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Interview conducted February 20 2018
Interview published February 27 2018

"Chuck had a really hard time with that record."

The Bay Area thrash metal legends Testament start off their March/April European tour leg with support acts Annihilator and Vader in Scandinavia and Metal Covenant got on the phone with guitarist, main songwriter and original member Eric Peterson to check out what's in store for this string of shows.

About the long awaited Dragonlord record: "It's actually turned in and it's coming out in June."

Tobbe: Testament is back in Scandinavia in March and it took some time to get here considering Brotherhood Of The Snake was out in late 2016, even if you played on a festival last summer though.

Eric: Yeah. Scandinavia's been on the radar for a long time. When the record came out we were going to do some shows with Amon Amarth and somehow those kind of fell through the cracks for us. I think the record was well received in Scandinavia, so we apologize for taking so long. But it's right around the corner now and finally we're getting over there, so we're excited about that. You know, better late than never. [Laughs]

Tobbe: What can Testament in general offer their fans in 2018?

Eric: A lot of touring. Rather than just doing one show in Sweden, one show in Norway, blah, blah, we're kind of staying there for, like, a week. And we're getting over to Russia and we're getting over to Israel for the first time, we've never been there ever, and then the U.K.. You know, again, on most European tours we do one show per country, but Scandinavia and the U.K. are getting a little bit extra treatment. You know, we're gonna stay in the area for a good week.

Tobbe: In terms of songs, will you bring some new stuff for this tour leg or will you kind of make it a best of set?

Eric: We have a pretty cool set now. We're doing things a little bit different. Especially in the '80s, you know, bands used to do solos and that kind of disappeared. We're kind of bringing that back and musician-wise we're all doing solos and it makes the set longer and it feels like it's shorter. It gives some breaks and it gives a little bit of curves in the set, which is awesome.

Tobbe: With so much experience as you guys have at this point, how much do you rehearse for a live set today?

Eric: Well, the last tour we did was in Europe and we were home on December 12th and our next was February 10th in Japan and we just went straight; we didn't rehearse. [Laughs] So we had two months off. I mean, we did kind of a long soundcheck. For some weird reason this lineup were able to pull it off. I mean, I would imagine everybody rehearses at home for a couple of days and goes over the set. I know I do. I even forget some stuff. Like, you know, stuff that should be embedded in my brain I'll forget.

The thing that's most important I think is the drums, to keep everything up to par and keep everything steady on course and, you know, who better than Gene Hoglan, the atomic clock, keeps the beat going? I know from the past, other drummers, you know, obviously they get up to par after a week, but Gene is just right on the mark right from the beginning.

Tobbe: When you guys are on tour, is a stage always just a stage to you guys at this point and it kind of doesn't really matter where you play nowadays?

Eric: I mean, we still have a lot of favorite places. But where there used to be total difference… I don't know if it's from the internet, or people traveling, but crowds are starting to, you know, really all react the same. Maybe people have heard, you know, the South American crowds are crazy compared to their hometown. There used to be a huge difference, but now it seems like... I mean, there still is a difference, but it's pretty crazy wherever we go, I guess. South America kind of takes the cup on that though. They're definitely very, very enthusiastic. And even Japan surprises you. I mean, it's like you can hear a needle drop before we go on, but as soon as the song starts it's like "Wait! Are we in Spain right now? What's going on?".

Tobbe: You know, being a touring musician is definitely a different lifestyle in comparison to a regular job, but what's the worst experience that comes with it?

Eric: Well, just off the top of my head: we played some B-markets in Spain, and the crowds in Spain are just awesome and you could tell right from the get-go. And early in the day our bus was parked out in the parking lot and we could see the fans pulling up early and, like, tailgating and having their own little party by their car and listen to our music and headbanging all day and we're like "Wow! This is gonna be a great show.". We get inside the club and, you know, everything is wrong with the equipment. You know, their PAs are just old and the cords are crackling.

We get on stage, the crowd's going apeshit, and second song: the power goes out. Usually we'll just stand up there on stage and, you know, make hand gestures and Chuck [Billy, vocals] will talk a little bit, but he couldn't even talk because his mic didn't work, so we had to walk off stage. And then we go on and we start playing this song, everybody's warmed up again, and the power goes out again. So, we did this 4 times and finally the crowd's chanting, you know, really, really crazy stuff. A lot of them: they're thinking it's us, but we're like "It's not us.", you know. I think our amps got blown up at that point too. Someone plugged in the wrong power and I think my amp got fried.

So, we got it to where our amps worked, but the PA didn't work, so Chuck walked off and I talked the band into going out there and playing a song instrumentally for the crowd. I mean, we tried everything we could do, so that was like a nightmare.

Tobbe: I was talking to Chuck when he was here right before the Brotherhood record was released and he told me that you two argued a lot during the songwriting for that record and what will you do to try not to repeat that situation again?

Eric: Well, I didn't argue. I don't know. Chuck had a really hard time with that record. I had a lot of fun writing it. Yeah, I mean, I've seen these interviews and I was just like "Wow." [Laughs] But, you know, without getting too much into it, I just think Chuck had a lot going on. You know, he was moving, we had a lot of tours in between the writing sessions, the rest of the band wasn't available to rehearse the songs, I had to get a ghost drummer and I had to kind of write everything myself because everybody was so busy. I just think Chuck wasn't seeing the big picture yet, you know. He was pretty frustrated; I remember that.

But yeah, I mean, I've seen him lash out and say things and I was just like "I had a great time.". [Laughs] And the record's killer. You know, it came out great and everybody's saying it's one of our better records, so. When he was saying it, it almost sounds like if people were saying "Yeah, the record's not that good.", then he would go "Yeah, I didn't have a good time. It's Eric's fault.". It's like he's saying it's Eric's fault, but it was a great record, so "Well, thank you.".

Tobbe: But to you personally, can songwriting sometimes kind of be a mix of relief and frustration?

Eric: Yeah, I mean, it's not an easy task, you know. As far as for me and Chuck it's: some stuff comes together nicely and some stuff I have to go full circle with him to get where we're at. A lot of pulling and stuff, but everything's always already there; it's just massaging it and then massaging it back to where it was. It's a lot of extra work, you know, for what it is.

Tobbe: Testament has of course always been considered a thrash metal band, but there have been some regular heavy metal moments too, and is there a fair chance that you will sometimes revisit a little bit lighter stuff again?

Eric: Yeah, I mean, those songs always pop up once in a while. I think the more melodic songs that we write are some of the best stuff that we do, you know. We don't try to make it a point to put a ballad on every record, but, you know, every other record it seems like we come up with something pretty cool. I do actually have a nice, slow piece that is influenced from something, like, from Lovedrive [Scorpions, 1979]. Just really classical, you know, old rock, but killer, and twin guitars. I love that stuff.

Tobbe: And speaking of more brutal stuff: What ever happened to that third Dragonlord record that was supposed to be out already?

Eric: It's actually turned in and it's coming out in June. Yeah, I just started doing the video yesterday. The record got mastered by Jens Bogren in Sweden. He did a really good job mastering it. It took a long time to do this record, but not so much long time, like, in a row; it was more like a lot of breaks. But at some point you're like "This is ridiculous.", but I told the label; I'd go "When it's all said and done it's gonna be killer and when you hear it it's gonna be worth it.". It's not gonna be like "Jesus. We waited for this?" and I mean, when I hear it I'm like "Wow!".

You know, it shouldn't take this long, but it's…good. So it came out really good; I'm very, very proud of it. And the label; they almost went from, you know "We want our money back." to "What the hell's going on?" and to "Oh my God! This is a killer record!".

Tobbe: So why do you need another creative outlet than your main band?

Eric: Well, different circumstances for different people. There was a time for Testament where the band was going through a lot of different member changes and for the most part Chuck had his full-time day job. We were turning down a lot of things and Testament kind of turned into a weekend warrior band. This is, like, late '90s/early 2000s and I didn't wanna get a day job.

I was really into, you know, like Angel Witch and Mercyful Fate and getting into the newer black metal bands like Dissection and Old Man's Child and Dimmu [Borgir] and stuff like that and I was starting to write stuff like that, but I was like "Man, I don't wanna make Testament sound like this.", so I looked into getting a deal and I ended up getting a really good deal. Financially, it made sense for me. It wasn't a band that was gonna tour or anything, but just do, you know, a couple of records. And it was a great outlet for me. It got a lot of frustration and the ideas I had onto something else, so that way when I did Testament it was gonna sound like Testament. It wasn't gonna be: trying to put the music that I love into something that is not what it is.

Tobbe: So a reason for this record taking so long is that Testament has been getting more popular in the last kind of 10 or 15 years?

Eric: Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, as far as even for Testament taking long to record, you know, of course Dragonlord, which is just a project, you'd think it'd be easy enough just to get it done, but I mean, we tour a lot. You know, there's a lot of touring. And even though we're like "Okay. We're getting off in February and we don't start back 'til May.", you get home from tour, and, well, I'm not 21 and live at my mom's house, you know. I got a family, so, you know, you unwind for a week and then "Oh shit! The roof's falling apart. I need a roof." or "Oh shit! My car has broke down.". There's life beyond jamming on stage, so. Before you know it a month goes by and then you're like "Oh shit! I'm going on tour in a month." and then you work on some ideas. It's just: time goes by quick, so.

I don't know if the universal clock has been speeding up on us, but it just seems like everything is going by us super, super quick. But, with that being said, I think a lot of it has to do with just, you know, the technology. When everything took longer and was slower and there wasn't cell phones and there wasn't the internet, life was a lot slower because it took longer to relay messages and there was time and you had that little extra time. Now, with the internet, everything's like bam, bam, bam, quick, go, go, go.

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