Exodus Singer Steve “Zetro” Souza on Reuniting With the Band and Listening to Slayer

During the early 1980s, clubs like San Francisco's On Broadway and Ruthie's Inn in Berkeley served as the filthy, beer-and-sweat soaked petri dishes that incubated the Bay Area's thrash-metal scene. The region produced numerous influential bands including Testament, Possessed, and Death Angel, but iconic East Bay crew Exodus were the first and, arguably, the most brutal of the lot.

[jump] Founded in 1980 by future Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett and drummer Tom Hunting, the group would cycle through a myriad of personnel changes (including Hammett's departure to replace Dave Mustaine in 1983) before settling on the line-up led by guitarist Gary Holt that made the seminal debut Bonded By Blood. Despite label delays and lackluster production, the album remains one of the cornerstone recordings in thrash history.

Exodus would achieve even greater commercial and critical success when original singer Paul Baloff was replaced by Steve “Zetro” Souza. During the late '80s, the band enjoyed its highest charting albums with Pleasures of the Flesh and Fabulous Disaster,  becoming a staple of MTV's “Headbanger's Ball” on the popularity of the video for “Toxic Waltz.” While the 1990s proved to be a challenge for the band that led to its complete dissolution twice, the past decade has been fruitful with a series of ferocious recordings and tours fronted by singer Rob Dukes.
Despite the success of those albums, Exodus surprised many this past June when they announced the return of Souza to sing on the band's latest Nuclear Blast Records effort Blood In, Blood Out. The pulverizing collection of new tracks marks a return to the band's early roots and includes “Salt the Wound,” the first studio recording to feature Hammett in the band's history. All Shook Down recently spoke with Souza about reuniting with Exodus ahead of their tour with fellow metal vets Slayer (who Holt is also performing with) and Suicidal Tendencies that kicks off Tuesday night with two hometown dates at the Fox Theater in Oakland.   

The split back in 2004 was pretty acrimonious. How long did it take to get back on good terms with Gary Holt and the rest of the band? Was there a particular moment that really initiated the reconciliation?
I think the reconciliation was all about me coming back in. There were four conversations…well, there were five or six if you want to talk about all the talks with all management counting Chuck Billy and Jonny Z [Jon Zazula, Megaforce Records founder] and Maria [Ferraro, Adrenaline PR CEO, who formed Breaking Bands Management with Billy and Zazula]. We all had talks individually and we talked about the things that I was definitely a part of. And I’ll be the first one to say I wasn’t the easiest person to deal with then.

There were a lot of other things going on. People know because I’ve said a million times there there was family and other crap that we just couldn’t get in control of in our lives. So when I left it was not too amicable. Of course, we’re not going to deny it. For the last ten years, there’s been a lot of mudslinging going back and forth. I’m sure it created some great reading for the fans [laughs].

As we look at it now, we’re all older. Gary and I are both 50. The things that happened in the past, you can’t change them. Exodus has always been a brotherhood and a family, and I’m kind of like the uncle who pissed somebody off and was never invited to Thanksgiving. Now I’m back invited to Christmas and Thanksgiving again.

What was you first reaction when you heard new material? How long before the reunion announcement and actually recording the vocals did you get to hear it?
This is how it went. I’ll give you the chronological thread of events. I had a meeting with management on a Wednesday at about 6 o’clock that ended at about 10:30 that night. I took the songs and listened to them all day Thursday. Then I went in and demoed a couple of them for the band, because it was like an audition. So I did “BTK” and “Black 13” at 5 o’clock Thursday.

The next day I was called by management and told that everyone in the band really liked it. Saturday I was told that it looked like the band wanted me back in and that we should have the talk. Those talks all went down and Sunday I was told the announcement was going to be made that day and that Wednesday I started recording.

[page] But when I first heard the record, I was like “Holy shit!” My first reaction was “This is the best Exodus album I’ve ever heard.” And when I went to the press after I had recorded the vocals and said “It might be the best Exodus ever!” and I was just sliced and diced. “You can’t say that!” And I went back and said “You’re right. Everybody has their own favorite Exodus album.”
I’m going to say for me, this is my favorite. And this is the way that I explain it. I love all of the albums that I do, but there are certain records where track 4 is better than track 3, and I click forward to track 4. On Blood In, Blood Out I listen from track 1 to track 11. All the songs, all the way through. I love every one of them. I love the structures, I love my vocal approach and I love what everyone else did on it.

I mean musically, Jack’s bass is just so far out front and booming. Tom totally outdid himself and Gary and Lee prove why they are the premiere thrash guitar duo. They are just amazing. They just shred on this record and the riffs are just fucking violent. It’s very Exodus. Here we are 50 years old, ten records and 30 years into this.

Who’s putting out music like that? I think the thrash bands are! I think the last Megadeth record was great. Overkill put out a great record earlier this year. Testament’s last two records have been great. I wrote a couple of lyrics on the last one, but that’s not why [laughs]! I just think they’re great records. The last Anthrax, Worship Music, was amazing. Even the last Slayer album World Painted Blood was great and the new one is going to be amazing.

I think the bands that initiated the sound and initiated doing this type of music are still going strong. And I think they’re going strong because they’re doing really well creatively. That goes for the German bands as well like Kreator and Sodom and Destruction. Everybody’s really strong. No weak links at all.

I remember when I was in my 20s going “That dude’s like 40! How can he still be in a metal band?” Now I’m 50 and I’m going “Hey, wait a minute! Was I the guy who said that? Wow.” I’ve still got another 25 in me.

Your performance on Blood In, Blood Out might be the strongest I’ve heard in your career. How have you maintained your voice over all this time?
Well, once you sell your soul to the devil, everything kind of falls in line [laughs]. I don’t know. I know what to do now completely. It’s been 30 years since the inception of Zetro singing in Legacy, so I know what’s going on. I think hills and valleys and how I would want to hear it. That’s kind of how I did Blood In, Blood Out. I really had no time. I had three days and right in. I know what college students go through when they say they have to cram, because I crammed like a motherfucker! I didn’t pay attention to anything else.

People are like “Do you warm up?” No, I don’t. I don’t warm up at all. I can go out there and make those sounds right now and we just got off tour where we did an hour 40 every night. I never lost my voice. In fact, they were saying “Dude, by show 11 or 12, you were singing stronger and your screams were louder!” Our sound man Martin was like, “Back off the mic Zet!”

I go to the gym every day. I eat right constantly. I pay attention to these things whereas in the ‘80s it was “Where’s the chicks? Where’s the coke? Who’s got the booze?” Now it’s like, “Where’s the gym? Gotta go to sleep. I need the warm milk and goodnight!” I’m more concerned about my performance than anything, so to make those better at this age and keep that going, you’ve got to get on it.

I think it’s the same with most people. I know Zakk Wylde, he doesn’t party. People don’t party any more. We’re all worried about our performance. We know it’s our life and we want to keep going. We still have the fan base. Think about it; Blood In, Blood Out charted at 38 this week. Thirty years later, we’re still relevant. We’re very fortunate to have that; people still listening to us and wanting to buy our records and come see us live. The Fox shows are almost sold out. What a great package though! Us, Suicidal, and Slayer? That’s Ruthie’s Inn 1985, you know?

Ruthie’s is the first place I saw Suicidal. They just showed up at a Death Angel show there and asked “Hey, can we do a quick set?”
That’s the way it was, man. I just did a round table with Tom [Araya from Slayer] and Mike [Muir from Suicidal Tendencies]. We talked to Loudwire for an hour and it was just the three of us. I said to Tom and Mike, “Look at this, three boys from Ruthie’s Inn!” The moderator was like “What?” but they knew what I was talking about. They were both laughing. Isn’t that a trip? Look at the magnitude from where it started and where it is now. It’s unbelievable. Our fans are really loyal and they always have been. You’ve never heard anybody go “Oh yeah, I listened to Slayer last summer.” C’mon! If you listen to Slayer, you listen to Slayer! That’s just the way it is.

Exodus play with Slayer and Suicidal Tendencies at the Fox Theater, Tuesday-Wednesday, Nov. 11-12, 7:30 p.m. $39.50-$59.50; thefoxoakland.com

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