M.DREW: You told me originally that we would see three Hatriot records in two calendar years. Is that still the plan?
STEVE ‘ZETRO’ SOUZA: I’ll tell you this: “Dawn” isn’t even released yet, and I already have two new songs for the next record.
M.D: That’s unbelievable, you know that, right?
SZS: Well see, I’ve got kids and they don’t know any better. Rather than teach them how to be lazy rock stars like we all were back in the day, four years for an Exodus album, six years for a Slipknot record, I mean, come on. What does it take to write ten fucking songs? We work. We work every week and there’s practice. I have different practices set up, like last night was ‘learn Zetro’s days covers,’ so when we’re playing out, we can play “Toxic Waltz,” we can play “Faster Than You’ll Ever Live to Be,” we can play and it’ll be tight. We have writing practices. I’ll talk to Kosta, say put a song together, we’ll go hammer it out and next day show everybody how to do it. The third practice of the week we’ll do all the songs. There’s different practices so we can keep pumping them out, and pumping good ones out. That’s the way we do it. We’ll be in the studio again probably January of 2015.
M.D: Still with Massacre Records?
SZS: Um….we’re with Massacre now, this is the last record on the deal. We’re probably gonna test the waters again. Probably.
M.D: Do you remember ever having the energy that your kids have for just writing all the time?
SZS: Yes, because when I was in Legacy, that’s how I did it. It was the same way, same thing, same regimen. No stopping practice in between songs, because that’s the live set, too. When you see us live, there’s no fucking ‘hey, glad to be here, nice to see you, I’m gonna drink a beer, and we’re Hatriot and this one’s called….” None of that fucking crap. Song to song to song to song. That’s what we’re there for, to play music. Don’t sit there for a fucking dog and pony show. We get up there, make sure everyone’s in tune, because we’re going to blister fourteen fucking songs in a row. That’s how I want it.
M.D: I know what I think about “Dawn of the New Centurion,” but I want to know what you think about it. Did it come out like you expected?
SZS: Yes, definitely. Definitely came out like I expected, I’m very proud of it. I like where it went, both vocally and as a writer. I know people are partial to the Exodus stuff, but this to me is way more comfortable for me. I just fit right into it. I don’t worry about what to write. It just comes, like it’s no work. I write the lyrics, and the lyrics are so fucking brutal that I can write no problem, easily. That’s what it used to be when I was in Legacy and even when I was in Exodus. In Dublin Death Patrol, the relationship was not what I was used to. The vocals had to stand out and that was hard. It was more work than any of this stuff, was the DDP stuff. The music wasn’t overly dynamic, so the vocals, Chuck [Billy] and I had to work together to make it sound cool. Lyrics and what we’re writing about and that whole thing. With this, I hear the song, and go ‘this will be called that, and that’s what it’ll be about.’ Stuff just fits like a glove.
M.D: It sounded to me like yes, it’s thrash, but also like it was a more modern spin. Was that a conscious effort?
SZS: I think maturation is a conscious effort. On “Heroes of Origin,” it was a very fast, very brutal record, like a fist right up next to your face. That’s the way I took “Heroes.” When I wrote “The Fear Within,” it was the first song I ever wrote with these guys, on the demo, years ago. But I didn’t put it on that first record, and people gave me shit for that, too. It doesn’t fit “Heroes.” “Dawn” is a more stealth killer. Everything fits in this band. Nick and Kosta will put a new song together, and the next night everyone will come in and learn it. Then I take it and write the lyrics to it. There’s a process to it. We keep writing constantly. You will get a record every year, pretty much. And you should. How hard is it to write forty-five minutes worth of music? Shut the fuck up and put a goddamn album out for your fans.
M.D: Just a procedural question, do you guys record old-school with everyone in the room, or separately.
SZS: Separately. It’s tighter that way. I’m not opposed to recording live, but because the kids are just starting to get familiar with the process and the whole studio thing, I don’t want to step on that. This time was so much more comfortable [for them] because they knew what to expect. They knew that you have to play a song eighty fucking times, that’s just part of it. Every vocal you hear, I probably did fifteen times, different voices and approaches. Some people aren’t used to that, they get in a mindset that it was good and they don’t want to do it again. I don’t have that. I make sure everyone knows their part, so we don’t go in the studio and I’ve got the producer going ‘Zetro, I’ve got to talk to you about the kid, he hasn’t got it down.’ That’s my worst fear, I don’t fucking want to hear that. And I haven’t had to.
M.D: Speaking of your sons, the last time we talked there was some concern that one of your sons might not be able to stay with the band, how did that work out?
SZS: Cody’s a union refrigeration guy. We all have jobs, we all work. And I preach that, totally, because you can’t survive in this business thinking you can just live off the business, especially in metal. It won’t work. To be successful, you have to have a job and be able to function at both. Cody’s got a really good job. He has to go to school, it’s mandatory, and he can’t miss. If he misses, he loses his semester. Can’t have that, I don’t want him to do that. He didn’t know if he wanted to continue because he didn’t want to be half in, half out. So I told him that he’s a part of this. Do your job, go to school. You have to do that. If we have to get a fill-in bass player to do gigs because you can’t go, for now that’s what we’ll do. He didn’t want to not be able to give it his all.
M.D: “Dawn” has so many more twists and turns and new elements compared to “Heroes.” What’s going to be added to the next record? How do you evolve on such a short album cycle?
SZS: You just evolve. You have to. You have to keep sight of that always. I’ve been fortunate enough to be doing this for thirty years now. I’m doing an interview after thirty years. I’m a very fortunate guy, some people don’t get that longevity! So I never take that for granted. I’m constantly working on my craft, thinking about what I could do better. Like for “World Funeral” I wrote and sang that entirely in a backup vocal style. I wanted a death metal element to this record, more than I did on the last one. So I wrote that. That’s what I love about this, it’s very diverse. The songs, none of them sound the same. They’re all different genres of thrash metal. We steal from everybody. I steal from myself, are you kidding me?
M.D: Has there been that moment when you’re working on a song, and one of your kids will come up with a band you’ve never heard of and say ‘we should sound like this?”
SZS: They all listen to different stuff. Especially Cody, he’s into very busy type metals. He likes that busy bass playing and guitar and that kind of thing. I like anything that’s heavy. Keeping that in mind, when they come up with something, if it’s good, we welcome it. I think they’re all very smart, and they know ‘if I want to be on the album, this is my part’ and they don’t really go there. Kosta writes all the music, and I write all the lyrics. If there’s a part that you think is better and it’s cool, we’ll welcome it. I told Kosta, I’m giving you the reins. I don’t think I ever could have done this unless he wrote all the music that I put the vocals to that would be as good. I never could have come and done something lesser than, or something like decide to try some power metal. I’m not trying to reinvent myself or overthink myself. I love metal. You’ll see me playing air guitar in my fucking car, and I’m a professional musician! I’m not in this for the money or the notoriety, who gives a shit about that? I love to play music.
M.D: That brings me to something I wanted to ask your perspective on – when I hear the far reaches of extreme metal, it seems like some of it borders on territory that might not even be music. To your mind, is that a viable expression of metal?
SZS: I think metal has that part to it, like the idea that I have to be very busy sounding, and there’s people that love that. In my mind, I write songs that people can identify with. I can’t understand a song where you hear a cool riff, and as soon as you notice it, you never hear it again the rest of the song. They change it up to much. A lot of progressive metal bands, they write a nine minute song with a hundred fucking changes in it, and I think that’s great that they can do that. But to me, I want to be able to sing back, I want to bang my head, to me that’s what rocks, it’s what makes you rock. Structure a song when you write the goddamn song, that’s how I look at it. I also try to write songs with catchy choruses, I always try to mention the name of the song in the song, even if it’s not necessarily the chorus. I try to make it make sense. I take great pains in that. I’ll lock myself in a room to just write and figure it out, that’s how I do it. Push play, rewind, push play, rewind, push play, rewind, you know?
M.D: Wait, rewind? You’re not still working off tape, are you?
SZS: [Laughs] No, on a CD or something. But it’s hard now! I used to be able to bring a boombox to practice to record the song and next day I’d have it to write lyrics. Now I gotta take it to a Pro Tools guy, it’s so much harder now.
M.D: I’ve always been curious, and every musician I talk to has a different answer for this – Do you ever find that you just want to listen to “Fabulous Disaster” or something like that? Do you ever hear things from those records and think ‘dammit, we were pretty good”?
SZS: Well, I know that, that’s a given. [Laughs] We were damn fucking good, we were young, too. I loved all those records, but it’s hard for me to go back and listen to them just to listen to it, because I played them a million fucking times, live and it’s been around for so long. The one thing I do hear from people all the time is how much they love “Fabulous Disaster.” And it’s great. It holds time, that album came out in 1989, man. Here it is 2014 and people still listen to that. I’m still relevant after all these years, for now.
M.D: Another thing I’ve always wanted to know – out in the Bay Area there was Exodus and Testament and Death Angel, while on the East Coast there was Anthrax and Nuclear Assault and Overkill. Was there any rivalry between the two camps?
SZS: I think that in everything you do, there’s always a rivalry. You have to keep that edge, you have to know what everybody else is going, because you want to be the best. You want to be the biggest thing ever. That’s in anything you do. Back in the day, there was so many good bands in the Bay Area. And when you were in the Bay Area, you didn’t realize that not everyone had a scene like that. Not everyone had fifteen bands that were fucking killer. On Tuesday night you could go see Possessed, Legacy and Death Angel. On Tuesday night! We didn’t realize how special it was, that it was something that could never happen again. But I don’t think any of us had the thought that we’ve got to kill Megadeth, or blow Slayer away, or fuck Anthrax or anything like that. The mentality was, we’re thrash metal, they don’t play our videos on MTV, so we should all stick together and make a strong unit. For the most part, I think it was that way.
M.D: What would it take for there to be a scene like there was then in a single city now? Would it even be possible, with the way digital distribution is?
SZS: No. No, because social media and the quickness of it all make it right now, right now, right now. You remember tape trading? That’s the way you had to find your new bands. Now, you click, click, click and it’s right there. Before you couldn’t just go see your favorite bands play live anytime, you had to wait for them to come around on tour. You had to watch “The Song Remains the Same” like, twenty fucking times, because it was the only way you could see Led Zeppelin! To look at them and watch them play! “Let There be Rock” was the way you saw AC/DC. To see your heroes, you’d go see the midnight movie a hundred times just to see your guys. Now, shit, you can get anything in a second. So I think it’s lost that newness or…what’s the word? Freshness, innovation. It wouldn’t be coveted in that way, when it was new. It would be all the over the place, then somebody else would be doing it.
M.D: In talking about rivals, going backward for a minute, as you look at “Dawn of the New Centurion,” do you guys have a rival? Are you rivalled against your last album? Against your personal legacy? What’s the benchmark?
SZS: I don’t look at it as a rivalry. To be honest, I think of it like this: I’m the coach, we’re the team, we’re going to the Super Bowl. Every night, we’re going to the Super Bowl. And we want to win. Other bands want to win, too. And who wants to win more? I want you to know consciously that you’re going up there and giving it your all. Like I said, I’ve got kids now, I can teach them how I want it to be. They’re coming to the party. They’ve come to the party. They are the party. [Laughs] Honestly, fuck me, fuck the old man. They’re the next rock stars. I try to explain that to them, too; that I wasn’t born this, but it happened. They’re the next. Nobody knew me in 1984, 1985. Now they know me well, now they’re sick of my shit. Go on an Exodus forum, just put ‘Zetro’ and watch. I bet three, four hundred people come out saying ‘fuck that guy, kill that guy!’ [Laughs]
M.D: Do you see Hatriot as a stepping stone for your kids to do something else down the line?
SZS: In music, you got to take it kind of how you get it, you know? You’re very fortunate for everything that you get. If somebody buys a t-shirt, that’s a score, that’s a plus. If these guys continue later and continue to do it, they’ve got that choice. But I don’t see Hatriot ending, I’m not doing this to placate myself, like I got nothing else to do so I might as well do this. That’s not our mentality at all. I love to play music, I love to crush.
M.D: You told me you’d be the first guy in line when they make a machine that can bang your head for you.
SZS: Oh, totally, are you kidding me? You get older, I been banging my head for thirty years now, is my neck going to fall off? Just keep working at it, keep in shape, keep myself clean.
M.D: Out of curiosity since you mentioned it, how much toll does that take on your neck and your back? We’ve certainly seen guys like Tom Araya and Dave Mustaine have to have ridiculous surgery to recover from it.
SZS: I work a regular job, those guys don’t even have to work a regular job, you know? To me, I’ve seen both of them on stage, and believe me, I love both bands, but I don’t think they do anything that crazy that they’ve got to be hurting themselves! In my eyes, do exercises, stretch before you go out there, I don’t know what else to tell you. All you’ve done your whole life is playing fucking music and stand in front of a mic, how hard could it be? [Laughs] At the construction site, I’ve got a pile of hundred and eighty pound doors that got to be carried up to the second floor, come on rock stars, let’s go. I’ve never had a problem with it, my neck never hurts. And if you have to get your shit fixed so you can continue to bang, then go get your shit fixed. Continue to bang.
M.D: With that out of the way, we can move on the important stuff. Roughly six months ago, you and I both said that if the Raiders won less than six games this year, the season would be a travesty. Well, here we are. What the hell happened?
SZS: A lot of things happened. Al Davis ruined that team. He kept trying to buy time by getting player and overspending, so the Raiders salary cap situation has been terrible over the last ten years. They can’t get any players because they don’t have the money because they squandered it or traded it for this or whatever. This year, all new guys, the defense is pretty much all new guys. In the NFL, they have the lowest payroll on offense and the lowest payroll on defense. They couldn’t afford to pay players. Now. Now, this year, the Raiders are clean. They have seventy million dollars under the cap.
M.D: They have more cap room than any team has had in NFL history.
SZS: That’s right, that’s what they set up. Now it’s gonna work. They got high draft picks, and they have all of their picks. Not squandered on a Carson Palmer or traded for Randy Moss or whatever. If they use them wisely, it should be okay. Believe me, I went to the fucking Redskins game, and I was like ‘why do I come here? Why do I do this to myself and keep coming here? Torturing my fucking self.’
M.D: If they have the opportunity at pick five, would you want Johnny Manziel?
SZS: [Pauses] It’s a crapshoot. But you’ve got to have a quarterback. You have to. The teams that don’t – like Kansas City? They’ll never win the Super Bowl. Alex Smith is not a Super Bowl quarterback. He’s nice, but he’s never going to take you the promised land. You’ve got to think like, Brady, Peyton, Brees, those guys. That’s what you have to have. The Raiders have been very unlucky when it comes to that. The thing I like about Manziel? He’ll prove you wrong, he’ll prove everybody wrong, unlike Jamarcus Russell. You say wrong about Manziel, he’ll make it happen. He’s determined to be successful. It’s just a question of the distractions. If he’s there…what are you gonna do, get Clowney? They need a pass rusher, too. They need talent. They need players.
M.D: People talk a lot about what the Raiders meant to Los Angeles and their connection to the rap music scene there, but what do the Raiders mean to the Bay Area?
SZS: The Raiders never belonged in LA, I call those the dark years. Thirteen years of darkness. They were never LA’s team, they were always Oakland’s team. The fans here in Oakland are hardcore, I mean hardcore. They love that fucking team. We have the Niners here, too, so that creates that pissing match. They’ve been better than us recently, so we take a lot of shit from them. The fans here want the Raiders to be so good. Watching them leave the stadium dejected every week is like, man, they want to fight each other. We don’t even go after other fans, we go after each other.
M.D: We’d be remiss if we didn’t bring it up, what have you been watching lately?
SZS: I loved “American Horror Story: Coven.” Didn’t care for the last two seasons, but I loved “Coven.” Thought it was done really well. [Other than that] they come up with these movies every month where the cameras run quick and shock you, it’s like, that’s not what we want. We want monsters and really scared. I want to see a creepy, fucking face.