Launching the Hatriot Missile: A Conversation with Steve 'Zetro' Souza

So here we are again. Steve Souza, singer, songwriter, band leader, legend, metalhead, sports fan, father and horror aficionado extraordinaire, is back with another record. Not content to rest on the laurels of Hatriot's recent debut "Heroes of Origin," the man known as Zetro is determined to take the nearly unprecedented step of releasing two records inside a calendar year. The always outspoken and never shy Souza sat down with me again to talk about the new record, the present stage of metal, the latest Slayer developments, the rumors surrounding Dublin Death Patrol, the quandary of Hatriot, the Oakland Raiders and as ever, horror. It was, as you might imagine, a long conversation. In an interviewing first for me, Zetro started the conversation off without prompting. Read on and enjoy! _____________________________________________________________________________________
STEVE ‘ZETRO’ SOUZA: Have you seen “The Conjuring?” That is a good one, man. That is a fucking good one. Good story, creepy. Creepy and scary. I liked it, a lot. These guys are like paranormals and they’re couple, they do all these kinds of paranormal exercises, and the guy keeps a trinket from every one that he does and he’s got them in this room. Then he has to go and deal with this house and the house is totally fucking haunted. It’s cool. It’s one of the best horror flicks I’ve seen probably in ten years. Really good. Good monster, the monster that is supposed to be the ghost looks a lot like Linda Blair from “The Exorcist,” so it’s pretty fucking cool.
M.DREW: What else have you seen since we talked last that you really liked?
SZS: I thought “Insidious” was good. What good horror have I seen? Horror is sporadic, you know what I mean? It’s good or it’s bad. “The Conjuring” stood out in my mind, I went and saw it the day it came out for some reason. Other than the classic stuff that I watch over and over again…I watched “Blackenstein!” I got into this seventies exploitation horror thing where I watched that and I watched a bunch of Roger Corman stuff from back then, it was hilarious. Wasn’t as good as “Blackula,” but it was really cheesy. I’m into that cheesy gore, too. Anything that’s horror.
M.D: “Blackula” is surprisingly poignant if you take its meaning.
SZS: It is, it really is. Nothing else has come out recently that I was thought was totally worthy. Go see “The Conjuring,” you’ll really like it. It’s got good scares to it, good story, creepy storyline, the fucking doll itself is just so fucking creepy. You’ll dig it.
M.D: Is horror something else you share with your sons?
SZS: No, they’re not into it as much as my fifteen year old daughter. She’s been watching horror ever since she was a little girl. She’ll tell me ‘why don’t you go see this movie?’ The boys like it, but I think that I’m more driven by it than they are.
M.D: Theoretically, what would it take for you to go the Rob Zombie route and direct a movie?
SZS: I don’t know if I have enough fresh idea. I’d have to read something – I definitely have vision when it comes to that kind of a thing. But I think what’s good about Rob is that he writes and directs and does his own everything, so he’s all in from the beginning.
M.D: Let’s say you were going to set out to make a movie, what would it be like? What’s the movie you want to make?

SZS: I want to be classic. Honestly, what I would love is if they took one of the old originals and re-did it modern, but kept it – you know, I loved “Van Helsing,” I thought they did a good job there, trying to keep the original story with the monsters. Make-up is what I get funny with. I want to see Frankenstein look like [Boris] Karloff, and I always want to see Frankenstein look like Karloff. I want to see Dracula look like [Bela] Lugosi. Even Gary Oldman’s version of Dracula, which I loved, he wasn’t as creepy as Lugosi was. So that’s what I’m looking for. For mine, murder scenes would definitely be violent, but I think it would be more in the story rather than the shock.

M.D: So for you, it is almost like Tom Savini took the genre in the wrong direction?
SZS: I don’t know…and I like Savini. I’m just very old school in the premise of the monster, and we’ve talked about this before. The premise of the best monster is the idea of a human taking another form. Being reanimated in some type of affect, or some other mindset. Linda Blair can turn into a demon while still being the body of Regan [McNeil.] Frankenstein monster being parts of other humans, Dracula once being human and now he’s a vampire. A mummy being in a sarcophagus for years and then coming out and having power, I think that’s scary and I like that.
M.D: Hannibal Lecter will always be scarier than, say, Godzilla.
SZS: Exactly. And I don’t mind Godzilla. I love that. But like, I love “Friday the 13th,” but most of the ‘don’t go in the woods’ movies like the new one coming out called “You’re Next,” looks like the same old stuff – ‘we’re not gonna tell you who we are, we’re just gonna come in and kill you and by the end of the movie one of the good guys is gonna get an axe and get everybody.’ It’s just such a dud. Painful to watch.
M.D: That makes me ask, did you see “Cabin in the Woods?”
SZS: I did, and I liked it, and I’m not gonna use that as an example. But you know the movies I’m talking about. I saw one with Vincent D'Onofrio, he wrote and directed it, and I think Eric Bogosian had something to do with it, and it was crap! [Editor’s note: “Don’t Go in the Woods” is the film in question.] It was terrible! I can’t believe that he did something like this. I saw it on Showtime, it kind of had a musical theme to it, and it just wasn’t that good. Wow, man, if you’re gonna go out and take the time to do independent movies, at least make sure they’re quality.
M.D: When you’re talking about horror in the past, present or future, do you prefer big budget or small budget? Which one, in your opinion gives a more authentic horror experience?
SZS: I’ll tell you what. Go see “The Conjuring.” I think they spent forty seven million or something to make that movie. And I felt that was the way to make a horror movie. It should have effects. In the ‘80s, gore was great because gore was a rarity. Gore is overrated now. Fucking TV’s got gore, watch “True Blood.” Someone takes a bite and it’s gore everywhere. Give me something that’s going to scare my ass. Show me something creepy, where you go ‘no fucking way!’ That’s what I felt.
M.D: As you go back in memory and it seems like “The Blair Witch Project” is the impetus for all of this, but it seems like small budget films have had more critical success than stuff like “World War Z” or the “Dawn of the Dead” remake.
SZS: I think that they take more chances. “Blair Witch” was something that no one had thought about doing that. Thinking about the premise and putting it out on the internet and the whole thing that led up to it. I remember going to see it and I couldn’t get my fucking key out of my pocket fast enough to get in my house. It creeped me out. Every now and then you find a big guy – M. Night Shyamalan started out alright, but I think he got corporate, because his last couple films sucked ass.

M.D: Let’s talk about your band for a second.
SZS: Okay, if we have to.
M.D: You said that to me last time! So, you’ve got a second Hatriot record coming out…
SZS: Yeah, already. I’m not fucking around, am I?
M.D: Well, you told me when we last talked that you were going to do three Hatriot records in two years, is that still on the table?
SZS: I’m trying! I’m on track right now, so I’m definitely trying. You know what we said? We said that after we finished writing this one and went to finish the music for this one, we said alright, we’re not doing another one until 2016 and we all agreed. And I said ‘well, we’re free agents on our record deal, so if we sign a record deal they’re going to want one by the end of ’15 at least.’ So, it’ll probably have to be three albums in three years. But yes, we’re going in September 21st to start recording.
M.D: After the first Hatriot album, and you’ve been through the wringer and back again, after thirty years of your career, what did that album teach you that you didn’t know before?
SZS: I don’t think it taught me anything that I didn’t know. I expected everything, too. I think the other guys in the band were a little disappointed in how they thought everything was going to go with the first record. I didn’t waste any time though, the record has only been out six months now. It came out February 12th, now it’s August. So it’s only been out six months. Most bands would be trying to tour, they wouldn’t be thinking about new songs and we already have the next songs done. We just have to go and do them. I feel that if we can get the music out, people will eventually come to us. I think I knew that, I don’t know if the other ones knew that all that well. There was a lot of ‘so, when are we going on the road?’ but it doesn’t work like that nowadays. You gotta build this up, build the resources. So now we’re going to Europe with Death Angel and Destruction in November and in December we have a bunch of stuff to do playing Seattle and Spokane, Portland. I think we’re flying to Florida to go a couple of dates down there. Three, four dates a time. We’re trying to be clever and not go under so the band can keep going.
M.D: Obviously, you know how the business works, you’ve seen all sides of it, all eras. Looking at your sons, was there anything you prevented them from having to learn the hard way? Or did you let them experience it as you did?
SZS: I think they’re experiencing it as I did. Actually, we’re in a quandary right now with my oldest, because he’s in the fourth year of a five year program. So, to go on tour and continue this right now, that may not be in the best interest for him. So we’re discussing that right now. At this point, if he finishes his program, I think that’s smart, too. There’s a good chance he may not be on this next record because of that commitment the rest of us don’t have. As we go into touring more and more, the school has already told him he can’t just leave. So he’s debating that hard, and it’s a tough decision. As you said, there’s things that come up that they may not be able to control. That’s one of them right there.
M.D: Did you ever think in the wildest dreams of your career that someday one of your bandmates may have to sacrifice the band for school?
SZS: I don’t think back in my day that was a reality. As twenty or thirty years has gone by, you see that most musicians at our level don’t live off of this. You’ve got to have something else. I think that that’s even known, I think it’s almost expected. When I was a kid, in my era, I would have never thought my heroes had to work a job. But there’s so much music and so much medium now, there’s different levels of success. Where we are, it’s important everyone realize that, that they need a job, because Hatriot does not pay. It may never. You make this run because you have this opportunity and that’s who we are. It’s what we do. If I did this for money, I probably would have been out of the business twenty years ago. That’s not what drives me.
M.D: Along those lines, what have your sons learned about the business and how it works?
SZS: I think they’re schooled in it. They’ve seen dad come home and seen dad on the phone yelling at people. They’ve seen dad go to work. Maybe the other guitar players, that would be the question for them, see how it goes. But I would say for my sons, during “Heroes of Origin,” my son was in his third year, now he’s in his fourth year and he’s got to go five years for this program. And for this program, you don’t just sign up and get in, he waited his turn to get into this shit. So to throw it away, there’s a lot to it. So I completely understand, you should finish what you started. You should always be able to go do this bullshit. At least get certified in what you’re doing so you have that under your belt. We don’t know if he’s going to be able to stay and finish or continue with us. My other son, no big deal, he’s got nothing else going on. Nicholas is full on. This is what he plans. But we knew this about Cody going in. So there are things that you say, family things that go on, me being a father telling him to do the right thing, instead of me being selfish and going ‘fuck you, you’re in my band. You better quit school and quit your job, this is your life.’ I know better. I been in the business. It’s probably a better idea for you to stay in school and do your final years and get that certificate. [laughs]
M.D: How hard is that, to separate you as ‘Dad’ from you as ‘Band Manager’?
SZS: It clashes sometimes. But everybody knows what it’s all about, everybody knows what I’m trying to achieve. I’m not being spiteful for any reason, I’m not picking on anybody, I’m not pushing the finger at anybody or telling anybody that they have to do this or that. It is what it is. They respect me as their dad, but they also respect that this is a professional band, this is not a fucking garage band or a pipe dream happening. It’s live and it’s real and it’s really happening. I need your attention and full dedication to continue it. That record that you heard was not put together by us just getting together once a week and throwing it together. It took hard work to get here. The second album is the same thing, it’s just as serious. It’s a little bit more diverse, a little bit more heavy, a little bit more melodic, a little bit longer songs. Everyone knows each other much better now, the second record is just us playing what we know we do. The lyrical content is still brutal, I’m still fucking with people left and right. It’s a little bit political, a little bit funny a little bit fantasy, a little bit tongue in cheek. Everything that bites on me. Same type of shit, very heavy, very fast. My son is even that much better of a drummer, he brings that much more to it. I try to tell people they’ve heard our “Kill ‘em All,” in about six months you’re gonna hear our “Ride the Lightning.”
M.D: With your son contemplating finishing his schooling, would you consider putting Hatriot on hiatus and waiting for him to finish?
SZS: No. No, we have other guys that are in line. He got the job because he tried out and did a great job. There were two other bass players who wanted that gig. There’s no ‘I’ in this thing for anybody. I move forward. If Nick didn’t want to do it, I’d move forward with another drummer. There’s one guy who can’t be replaced and that’s Kosta [Varvatakis]. Kosta and I write the songs. Hatriot will stay Hatriot as long as it’s Zetro and Kosta. That’s one thing I have to understand. Look at the bands I’ve been in in the past. Testament has gone through like, twenty fucking drummers. The show must go on. I’ve already had this discussion with Cody. I told him to take a couple of weeks and decide what he wants to do. We already have other guys who are salivating to get the chance to play. I’ve done too much work, Drew. Too much. I have to stay too focused to have to worry about this. I’ve already finished school, I’m not going back [laughs]. This is what I do. I won’t go on hiatus for anybody. If you can’t be here I will find somebody who will.

M.D: There are persistent rumors that that Dublin Death Patrol is done. True or false?
SZS: True. Too busy. Chuck and I really have to focus on that, and it’s hard. Chuck is going to be more busy with Testament now than he’s ever been. I talked to him about a month ago and we had this long conversation about what we were going to do. He’s actually writing another Testament record and getting another record done. I’m in the middle of writing the new Hatriot album and trying to get that out and I want to put another one out after that. There’s no time. To do that I’d have to take a year and a half off of Hatriot, and I’m just getting the momentum going on this thing. To do that would kill it.
M.D: So many people can’t or haven’t – how have you preserved your voice over the length of your career?
SZS: I stay hungry, I stay healthy, I know what my voice can do, I know what I can do with it. I’m constantly singing, all the time. I’m constantly yelling at somebody too. I keep it in tune. I know my craft. I play in an AC/DC tribute band, Dublin Death Patrol, I’m writing music for Testament, I’ll sing on the Forbidden record, musically I’m always busy. There’s never a period where I take six months off and figure when I’ll pick when I get back. Music is an everyday thing. I have an interview with you today at three o’clock pacific. I have another one tomorrow, another the day after. My life revolves around it, I keep my voice in tune. Always. That’s what going to keep us flying longer, as long as I stay healthy. I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t go drugs.
M.D: Speaking of long legacies and unfortunately people that have come and gone, can you comment at all on the passing of Jeff Hanneman?
SZS: Yeah, it’s terrible. I’m the same age as Jeff. You have to take care of yourself. At this point and time in your life, you just can’t go out and party. You can’t go out and get smashed and take care of yourself. So the man dies of cirrhosis of the liver at forty-nine years old? Fortunately, Slayer kept him alive that many years, it was all he had to do. Once you have to get up and go to a job like I do every day, you can’t do that stuff. You’ve got to keep balance in the two worlds. It’s all about discipline and self preservation. You know if you’re doing yourself wrong. If you’re drinking every day or you’re blowing up or you’re eating like a pig and getting fat, doing tons of drugs and you can’t get up there on stage and you can’t even sing the songs, that type of stuff. I’m in a band with all young kids. I got to keep myself thin, I got to keep myself looking like these guys, I gotta keep myself in shape, I got to keep my voice in shape, I got to be good. Every time I’m on stage, and I tell them this, I say ‘it’s the Super Bowl tonight.’ We have to win the Super Bowl. I’m out there to destroy and that’s the only way you can do it.

You have to think about his family. You think that’s what they wanted to do? His mom and his dad and his uncles and brothers and sisters and his wife. Think about that. And those are the people that are right next to him. How do you think they feel? Do they think ‘is there something I could have done?’ now that it’s too late? You try to say that. The last time I saw Jeff actually play was in 2010, August, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. It was Testament, Megadeth and Slayer. I stood on Jeff’s side of the stage there and watched Jeff play. Unfortunately, I thought he was really sloppy that night. I watched him drink probably about ten beers, constantly. There was one point he was taking his left hand and strumming the guitar, and his right hand was just chugging a beer. I wouldn’t dare do that on stage, I wouldn’t even think of that. I’m performing. Somebody’s gonna be looking at me and fixated on me. You don’t have time to stop and drink a beer, you’re performing. That’s just the way I think. I love the man, I feel real bad, I wish that would never happen to me. Slayer is Jeff, Kerry, Tom and Dave to me. If Jeff can’t be there, you have to move on.

M.D: I look at Slayer now, with Jeff gone and Dave Lombardo currently gone, is there a point at which Tom and Kerry should look at each other and say “we just can’t call it ‘Slayer’ anymore?”
SZS: In my eyes, and I’m the biggest fan, I think that was one of those bands that was Led Zeppelin-ish, if that makes any sense. You can’t replace one of them, let alone two of them. Gary [Holt] is amazing. Gary helped invent thrash metal. He never got the respect he deserved for it in Exodus. I know, I was there. [Paul] Bostaph, fucking legend. I don’t give a shit what you say. Paul’s one of my great friends and I love him and I love his drumming. But I agree with you, man. You kinda got half of Exodus on “Shovel Headed Kill Machine” and you got half of Slayer, and not really the half that kind of did all the work, really. If you know any history like I do, Jeff writes the lyrics, Jeff writes the riffs. Kerry does some stuff, Tom does some stuff, but that band is driven by them, you just can’t replace Dave Lombardo. They did it with Paul and that was the best choice I think they could get, but as they come back to it now, you really can’t. I don’t think. You need to, I don’t know what it is, negotiate or whatever it takes to get the man back in the band. But people say the same thing about me and Exodus, so I know better than anybody [laughs]. You just can’t do that. Regardless of what the fans want. They could be sitting in an interview saying the same thing about me. ‘You know, I love Zetro with Exodus. I love Rob [Dukes], but it’s not the same without Zetro.’ I’ve heard that a million fucking times, but I’m not there and I won’t be there. It’s not my band now. So I understand that mentality.
M.D: Continuing that train of thought, there was a new Black Sabbath record this year, did you hear it?
SZS: I own it. I’ve heard it about a million times, I love it. It’s amazing. I love every fucking song. Every song. Ozzy should get ‘Best Male Vocalist’ at the rock Grammys, it should be ‘Best Rock Album,’ not just ‘Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Performance.’ I love it. I think it’s well done, I think it’s done in the vein of Sabbath, I think Geezer destroys on the record, totally. You can tell that he had so much influence on it. Ozzy sounds better than he ever has. I thought Brad Wilk did an amazing job. He really channeled Bill Ward and I thought Tony was just great. Five stars in my book.
M.D: Black Sabbath is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so is Metallica. And we’ve hit that point where Black Sabbath is no longer taboo, it’s culturally acceptable. Just in the past couple of months, we’ve seen not only those things, but all of a sudden The Misfits are in a nationally televised liquor ad, Halestorm is in a Bud Light commercial, White Zombie’s “More Human Than Human” is in a Disney trailer. Have we hit a point where metal is pacified, or has society adjusted to accept it?
SZS: I think what’s happened is that those fans of that music when they were kids in school are now the chiefs of these companies, and they’re able to say that! Honestly, that’s what I think it is. When I heard “Electric Eye” in the car commercial last year, I said the same thing. These are Judas Priest fans that are now the head of [Honda]. I don’t know if it’s necessarily acceptable, but “More Human Than Human” is almost twenty years old now if you think about it. It’s already kinda classic, even though I don’t look at it that way because they’re so far after me, it’s unbelievable. For me to look at it that way makes me old so I don’t [laughs]. Look how many Ramones songs are in commercials now. What pisses me off is that none of them alive to enjoy the money they’ve earned from those fucking commercials. Marky and Tommy are the only ones left. That’s kind of a drag. But look, remember the one commercial this year where the kids are all in the car and they’re doing “Crazy Train”? Are you kidding me? I remember thinking you’d never hear that on a mainstream radio station, let alone a commercial. It’s changed because of the staff. They were probably kids listening to Maiden and Ozzy and now they’re the heads of companies. You think all of a sudden they’ll just listen to Maroon 5 or Dave Matthews Band? True metalheads are true metalheads. I’ll be fifty next year, and I’m more of a true metalhead than I can fucking think. When the kids were little they used to have to tell me to turn it down because it was too loud.
M.D: Don’t feel too bad. I just turned thirty and was talking to an intern at work who was born in 1992 – after “Nevermind” and after Metallica’s Black Album. He has no memory of what either of those did to and for music.
SZS: In 1992, my fucking career was almost over on the first run through! [Laughs]
M.D: There’s a question: what did the coming of grunge do to your career, good or bad?
SZS: Killed it. Dead. Because metal was just shelved after grunge came out, I kinda hated grunge. It was this music that took our tone and turned it poppy without any leads to it. I didn’t like it, it was a dead period. I looked at myself in the mirror and wondered if it was going to be the death of me.

[It came back] In 2001 we did “Thrash of the Titans” in San Francisco where everybody got together to help Chuck Billy at his cancer benefit. It started there, then I rejoined Exodus in 2002, we released “Tempo of the Damned” in 2004, then Testament did a new record, and everybody started doing it. Everybody resurged and now we’re off and running.

M.D: More and more, my inbox gets filled with promos from bands like Motionless in White, Escape the Fate, Falling in Reverse and other combined glam/hardcore/metal acts –
SZS: I saw Motionless in White this year at Mayhem Festival, I had to ask my daughter who they were.
M.D: I started off thinking that whole wave was a fad, but now it’s in its fourth year at least. What’s your opinion of it, and what do you think it’s shelf life is?
SZS: I don’t think it has a shelf life. I love anything that’s heavy, so I have to support it because it’s trying to be heavy, but I don’t think it has a shelf life. I’ll give you an example as I’m looking at my daughter right now. Asking Alexandria? Done. You think those little girls are gonna keep screaming at those concerts? I took her to Mayhem last year and she got to meet them. You think those girls that are thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, when they’re eighteen, nineteen, twenty are still going to be listening to Asking Alexandria? Fortunately, I played in a band like Exodus that has a thirty year shelf life. Take the money now, while you got it. It’s just like ten years ago, you remember all those bands like Sum 41, the pop punk bands? Where are they now? In and out. Done. Gone. I’m very fortunate to be thirty years in the business and still be relevant, still put out music that people want to listen to.
M.D: I know you have a tattoo of the Oakland Raiders, I’m also a Raiders fan, sad though that may be -
SZS: You know what’s sad? We’re a dying breed. Out here we’re still strong. But they’re in a funk, hopefully they pull out of it. I think Reggie [McKenzie] is doing the right thing with the team, cutting a ton of salary, got rid of a bunch of dead weight, the Tommy Kellys and Richard Seymours who aren’t doing shit. It’s just gonna take a couple of minutes to turn it around.
M.D: Under/over six wins this year for the Raiders?
SZS: [Pauses] I’m gonna say six wins. I’m going to be optimistic and say six wins. If we have eight wins, that’d be great. If we have four again it’ll be a fucking disaster. I’m gonna say six wins.

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