INTERVIEW: Steve Souza – Exodus

Photo Credit: Bruce Getty
Photo Credit: Bruce Getty

WORDS: Dean Martin

EXODUS have been one of thrash metal’s biggest bands for decades now. Despite numerous lineup changes the band have always been consistent with their releases, upholding their solid reputation as one of the pioneers of the genre. As the band kick off a UK run in support of 2014’s Blood In, Blood Out we spoke to vocalist Steve Souza about the tour, the revival of thrash metal and the loyalty of metal fans.

Hi, I’m Dean and I’m going to be interviewing you today for Distorted Sound Magazine, first thing is first though we heard you had some problems on your South American tour?

Steve: In places like that, you kinda expect that, everybodies kinda shady, well not everybody. I mean, we did thirteen shows, eight of them I think were in Brazil and we only had one real bad problem, and now there’s a second problem that the promoter didn’t pay either. You see the way we work a certain way, we charge him a certain amount for all the shows so we’re kinda off the hook for it but I don’t feel that way. I have friends and people down there, I have a Facebook page just for South America, and there’s five-thousand people on there and this guy, he calls himself Jonny Z, he runs it down there so, as soon as I told him about it he types up about it and what that does is it makes other people weary of working with the same guy because if he’s not gonna pay his bills then obviously TESTAMENT’s not gonna wanna go down there with them, OVERKILL’s not gonna, DEATH ANGEL’s not gonna wanna go down there with them so we set sort of a precedent. In Fortaleza the guy didn’t pay up at all, I mean, we were when we get there the promoters part of the cash would be paid and it was like 5 o’clock and I was in my fucking hotel room until like nine going ‘what are we doing?’ and he never had the cash. So then he was supposed to pay for the hotels as well, so they kicked us out of the hotel room and we went and sat in the fucking airport for like eight hours before we had to leave. So a little bit of trouble but you have to expect that in certain places, even in Europe you’ll get it, in the States you’ll get that, the guy will be totally dodgy and won’t honour what he said. Or, he’s a fan and he wants the show so bad that he takes it and he doesn’t have the capital, he doesn’t understand that it’s not just the bands money, it’s fucking sound, it’s catering, it’s everything that goes into it. A promoter told me that if I do anywhere between 60% and 70% then I’m doing good. Which means you’re not gonna win every time, and you know that. So what you may lose tonight, but maybe next week he’ll do double that and it makes up for it, there’s a lot involved. Everybody thinks, ‘oh I have ten grand in the bank, I can go do shows’ it doesn’t work like that. Not at all. You’ll eat through that ten grand and that’s just the way it is.

So this is the starting date of your European tour right? Are there any dates and towns you’re looking forward to in particular?

Steve: We haven’t played that much in the UK so it’s gonna be great to get back to a lot of the cities we played in the eighties. You know, we haven’t played Cardiff in a long time, we haven’t played Birmingham in the longest time so there’s actually a big sixteen or seventeen shows in the UK with Glasgow and Dublin and that sort of thing. We’re excited to be here, everywhere else in Europe we’ve played a lot times before so it’ll be cool to go back to Gothenburg, we’ve got friends from there, obviously, but I look forward to every tour.

You have just finished up a tour with KING DIAMOND how did that go for you?

Steve: Great, it was great. We had a blast in the United States. He’s got such a talented band and Jodi, the girl who plays Grandma, is just a great performer. And it’s really cool to watch, it’s more than just a show, it’s an event to go see. He played all of Abigail which was really really cool. Hopefully we’ll see all of those guys, well except for the King, in Gothenburg because most of those guys are Swedish, I think he’s got three Swedish, one American and he’s Danish but he lives in Texas.

You have obviously made a huge name for yourself over the years as one of the leading bands in the Thrash metal scene and have currently got support from relatively newcomers to the scene, LOST SOCIETY – do you agree with the statement that Thrash is having a revival and if so, what do you think it’s looking like?

Steve: I don’t know if you’d look at it as a revival because I’ve been back in EXODUS almost two years now and I heard it two years before that, and then when I was doing HATRIOT, the band with my sons, and I think what it is is if you remember when it went away in the 90s and the late/early 2000s, I remember Dave Mustaine selling all his gear, you know the backdrops and everything, because it seemed like it was dead, but those of us who innovated this sound, seemed to be coming back really strong and I think that holds a lot for the scene. Because, you know being metal fans, we love it, we don’t give a fuck what anybody says, it’s what we listen to, it’s what we live for. That’s what’s great about metal, it’ll never go away because of that. Pop music will come in and go out, metal music comes in but it never goes out, just because of that fucking jacket right there, that jacket says it all, (Steve points to a denim jacket covered in band patches), you know what I’m saying? It’s that mentality.

There’s always some fourteen year old kid who wants one of these.

Steve: And I’m seeing more of those at the shows now like when we played South America if you can point out someone who’s over twenty-five in the crowd, good luck. We were in Moscow last summer and same thing. Kids at the shows so I think that says a lot for heavy metal, but it says a lot for thrash, and heavy music in general. It’s timeless, it’s just timeless. You get people that are my age, or even younger that grew up and they listened to THE WHO, STONES, and ZEPPELIN, because their parents to ‘em and now they’re fans and I think that has a lot do with us as well. We had a meet and great in the United States last year when we were out with SLAYER and SUICIDAL TENDENCIES and there was a grandfather, father and son EXODUS combo that were all fans, three generations of fan, which was kinda cool to see and is promising for our future. Cause when they’re not there anymore, we won’t do it. You know what I mean? But they’re still there and the pits are still good.

Metal fans do seem to be more loyal.

Steve: Oh, very much so. Who pulls for metal fans? How many television shows do you have that have anything to do with heavy metal? How many radio stations can you go to right now? It doesn’t exist, you either love it or you fucking hate it. And that’s why I’m saying it’ll stay strong, because when have you ever heard ‘yeah , I was into SLAYER last summer, or two summers ago’ when do you hear that? You don’t. You either are or you aren’t and that’s why I think there will always be a market. We’re thirty-one years into our career, Bonded By Blood came out in ’85, do you remember 1985? Hell no you don’t! We’ve been around that long and we can still go around and do this. We still have fans. And there’s bands like, big bands, like SLIPKNOT, who look up to us and are like ‘Dude! You guys are EXODUS!’ and it’s like ‘Dude! You guys are playing places, I don’t even play dressing rooms the size of the places you play!’ We were the ones that started it, us, MEGADETH, DEATH ANGEL, METALLICA, SLAYER, so I think there’s always a market for that.

Your latest album, Blood In Blood Out has been a huge success with fans all over the world and are now aware of the wait for your next album, do you hope that you will have Gary with you for the entirety of that chapter, the release and tours?

Steve: Gary is EXODUS, just because he’s with SLAYER right now, obviously they’ve had a new record out, well relatively a new record, it was last September and they hadn’t put anything out since ’09 so six seven years. The touring cycle is gonna be tough because we wanna play as well so we have his stunt double who you’ll see tonight, Kragen Lum, plays every rhythm and every lead, you can close your eyes and it’s Gary Holt. But Gary is much part of the band and Gary will obviously write a ton of it and Gary will be back. It’s a new thing, SLAYER’s album and tour, but I’m sure in the next year or two it’ll mellow down a little bit and he’ll have more time for EXODUS and we will definitely write a new record, definitely.

How was your reaction as a band towards finding out that Gary was now going to be joining forces with SLAYER?

Steve: Well, I knew when I came back in the band that that was gonna be part of the deal, if you think about it you’re playing in two of the biggest metal bands, legendary metal bands in the world, what are you gonna do, pick one? Plus EXODUS is his baby. SLAYER’s not necessarily his baby, but he hasn’t been there from the beginning, that’s Kerry and Tom, but you need a drummer and another guitar player and what better guitar player can you get than Gary? He’s the complete deal, you know, he’s the total package, not just a great rhythm player, he’s a great lead player, a great writer, great performer, I would want him in my band too! We’re cool with it, he comes back and forth.

Blood In Blood Out is also the album that sees the comeback of a previous vocalist, you Steve, after Rob Dukes left EXODUS, was it a no brainer to return?

Steve: I’ve had the best time ever this time around, this is the third tour of duty I’ve done in EXODUS, and this is the best and most fun I’ve had. See, I don’t have little kids anymore, I’m not in the eighties trying to be the biggest band, I know where I sit in life. I’m content with everything that’s gone on. So I’m not like, oh fuck, I gotta get back into the arenas, I’m aware we’re thirty years after the fact, we’re probably not going to be in the arenas again, so it’s not that big of a deal. But to still be able to play, come out on tours, and make a living at it, we’re very fortunate.

Do you think the changes EXODUS has had in terms of touring members and permanent were much needed for the band?

Steve: I think what it was was this band, like any band, go through so many phases and after thirty years you think the same five guys are gonna be there? Name a band that’s thirty years into it that have the same five guys, you can’t find one. AEROSMITH, somebody like that, IRON MAIDEN, and actually they have an extra guy, which is actually great, I think Janick fits them very well. I just think as people change and we’re not the size of band where we’re rich and comfortable and that sort of thing. We still work hard out here and we were just talking about how there’s twenty-one shows in a row. Which is good, we’re out here and we need to work, I hate days off. Days off are boring as anything, there’s nothing to do. I’d rather play. We’re not going anywhere. We’ve got a very good thing being innovators of thrash, being the barrier sound and people are always very interested in that. I think we’ll be alright. I don’t see the members changing again. Gary will be back full time, he will be because this is his band. He’s the only guy to play on every single EXODUS record and he writes 90% of the shit, so why wouldn’t he be? Jack’s been the second longest, he’s been the bass since ‘98. Tom and I have kinda come in and come out but we’ve talked about that and this is the final line-up. Rick, Rick Hunolt our original guitar player, he could just never do it. He just couldn’t do it, he was just chasing round and bother her [tour manager] all fucking day long, can you imagine him on the road, for Christ sakes!

Only a couple of months ago, a statement was made by Rob Dukes about EXODUS that was rather harsh, how did you guys take the fact he was calling you douchebags and cancer?

Steve: We think GENERATION KILL is a great band, we really wish Rob nothing but all the luck. We’re not going to get into that, we’re way past that and we understand the mentality of anything, any time things like that happen, but again, he’s got a really really good band and I hope he stays with it.

After your headline tour in Europe, what are the rest of your plans looking like?

Steve: We’re actually coming back to do a festival run for July and August and then I think they’re talking about doing a really cool package in October/ November but that’s not booked yet and I can’t specify yet. But, if the bands all agree, it’s gonna be fucking cool. I’d say it’s 80-90% in the hole, but again we got a whole year to go still so actually, unless we do something in the States between April and June we’re in Europe almost all year. So, here we are, and hopefully at the end of the year we’ll start throwing rifts together so when 2017 comes around and it’s been three years since the record came about so we can start that whole thing again.

Thank you for taking the time out of your day to talk to me for Distorted Sound!

Blood In, Blood Out is available now via Nuclear Blast Records.