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For a while now I wanted to interview Steve Smyth, and after the TESTAMENT gig in the Biebob, a small club in Vosselaar/Belgium, we finally managed to get together for a little while. There was no quiet place in the club, so we went outside for our talk. Cora, Nico, Steve and I ended up in someone's front yard in another street, hehehe! I hope we didn't disturb too many people in the middle of the night, but we didn't get yelled at or stuff thrown at us, so I guess it was ok ;) Catching up with this all-Californian buddy of mine was definitely like the fucking most funny interview ever, you know, on the fucking most funny place, I mean, like, yeah, totally!:)
Hi Steve! Did you enjoy the show this night?
It was a lot of fun, it was incredibly HOT! The Biebob Club is always hot and lacking oxygen big time, hehe. But fun nonetheless, definitely.
I want to start with going back in time a little bit. How was that Thrash Of The Titans benefit?
That was good! It was obviously for a good cause, it was to help out Chuck Billy, when he was diagnosed with cancer and also Chuck in return, learned of Chuck Schuldiner's illness and also donated money to him so it was basically for two Chucks in metal, hehehe! It's definitely a good cause:) We played with Forbidden Evil that night.. I really don't know what else to say, we had a good time, we rehearsed very little, about a month in all, I knew those songs, only songs from the first record. Really good time, definitely, it was a lot of fun.
What did you think of all the reunions? There were some reunions at that night!
Totally! And personally I think it was really good for metal, I mean, Exodus is now back, unfortunately without Paul Baloff, but Zetro (Steve Sousa) stepped back in and if anything, the guys are preparing their new stuff, they are working on it right now, a new album it's about to come out...
But it's without Zetro, right?
No, it is with him. He rejoined. They had a little difference of this and that and resolved it very quickly and recorded the album with Andy Sneap out in California and are currently mixing it right now back in England.
Oh I though he didn't want to tour and whatever...
No. Not true. They worked out all their stuff.
Ok! Does anybody know this yet?
Ehh I wonder, haha!
I didn't read it yet, hehe.
So how is the Bay Area scene nowadays?
Cool. I would say, what is about to happen now is a really good thing. As a matter of fact, about a good hour before we went on tonight, we got a chance to hear the new Machine Head with Phil Demmel, he's playing with Machine Head now, and what they have going on is seriously heavy, really cool, cool... fucking intense. I was just blown away.
I used to be a big Machine Head fan...
If you like the first two records, yeah, like me, you're gonna so love what they're doing now, it's beyond.. it's so amazing. I was like "wow!", it's really good.
Back to the metal.
Definitely. I mean, them, and Exodus is coming out with a new record; Testament, we're working on a new record right now which is in pretty much early stages. We've been writing on and off for about the past year and a half, two years, right on there, kinda throwing stuff in, throwing stuff out the window, bringing new stuff in. What we're going for is just a really heavy record that's going to have a cohesive sound and also reflects the band's entire history, so there's going to be a little bit of everything for everyone in this record for sure. It's going to be a shred-record for sure, there's going to be a lot of solos on this, me and Eric, it's going back to the old school, hehehe!
How far exactly are you with that?
We're about a good eight songs into it right now in various stages of completion, I could tell you strongly that there are three songs that definitely going to be on it yet, this is where it's at right there. We've got eight up right now and we're just going to write for the rest of the year, get this thing done early next year and it will be out in May or June.
Do you have some titles?
No, nothing I could say, hahaha!
Hahaha, ah, these secrets...
...yeah like that one that goes like "dadadadum", hahahaha!
Oooh that one!
Yeah, that one! Hehehe!
Do you have any part in the songwriting?
Yeah I do, mainly Testament is Chuck and Eric, Jesus, they wrote like ninety songs together, a lot of songs, so they have a long history together and know each other very very well. I've been working with Eric primarily on psych production and efforts and whatnot and also throwing in little two cents here and there, like a riff here and a riff there. Because of Jon Allen, with his family situation and whatnot, he's not been able to have the drums rehearsed and help writing and whatnot so now I'm doing a lot of drummachine programming, just kinda nutty, hehehe!
His family situation is something you can't talk about?
Yeah, it's personal, there's an illness in his family. So he just needs his time to be with his family and I wish him all the best, definitely.
From us too. All the strength in the world...
About the No Mercy tour, that was Chuck's first tour after his illness, right?
Yeah it was, it was good. That was a, I'll put this lightly, kind of a gruelling tour. It was basically 14 days straight and I mean we've been doing some one-off shows through last year. From about November, we did one show in November, it was like Chuck's first show back since this thing he conquered, it was called the Bone Bash, put on by a local radio station called the Bone - hey Billy Steel, if you read this... and I'll tell him to read it hahahaha! He better, hahaha! Ehm.. basically they had like a metal stage, they put on a couple of openers and asked us to headline that. It was a 20,000 seat arena and it was Journey headlining, with Montrose, Y&T and Joe Satriani. Pretty crazy, it was a really weird bill. Very rock.
Lots of old farts, hahahaha!
Yeah, hahahaha, right!! It was kinda crazy...
Oh, we're old enough to be allowed to say that, I think.
Hey me too!
No, no, you're just 32. *pointing at Nico* He's 10 years older, so who's talking.
Oh ok, hehehe!
But yeah, that was a good one and then we were in contact with Halford's management to do a tour with Halford which was going to become the Metal Gods tour. We did a few shows, but when Rob was supposed to get back in the country from England, he spent the holidays there, he had a problem with the INS and couldn't get a visa to get in. So he had problems with that, getting a work visa basically and those shows for us, about 5 out of 6 happened and one didn't, no two didn't.
From the Metal Gods tour?
No, from December. And the pattern goes up to February, we've steadily been playing gigs and whatnot and it worked into the No Mercy fest and what should've been, hehe, the Metal Gods tour and yeah, well, we all kind of know what happened with that.
I was going to ask you what did happen?
I can't really go into it all, but it wasn't really financially planned right and basically the tour was shut down in a heartbeat. There were five bands from Europe on that tour and we made quick friends with everybody and all of a sudden it was just gone, it was over...
It's shitty that the business side of things can ruin so much.
Yeah that's true. And there's a recession in America as well, that might also have effected it a little bit as well. But yeah, we did the first week and the last week of the tour, so that was good. It was fun to watch Halford up there every night and just jamming and pull out all these old Priest tunes from forever, it was, wow, it was crazy.
I've seen him just once, at the Bang Your Head festival, it was a shame.
They had power problems that night.
Nothing could excuse his behaviour on stage, believe me. If you have problems on stage just say so, the fans will understand, but don't fuck them, it's disrespectful. He never looked at the fans or said a word to them... But I've never been a really big Priest fan anyway.
I always have been and I'd actually say he's an influence, I mean guitaristically that makes no sense, but it's about musicianship, his vocal ability. He's always been incredible. All things notwithstanding, I wish him best of luck in Judas Priest and I'm looking forward to hearing them, definitely. Should be cool. Hopefully, hehehe.
Hehe, everyone hopes that I guess!
About the drummers, on the No Mercy tour you had Asgeir Mickelson. How did you find him?
Actually through Steve DiGiorgio. They worked together in the band Vintersorg. Asgeir has a history with Steve there and also with Borknagar and Spiral Architect, too. Steve called him up and asked him "Could you step in for Jon Allen?" and he came in and did the tour. He did pretty well. He had a few things going on here and there technically - not with him but just with the mix and it was so bad every night, it prohibited Asgeir from getting into it a lot more - that on top of playing 14 days in a row, we haven't done that in a couple of years hehe...
Was he also on the Metal Gods tour?
No. Actually Jon played the first two shows with us - Jon Allen. Luckily he was able to step in and actually do that, which was cool and after that Johnny Tempesta came in.
Why him and not Asgeir again?
Actually Asgeir has recording obligations right now with Borknagar and also Vintersorg as well. He's actually working on these two records right now and he's also a journalist up there in Norway. And he's quite the artist, too. I love that dude's art, he's fucking incredible. Things that I saw this guy does like every day on the tour... he would like get up before anybody else and just walk around with his camera and look at the most weirdest angle on something, just walk over there and get this like very weird shadow effect kind of trip or whatever and start shooting like 90 million fucking pictures of the same thing, it was crazy. He's also doing webmaster work for an independent company. He's pretty busy with doing all the other things as well.
So then you got Johnny Tempesta.
So, he's basically gonna stay until Jon Allen is able to...
...that's what we're kind of thinking but we also approached Johnny about doing the record too, because we really don't know what Jon Allen's situation is going to be long-term, so we've just spent a couple of weeks here and there writing, doing off-time and whatnot, Johnny coming to us to jam and it's been going good, so we're hoping for the best but he also has some other obligations.
Does he also write songs?
No. He's playing with Rob Zombie at his soloproject right now. Sounds like Rob isn't really into doing music right now, but more artistic and film type of stuff like "House Of 1000 Corpses". It actually opened up pretty good, there was a good response to the movie. So... we're hoping things are gonna work out.
That he's gonna stick around for a while.
Yeah. As long as we can have him. Hehehe!
Are you looking forward to the Wacken show?
Definitely, we're really looking forward to this. This is going to be a fucking blast, we're really looking forward to this, getting up there just tearing shit up. Definitely. That's what we've been waiting about half a year for. We're definitely ready. We're gonna be on the Black Metal stage at 9.30 or 10 o'clock, somewhere around there, and I don't know what it said who else is on the billing what I do know is that that night Twisted Sister is going to be headlining. Actually kinda cool!
We saw Twisted Sister at Bang Your Head, and that was like "wow".
We saw Dee Snider a couple of times already and if you think you've seen it then - no way! The real thing is even better.
That's cool. I wanna see that.
After this European tour, are there any US tour plans?
No, we actually had a talk about this yesterday to reconfirm what we all were thinking and we were like "no, we're not gonna tour anymore this year". We're pretty much ready to go put the album out and we're also working on a new Dragonlord record as well. So we're kinda going back and forth between that, writing both. The way things are probably going to happen is that the Dragonlord record will come out... well, not really come out but rather be recorded before the Testament record. And like I said earlier, we will be recording in January/February for Testament, putting that out about in May/June and be right back over here :)
And shows for Dragonlord?
Dragonlord, yes. What we're trying to accomplish next year is kind of a back to back touring situation, when Testament is not on tour, Dragonlord will be out on tour. So it will be a kind of back and forth thing.
You have any plans with other projects?
Actually I do.
You're gonna tour with Nevermore? ;)
Yes, I will be over here in September, beginning September 19th, on tour with Nevermore (and Arch Enemy supporting as well too, great guys...). I fucking love that band to death and I'm really looking forward to doing this. I missed these guys a lot, we have a good brotherhood, it's like a good chemistry. Just like the Testament guys and the Dragonlord guys, everybody is really easy to get along with and we party together and just have some good times. I'm really looking forward to playing with these guys again, definitely.
You played with them before?
No, I mean with Arch Enemy.
No. We've actually tried to get those guys hooked onto our tours before and they had other commitments before us, it was like "alright, next time!".
Silkie would love to see Dragonlord on the Inferno Festival in Norway next year. What do you think about that?
That might be possible because we actually talked about that, I believe last year. And for one reason or another it didn't actually work out. No idea what the reason was, haha! That would be a definite possibility.
Let's go back in time a little bit again... How did you end up in Testament?
Hm, long story short: basically I was in the band Vicious Rumors for about 1995 - 1999 and my guitar tech was actually out on tour as Eric Peterson's guitar tech and things weren't really working out with James Murphy too well... we all kind of know now what happened, basically James was diagnosed with a brain tumor about a good year and half ago, around the same time as Chuck - we kinda found out about James as well too. So, I don't want to go into anything, basically James wasn't himself and things weren't working out so my guitar tech said "hey", you know, "call my brother Steve", Eric called me and we rapped about it a little bit, kinda got this and that back and forth and I stepped in, actually our first show was September 19th 1999, we played Warsaw/Poland. That was the very first show we've done. And we did the European/Japanese leg of the Gathering tour back in 1999 and I've been with these guys ever since and I love playing with them, definitely.
You do it well, dude.
Aaah, thanks, hahaha!
Do you live off your music?
Technically I do, because the only other thing I do... I mean as far as performing and recording, it's not really in that situation for me currently, because actually with Testament, we've only been touring and as well with Dragonlord, too. Basically we did a record and we've done a little bit of touring, but next year we will definitely be here again. And between that actually what I do in the off-time is teach guitar and I do that about six days a week back home. So I guess technically, yeah I do. As far as off of my own music - hmmm, no. Hahaha!
Do you have any tips or advice for young guitar players?
A couple of things. Definitely practise your ass off, make sure you know everything that you ever wanted to know and always try to learn. Definitely check out new gear all the time because you might find out something out there that you didn't know about before. What else? Make sure you always have spare parts on tour and if you're already in a band: practise, practise, practise and get out there and gig as much as you possibly can because the more you gig the stronger you guys get together and the better you're going to get when the time comes to record an album. That's the best thing I can say.
I also asked this question to Chris Amott (Arch Enemy) and he said that instead of just learning from tabulatures, books and everything you have to listen to music and figure it out by listening.
Oh yeah... use your ear because that's what you have and you might not see it right away but the more you do it the more it's there and the more you realize it.
What made you pick up a guitar once? Who influenced you back then?
My earliest influences... Actually a couple of things did and this is the weird thing I did, like nobody ever gets this when I say this, but as a little kid I had an older sister, like 4 years older than me and she was always listening to this radio station, it was a rock station, KFLC, it's no longer really a rockstation, it's actually an AM radio station, very old, hehehe. And I remember hearing advertisements for certain concerts and I realize now what they were. They were actually these "Day At The Green" concerts, that we were having with Lou Gramm here in the Coliseum. It wasn't just that but that was one of the things... it was 1977 and it was Aerosmith's "Draw The Line" tour and they were playing the "Day At The Green" with Ted Nugent, I heard this little radio blurr out these songs and I'm like going *plays air-guitar*... I didn't have a guitar, but I just sat there and made sounds like "Daa daa dadaaah, daa dadaaaah" *melody of "Cat Scratch Fever"*. Here I was like sitting there doing that and then I started going like "oh yeah cool, something's happening here!" and I think about a year after that I heard "We Will Rock You" by Queen on the radio once and just that last part of Brian May, that little guitar part, "daduhda, dada", you know, that whole thing, that just got me going and I was like mouth guitaring I guess, hahahaha! It was kinda weird and a few years later I had a couple of friends that were playing guitar and they turned me on to Joe Perry from Aerosmith and Angus Young from AC/DC. Really got into lead playing quite a bit, because that was my kind of dream. Not that rhythm came second, I realized after that "hey, this is the song that I'm actually hearing" and looked at what those guys did as well too, like Malcolm and Brad Whitford as well too. At the age of ten, when I really got into guitar, I knew that this is what I wanted to do always, and I went for it.
So that's still what you want to be when you grow up? ;)
That's right! Hehehehe!!
Who are your heroes?
Actually the earliest ones like Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen, I actually heard Yngwie stuff from a pirate radio station, I don't remember who the host was, I guess it was KUSF, which was like a San Francisco college radio station, the DJ was Ron Quintana and he was like just sitting there playing a solo by this guy named"Yngwie Malmsteen, he was all "Yngwie is God", that saying actually came from him, he was screaming and shouting and I was like "what the hell is this shit??" you know. And so that kind of got me into that, that neo-classical kind of feeling. I don't like to use that word "classical"... just the "old" music. I like it a lot and... where am I going with this?? Hahaha!
To your old heroes...
From Yngwie and Randy I got into Akira Takasaki from Loudness, early Loudness, like "Disillusion" esp. is one of my favorite fucking records ever. From there I got into the whole Shrapnel scene. Everything here and there always kinda influences me somehow, not that I really sit down and copy or anything like that, but it's the feeling of it that draws me to it. I'm not trying to repeat anything, it's the vibe of it all.
And what are you listening to these days?
Actually the new Nevermore.. hey Jim, I got a copy of the record today! Hehehe! Actually I just went down the street and bought it. It has a DVD bonus in it, gotta have that. In Flames, Soilwork, Arch Enemy. We actually just got a promotional copy of the new Arch Enemy and that blew my socks off, I was like "what the fuck is this shit!", these guys just go nuts!
What do you think of the new Nevermore and that whole production thing about it?
Yeah, I've heard a lot about that.
You have also heard the promo? Jim said that it's probably not the remastered thing.
That's not, yeah. From what I've heard the actual mix is gonna be the record and not the promo. I heard the promo today and I'm kinda dissappointed. It's the circumstance I think who they work with as well.
Century Media is not really supporting them.
Yeah, that's probably the biggest part of it, if you're working with a company called a record label, they're supposed to be your support, they're supposed to be there for you. It's a good record, if you listen to it you'll get more into the songs and you'll forget about how it sounds. It doesn't sound THAT bad. It's really actually a great fucking record. Very powerful underneath...
I think some songs still have to grow on me, but those are usually the ones that stay interesting.
Yeah, yeah, totally. They did that more than once on this record too.
Back to Testament - which re-recorded song of "First Strike Still Deadly" do you like best?
Not really a total fan of that record for various reasons but if I really had to pick one I'd say "The Preacher".
Why are you not a big fan of this record?
Just the circumstances. I don't want to get into that, it's nothing against anyone or anything, just a bit of business and personal reasons. It was a good idea. I thought it could have been done a little more careful to be honest. But if I had to pick songs: "The Preacher", "Alone In The Dark", it was good to hear "Reign In Terror", the drums and vocals, that's pretty cool... "The Hunting", that was good and "First Strike..." that was one too, the opener.. like "wow".
Anything else you would want to add?
*whispers* Stay fucking heavyyyyyyyy!!
Shhhhhhht! We have to be really quiet... haha! Thanks very much, Steve!
submitted by Marlies 16.10.2003