Interview with Alex Skolnick of Testament when they played Vancouver with Judas Priest and Megadeth on Halloween night.
AS Ok, we started making records in '87. I was only in the band for a couple years before that, and Eric and Lou started the band and they still make the foundation of the band's music. Chuck joined the band about a year after I did and we've made four records. Our fourth, Souls of Black just came out and here we are.
How hard was it to get signed?
AS It was very easy to get signed but getting signed is a big illusion. There were about six labels that wanted to sign the band and it later grew to be about twelve. That was easy. It was easy to find someone who wanted to sign the band. The hard part is getting a contract that's good. That took about a year and a half of waiting while our lawyer worked things out with the contract, and things out between the band and the record company. That's the hard part. So you could say it took a couple of years but actually getting the contract was simple, just sending tapes to everyone possible.
Who are your influences?
AS Mine or the bands?
How about both
AS Ok, I think when the band started, Eric and Lou were really into old Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Metallica had just come out. Personally I'm more into more melodic music, I like a lot of electric jazz and I like groups like Yes and King Crimson.
How do you get your ideas for songs?
AS Lyrics I write are written at the last minute. Usually Chuck writes the majority of lyrics and he likes them to be dark and poetic, and that's great cause I can't write those types of lyrics. So he writes as many as he can and usually there's a couple of songs left over and those are the ones I write and they're more political and more social, and it's just things that bother me you know, like when something happens to a friend of mine. A friend of mine went to the hospital and was treated really bad, I wrote "Malpractice". When the revolution happened in China and then the government denied it ever happened I wrote "Seven Days of May". The "Greenhouse Effect" has been going on a long time and I wrote that just to let everybody know about it.
What's your favorite song from Souls of Black?
AS Probably Souls of Black, the title track
Do you care whether or not your records get played on commercial radio?
AS It's hard to say. I wish they would play the records. Testament is as hard working a band as anybody but it's just depressing to think that if we hired somebody else to write the songs, put all the music in the hands of a producer and got a look like Warrant or somebody, then we'd probably get played on major radio. That's kind of disturbing.
Best/worst fan reaction?
AS The best was when we played in Tokyo, Japan. That was the greatest crowd, really nice crowd. The worst was right before the first album came out. We did a show opening for Slayer, and when Slayer fans don't know who you are, you're in trouble.
What's it like touring with Judas Priest and Megadeth?
AS Oh it's great! I've loved Judas Priest for a long time, as the whole band has too, and we've known the Megadeth guys for a long time too and it's great. It's great to be able to play these big places.
What was it like on the Clash of the Titans tour?
AS It was fun. All the bands got along. Can't say that about the people working for the bands, but it was a good tour. We got to play to a lot of people in Europe.
What's a typical day on the road like?
AS It depends on whether we have press or not. On a day like today: wake up, play guitar for a couple hours, shower. I just did an interview with the Oakland Tribune, now I'm doing this interview. I have a couple of hours without interviews, the next couple hours, so I'm going to try to play some more guitar. Then I have another interview after that and then a couple hours before the show to warm up and get ready and somewhere I'll find time to eat. Then I'll play the show and depending on what kind of mood I'm in after we play I'll either go and watch Megadeth and Judas Priest, or I'll go on the bus and read a book or listen to my walkman, depending on what kind of mood I'm in. On a day when there's no press I usually do a lot of music, work on music. It's kind of frustrating though. I'm supposed to be out here being a musician but there's just not that much time.
And you write a guitar column even
AS When I have time. I don't know how I pull that off. Yeah, I do that. In fact when I have a deadline on the guitar column I find that every free minute goes into that.
What bands do you listen to while on the road?
AS Let's see. I like, I love Living Color. I think their new album's fantastic. Kings X is a good band. There's a jazz guitar player named Mike Stern who I like a lot. I think the Yes album 90125 is great.
How do you feel about doing videos?
AS It's kind of neat to see yourself on TV but aside from that I don't really like it. There are some great videos out there but it costs a lot of money to put out a really good video, and I don't think I could really enjoy videos unless I could really do everything that I wanted to do in a video and make some kind of statement but it just doesn't work that way. If you're going to get played on MTV you have to conform and I usually don't like conforming but it's part of the game.
Any plans for a home video?
AS Not definite. It's possible
What do you think of the metal scene right now?
AS I think there's a pretty healthy thing going on with metal bands right now. Judas Priest just released a really powerful album, and there's other bands doing that too. It's great to see bands going back to power. So many bands went for the radio thing for awhile. It's kind of depressing you know. I think hopefully Judas Priest will lead a wave of these older bands being more into their roots and where they came from.
What's the scene like in California?
AS I don't know, I'm not there very often. There's a lot of good funk bands out. A couple good ones are Primus and the Limbomaniacs, and they're like funk metal bands. In fact I did a funk song for Guitar World compilation album and I used the bassist from Primus and the drummer from the Limbomaniacs. Faith No More is another. They're obviously very popular right now. That's what's happening right now. I think straight ahead metal is kind of not happening anymore. The bands that are happening, are happening, but as far as new bands, nobody wants to know about them, wants something new.
What do you do in your spare time?
AS What spare time? Like I said, I work on this column, that takes up a lot of my time and I try to work on my art, you know, music.
How about interesting or embarrassing road stories?
AS Let's see. Well we were in Scotland, Chuck punched a menu in the elevator that was on display, behind glass so he cut his wrist. He was with Tom from Slayer and then they went to the hospital and they stitched up his wrist, and did a horrible job too. That's the end of that story.
What advice would you give to bands starting out?
AS It's hard to say, there's nothing I could say to every band out there. For one thing it takes a long time and it takes dedicated members, and you'll probably go through different members before you find the right chemistry. I think you should let your art be the most important thing, that you are a musician, first and foremost but play the game. It's a big game, this whole music business: the videos, the radio, the schmoozing with the press, it's a big game you have to play. I'm not saying that you should live for that, I mean some bands, bands like Milli Vanilli and New Kids on the Block are run by people in the industry who are expert players but those aren't really musicians. I think you should be a musician first and foremost, and learn about the games.
Check out the Testament website