Why Chuck Billy Didn’t Think Dave Lombardo Would Be Able to Rejoin Testament
Testament surprised metal fans last month when they announced that legendary drummer Dave Lombardo would be rejoining the band, but the news also came as a pleasant surprise to someone you might not expect: Chuck Billy.
Billy, who was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie’s weekend radio show, shared that he would have called Lombardo a lot sooner but assumed Lombardo would be too busy.
"So I called him and I was like, 'Dave, dude I would’ve called you first of all before any of this if I had knew you were even remotely interested, but I thought you had so many other projects I didn’t think you’d have any time.' And he was like “well those are all kind of standby right now and I have time and yeah I’m down," the vocalist said.
The band made headlines recently as drummer Gene Hoglan announced he was leaving the band to pursue other projects. This opened the door for a reunion with Lombardo, who appeared on their 1999 record The Gathering.
The thrash legends are currently playing shows on "The Bay Strikes Back" tour with fellow Bay Area icons Exodus and Death Angel.
Also quite recently, bassist Steve DiGiorgio lent his skills to the upcoming Megadeth album, and Testament even hung out with Albuquerque, N.M. “metal mayor” Tim Keller on the New Mexico date of the trek.
Billy expressed his excitement for the creative chemistry brought to the band with Lombardo behind the kit and even teased a possible solo record that would be a detour from his iconic thrash sound.
Read the full interview below.
Gene Hoglan just left Testament after a decade with the band. Why does a drummer of such extremely high caliber like Gene, and now Dave Lombardo, need to be a central component to Testament’s musical chemistry?
We’ve had probably every awesome drummer there is in this style of music play with us. Just to be clear, I would say to never count Gene out. Gene will probably be playing for Testament once again at some point in time somewhere down the road — that door’s not closed.
What happened was being off for two years because of COVID, everybody was making plans for the future and Gene had plans with Dark Angel and Dethklok stuff, so when it came time for us to regroup (we had been pushing back our tours and he already had stuff in the books), we couldn’t really move our Testament schedule. We were like, "Well, if we really can’t move them then we’ll try and replace you if we can on those tours."
There were just too many conflicts and we decided that if you couldn’t do one of them, then we’ll need to get somebody to do the whole thing. When Gene made his big announcement, not more than 15 minutes after I got a text from Dave Lombardo just saying, “Lombardo?” and I’m like, "No way.”
So, I called him and I was like, “Dave, dude I would’ve called you first of all before any of this if I had knew you were even remotely interested, but I thought you had so many other projects I didn’t think you’d have any time.” And he was like, “Well, those are all kind of on standby right now and I have time — I’m down.”
Testament, "D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)"
Also, he doesn’t sleep!
The funny thing is I’ve talked to Dave over the years saying, “Hey wouldn’t it be fun to do a The Gathering tour again and just play that record?” We always talked about it and the opportunity presents itself! We can possibly do that now.
I love that that’s how it ended up. It’s just random — “Lombardo?”
He was actually asleep and his wife woke him up and was like, "Hey, I don’t know what’s going on but Gene just had a post saying he’s leaving Testament and they're looking for a drummer and you should call them."
It was that quick.
And then all these auditions started coming in. We were like, "All right, we’ll keep checking out everybody, but, wow, if Dave is into this, we’re down." We got to see a lot of good players play a lot of our stuff, but you know, Dave Lombardo! You can’t go wrong with that.
During his first involvement with the band, Dave Lombardo was a creative catalyst particularly in how well he worked with Eric Peterson. How do you anticipate that bond might have an effect on new music?
It’s going to happen. During COVID Eric wrote a lot of riffs, so he’s actually been stockpiling the riffs trying to work on writing another record, so the timing is perfect. I think the beauty and the chemistry that Eric and Dave had for The Gathering record was amazing because I really believe it as a turning point for Testament as far as our style and really honing in who we are.
Eric has always been a guitar player who always worked out all the songs on the drum machine and presented them to the drummers. For The Gathering, Dave just said, "Dude, just play. Let’s just jam, just play,” and Dave started just playing and Eric really got to just focus on the riffs without looking at the whole picture. The chemistry was just there and Dave pushed Eric, so I’m looking forward to that happening again, I hope.
The rehearsals we had with Dave are just like old times again. The sad thing is Dave probably would’ve still been here if I didn’t get cancer back in 2002 when The Gathering stuff went to the side because I got sick. Dave moved on and here we are — the opportunity is here and we’re all ready to go and he’s excited to get back here and play again. His energy is getting us excited because he’s really excited about it.
Much has been made about Testament now being nearly the entire The Gathering lineup of the band. Why is that album so distinct and ultimately important to the way the band sounds now?
Once we wrote that record I really believe it was a culmination of everything we’d done up to that point. Eric introduced black metal beats and more blast beats into the music which we’ve never done before. Eric is a big black metal fan and he incorporated it and Dave being Dave, it just made sense.
That record was a turnaround record. We hadn’t put out a record in a while and Dave’s new energy in the band and the song creations… there was something really special about that and I think Andy Sneap really hit the head on the nail on the production. I have a lot of friends that have said, "Hey, we used The Gathering record as our base point when we’re mixing our record." It was flattering that people were looking up to that record for creativity and trying to make their records better and that’s awesome.
Testament are one of the several key bands in the development of the thrash genre. How did the competitive nature of bands during those early days become a camaraderie that’s now more brotherhood in nature?
When we were younger, it was a friendly competition. You always want to do good or stay up with what everybody else is doing — that’s a big part of it. When we went to Europe and did the "Bay Strikes Back" tour [in early 2020] it was the first time we all toured together.
The first thing you usually do on tour is meet all the opening acts you've never met and you become friends over the tour, but this one was so comfortable out of the gate and so relaxed with no attitudes and no drama. We all knew the way it was going to go down. It was killer.
The tour in Europe was so successful for us and we had the best time. We’re looking forward to the three or four different legs of this tour planned out in the near future. We have the U.S. leg as the first one so we’re going to spend a lot of time with Exodus and Death Angel over the next year.
There is a Chuck Billy solo album in the works. What’s exciting and maybe a little intimidating about expressing yourself outside the context of Testament?
The scary part is gone. I really don’t care — I’m writing a solo record for myself and the one thing I don’t want it to be is a Testament record. I’ve done enough of those records and I want to try something a little different — heavy, but maybe also a little more bluesy and sludgy. Just real simplistic stuff to try to create a different side of what I’ve done already.
I’ve only worked with Eric, so trying to write with other people it definitely pushes me to try other things and push myself to get a little more creative vocally. I’m looking forward to that, but I’m not in a big hurry. When COVID hit, maybe I had that on my mind and I was getting antsy and wanting to do it, but now that the world is opening back up and we’re getting back on tour, I’ll put it on the back burner. It’ll happen, it's just not something I’m rushing to do.
Thanks to Chuck Billy for the interview. View all of Testament's upcoming tour dates here and get your copy of their latest album, 'Titans of Creation,' at this location. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.