them. I wish he was more aggressive and I’ve told them a few times. With Exodus, we’ve been through managers in our times, sometimes things don’t work out, a lot of times they don’t. Does that mean you can’t carry a relationship? No. I’ll give you a great example. When I re-joined the band, Chuck Billy from Testament was managing Exodus along with Maria Ferraro. They no longer do, it didn’t work out for us and do we dislike them? Not at all! We’re still great friends! So you see is nothing personal, just business. And everyone understood. That’s just the way it is. We’ve always carried ourselves like that. I’m of that, you know what I mean? That’s another thing with the boys, learn how to do business. You know what this is. You get to be 50% play, 50% you’ve got to, keep on top of it. It’s unfortunate. You start out in this business and it’s all about the music. Then when you get into this, you’re like, “What?! What!?” It can be discouraging, sometimes, it really can. People are like, they get, “Man, fuck this shit.” It’s so true and that’s why a lot of members change, and stuff. This is tough. The road is though. People think this is just goddamn fun and games. You know what I did last night? We got off stage, we left around 12:30. I tried to crash at 2:30. Didn’t, just had a toss. Julia woke us up at 4:00 because we had a border crossing. We had to get on, go through Customs from France to England, for us especially, is always a 2-hour ordeal, oh yeah we don’t breeze through it. They have to check our visa numbers and make sure that the immigration papers are in line even if we bring them with us, they still check them. We were with Prong, King Parrot, and Obituary. We get onto the ferry at 5:30 gets here about 7:20 and shit, we’re already in the morning. I haven’t really slept yet, know what I mean…is though! I went on the back of the bus, smoked a little bit of weed, calmed myself and went back down, boom. All of a sudden, I hear the crew getting up. I’m a day person. I hear people I’m up. When I’m home in California, I get up at 7:00 in the morning. I’m like, our manager, Julia. We get up early in the morning and we go running. She woke me up this morning, but she’s like me, she gets up early and goes and runs her dogs. That’s when I go to the gym, the first thing in the morning. I don’t lie around, I can’t, if I look at the clock and it happened to be 9 o’clock, I would wake up in a scared panic that I’d wasted the day already like I’m running out of time. You know what I mean? There are things to get done, I’m a doer, I do shit, I do not sit around all day and just veg and watch TV, I do not fucking do it. I’ve got a lot of things I like to do and I can’t sit still. Ride a Harley, I have a motorcycle. Like that. I take the dogs to the fucking dog park all the time, I love them and they play with the other dogs. I go to see my father. My mother passed in February, so I see my father more often now. I love to go to the movies, in the daytime when there’s nobody there, I can be by myself and eat popcorn and watch whatever fucking movie. I do see tonnes of horror, obscure horror movies. I go see German movies with English subtitles. I swear to god, I do, I do stuff like that. I don’t sit around. Lee plays hockey, I play ice hockey during the week. It’s just stuff to do, no rest for the wicked.
HMA: What do you feel is the main difference between being in a band in the ’80s, ’90s and now? Do you think the industry has improved or changed for the worst?
Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza: The thing is that your mentality change. When you get in, you don’t realise the business end of it, you really don’t. You go, “Oh, okay.” Then you see how thick it really is, how much it really is, how if you don’t do your business correctly you will just bomb. I hate to use these bands because I love them. Look at the nu-metal bands like Chimaira and Shadows Fall, and stuff like that. They didn’t last well, they didn’t do that well. Like, stick together. Some of them got poached in other bands. It’s hard, it’s really hard. You have to stay really driven. I think … My kid’s band. Knowing the business part was only because their father was in the business. They would have been like, all about the music, and right now going, “Heeeeey.” Now to where I’m like, “This is what’s going to happen. This is how it’s going to be. And you ain’t gonna like it.” I tell them there’s going to be a van, and it’s going to break down, and you’re going to be in the middle of the road. It’s going to be cold outside, and you’re going to hate it. It’s going to take three hours for the guy to get there. Then he can’t fix it. You’re going to have to go to a garage. I’ve done it all. I’ve watched our bus burn down. I’ve done it all. It’s going to fucking happen. I think between now and then there’s a huge difference, in the past, everybody got known by tape trading, now there’s an internet. Things like that. The business has completely- It’s a double-edged sword, really. It’s good for you but it’s also bad for you. When I was a kid, to see your heroes, you had to go, you had to buy a ticket, and you had to go… I’m very accessible, people walk up to me all day long, I’m not a dick, by any means, I would never be. I don’t want anybody’s experience with me to be awful. You know what I mean? Like, I’m, “Ugh. I’ve got to go in there because I’m tired.” And just sit down. Suck a dick. I hate people like that; you know the one “I’m a rock star.” You weren’t a rock star your whole life, you little dickhead. Somebody had to wipe your spotted little bottom, didn’t they?” I never liked that mentality, and I always feel, I’m always walking around and seeing, I always felt, when I was a kid if I even saw the backstage door open and the guy looked at me and went like that. For the next 20 years of my life, I’d be saying, “Steve Harris waved to me!” or whatever. Now, I think us as musicians are much more, in thrash metal anyway, are very accessible. I don’t see too many bands; I know a few, that don’t like to be accessible. It’s like you’re trying to put off this façade hat you’re supposed to put up. It’s like, all of us were, “Oh god, we’ve been in the business forever, I don’t have time for this.” So hi, honey, how are your dogs? You know what I mean? Who the fuck needs an ego for Christ’s sake? Why, who am I? I remember, God, in the down years. I went and saw Testament in like, ’98 with the original drummer, Louie Clemente, him and I went to go see them, we were sitting at the soundboard, their tour manager said, “Oh, you at the soundboard.” The sound man comes up and goes, “Who are you guys? What are you doing here?” I looked right in his face and said, “I’m nobody, bro. Do you want me to leave?” You know what I mean? I’ not sort of, “You know who I am?” I hate people like that. I’m no one. If you don’t know how I am, I’m fine. People say, “Oh, you’re famous though.” I’m like, “No.” You walk into Taco Bell, and everybody turns their fucking head? You’re famous. Okay. Gaga, she’s famous. You know what I mean? People like that. For what I do probably I am known, definitely, if you listen to heavy metal music, you know who I am. I’m that thing, in that light. Bowlers have their groupies, baseball players have their groupies and golfers have their groupies. Believe me. If you go to a pro-bowling association, there’s going to be people there who know who he is. That’s where I come up with that. There’s a very famous bowling alley in Dublin, California where I live. A famous bowler owned it, his name was Earl Anthony, he’s a real famous bowler, every year, they have a major, ESPN covers their tournament there. All the major bowlers in the world come there. Me and my girlfriend by accident just went, “Let’s go to the bowling alley for a drink, there’s always a bar in the bowling alley.” We go in there. Oh, they got groupies. Oh, they got ’em. I was blown. The bartender knew who I was, and he goes, “Isn’t this a trip?” He goes, “They got groupies.” “I know!” That’s what I think is the greatest thing. I’m sitting in a bar, and nobody knows who the fuck I am, but this funny-looking guy, got curly hair and glasses, is just getting his ass kissed. I just thought it was great. I always use that when I’m talking about fame, people are, “Do you think you’re famous?” I’m like, “No.” I explain the fame theory. If you walk into somewhere and everybody turns around and goes, “psst,” you’re famous. In whatever you do, maybe. It’s like, a professional baseball player could be like a million-dollar baseball player. He plays in San Francisco. If he walked into a fucking restaurant in San Francisco everybody would know him. He comes and walks in Camden Town, down the street and not a fucking person pays attention to him. I look at it in our realm. We’re known all over the world, there’s not a corner of the world where we haven’t sold an Exodus album, or we haven’t played. Maybe only 300 one night in Belize, you know what I mean? I’m not that pitcher in San Francisco. I’m all over the world, there’s somebody who knows who I am in every fucking corner of this world. That’s a weird thing; it can be a drug to people, since smaller bands “I’ve got to put on this façade.” You know what? You’re going to be out quicker than you are in. You know? Don’t ever think you have this wrapped, because you don’t ever, you never know what’s going to happen. A lot of us crashed in ’93, when grunge music came in. Metal was just wiped off the face of the earth. MTV took off Headbangers Ball, which started this thing called Superock. It was just like, “Whoa.” We were all losing our deals. In fact, it was ironic. When I got back in Exodus, in 2014, about two months before I re-joined the band I got my 20-year union carpenter pin. I worked. I did that. I would get called into a building and I would put that door frame, and that closer, and that lock on, and I would do this whole building. I would do all the doors. I was a door specialist. That’s what I did when metal didn’t pay my salary. Yeah. I know what it’s like to do both sides. I appreciate again, 20 years. I’m vested. I’m 52. In 11 years, when I’m 63 I’ll be able to draw a full pension, and I’m basically retired right now. The band does well enough for us to survive on. Again, my girlfriend works for Sephora the makeup company and she does really well in San Francisco and like I said, the pugs are the babies. The kids especially my biological, are all gone. They’re all adults. I don’t have to pay for anything or do that. Actually, I pay child support for Madison. She’s in her last year of school in May, and that’s it. It’s just time to worry about me. Time to do some Zetro time. I’m glad I’m back to play with Exodus, and I’m glad I get to sing these songs again and play for the fans. I don’t disrespect Rob at all, but again it goes back to me being the guy where the voice is. The voice is a very distinctive part of the band, I think; the voice is where, “Oh man, I like that one scream he does there.” Then a new guy comes in, and doesn’t do it like that. You know what I mean? I couldn’t be there those years, and Rob was. Hat’s off to him. But … I got the opportunity to come back. “Sorry, bro. All’s fair in love and war.” You know what I mean?
HMA: And you came back in full force with ‘Blood In, Blood Out’
Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza: You know what I think it is? I think that the songs … Again, I’m a fan, so, I’m paying attention to what we’re doing. I think ‘Exhibit A’,’ Exhibit B’, and ‘Shovel-headed Kill Machine’ were probably more aggressive-type records, I think ‘Blood In, Blood Out’ just happened to be kind of in the vein of what was done in the past. I don’t think it was written purposely, because I only wrote one song,’ Body Harvest’ was the only thing that I wrote lyrically. Gary had written everything else, and Lee wrote honour killings. It seems like … Basically, the album was written for Rob to sing on. I don’t know if I felt it really well. The minute I heard it, I was like, “Wow, so when do I have to start recording this?” They’re like, “Tomorrow.” I’m like, “Great.” They’re like, “What?”
HMA: You didn’t find it difficult to sing something that was written for someone else?
Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza: No, if you remember, I had to sing all just somebody else’s songs when I first joined the band. All there was ‘Bonded by Blood’ at that time. I had to sing it. I had no problem with it. Actually, they’re great songs. We opened with the ballad tonight, how many people do that? Other singers will open with a song from another singer’s era? I don’t have a problem with that. It’s Exodus. I don’t give a fuck. It’s Exodus. It doesn’t matter. The opening is great. I wish I would have had a crack at singing those songs when they were being made and recorded, because I love singing them. We do ‘Iconoclasm’, we do ‘Children of a Worthless God’ and we do ‘Beyond the Pale’ and ‘Death Amphetamine’. I’m in the band two years; I’ve learned a tonne of his songs, his era songs. There’s a good balance. I know Joey doesn’t sing John Bush-era Anthrax, which I think John Bush-era Anthrax is fucking awesome. I was just with John and his family, because we did Loud Park in Japan. I spent a lot of time with him and his family, his kid actually comes out and sings ‘Can You Deliver’ with them on stage. He’s the part that goes, “Don’t abandon me!” “Kid got the fever!” And he comes out with the guitar. We were talking about that. I said, “You know, I love Joey. I love Joey as a singer, and I love what you did. But ‘The Sound of White Noise’ was a fucking unbelievable fucking record.” I literally, I sucked his dick for two days, because I’m a John Bush fan. Rate of Fire, and of the Armoured Saints stuff,’ Last Train Home’, God, he can just sing! to a vocal like that. To me, I get all funny when I get like, “Oh shit, you’re like this killer vocalist, you can sing.” He’s like, “No dude, you got fucking pipes, you just blow them all.” “Dude, you’re a singer.” We’ll have a kick-ass war right now. I told him that. I said, “Man, I love the stuff you did with Anthrax.” We talked a little bit about that. He’s content, very much content. He did a great job there, and I think he’s very happy that he does with Armoured Saint, I think that’s kind of cool, but … Again, Rob won’t do anything from ‘Detonator’, and Bruce doesn’t do anything off the two records that Blaze did and those are some killer songs on those two. I think Maiden got really dark and heavy on those two records. It’s a shame. I’m not that way. I’ll do the songs, gladly. I welcome them in. You have to do all your Maiden, ‘Killers’,’ Phantom of the Opera’ and stuff like that.
HMA: How is the dynamic with Gary Holt, splitting his time between Exodus and Slayer?
Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza: You know, it’s a trip? Now, since I’ve been back in the band I keep track of the shows. It’s almost anal retentive. When we finish this tour, there’ll be 280 shows that I’ve played with Exodus, since I’ve been back June 6, 2014, Gary played 73. He did three with Killswitch and Unearth in California, a couple more in September 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. We just did a little California Vegas day and Gary played with us. Kragen is awesome. Kragen can play. If you want to get somebody who’s a stunt-double, he can stunt-double. Gary’s attack is different. It’s not hard to get used to; again, you’re talking about a band that revolves members, so you’d better know how to play with somebody else. I’ll have to say this. I love Kragen, but I love Gary’s attack. I love looking over to the left and having him there. I like that. I know what his mentality is, Exodus mentality, completely. Again, I’m the singer. I’m the one who talks to the crowd. I’m that type of singer if you’ve seen Exodus; I talk to the crowd always between songs. It’s always been that way for me, it’s always been that way for this band. They always want time to go back and take water, make sure they’re tuning’s okay. I don’t like to let the show drop. I feel like the singer goes back and gets a drink and is talking to the drummer, it’s like, “Okay, cool, what song’s next?” The show is not moving. I don’t ever let the show drop. After the song stops, and we’re stopping, and I’m going to introduce the next song- Come in.
HMA: Okay, just one more question. I want to know about the Bay Area at the time and how did you get into metal?
Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza: My father was an old-school biker in the late ’60s, early ’70s, working on his Harley in the garage; he would listen to the FM stations that played Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Allman Brothers, and the rock, FM rock. So I listened to FM rock, and when I was a kid, at that age, my classmates were listening to Osmond family, the Osmond Brothers, and the Jackson 5. I’m 52; I’ve been on the earth quite some time. I heard ‘Led Zeppelin IV’; they just played it on the radio, they played ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and when they got to the part at the end of the song, where Jimmy plays lead guitar. I didn’t even know it was called “lead guitar.” Then Robert comes in singing, “And there’s a,” gets that really high, “There’s a woman down the-” I’d never heard a vocal like that in my life, I was sold! From then on, I’ve always listened to rock, Ted Nugent, AC/DC, through the ’70s and Aerosmith. Anything that was hard, anything that had an edge to it. Then by the late ’70s, early ’80s I incorporated punk music, but still kept my ear open to new wave of British heavy metal. When I started playing in bands, I, like everybody else was doing, I put punk music together with the intricacies of hard rock and that’s how we got thrash metal!
Interview and photos by Manuela Mattera – Copyright 2017 © Heavy Music Artwork. All rights reserved.