A talk with
STEVE 'Zetro' SOUZA (Vocals)
(Questionnaire by Patrick De Sloover)
One of the best gigs at the Grasspop Metal Festival edition 2012 was Exodus! They conquered the Marquee, created the largest Mosh Pit in years and succeeded in a Death Wall with hundreds of participants. Exodus ruled all the way, and it’s obvious that this band may be considered as one of the pioneers in thrash metal, including a Bay Area touch! In this first week of 2013, I got an invitation to interview Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza, one of the most intriguing vocalists Exodus ever had, so it was a huge pleasure to welcome Steve at Metal To Infinity!
Q: Hail Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza, I’m really honored to have this interview with you. How are you doing?
A: I am doing real well these days. My band is about to take over the world and it feels great to be back in the game on a worldwide scale. The band is Hatriot and the record is called “Heroes Of Origin.” The album will be out the last week of January on Massacre Records. We are working day and night to promote this band and to get it to the next level.
Q: There is a new band coming up, the future looks really bright and a new metal mission is ahead. Before we start talking about Hatriot, I would like to go back in time. Do you remember the Dynamo Open Air Festival 1988 in Holland? What was your impression?
A: I remember it well. It was my first time being in front of a crowd that huge. At one point I looked out and saw seven different mosh pits going at the same time. I am talking about enormous circle pits. It looked like a human hurricane from where we were on stage, just circles of bodies flying everywhere. It was an amazing show and I will never forget it.
Q: Can I consider the Dynamo Open Air Festival as one of the highlights in that time, in that period?
A: Absolutely. In fact, I have mentioned that show in several interviews this past year. People ask for highlights of my career and I tell them about that show. We didn’t know it yet at the time, but Exodus was about to peak in popularity the next year with ‘Fabulous Disaster’ and we were everywhere. Journalists were following us around and we were on the tips of their tongues all the time. Metal was huge at the time and we were riding the wave of success. If I could repeat a period of my life it would be 1988 and 1989 for sure. It was an amazing time for me.
Q: You left Legacy (which became Testament later on), to join Exodus. How was it to replace Paul Baloff, who was dearly beloved by the fans? Did you have a hard time to get your own spot in Exodus?
A: Honestly it was a big set of shoes to fill. I didn’t win over the diehard Exodus fans until a couple years after I joined. Paul had such a charisma to him. He was the ultimate definition of what a true metal head was. I wasn’t fully accepted in the eyes of the fans until we started touring for ‘Fabulous Disaster.’ At that point I was the voice of Exodus.
Q: You recorded your last Exodus album ‘Tempo Of The Damned’ in 2004. What happened afterwards? Why were you replaced by Rob Dukes?
A: Life happened. I had been out of music, at least full-time, for ten years when I rejoined Exodus for the ‘Tempo’ record. At that point I had a family to support and a good paying job back at home. It was too hard to let all that go and tour for a year at a time, so I had to make a choice, and my choice was be a family man. It’s that simple. The situation could have been better. I could have done things differently.
I dropped the ball on the band and they were pissed off at me for a while. I understand that and I actually agree with that. My head wasn’t in the right place. I couldn’t do music 100% and I let them down. Family was more important. The ironic thing is now my sons are both in Hatriot, so I have my music and my family. Things have come full circle and I am back stronger than ever!
Q: All together you have joined Exodus for about 8 years (1986-1992 and 2002-2004), how do you look back to those years? I guess that you had a lot of fun, fights and fucks? What is one of the greatest stories to tell during those Exodus years?
A: I look back on those years as being the best times of my life. What an amazing ride that was! We had no idea at the time that we were making history. We were just guys playing fast music and living in the moment. There are so many good stories. One good one happened back in 1987 in the state of Florida. We were playing an ice hockey arena and the line-up was Celtic Frost, Exodus, and Anthrax. The promoter had no idea that the fans were as insane as they were. There were no seats at this venue. It was all general admission and everyone was standing. They had built a wimpy barricade to try and contain people but the crowd destroyed that thing in our first song. There was one security guard in between us and the crowd and he got smashed. His legs were broken. I had to stop the show and make the crowd back up so they could get him out of there! They hauled him to the hospital wearing an Exodus shirt…
Q: You also joined the Dublin Death Patrol, who released two albums so far. Are you still a member of DDP, as they are still active and around?
A: DDP never was really that active. We get together when our schedules allow us to and basically just have a good time. I am still a member and we may get around to doing another record. I’m not really sure to be honest with you. Chuck is so busy with Testament, and now I have Hatriot so we don’t have a lot of time to commit to DDP. It is a cool band though and fans should seek out the albums.
Q: You also play with your brother John Souza (bass) in this band. Can we consider DDP as a kind of project, something you can join without stress, obligations and other annoying hassle?
A: Yes! That is the whole purpose of DDP. Sometimes when you are in a big band like Testament or Exodus you lose sight of why you play the music you do. You get so wrapped up in the business end of things and it drains you. So basically we put DDP together just for fun and it is a way to keep in touch with all our old friends in Dublin, California that played music growing up, but maybe didn’t take it to a level that Chuck and I did. We get guys like my brother John to jam. John was in bands back in the day but he chose a different path in life. Now through DDP we all get to reconnect and it’s a good time for everybody. We don’t care if the record sells one copy or one million. We are having fun and that’s the point in it.
Q: You have been around the world for several times, I wonder what do you know about Belgium?
A: I love Belgium. We did the Graspop Festival when I was in Dublin Death Patrol, as well as when I was in Exodus. I love all the cities and towns in Belgium. We have a lot of great fans in that area of the world and I look forward to returning with Hatriot.
Q: Now it’s time for something totally new in your career, and that’s the next move: Hatriot. What’s in a name? Is it a contraction of two words, like Hate+Patriot?
A: Yes, that is correct. Hatriot is my band. It’s not a project, it is a real full-fledged band. The name comes from the lyric in the Exodus song ‘Scar Spangled Banner’ where I say “I’m no patriot, just a hatriot.” The definition of Hatriot is a person who loves their country but doesn’t care for its government. There are a lot of people that feel that way these days here in America. Our government pulls bullshit on the people every day and it sucks! I felt that Hatriot was an angry and aggressive name that would work great for a thrash metal band. Plus it connects my days with Exodus to the new music, so it’s a perfect name for me.
Q: What can you tell us about the lineup of Hatriot? If I’m correct, your oldest son Cody is playing Bass in this band…
A: Actually both my boys are in the band with me. Cody is on bass and we just hired my younger son Nick to fill the drum position last summer. The line-up consists of younger guys that are real hungry for success. It would have been too easy for me to scoop up some ‘name’ players from the scene, but I was looking for fresh blood.
It is real easy to get burned out in this business and I didn’t want players that were old and jaded. I wanted young people that were excited to do things on a big scale. Another advantage of their age is the fact that they bring a lot of modern death metal influences into the band. We are definitely thrash metal, but with some more extreme elements in there from time to time.
Q: How did you get in touch with the other members of Hatriot. Who plays what, and in which band did they play before?
A: None of them come from known bands. They all played in local bands through the years, but nothing on a large scale. I saw Kosta play a gig with one of his old bands and that was the beginning of it all. We hit it off and started writing together.
We started auditioning players and my son Cody actually tried out and got the gig. He was up against several others but he was the best of the bunch. Cody is a fucking bad ass on bass. You are all going to be blown away by him. We have a second guitar player by the name of Miguel Esparza and he was actually referred to us when our old guitarist quit. Finally, like I mentioned earlier, my son Nick Souza is on drums. He also tried out when our previous drummer quit. Nick was the obvious choice once we heard him play the Hatriot material.
Q: Is it a kind of ‘friends line up’, a line up with people that you knew already so many years, or did you have to do rehearsals and auditioning to find the best suitable people?
A: Obviously I know my sons and their personalities. The other guys were discovered or referred to me. We are friends in a sense but it is business as well. We are all very like-minded and goal oriented in this band. This band is on a mission to destroy and I honestly have never played with a better band. That’s saying a lot with my history!
Q: What is important when you join a band? Is craftsmanship prior to personal friendship and comradeship?
A: Honestly it is a bit of both. Obviously you have to have a certain degree of musicianship and have your chops in shape to be able to pull of the material. Friendship and comradeship is big too because you have to be able to get along with the people in the band. Being crammed in a van with a bunch of smelly dudes is bad enough without adding a personality conflict or a bad attitude to the mix. So I need both for it to work and fortunately we have that with Hatriot right now.
Q: Hatriot released already an EP in 2010, but now it’s time for the big business. I’ve heard that a first full length album is coming near. What can we expect?
A: The EP was more of a demo we made to gain label interest and to let the fans know what we were doing. The new album is called “Heroes Of Origin” and it will be released January 25th on Massacre Records. Expect ten songs of brutal thrash metal with no filler material whatsoever. I tell people that it sounds like old Exodus on steroids.
Q: Are all songs new, or did you re-record tracks from the EP as well?
A: There are a few songs from the EP on there, re-recorded of course, but for the most part it is all brand new stuff. We do a lot of writing in this band so there is never a shortage of material.
Q: Hatriot is signed to Massacre Records from Germany, is that correct? I guess that a lot of labels showed interest in signing the band. Is this a one-album-deal, or is it for several albums?
A: We have signed with Massacre for a two album deal. There were several labels interested but Massacre seemed to have a passion for thrash metal and they were willing to get some product out there quickly, so it made sense to work with them. Hopefully it will be a long term relationship.
Q: Releasing a debut, includes touring as well, so I guess that Hatriot will support this debut album on a stage as well. Any plans yet, any tours in the making, or is it too soon to catch a plane?
A: We will definitely be touring to support the record. A lot of the details as to where we will go depends on how many records we sell and where there is a demand for us. Right now several agents and promoters have contacted our management, so there is quite a buzz out on the band and we plan on taking advantage of that as much as we can. Hopefully we will hit Belgium!
Q: What is the goal that you want to achieve with Hatriot? What are your personal expectations?
A: I want Hatriot to be the next big thrash band. I hope for this band to make a name for itself the way Exodus did back in the day. Back then we would get into a rotation of album, tour, come home and make an album, then go back on tour, etc. I’d like for Hatriot to follow a similar pattern.
Q: You’ve seen it all, you’ve been everywhere, so I wonder, what makes you happy nowadays, what brings a smile on your face or give you a good time?
A: I am just happy to still be here and to still be doing music on the level that I am. It is very flattering to see bands influenced by the old thrash sound I helped create and to be considered a legendary vocalist for the genre. I have been blessed with the career I have. It has been an amazing ride and it’s not over yet! Other than music I like football (the Raiders), horror movies, and spending time with my family.
Q: The biggest difference between now and the Exodus years is Internet. For some a curse, for others a blessing. What’s your opinion about the Internet. Is it a handful tool for a band like Hatriot or an open gate for downloading and ripping off new bands?
A: Yes, the internet is the big game changer. It has totally leveled the playing field of the music business and crippled the big record companies. They are no longer the big gate keepers. The internet to me is a double edge sword. It is a great tool for getting direct contact with your fan base and I love that aspect. The downside is there are so many bands now that the market can’t handle it. I don’t think there is a platform for a band to become huge anymore… not for the long term anyway. The sales are not there like in the old days and that keeps bands from being able to do a band full time. It is what it is I guess.
Q: Thanks to the Internet, we were able to get in touch with the band, so it has positive sides as well. For example: spreading your music and videos is really simple and there aren’t any boundaries left…
A: It definitely has a positive side. There’s no doubt about it. The key is to be open minded and be willing to change your marketing and promotion strategy to fit the times. I’m fine with that. There are bands and labels out there that were big back in the day and still have it stuck in their head that you can only do things one way, and these are the people that don’t last. I am good with the changes in the business. We just have to adapt and do smart business where we can. Obviously records don’t sell and pay the bills. What we can do is offset the costs in other places… make a great record for ten grand instead of half a million, tour in a van instead of a bus, etc.
Q: I also saw the video for the track ‘Blood Stained Wings’, which is really awesome. It has the real thrash attitude from the Bay Area, which I’ve missed too long. Can I say that Hatriot is the Exodus anno 2013, it’s the modern version of Exodus’ Bonded By Blood era?
A: Mike Sloat did that video for me as a favor. He has done videos for Machine Head and Testament in the past, as well as a lot of work on more mainstream videos. The music is actually the demo version of the song. I wanted to put that out to give people some more Hatriot for free before the record comes out. The response has been great and I think people liked seeing the video, seeing what we look like, and that kind of thing. I tell people that Hatriot is a continuation of what I was doing with Exodus during the ‘Tempo Of The Damned’ era. It is a heavier version of Exodus in my opinion. Some may compare it to ‘Bonded By Blood’ since it is our first album and that was the first Exodus album. To me bands put out their best work when they are starting out and hungry for it. I think you can hear that in the Hatriot record for sure.
Q: There is also another song on You Tube for the track ‘Weapons Of Class Destruction’. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bJqeuyW5O00 Is this the single release, or just a track to start the appetite?
A: We did a four song demo and put it out there for the fans to take for free. ‘Weapons’ was one of the songs on there and it did receive a lot of praise from the fans. We have re-recorded it for the full album and I think it sounds even heavier now. The demo version was just given away to create a buzz on the band and to help get us signed to a label. The plan obviously worked because we have a full record coming out and a lot of people talking about it!
Q: Kosta writes all music and songs, while you take care of the lyrics. Can you tell us something more about your thoughts and ideas to write lyrics for a new song. How do you start, because I believe, it’s easier to create a cool riff and a nice arrangement instead of a good lyric?
A: Kosta is a riff writing monster. Very rarely does he bring in something I don’t like. If anything, I have to tell him to take out some parts because there are too many good riffs! He is an incredible talent and I wouldn’t even be doing this band if I hadn’t found him. Usually Kosta will bring in a complete song already arranged and we will work it up as a band at practice.
Once we get it sounding right we make a rough jam room recording of it and I take those recordings home and write the lyrics. The words are usually the last thing that gets written in Hatriot. I am pretty quick with lyrics though, so it is a painless process from start to finish.
Q: Do you have favorite topics to write about?
A: I like anything dark and sinister. You will never hear Zetro singing a love song or any happy shit. It won’t happen. For this record we cover a lot of lyrical ground. We have school shootings, mass murder, suicide bombers, vampires, and a few political themes. People assume we are all political because of the name, but I’d rather write about monster movies.
Q: I personally like your way of singing. It’s like you spit you words out of your mouth, it’s like you are eagerly waiting to ‘bite’, and that’s rather unusual if you compare with other vocalist…
A: I developed my signature sound by imitating my hero Bon Scott and also by trying to capture the rasp that Udo from Accept had back in the day. Those two had the best metal voices of their time. To this day Bon Scott is my favorite vocalist. In fact, I have an AC/DC tribute band called AC/DZ (the ‘Z’ is for Zetro) – and we only play Bon Scott era stuff. It is a blast!
Q: The only one that might be comparable is Bobby from Overkill. Do you agree?
A: It is funny. Only in recent times have I been compared to Blitz. I’m totally cool with it. Blitz is another one of the lifers of the metal scene. He’s got 30 years under his belt too. That is amazing. What a great band and identifiable thrash singer. Overkill is one of those bands that hasn’t made a bad record. They are like Slayer – you know what you are going to get from an Overkill record. I take the comparison as a total compliment.
Q: Well Steve, we know much more about Hatriot and your vision on thrash metal. Thank you so much for your time, and we all hope to meet up on a Belgian stage or festival. Keep up the good work and thrash on! Any final messages to spread?
A: I want to thank you for the interview, and thank the fans for following my career through all the ups and downs. I’m back in a big way with Hatriot, and I can’t wait to unleash this beast on you all. Please go get ‘Heroes Of Origin’ when it comes out January 25th. If we can get enough sales we will be on the road and I want to get to Belgium and see you all very soon.