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Alex Skolnick Testament - Interview
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Bay Area veterans and one of the titans of thrash metal, Testament are about to release their latest offering in "Brotherhood Of The Snake", a 10 track album chock full of the very best that Testament has to offer. We talk to guitar virtuoso Alex Skolnick about the recording process, working with Eric and Chuck on the new songs as well as his work with Metal Allegiance and their tribute to some of the legendary musicians who passed away this year.



Andrew: Obviously you guys are gearing up for the release of the new record this week?

Alex: Yes new record is coming out and we started a tour this week as well, on the same day with Amon Amarth in Europe and we're excited!

Andrew: Awesome! What kind of reviews and responses have you been getting from the new songs so far?

Alex: So far people seem to like it! It's the third one since the reunion and I think this one is a little more reflective of "The Gathering" period which was right before I came back but it's good, I think it was time to have a record like that.

Andrew: Yeah it does sound like you went for a more aggressive and heavier approach this time which those elements have never really been missing anyway but it does seem like you went full pelt this time around.

Alex: Yeah Eric (Peterson, guitars) and Chuck (Billy, vocals) are really the only ones that have been there the whole time, the rest of us at this point even though I was there in the original lineup, we have experience outside the band as well. So I think they felt it was time to do a record like that which was just full on and more about aggression than anything else which is fine, it works.

Andrew: Oh yeah definitely! Eric and Chuck had recently been speaking to us about the new album and they were saying their experiences in the studio this time around had been a little bit more difficult and had more pressure. How was your experience in the studio?

Alex: Well I think part of that is because of the timing, I think by the time they were actually in the studio so much time had passed. I think if it was 2 years since the previous album I don't think the pressure would of been that high but here it is, 4 years since the last record! We were pretty sure we would have a record out in 3 years so here it is, 4 years later and if it doesn't happen earlier in the year given manufacturing time, well then it's coming out next year and then that's 5 years and I think nobody would of been comfortable with that. So sometimes it takes time, we're definitely focused better on a record. On a tour some grouyps have trouble writing music on the road, I read an interview with another band recently that said as much. I forget which band it was but it was a very high profile band and I think this band is like that and they have to feel ready, especially Eric, he has to feel ready. So by the time he felt ready, the results were good but it was definitely against the clock at that point.

Andrew: OK so it was more of a timing thing. What was the reason for the long time in between albums? Was it because you guys were on the road so much?

Alex: I think that's part of it and like I was saying, it's easier for some of us to focus on not touring. And it doesn't really make sense for any of us to go forward until Eric is ready, it's his band. I don't know why it took a while for him to feel ready but I know he was working on his black metal group called Dragonlord and he was working on a release for them for a long time, I don't know what to status is of that now but I know that he needed to finish that. There were Testament tours constantly coming up but we've had some amazing tours. We've had the Lamb Of God tour in the U.S. with Killswitch Engage, we went to Latin America last year and did a tour with Cannibal Corpse. Then this year we had a tour with Slayer and Carcass so we've just had these great tours happen but it didn't make sense not to do them plus the festivals in Europe. But you would have to ask Eric for the reason on that small window that he really buckled down on the record when he was comfortable.


Andrew: And what about yourself, how did you approach these songs? How did you add your input into these new songs?

Alex: Well a lot of it was making suggestions. I would always send them ideas, some of them get used, some of them don't which is fine either way. But Eric had a lot of material laying around so not as much of my stuff got used but if I didn't like a riff I would let them know. I would say, 'Don't even develop that one' [laughs] 'It's OK, it's not bad, it's just not interesting'. But if there was that was exciting I would be, 'Oh please work on that!'. So he listens to my feedback and then "Neptunes Spear" I wrote that whole harmony section at the end which starts as a guitar solo but it really becomes a melody and I was actually thinking of Queen and Baroque and it's definitely unique on the record. And to "Canna Business" there was some riffs that Eric and I came up with together in the same room. As far as my solos I just try to steer him in to giving me parts that aren't just the vocal parts, I want them to be interesting. So sometimes I will suggest key changes or timing changes, I now he likes to keep it in the feel of his original riff. Sometimes I will write a solo and he's OK with that but then I'll go off and try to make the riff more interesting key-wise. An example of that might be in "The Pale King" which we did a video for and it's nice, I'm actually able to play over key changes and make it interesting because I could just wail over the whole thing and just have it be the type of licks you're used to hearing but that doesn't interest me. I want it to offer something that sounds unique so hopefully that happens on this track [laughs].

Andrew: Yeah and there's so many great moments on the album. It's funny you mention "Neptunes Spear" because it's one of my favorite songs on the album and that guitar solo on there is absolutely amazing! But that song and some of the others kinda reminds me of early Testament I guess, was that something you guys were conscious of a little?

Alex: Maybe a little bit because we try to rotate the set a bit. It can be hard to do because there are so many songs at this point but actually we did a whole tour where we were really focused on the first and second records, it was kind of a "Legacy" / "New Order" mashup. It was very cool and one of the tunes we did was the song "First Strike Is Deadly" and it really has a classical sounding guitar harmony and we just realized we never really did anything like that before and since then and I actually had that piece from "Neptunes Spear" which was something I had laying around in my archives. A junkyard of parts basically and I just said 'I bet there's something we can do with that'. I dug it up, sped it up quite a bit, my original part was slow and it just developed from there.

Andrew: Yeah it's a great album and I think the fans will really dig this one. Now touring for this album, I know it's been a couple of years since you have been to Australia but I heard from some of the other guys that you are working on something for Australia next year.

Alex: Yeah I think it's gotta happen. It's hard to get to Australia more than once in an album cycle and the last time around was the last album cycle. Now that we're starting a new album cycle, we're ready, we will come through. We just don't know when, I can't give any dates but I think it's definitely going to happen.

Andrew: Yeah definitely looking forward to it. I know you were supposed to be here earlier this year with Metal Allegiance but obviously Soundwave Festival got cancelled but is Metal Allegiance still happening?

Alex: Oh yeah absolutely. We just did a couple of tours this year, we did a west coast tour and an east coast tour, we did the Bloodstock Festival. We have a really big show in Anaheim around the time of the NAMM convention with a lot of special guests and we're alsdo making plans to write a follow up record.

Andrew: Awesome good to hear. You had an EP that came out earlier this year "Fallen Heroes" which was a very cool concept paying tribute to some of the great legends that passed away this year.

Alex: Yeah too many, it's so sad. There's just too many. Even though it might seem odd to do a Prince thing, I'm sure we could of figured out a way to do it but he was still alive at the time we were mastering this record.

Andrew: Yeah it's certainly been an interesting year with all the people we have lost along the way. Out of the 3 guys you focused on - Lemmy, David Bowie and Glenn Frey - who was the one you think was influential on you the most?

Alex: For me personally I think it was Bowie because he was somebody that just had many irons in the fire and he was constantly reinventing himself, he seemed to be aware of so many different types of music and able to adjust to so many different types of music. He used to be a room mate with Glenn Hughes believe it or not and he was involved in telling Glenn to join Deep Purple aqnd years later he the band Tin Machine which was really heavy stuff. He would go to metal concerts, he took Nine Inch Nails on tour but then on the other side, his last record had some of my favorite jazziness in mind and he had Stevie Ray Vaughan on "Let's Dance", he recorded with Pat Matheny for "The Falcon And The Snowman". Of course wrote tunes for Iggy Pop, it's just incredible! I think his work was incredibly diverse and creative and influential, he's my guy with all respect to the other guys.

Andrew: Yeah absolutely David Bowie was certainly influential on many people and it was certainly a big shock when I heard about his death.

Alex: Yeah everybody was shocked, none of us expected that to happen.

Andrew: No definitely not! Anyway congratulations on the new Testament record, sounds killer and we look forward to seeing you back in Australia at some time in the future. Thanks for your time today, really appreciated.

Alex: You're welcome man, thanks!

Check out our interview with Eric Peterson here
Check out our interview with Chuck Billy here

Interview by Andrew "Schizodeluxe" Massie on October 24th 2016