DATE OF INTERVIEW:
11th August 2012
Three decades in existence next year, thrash giants Testament need little introduction. And 2012 sees the Californian legends stronger than ever, back with another long-awaited new album, 'Dark Roots of Earth', which, compositionally, contains nods to their thrash aesthetic of yore while simultaneously exercising a forward-thinking dynamic. It is also the year they return to the grounds of Catton Hall for a second appearance at Bloodstock Open Air, five years after their 2007 headline performance on the festival's first day. Metal Discovery spent some time with virtuoso guitarist Alex Skolnick a short while before they were due to hit the main stage to chat about their stunning, critically acclaimed new album as well as his other musical outlets peripheral to Testament...
METAL DISCOVERY: This is your second appearance at Bloodstock, of course, you last played here in 2007 when you headlined the first day…
ALEX: That’s right.
(Alex Skolnick on new Testament album, 'Dark Roots of Earth')
"I think when people say it’s a mix of the old and the new, we came up with a lot of this stuff while touring and shortly after coming off of the tour so this feeling of performing the old stuff was there and, no doubt, that affected the music."
Alex Skolnick backstage at Bloodstock Open Air, UK, 11th August 2012
Photograph copyright © 2012 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: What are your memories from that performance?
ALEX: I remember a lot of ales! It’s great to see the UK’s take on a metal festival because we’ve done a bunch of these in…at that point, we’d done ‘em only in places like Germany, Netherlands, and Belgium but the UK is the UK so it was just a big thrill to be able to do that.
MD: And Bloodstock’s grown a lot bigger as a festival since you played here five years ago.
ALEX: I can’t believe that was five years already but, yeah, you’re right!
MD: So ‘Dark Roots of Earth’ has just been released and the general consensus in the media seems to be that it’s a mix of the old with the new. Was that a conscious decision during the songwriting process to blend the older Testament sound with a more modern dynamic?
ALEX: Not at all; I think you can never plan too much. You just have to let it happen and, ultimately, we have to be happy with the result. And, hopefully, if we’re happy with it then others will be as well.
MD: That’s all you can do.
ALEX: It’s really all you can do because I think if we tried too hard to make it sound a certain way or whatever, it would sound forced.
MD: It’s made number twelve in the Billboard Top 200, I heard, in the States a couple of days ago…
ALEX: That’s pretty exciting.
MD: Yeah, and it’s sold almost double what ‘The Formation of Damnation’ did in its opening week. Does that surprise you seeing as record sales are supposed to be declining?
ALEX: Yeah, but I figured it’s a statement. I think our fans are rallying and making a statement. It’s really good because we’re a band that’s had a lot of different chapters because we didn’t have this vision where…we didn’t know all the right moves to make. Some other bands are really good at strategizing; we’ve never been one of those bands.
MD: So it’s even cooler that you’ve sold that many just by carrying on doing what you’re doing.
ALEX: Yeah and, sure, mistakes have been made but we’ve reached the point now where we’re really doing it for the music and for the fans. There just seems to be a feeling among a lot of the fans that what we’re doing is worthwhile and, in some ways, it’s even better than before. I think so. Personally, well, I was away from the band for about half the time but what was I doing? I was becoming the best musician I could be and getting all this experience doing other styles of music at all levels from jazz clubs to arenas. Then, when I came back to the band, I really had a lot to offer so I’m proud that…I never want to be one of those people where… “oh, I wish I’d seen him early; I wish I’d seen him back in the day.” No, actually, it’s much better now! I play better; the equipment is better; the sound is better. And the rest of the band sound better too.
MD: Yeah, that’s cool. You had Andy Sneap producing the new album whereas he only mixed and mastered the last two so why did you get Andy as full-on producer this time? Did you want the Andy Sneap kind of sound?
ALEX: We talked to a couple of different guys including Andy. Andy was the first but we wanted to see what everybody else had to offer. He just seemed really on board with what we were going for. We thought we’d give it a try and it just flowed. And for mixing, we had a couple of other people try mixing songs just to hear some alternate mixes but Andy’s just sounded the best.
MD: Yeah, he’s so good at what he does.
ALEX: Yeah, it worked.
MD: How was the experience of working with him in the studio? I saw some footage online where he was eating these really hot chillies with Eric…I think that was posted on your Facebook page last week.
ALEX: Yeah, I wasn’t there for that.
MD: Was it a lot of fun in the studio as well as a lot of work?
ALEX: It was fun, yeah, it was fun. He’s got a great attitude and…
MD: …a good sense of humour.
ALEX: Yeah, and he’s a guitar player himself so he’s very good with guitar sounds. He’s somebody to trust to ask which take is better or which version of something is better.
MD: Because ‘Formation…’ was billed in the press as a “comeback” record and it was so successful as well, did that add any pressure in getting it right with this one or was the pressure off because you’d already proved yourselves with a “comeback” album?
ALEX: I think we proved that we’re able to do a good album. Also, we had a lot of live experience. We had much more live experience behind us immediately before this album than the previous one. And I think when people say it’s a mix of the old and the new, we came up with a lot of this stuff while touring and shortly after coming off of the tour so this feeling of performing the old stuff was there and, no doubt, that affected the music. But, I think, that is the difference from the last album – there was just a lot more touring. When we did the last album we were mostly doing a show here and there; a week here, a weekend there. Then we started doing more of longer tours. This one we’re coming off of was a long tour with Anthrax; we’ve had this tour with Slayer and Megadeth at the end of 2010. All of that, I guess, I think has to affect the album.