Throughout the musical journey Bay Area thrashers Exodus have been on, they have been on many peaks and valleys along the way and overcame various obstacles along the way. During their 37 year history, they have worked through various personnel changes and momentary hiatuses, but they still kept their diehard fan base to support them along the way.
During their recent tour stop in Los Angeles supporting King Diamond on their Fall 2015 North American tour, the band was about to perform on a sold out evening at the Wiltern Theater, in support of their latest album (2014’s Blood In Blood Out).
“I think in the last year we’ve been here three times. It’s great because we have such a good fan base down here. We’re very fortunate to have people loyal to us,” said vocalist Steve “Zetro” Souza, about Exodus’ loyal fan base south of their home base in San Francisco.
“They are and we appreciate that. I’m gonna give them 3000 percent when I’m up there rockin for them.”
Touring alongside a metal icon like King Diamond is an honor of sorts for Souza, and shares his thoughts on taking part on a tour of this magnitude this past fall.
“He’s the greatest guy and we talk every day. I hang out with him every day. I’m such a big fan of him and he’s such a big influence on everyone, if you go back to the Mercyful Fate stuff and talk about his vocal style and the lyrical content that he’s come up with is innovative and legendary and so fine line between it. That’s why he is the King. That’s why the mystique is what it is so to see him and talk to him every day – I’m honored.”
“It’s great. I love his band. They’re very talented. His performer that does the part of Grandma, Jodi [Cochia] – amazing. She does it so well. Anybody that doesn’t see this tour is missing it. He plays Abigail from top to bottom. I try to tell people how serious this is – go see this. You won’t always get a chance to see such a legendary performer come out and do this.”
While many would think watching the King would be an added motivator to up his game, he admits he challenges himself to raise his performance level more than his supporting cast.
“I don’t look at it like that. My challenge is on myself. I wanna go out and bust ass every night. So I don’t go out there and try to think that. I go out there and kick ass on my own right. It’s not a challenge. I think when you come out to see Exodus you’re going to expect to be completely gutted and that’s what we want to do.”
Their latest album marks Souza’s third stint in the band and he is excited about returning to the band he helped create some of the classic albums such as Pleasures of the Flesh and Fabulous Disaster.
“Number three! Me and Tom Hunting are tied for number three stance. Last time – don’t worry about that. It’s one of those things where you don’t have to worry about that. We ain’t going anywhere for sure.”
He explained how the third time around was going to be much different than the previous two times he was in the band, being that the time away helped him refocus his priorities around him.
“This time for me I’d say because I’m so focused. There’s not a drug element at all other than that right there. We don’t do that shit. I really don’t drink alcohol so my mind is full on and ready to do this. I’m more concerned about my performance and what the fans are going to think and how good it is. They’re paying all of this money to come see us nowadays and buy our swag. It’s gotta be fucking good so I’m very much concerned with that.”
While Blood In Blood Out was written prior to Souza’s return to Exodus, his input was somewhat minimal. Despite this, he was still pumped about the one song he was able to contribute on the writing on.
“It was written already!,” he said. “The only song I wrote on this album was ‘Body Harvest.’ Everything else was written. Gary [Holt] had written most of it and Lee [Altus] had written ‘Honor Killings.’ We were sitting in the studio while I was doing my vocal tracks and Lee, Jack [Gibson] and myself wrote ‘Body Harvest.’ “
This tour was without longtime guitarist Gary Holt, who was out on tour with Slayer at the time. They brought in Kragen Lum (Prototype, Heathen) to fill in on the tour. Souza explained how they had been accommodating Holt’s schedule with Slayer so he was able to perform with both bands.
“We did all of Europe earlier this year without Gary. If he’s with Slayer we use Kragen. He’ll be with us in January in South America. If he can do it, he will do it.”
“Half of the Testament tour went that way. He had to leave halfway to do some festivals with Slayer in late April and early May. So Kragen jumped on the tour when there was two weeks left. We were home for maybe ten days and we flew to Europe. Kragen was with us the whole time. So when we booked this tour, we knew because Repentless had just come out that Slayer’s tour with Anthrax over in Europe for two and a half months until December. So he won’t be with us until January.”
He shared his thoughts on Holt’s abilities to balance between two bands and create such different styles of playing for both bands. Being around metal for over three decades, Souza believed his vast experience from being in the scene helped with his creative process.
“He is the reason he is in both bands is because he is the real deal. Think about it. Who else could do it? He’s a great writer, awesome rhythm player, amazing lead player…he’s got the strength to do that plus he’s been in the business for so many years. I remember when I wasn’t even in Exodus and it was Exodus and Slayer coming up to Ruthie’s Inn in Berkeley, CA in the early 80s. There’s a lot of history there.”
So is there a secret to Holt’s playing? “This is what he is. This is what he does. It blows through him, from Bonded By Blood to Blood In, Blood Out. It’s such a style. It’s unbelievable. It’s the Exodus style. It really is.”
Being that Exodus’ motivation is driven by angst and pure violence, Souza shared what gets his motor running when it comes what would set him off nowadays.
“Everything. I think when you’re a teenager you’ve got that angst and when you’re in your 20s you’re pissed off at the way everything is going. It’s still the same thing. There’s so much to write about [and] so much of it affects. Take the song ‘Numb’ for instance – all of the things that go on around it makes you go numb. It’s what we’re about. We’re sheer ferocity and straight up aggressive and in your fucking face violence.”
Being a band for over nearly four decades, Exodus has managed to create a brand of thrash metal that fans over time have gravitated towards and staying relevant with the times. While many of their peers unfortunately dropping off along the way, he shared his thoughts on how they avoided fading away from the music scene.
“Listen to Blood In Blood Out and you tell me! Heavy music never really goes away as long as it’s good and it’s heavy. If you were a rap fan, would you listen to the Fat Boys or RUN DMC? Probably not. And they’re from what year? But you’ll go listen to a Judas Priest record from that era or an Iron Maiden, wouldn’t you? It’s timeless. You could always listen to it.”
He pointed out that despite the lineup changes the band never lost a step along the way. Souza discovered that their diehard fans would continue to back them despite who was along for the ride.
“I think the fans have always really supported Exodus all the way. [They] always have. They’ve always been in support of whatever lineup, whatever singer, whatever guitar player, whatever drummer – they loved it.”
He shared their secret towards creating Exodus songs and what fuels them to continue writing songs.
“The love of metal, the love of what’s heavy, the love of what sounds good and what makes you move your head. Just like yourself – what drives you, what music do you like, what makes you go ‘that’s fucking baaaad! That’s just fucking umppph!’ Same thing for us – we’re fans. If we weren’t big fans I don’t think we could produce the music we do.”
He shares his thoughts on Exodus’ thrash legacy and what keeps them going, despite minor hiccups along the way with members coming and going, but the music keeps getting heavier and more aggressive.
“There have been member changes but never ran out of gas,” he said. “The guys who come in, if you think about it, Jack’s [Gibson] been in the band since ’98. He was playing with a side project that Gary had after Exodus had ended the first time with him and Tom. It was called Wardance or something like that. So Jack’s been around that long. Lee (Altus) was in Heathen. So we knew Heathen – they were Bay Area guys. What a great shredder. So when Rick (Hunolt) couldn’t be here we picked him up. Having (Paul) Bostaph taking over for Tommy, like (John) Tempesta back in the day taking over for Tom.”
Lastly, the band coined a well popularized phrase of ‘….and still no ballads.’ Being a band true to their word about creating the most aggressive form of metal they could, Souza said after ten albums Exodus has its formula and plan to stick by it.
“Ten albums and still no ballads. Exodus is about sheer violence and ferocity. There’s no room for ballads in our music. It’s very heavy. The lightest the music could close to get would be chunky chuggy music. Other than that it’s violence tenfold.”
So what would be the closest thing to a ballad they had ever created? “I would have to say closest thing to a ballad would probably be ‘Architect of Pain’ on Force of Habit. I think that would be the only one, just because it starts off creepy and slow. It doesn’t get really fast like typical Exodus stuff, but it’s by no means a ballad.”
“I don’t think Gary Holt has it in him. Come on…he plays in Slayer. There’s no balance between two of those bands. I think we’re pissed off. I think we still have a lot of energy in us.”