InterviewsSeptember 1, 20088,498 views

Testament / Alex Skolnick interview

By Drew Ailes
What are you up to?

I'm actually in a taxi cab in Manhattan right now. Yeah. Just taking care of some business. We're flying into Europe tomorrow for the rest of the month - for a whole month, actually. I'm planning out the rest of the year.

And what does the rest of the year hold?

Testament is in Europe for the next month, come back, looks like I'll be recording with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, doing a Testament video, going to New Zealand with the Alex Skolnick Trio, playing with Joe Satriani out there at a guitar festival. Come back from that, start a Testament and Judas Priest tour which goes into the Masters of Metal Tour which is Testament with Heaven & Hell, Motorhead. After that, The Trio tours the United States.

Do you find that a lot of people that come out and watch your work with Alex Skolnick Trio are big Testament fans?

Yeah, absolutely. There's a lot of overlap. There's a lot of getting different fans from different projects.

I have a lot of friends who are thrilled about the Trio and got into them through Testament - guys who don't even listen to metal anymore.

It's interesting because there's a lot of people that know me from Testament that check out the Trio. Last year, we opened for Rodrigo y Gabriela, and I sat in with them. That was kind of cool because they're Testament fans as well. It's just interesting to see all these styles of music connecting. Sometimes I feel like I'm one of the common links. It's a good feeling. Exhausting, but it's a good feeling.

Let me ask you a little about the new record. Why another Testament record? What are you guys striving to achieve with this album that you hadn't quite reached with the old records?

Well, I think it's a new time period. I came back after being gone for a long time. We did some shows, like an experiment, to see how it went. It went well, and it kind of only made sense to capture that on a record. We have a chance to really do an album on a whole other level than past albums and there's a demand for it. People want to hear it. There's a whole new audience for the music. It's almost like,a band that really never quite got it's dues, doing the best record you can, putting it out there, and you know, seeing where it goes.

How many songs did you write for the record? Are there some that were cut down? I know Eric and Paul did a lot of the writing.

Yeah, I wrote "F.E.A.R." and most of the song, "Dangers of the Faithless". And then a lot of it was just collaborating on the arrangements. I'll tell you, Testament has never been the kind of band with a lot of extra songs. We've always been the kind of band that flies by the seats of our pants, just having enough material. There were some riffs that didn't make it on the record, but I wouldn't say there were any songs that didn't make it on.

I know you kind of touched on this, but you mentioned in an older interview that "Demonic" and "Low" both sounded foreign to you. Again, I know Eric and Paul wrote a lot of the material, so did the songs that they worked on feel like songs that you remembered, or did they feel like they were still from that era?

I think a little of both. This record is kind of a cross representation of all the different periods of the band. And yeah, there were a couple parts that were different to me, but I liked it. It was fun to have those flavors on there. I kind of felt like that the "Demonic" album was just one flavor for the most part. Not that that's band, but that wasn't really where I was coming from. I think with this album, it's nice, because there is that element, but there's a lot of other elements as well.

Now I read recently on of all places, a quote by you stating that the Testament line-up now isn't entirely stable. Was that taken out of context or are things still up in the air?

Oh, that's because we've had six drummers in two years.

Ah, okay. I wasn't sure if that was something you meant to say or if they took it slightly out of context.

It was just the recent years and the fact that there has been about six drummers. There's nothing unstable about the line-up right this minute, but it's been a steady stream of drummers. And even before I came back to the band, the band was known for having a revolving door of players.

How is touring with these guys now that you're all older?

It's much better. Much better. Every night used to be crazy. It used to be all night parties and excess and debauchery. Now, it's much more toned down. Everybody still likes to have a few drinks, maybe, but it's not like the young frat-boy craziness that it was.

You don't find yourself ducking in a corner with a pillow over your head.

Exactly. Yeah, exactly. [laughs]

Have you ever sat and thought a big "what the fuck," to yourself after realizing you're with Judas Priest, Motorhead, and the guys from Heaven & Hell in the year 2008?

Oh yeah. I know. It's crazy. Who would've thought? I mean, those are all bands that I've owned albums by and listened to - all of us. To be touring with them is really exciting.

That's an incredible long legacy of musicians. Having come from the metal scene in the 80's, watching bands write radio hits and blow up, are you surprised that Testament is still out there?

A little bit. Through the 90's the metal bands kind of went underground and disappeared or broke up. I knew there would always be some kind of following for it. But it's pretty cool that a lot of the older fans have come out of the woodwork, and there are a lot of newer fans as well. I always thought people in their twenties now would be more connected to music like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, as that was so influential as they were growing up. But a lot of them also seem to know about metal. They know about Slayer and Pantera, and those that didn't know about Testament are finding out about Testament.

Where do you think that's coming from? Newer bands paying tribute to Testament?

I think it's coming from newer bands, yeah. I think all of a sudden there was this breed of newer bands that were bringing out that influence - bands like Lamb of God and Shadows Fall. It's been cool to see them. I think it helps a lot.

So do you or the other guys in Testament really keep in touch with the more underground side of thrash metal with bands like Merciless Death or Municipal Waste?

Yeah, some. We do these festivals in Europe where we're on the bill with a lot of different bands. It's pretty cool. For example, we're doing the Download Festival. Kid Rock is on that. Bands as diverse as that are doing that show. It kind of puts us in touch with all different types of groups. Most of the festivals are metal festivals, but that's a great way to get to know the bands and keep up with what's going on.

So where are you on the bill for the Download Festival? Are you direct support for Kid Rock?

I don't think we're directly supporting Kid Rock. [laughing] I know he's on the bill though. I have met him, though. He came to a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show.

I hear he's extremely cool.

He's really cool.

That's the one thing I've heard from everybody, that he's an outstanding guy.

Super cool guy. Not a celebrity-vibe at all. Very down to earth guy.

On one side of things, you said you feel like you're a hub for so many different things. You've got metalheads with Testament, jazz-freaks with the Trio, and then you have your work in Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which is a completely different audience altogether.


Is dealing with people with Trans-Siberian Orchestra a completely different experience than dealing with Testament or the jazz tours?

Oh yeah, it's completely different. For one thing, when you tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, you tour with girls. That's a completely different experience. It's just funny because touring with Testament is like touring with a football team. It's total testosterone. So then you have girls in the van. You need more civility, but at the same time, you find that you can still be pretty ruthless and crazy.

Do you find that the girls end up usually adapting and sitting there farting along with everyone?

Yeah, yeah, you adapt. You learn. It's just interesting because guys watch what they say around girls. When it's just a bunch of guys, anything goes. It's like "Beavis And Butthead". That's the difference. And the audiences are different. You've got grandparents, you've got young kids, you've got secretaries, school-teachers, public service's just a much more diverse group of people. But then there's still some overlap. People come up to me after Trans-Siberian Orchestra that are Testament fans. Chris Adler from Lamb of God comes to Trans-Siberian Orchestra every year. Last year, he brought his mom and gave her a tour of the backstage.

I'm sure she was extremely impressed that he knew someone in Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Oh, absolutely. She doesn't care that his band is huge, but he knows somebody in Trans-Siberian Orchestra. [laughing] We were joking about that.

I've always been very fascinated by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

It's amazing. It's amazing how it caught on. It's kind of an absurd idea.

It's insane. You're playing heavy metal versions of Christmas songs.

I know. It's one of those ideas that took years to develop to the level that it's at. But it's know, the core team behind it. They just stuck to it and wouldn't give up. It's a great example of sticking to your guns.

They had an idea they firmly believed in. It's too good to not get some sort of recognition on some level. Switching gears, back to the new record, I asked around if anyone had any questions for you. A lot of people mentioned they were unhappy in some way about the song "The Evil Has Landed," largely due to the lyrical content, being about 9/11. Have you run into a lot of people that want to talk to you about it?

I haven't heard about it. I think if it were up to me, it's not a subject I would've chosen to write about. But I know where Chuck was coming from and he was coming from a good place with it. I went through 9/11. I had jury duty that day. I'm very sensitive to how people on the east coast, especially New York, feel about it. But Chuck wrote about it more from the perspective of somebody who saw it from a distance. Yeah, he's kind of paying tribute. He's got a line about how the nation will rise, and about rebuilding. So, you know, again, I think it's coming from a good place. When I first saw it, I had to think about what my reaction was. I think it's really coming from a good place, though.

Right. I don't think anyone was trying to insinuate that what Chuck was saying was incorrect or bad.

It is going out on a limb. I'm not sure he realized how much it was going out on a limb. I think because this much time has passed, that's one thing. It would be much different if it happened last year, if it was 2002. I would've definitely said, "this is a bad idea, let's not do it."

I also wanted to talk to you about the documentary you mentioned on your blog, "Heavy Metal in Baghdad."

Oh, you read that?

Yeah, but I haven't seen it. If you could, would you mind telling people a little about it and why you've taken such a personal interest in it?

Yeah, it's a great film. I wrote about it because...well, my friend, who is a publicist in Texas, mainly for authors and films, she connected me with the producer. They sent me a copy and it just knocked me out. It knocked me out bad. The fact that there is a metal band in Iraq is incredible enough. There's a lot of ironies in the film. A lot of real life ironies are brought up. One is the fact that there are citizens over there that support very American ideas. Bands like Slayer and Megadeth are very American. These guys risk their neck out by wearing the shirts and playing the music. Even though the idea behind the U.S. invasion was supposed to be to liberate them, you see the film and you see it hasn't exactly helped their situation. Now, it's very complicated. It's very easy to just say, "I'm against the war," or whatever, which I'm not going to do. The film doesn't necessarily say that either, but it does bring up a lot of the complexities and makes you hear the story of the civilians, which you don't really get to hear about from the American media. The fact that what's happening, you see this happening to a young metal band that loves the same bands that we love, and wears the same t-shirts.

And wears them in such a harshly different environment.

Yeah. I just thought that was compelling and I had to write about it.

Another thing you mention in that blog is the idea of shipping over free CDs, shirts, instruments, music lessons...have you ever thought about trying to throw together some sort of heavy metal missionary work?

Yeah. I would love to do something like that.

I'm sure there's a lot of hoops you have to go through to do something like that.

Yeah. I'm also kind of in a period where I'm pretty overwhelmed just playing music, without trying to be the Bono of metal, or whatever. But it has crossed my mind. There's a lot of good that can be done through music. Certainly that film brings out these ideas, and the fact that these filmmakers kept in touch with this band and dealt with red tape with the government to get them instruments, and to get them visas. They're not allowed to travel. I think that that's amazing. In the future, sure, I would love to do something. The idea of helping others is always really inspiring.

Lastly, wrapping things up, I've also noticed that most of the books you seem to mention are dedicated to self-growth. How would you say you've evolved over the last ten years, and what are these books that you're reading? Is there anything you would recommend?

I've always been a fan of those books. As far as those types of books, there's a book called "Effortless Mastery" that's written for musicians and it's written by Kenny Werner. I think anybody could get something out of that book. It's just about being focused and not getting overwhelmed. It's written really well. I recommend that. There's another called "The Path of Least Resistance". It's about setting goals, but it connects that to science. I'm reading one now called, "This is Your Brain on Music", which is written by a music producer who worked with Santana and Blue Oyster Cult, and he became a neurophysicist, studying the brain. He's studying connections between music and the brain. That's a really, really, good one.

Alright, Alex. I guess that's everything I had planned here. I appreciate you taking the time to do this interview.


Post Comment
Mike_ 9/1/2008 4:45:40 PM


Alpa_Chino_ 9/1/2008 4:53:42 PM

What a shit interview. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Kid Rock. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah.

youaresceneasfuck_ 9/1/2008 5:27:35 PM

drew ailes is the biggest wank job i've ever laid eyes on.

!_ 9/1/2008 7:20:35 PM

Stand up dude.

cranialdamage_ 9/1/2008 7:53:53 PM

finally a real interview!!!!!

Brandon_ 9/1/2008 9:15:26 PM

did you ask him if he had any grey poupon?

e_h_ 9/2/2008 3:47:17 PM

completely boring interview