I recently spoke to Eric Peterson, Guitarist with Testament to talk about their new album, and touring.
Festivalphoto: Your new album, Dark roots of earth is due to be released in early August. How would you describe the album?
Eric: Let me turn that around - How would you descibe it?
Festivalphoto: Heavy as hell.
Eric: Alright, first of all it sounds like Testament, and I mean that in a good way. It's a really good Testament record. It's a lot more melodic, the songs are a little bit longer, they're more epic, there's a lot of solos going on, really shredding stuff.
The cool thing is I'm playing a lot more solos now and that really adds to the colour of things as a guitar team - it doesnt sound like just one style, like Arpeggios and shredding. There's another style thats been brooding and it's finally here and it's kind of more darker bluesy, and Alex, with all the jazz stuff he's been doing, he's really mastered how to mix it into metal. His stuff is just so killer man, he's so inspiring because when he does a solo I'm thinking "Wow I have to play a solo after that so it better be pretty fucking good", and you can really hear that in "True American hate" - his Solo is first and mine is pretty long too, so I better come up with something good. When he heard it, he was like "wow, good job". I don't think he'd have a problem telling me "I don't know Eric, maybe you shouldnt do that", but everyone was "right on Eric, that sounds great", so that makes me feel good. So I'd say it's our most Epic record.
Festivalphoto: Was it a conscious decision to make the songs longer or was it something that just evolved?
Eric: It just happened really. We try to sometimes have that idea of radio or CDs - they're always going to say they want songs under four minutes, but sometimes the song is say 5:50 or 6 minutes long and you listen to it and just want to hear it again, thats the sign of a good song - if when you listen to it, it just doesn't seem as long as it actually is. If the song feels like it's never going to end then you're entering Pink Floyd territory, or it's not that good. I think we have a couple of songs like that but I'd say they're more of the Pink Floyd thing - "Throne of thorns" is one. We even have an extended version on the special edition of the album which has something like an extra minute of the outro included, it's like a solo I'm doing. It's pretty killer.
Festivalphoto: "Cold embrace" is a nice change of pace with its slow melodic tune and acoustic guitar in the first half.
Eric: Yeah we haven't done a song like that since, I think it was "Low" in 1993. Alex and I both wanted to do one on the last record, which was this song but we didn't have it all put together, and trying to get Chuck to sing that song...it just wasn't working. This time around I think we really got it right - the arrangement, and getting all the harmonies in there, and getting the vocal parts right, especially in the A part where Chuck's doing this "California dreaming" thing where it's like this back and forth talking, so we were trying a lot more things and had a lot more time to focus on it. For me, the topic of it too - it's like "what do we talk about in a slow song?". It's got to be something really heavy, and for some reason Chuck picked a vampire topic. When he told me it's about a vampire, I wasn't convinced it was a great idea, but when I read the lyrics it was cool because it's kind of vague so it could be about anything, but it's really about Bella in the Twilight series; her switching over and not being able to see the sun again, which they do in that movie so I don't know why it says it - maybe it's more of a traditional vampire, not seeing the sun in the same way we do.
Festivalphoto: For me I think the song also works really well because you've got the slow gentle part then it acts to reinforce how heavy the rest of the album is.
Eric: You need something like that to break it up, because if you listen to the whole record it should have that flow to it. If it's all the same then it loses impact. When the next track, "Man kills mankind" comes in, that power really makes you go "whoa"
Festivalphoto: What's the song writing process in the band?
Eric: It usually starts with ideas that I've come up with, and this time around I actually came to England. I was having a hard time writing at home, I had a lot of distractions and wasn't gelling with the drummer - not Gene, Paul was still in the band at the time. So I came to England and went back with a lot of ideas. I think just being out here and not having to deal with anything at home meant I was focussed and just concentrated on things. Then Alex and I, on this record in particular, we sat down together and worked the riffs out. Chuck will listen to what we're doing and we'll explain "the vocals come in here" and so on. Chuck is tricky - a lot of the time he doesn't like something when he first hears it, so you've almost got to ignore that because when a person is like that you're not going to really get anywhere because you're just going to start chasing your tail and in the past I have chased my tail with him. He says "I don't like it", so then you try all this stuff and end up coming back right to where you started because that's how it was written. When he does come around though, that's when it's killer. It's not like that with every song. I would say a good third of them just came together really easily, another third of them we had to go through a little bit of process stuff, and the other third were like they weren't going to happen, but we knew they would and just snuck them in at the end.
Festivalphoto: Its probably not a fair question but do you have a particular favourite song on the album?
Eric: I really like all the songs on the album. "Cold Embrace" is one of my favourites, but "Native blood"....I like that song a lot, it's really catchy but it's got the blast beat in it as well, it's a lot different, it's something we haven't done before. I like the harmonies in there and I think the vocals came out really good. I like the whole record because it's all so different - I like each song for a different reason. "True American hate" is the thrash one, "Rise up" is an anthem kid of song. The one I like to play loud in the car is the title track - "Dark roots of earth" because it's got so much there, the vocals are melodic, it's pretty cool.
Festivalphoto: Since the departure of Paul Bostaph, the band has been without a full-time drummer. Have you got a replacement lined up?
Eric: We were going to do auditions, then Gene said he wanted to stay with us, so we're trying to work that out at the moment and see what happens. We want it to be where he's in the band and working off our schedule, not us working off his schedule, and he understands that, we both agree but we don't know what Dethklok is going to do, we imagine it's going to be pretty busy, so we're being optimistic and trying to make it happen, but if that doesn't work out then we'll hold some auditions. What I'd like to do is forget about finding a Bostoph or Tempesto, I just want to find somebody young and that's going to be original and in the band - and then someone will probably steal him from us (laughs), that's our luck, we always have these wierd drummer stories.
Festivalphoto: Is Gene going to be doing the drums on the upcoming dates - you've got some European festivals coming up?
Eric: Actually that's where he's not coming, we've got Mark Hernandez, who did the last Forbidden record instead - he's a really good powerful drummer. After that though, Gene is back with us. He was actually signed on to do the European dates, but then Dethklok threw him a curveball and changed their plans. That's why it's hard to be in two bands, but if anyone can do it, Gene can.
Festivalphoto: You've got a US/Canada tour in September. Any plans for European tour dates apart from the summer festivals ?
Eric: Yes definitely, we want to come back and do a full UK tour - not just London, a proper tour, and maybe go all the way up into Scotland and into Ireland - get to the whole UK and Ireland. We'd like to do a French tour too - get to Bordeaux, Paris and some others. A lot of bands do just come in and just play one city. I like to focus on the main places - UK, France, Germany and SCandinavia, and then come back another time and do Spain, Italy and Portugal, saturate those markets, because there are a lot of fans that don't get to see us because we're only doing one show in Milan, or we're doing one show in Spain.
Festivalphoto: It's a common complaint from fans, when bands come to the UK and only do one show and it's always in London.
Eric: Yeah and it's a weeknight. I know how it is because I'm a metalhead. I really want to see Ghost, and I finally got to see them last night (at the Golden Gods awards for around 15 minutes), but I know some bands have come through and it's a Thursday night and I'm wondering if I should go because I've got to be up early the next morning, but at least if there are other dates nearby I can choose which one to go to.
Festivalphoto: There's also the fact that if you live in for instance Glasgow, it's very expensive to come down for a gig in London with the cost of travel plus a hotel for the night.
Eric: Exactly, it's expensive and unless you're a die-hard fan you might not do it. We've had people travel pretty far for some of our gigs when we don't tour that much, but we've been touring around and with the new record coming out then a proper tour is what we want to do.
Festivalphoto: Did you enjoy the Golden Gods?
Eric: I didn't really want to go because I don't drink that much anymore, but I went and ended up having a good time. I ended up meeting a lot of people like the Biohazard guys, it's wierd, we've known each other for 25 years but we've never really talked. They were saying "We talk to Chuck but we've never talked to you or Alex", because we've never really done shows with them but our paths have crossed. So yeah I got to hang out with a load of people, talk to different bands, and got to see Ghost finally, and Watain.
Festivalphoto: It's a shame they had such short sets.
Eric: Yeah. I think when we came here we got to play two or three songs, and that's just how it is because it's an awards show. I thought Anthrax....when they did "Neon knights", I was just blown away because Joey did such a great job with the vocals, and I love that song. It just made me feel good. Joey hit it - all the notes were spot on, it was just Wow.
Festivalphoto: How does playing a festival such as Bloodstock or Wacken compare with playing your own gigs?
Eric: Bloodstock is a lot of fun. It's outdoors and has this real openness to it. For me being backstage I've kind of got to avoid all that before I go on, I need to go hide somewhere then when it's time to go then head straight on stage. That way when I come off stage I'm more ready to party.
Comparing the two, a small place is more personal but it'sa really cool at a festival especially when the sun starts to go down and everyones having a good time while we're playing. Hopefully it won't be all rainy.
Festivalphoto: It must be a great sight for you seeing all those fans there.
Eric: It's great. It's a lot of fun when they participate, when they've got their hands up, or headbanging. We've got a signature bit at the end when we play D.N.R. when we have the riff going with the bass drum, and the crowd always puts their hands up and claps and it just looks so cool. You see them on video's doing it for other bands, but when they're doing it for you it's just an amazing feeling.
Festivalphoto: With all the hype about the "big four" (slayer, metallica, megadeth, anthrax), do you think Testament get unfairly overlooked?
Eric: It's so wierd - everyone's asking me this question.
Fetsivalphoto: Possibly because with all the hype lately about the big four people are looking at other bands too.
Eric: It's an honour because not just journalists but fans too - they're all asking "How come you guys arent in the big four". I never considered us like that, I mean the big four are those guys (Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeth). Maybe the question should be "Maybe they should have changed it to the big five" - after all five is a more human number, five fingers, five points to a pentagram - there you go, that makes sense. In the beginning, we were just a smaller band and they were selling records, but since then we've sold a lot of records, and done a lot. We're one of the few bands that puts out new music that's better than our old stuff. At least we're not one of those bands that play their old stuff and it's killer but the new stuff isnt up to much.
Festivalphoto: Ok Thank you very much for your time, and I look forward to seeing your set at Bloodstock.
Eric: Thank you