Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza, Exodus Pleasures of the Flesh, History of Exodus, Hatriot

Legacy, Exodus, Hatriot Vocalist
Steve “Zetro” Souza

full in bloom: You guys came up in one of the most historical music scenes ever, that Bay area thrash scene. What was that like?

Steve: Oh man, when we were doing it back in the day, it was flourishing. We didn’t realize how good we had it, now that we look back. Nowadays, there are no shows during the week. Shows are only on Fridays and Saturdays and they’re not every Friday and Saturday. Where back in the day, there were shows on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and definitely Fridays and Saturdays….you could count on that…..maybe even a Sunday in there. Here’s a typical show: July 1985, Ruthie’s Inn, Legacy, Suicidal (Tendencies), Mace, Death Angel. In the crowd, every member from Metallica, every member from Exodus, every member from Vio-lence, every member from Forbidden, every member from any of those bands you could think of were in the crowd because that was our scene. At the end of that night, PARTY at some place ’til 4, 5, 6 in the morning, RAGING, getting hammered, getting drunk, doing whatever we did back in those days. That was typical. You look and say where’s it going to be next weekend and where’s it going to be the weekend after that…..wait a minute, there’s a show Sunday, really?, yeah, it’s Death Angel and Blind Illusion, they’re playing down by the water at 5 o’clock. Then there’s a show on Tuesday at Ruthie’s, then there’s Metal Monday at the Old Waldorf. Oh yeah. At the time, my take on it was, I guess every city does this, right? Then as we got older and we got signed and started touring, and all of our bands started becoming well known bands and thrash became a whole genre….it was like wow, I guess every city wasn’t like this.

full in bloom: Were you playing gigs in Los Angeles during that time?

Steve: Oh sure. I remember we went down there in ’85 and played with Anthrax, Abattoir and us (Legacy)……who else….it was MMM, Mike Muir (Suicidal Tendencies) Music Presents, he was the promoter on it. It was like Dark Angel, us, Abattoir, somebody else, and Anthrax. So we did go down there from time to time but for the most part everybody knew that thrash was here and we didn’t have to go anywhere. Those venues in Berkeley, the venues in Oakland, venues in San Francisco, there was a venue in Palo Alto…..they were everywhere, so we didn’t stray too far from the scene.

full in bloom: It must have been amazing to see all those bands from San Francisco, including your own, go from local acts to national acts.

Steve: Oh man, Metallica. I remember when Cliff (Burton) used to drive this little old, green Volkswagen, beat up Bug….that was Cliff’s car….and even then, we looked at those guys like they were gods….and they didn’t have any money. I remember going to the Metallica house in San Pablo, where Lars (Ulrich) and James (Hetfield) lived and they would just have these outrageous, killer parties after gigs. They were just guys in the scene. They were at every show. You’d see all the Exodus guys, all the Legacy and Testament guys, all the Death Angel guys, all the Possessed guys, the Forbidden guys, the Vio-lence guys……uh, Mordred, you can just keep going and going. At one point you would think that there were more of those guys in the crowd, than there was actually crowd.

full in bloom: What about Slayer? Were they a big part of that scene?

Steve: Sure they were, because they came up in like late ’83, or early ’84. They played with Lääz Rockit. I remember they used to wear black circle makeup around their eyes. I remember later that night, at the party in Berkeley, (Paul) Baloff threw their television out the window, the one in Slayer’s room…..that was great….that was an awesome party….back in the day it was like every hotel for itself.

Slayer – 1983

full in bloom: Paul just took their tv and threw it out the window?

Steve: Yeah, they had rented rooms at this hotel that was just down the street from Ruthie’s Inn and it’s where they ended up having a party after the gig. I remember Baloff just tearing the tv, you know where they have the tv on a stand and it’s locked down….he was just sweating, tearing the tv off the stand and throwing it out the window (laughs), from the second floor onto the parking lot. That’s the kind of mayhem that went on. We thought we were invincible.

full in bloom: It was Slayer and Metallica that took off first, right?

Steve: I would say that Exodus ‘Bonded by Blood’ was in there as well. I joined the band after that record….coming out of the gate, there wasn’t anything stronger. I remember two months before I joined Exodus, I remember going to go see Judas Priest at the Cal Expo and for some reason we parked right where all the cars were coming in to pay. I guess cause when the show ended, we didn’t want to have to wait to get out of there. But every fucking car that pulled in there was playing ‘Bonded by Blood’, every single fucking car that pulled into that lot was playing ‘Bonded by Blood’…..and this band wanted me? Hell Yeah.

full in bloom: How long were you in the band Legacy? (Legacy later changed their name to Testament)

Steve: I joined Legacy in late ’83. I was 22 years old and I left in……June 19th 1986.

full in bloom: It was the birth of thrash metal; a genre that influenced so many other genres.

Steve: Right. We were part of the first to do it. When I went to the first Legacy practice and heard the songs I had to write lyrics to, I was listening to it going, ‘oh my God, it’s fast like punk but metal like Iron Maiden’. That was my first take from it. I was aware of what it was but there were only a few bands doing it. You gotta remember, at the time, MTV only played bands like Ratt and Quiet Riot, glam bands. A lot of my friends that were in glam bands would always say, ‘come on man, you think they’ll ever play Metallica on the radio, you think they’ll ever sell a million records. They’ll never play it on radio.’ Look who’s the biggest band in the world. Think about it.

full in bloom: It’s awesome how it worked out. Although, I do have a hard time digesting some of the later Metallica, but at that time, they were one of my favorites.

Steve: I agree.

full in bloom: I lost interest from the Black album on. There were some issues with the sound on And Justice for All but it was still Metallica.

Steve: Exactly. Shortest Straw, shit like that. Really, all I can listen to now is either Kill ’em All or Ride the Lightning. That’s when they were hungry. I can deal with the next two albums. Master of Puppets was Cliff’s (Burton) last album, a masterpiece.

full in bloom: One of the best albums ever.

Steve: Then And Justice…..ok, I understand this, you have to progress. Then by the Black album I was like, um ok, I guess. That album helped kill metal….the genre. In ’90, when that came out, that’s what helped let the grunge scene come in so strong. They didn’t stay true. They could have taken thrash bands out on the road to help flourish the scene.

full in bloom: It’s interesting because you typically don’t think of the thrash bands taking a hit from grunge. We always remember that the hair bands got annihilated.

Steve: Oh yeah, thrash took a hit big time. I couldn’t get a game of jacks to save my ass. Until 2000 to 2001, nobody wanted to hear from us. I didn’t really do music. I did this one little project with Perry Strickland from Vio-lence called F-Bomb. Within six months I was back in Exodus because Paul (Baloff) had passed.

full in bloom: In regards to Metallica, I think the biggest factor is the way James Hetfield sings. Something changed on the Black Album. Now they have gone back to being heavy but his voice is unbearable.

Steve: I think heavy metal has to be sung with angst. I think you still have to be angry about something. I think you have to be a little bit mental. I think with success, with organization, with sobriety, you lose sight a little bit. You never see those guys around, they don’t come to shows anymore. I guess they can’t, they’re too major, I don’t know. But since you asked, they lost sight of what it takes – you have to listen to new bands, you have listen to the new Shadows Fall, you have to listen to the new Cradle of Filth, you have to listen to the new Children of Bodom, you have to listen to the new Haunted, the new Testament. You have to be aware of what is going on. I am not quite sure that’s what’s going on over there. Again, I don’t know those guys anymore. From what I understand, they are A-list celebrities who live A-list celebrity life styles (laughs). That’s not the thrash band life style. Honestly, how could they remain true after all that? To be successful in metal, you have to live metal. If you are real, it will convey. If you are not, it will definitely show. Unforturnately, they do it because, well-hell, 3 million people will buy it and they can go everywhere and sellout 90,000.

full in bloom: It is pretty unbelievable that they became so popular.

Steve: I grew up with Phil Demmel from Machine Head. I went and saw Machine Head open up for Metallica. The crowd weren’t metalheads. They were this old couple who had sushi before they came to the show. But I tell you what – when they hit the stage that whole fucking place was mesmerized by Metallica. Every move that James made, every eye was on him. It wasn’t like they were eating popcorn and having a drink, they were mesmerized. I don’t understand it either, still very, very huge.

full in bloom: Your voice still sounds the same. How were you able to keep it in shape? It must be brutal on your throat singing the way you do.

Steve: Not at all. I can sing like that effortlessly. It’s the way I cup my throat and neck. The screams, the roughness of it; I do it like it’s no problem at all.

full in bloom: You never have any issues with it on tour?

Steve: It gets stronger on tour as it goes. It’s like a muscle, it gets stronger. Over the years, I’ve gotten better and I know how to really do it. People will say, ‘screaming like that night after night’ but it’s not. I could scream like that 24 hours a day. It doesn’t bother me. I went to singing lessons; I know how to project my voice. It’s weird. It’s like I put my jaw in a certain position, cock my neck and I can make that sound effortlessly.

full in bloom: I’m assuming you were a big Bon Scott fan when you were growing up?

Steve: Assuming? (laughs) Yeah. I did an AC/DC tribute band called AC/DZ where we only do Bon Scott era.

full in bloom: You should have tried out for Accept when they needed a singer.

Steve: No one ever called me. I heard some rumblings from Andy Sneap. It would have been natural. I can do Udo (Dirkschneider), no problem.

full in bloom: That would have been a great fit.

Steve: You’re right. It would have been fun to work with Stefan Kaufmann and Wolf Hoffmann. I am open to projects. But right now my focus is my band Hatriot.

Legacy / Testament

full in bloom: Let’s talk about the Legacy demo. Can you tell us a little about that?

Steve: At the time, most people were just doing 4-track and 16-track demos in their garage. It was in 1985, it was the weekend of July 5th, 6th and 7th.. It was the same place Exodus recorded Bonded by Blood. For 3 days we did the guitar, the bass, the drums and the vocals. It was a 72-track studio. Our demo was the best sounding demo, one of the best demos ever.

full in bloom: It’s never been released, right?

Steve: No, it has never been released. I have a copy of it on cassette and cd.

full in bloom: Why haven’t you guys done a proper release for it?

Steve: I never tried to exploit it from that point. I went on to Exodus, Chuck (Billy) joined Legacy and they turned into Testament. There was really no reason to at that point. I guess that’s what makes it so special. To get it, you’ve got to search hard, but it’s out there.

full in bloom: What stands out when you reflect on that recording session?

Steve: Just that it was my first time ever, so I didn’t know what I was doing. Putting on those headphones, looking through the glass and seeing Eric (Peterson), this guy Mooka and Doug Piercy in the control room. I will never forget it. Now I’ve been in the studio so many times I’m like an old vet. I know exactly what I want to hear. I know what to expect on my vocals, how much delay I need, how much volume for me and the band. Before then, it was like ‘how does that sound, sounds good…..I didn’t know what the hell sounded good, it all sounded good to me.

full in bloom: That was a time when a demo could really spread around the world.

Steve: A demo got you everything. In fact, someone told me it was in the Guinness Book of World Records for selling. Remember you sold demos back then. 40,000 copies of the Legacy demo is what I heard.

full in bloom: Unbelievable.

Steve: For a demo, that’s a lot of copies. This girl who handled us in Holland, her name was Alexanderia. Our manager had sent tapes to Alexanderia and she became our hub for Europe. We were in metal magazines before we got signed.

full in bloom: How popular was Legacy in the Bay area?

Steve: There was not a club we could NOT fill. That was a great feeling because, at the time, you’re thinking, ‘I’m not even signed yet and I can play in any club in the Bay area and there are going to be 300, 400, 500 people in there’.

full in bloom: Did the clubs pay you back then?

Steve: Yeah, they did. You had to kind of hold it to them. That wasn’t what was important.

full in bloom: Doesn’t Legacy (Testament) get signed right after you leave?

Steve: Yes. When I left Legacy to join Exodus, there were 12 deals on the table. Everyone from Metal Blade to Def Jam, every label you can think of. The best deal that they had was from Megaforce. Even when I was in the band they knew they were going to go with Megaforce. I even suggested that they go with Megaforce. Jonny Z (Jon Zazula, Founder of Megaforce Records) gave them the best deal. Jonny Z exploited them the best way they could have been, at that time. They were right up there with Exodus.

full in bloom: I realize that leaving Legacy for Exodus was probably a better move, but it still takes some sack to leave a band when there are deals on the table.

Steve: Damn right. You just gotta pull the trigger. You can’t worry about regrets.

full in bloom: How did the vocalist transition go?

Steve: They told Megaforce what had happened. They told them that they had a couple of guys interested. One guy was the singer for Abattoir, from L.A., they didn’t like him. I told them to try out Chuck (Billy). I remember Louie Clemente, their original drummer, didn’t like him but everybody else was good with him. Chuck sang in kind of a glam band called Guilt. He asked if I could help him because he wasn’t used to singing that fast. So I came to some of the rehearsals with him, just at first. There were never any hard feelings.

Paul Baloff

full in bloom: Why did Paul (Baloff) get kicked out of Exodus?

Steve: Paul was just Paul. The week before they were flying to New York to go play with Anthrax, they couldn’t find him. They didn’t know where he was or whose house he was at. Then about 15 minutes before the plane takes off, Paul shows up. They were like, ‘we can’t keep doing this….he’s never at practice, he’s never on time, he’s always high, he’s always partying’. He was always being Paul, just being the lovable trainwreck that he was. Exodus felt, because they were managed by a Bill Graham manager, they felt they needed to carry on in a real professional light and they needed someone who had their head screwed on straight. I not only did rehearsals, I did interviews with them so they could see where I was coming from. That’s why I was asked to join the band.

Bonded by Blood

full in bloom: How long was Bonded by Blood out before you joined the band?

Steve: I joined in June of ’86, over a year. Bonded came out April or May of ’85 because I remember the record release party at the Kabuki that year. So within a year’s time they knew it wasn’t going to work. They had eyes on signing with a big label and we did eventually sign to Capitol Records.

full in bloom: Why aren’t you in Exodus now?

Steve: My choice. I couldn’t be there in 2004. I had a lot of other things going on in life and I couldn’t put the band first like I always had. I had to step down.

full in bloom: Didn’t you leave before a tour?

Steve: Yeah, I left before a tour. I did them wrong – I fucked them over. Honestly, I did them wrong. It was all my fault. Everything. I am glad they were able to find a guy and pick the pieces back up and carry on. And they were able to carry on very well, VERY well and do a good job.

full in bloom: Would you rather not say why you left the band?

Steve: Between the band and the family, at that time, I just couldn’t be in the band. I had little kids and at the time I had a completely different life. It was hard trying to juggle being a father, working a full-time union job as a foreman and then go on tour and come back. At that time, the band was not making me enough money to survive on, like the job was. I had to do it. Believe me, it was sad, I didn’t want to do that. You only get one chance in life to play in bands like that, it’s the dream come true.

full in bloom: When you joined Exodus did you immediately start playing shows?

Steve: Yes, they had little mini-tours set up. Bonded by Blood was out. We were working on a record deal and didn’t know if we were going to go with a major label. They only had a one-album deal with this record label called Torrid Records. That’s what Bonded by Blood came out on. Then later Combat bought it. That’s why it took between ’85 to ’87 to get a new record out. They were going through some squabbles with Torrid but then Combat stepped in and paid Torrid some money so they could release the next album and that’s when Pleasures of the Flesh came out in 1987. So there was some downtime in there. I did a lot more touring than I had done but I also had time to help them write songs. I wrote ’til Death Do Us Part’ and ‘Faster Than You’ll Ever Live to Be’….there were some other songs too.

full in bloom: For Exodus to be one of the very first, if not the first, thrash bands in history and as great as you guys were….it just doesn’t seem right that your second release would not come out until 1987.

Steve: There was a big wait in a very crucial time period. I think that’s a reason why the band didn’t achieve bigger success. During those crucial time periods, there was no new material released. Slayer had already released Hell Awaits and Reign in Blood, Metallica had already released Ride the Lightning, Cliff had already passed and Master (of Puppets) was out. Megadeth had already released Peace Sells. Anthrax had done Among the Living and State of Euphoria. Everybody was well on their way and we had lost ground. But we’re still considered to be one of the forefathers and innovators, it just didn’t happen like the Big 4 (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax).

full in bloom: Yeah, but if there was a Big 5?

Steve: I agree.

full in bloom: What kind of recording budget does Combat Records throw at a band like Exodus?

Steve: $60,000. That was in 1986; that was a big budget. Then we went to Capitol (Records) and the deal was worth $3.5 million and the budgets went to $280,000, almost $300,000 for a record.

full in bloom: I have a friend who produces albums for some major labels and he’s says, nowadays, a typical recording budget is $10,000?

Steve: Right. Nowadays I can do a record for $5,000. They’re no longer going to tape. Everything can be done digitally and it’s a lot faster.

full in bloom: What’s your favorite thing about the digital recording age?

Steve: You don’t have to do the same thing over and over. You sing a chorus and you can fly that to the other spots in the song. Instead of singing it 3 times, you just sing it once.

Pleasures of the Flesh

full in bloom: How long did it take to record Pleasures of the Flesh?

Steve: That took a month from top to bottom.

full in bloom: Where did you record it?

Steve: Alpha and Omega Recording in San Francisco (now located in San Rafael, CA). He produced all those great Blue Oyster Cult albums. He owned a studio in San Francisco and we recorded it there.

full in bloom: Who did you tour with to promote that album?

Steve: That album was Anthrax, Celtic Frost and….who else, oh, M.O.D., we toured with M.O.D. on that record.

full in bloom: That wasn’t during the Celtic Frost glam period, was it?

Steve: No, it was before that.

full in bloom: How long does that tour last?

Steve: Pretty much that whole year.

full in bloom: Did you go into the studio as soon as you got off the road?

Steve: That’s exactly what we did. I think we took 2 weeks off to get our heads together and we were right back in the studio writing songs for the next album, Fabulous Disaster. Our last show for Pleasures of the Flesh was in March of ’88, by April we were in this rehearsal studio in Oakland, by September we were in the same recording studio in San Francisco (Alpha and Omega Recording). Then I remember doing the video in January of ’89 with the record coming out the same month. It used to move back in the day. When I look back on it, that 6 or 7 year period went kind of fast.

full in bloom: Did Combat view Pleasures of the Flesh as a success?

Steve: Oh sure.

full in bloom: Does the recording budget increase?

Steve: The budget gets a little better. I think it was up to $90,000 at that point.

full in bloom: What did you spend the rest of the advance on?

Steve: We bought some more gear, bought some stuff that we needed for the studio and bought a new PA system. It went to pay bills because we were on salary. We were drawing a monthly salary whether we were working or not. It was a cool time. It had that feeling like ‘I guess this is the way my life is going to be’. It was very exciting.

full in bloom: What are 3 of your fondest memories while you were with Exodus?

Steve: Going out in Holland. It was my first festival with Exodus in front of 30,000 people. We headlined the Dynamo Festival.

Having all of the people from Capitol Records backstage at a sold out show at the Warfield….we signed with Capitol.

Doing the television show with Tobey Mcguire called Great Scott. We did a sitcom where Exodus was written into the sitcom and Tobey Mcguire was the star of the show.

full in bloom: What are the low points?

Steve: I can only say one. When the band ended in ’92.

full in bloom: What do you do in the Exodus aftermath?

Steve: What do you do? You go get a job and become a union carpenter. It’s not what you want to do but it’s what you do.

full in bloom: Did everyone, in Exodus, go get a job?

Steve: No, not everyone. Some of them floated around.

full in bloom: Was it a shock to your system?

Steve: Absolutely. I admit that it was.

full in bloom: Didn’t you tour with Pantera?

Steve: We gave them their first tour. When Cowboys (from Hell) came out, they opened for Suicidal (Tendencies) and Exodus. Their very first tour. If you go back and watch the dvd they did for Cowboys from Hell, you’ll see them singing on stage with Exodus….when they were in that damn motorhome. I was on that whole tour with them. We remember them coming up and people were going, ‘who the hell are these guys?’. They were selling 3 shirts a night and then within the year they had turned it around and they became huge.

full in bloom: When did you first notice that thrash was making a comeback?

Steve: When we did Thrash of the Titans for Chuck Billy in San Francisco. That moment seemed to give a lot of bands momentum to start doing it again.

The Fast 5

full in bloom: What’s your most disgusting habit?

Steve: Farting

full in bloom: What’s the most feminine thing you do?

Steve: nothing

full in bloom: If there is a God, what is the first question you would ask God when you arrive?

Steve: What the fuck?

full in bloom: Greatest rock band of all time?

Steve: AC/DC

full in bloom: What were you doing an hour before you did this interview?

Steve: I was doing another interview.

If you found this first, make sure to read PART I w/ Steve Souza