25 Years Fighting for Testament's Legacy
interview with Eric Peterson
One band, two names, a few too many changes& Twenty-five years ago, a young man by the name of Eric Peterson, made reality what so many adolescents dream of, creating a band, specifically, a heavy metal band. Although most groups do not last long and are left as they began, the band originally named Legacy and later on Testament, has survived constant changes of band members, illnesses, and most importantly, it has survived the everlasting test of time.
So many followers of the band believe that Testament could and should have reached world wide acclamation as others have achieved. And although I completely agree, I also look up in admiration at how Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson have been able to keep Testaments spirit alive. They have successfully fought against all the challenges put in their path with faith in themselves and their creativity.
After slowly getting back together, their fans have been blessed with Formation of Damnation, a harsh, dark, reality-biting, thrash metal album which reminds many of their origins. It is this album that took me to steal some of Eric Petersons time to talk about this album, the band and more during the JudasFest European tour. I found myself sitting face to face with a serene and candid Eric Peterson. And so we began&
virtual: After all these years of musicians coming and going as well as other mishaps, how have you and Chuck Billy been able to keep the spirit of Testament alive for so long?
Eric: A lot of people think that people coming and leaving was more of a problem, but the people that we picked were more of an inspiration, I think. It kept everything new and exciting again because every time somebody would come in, and we had some top players, specially drummers, weve probably played with some of the best drummers in metal, from the short version of Chris Contos, who, you know, is a very inspiration to work with, to working with David Lombardo or Jean Hoglan. They kind of made me reinvent myself and also gave me the opportunity to look at them as like, OK Ive got a Dave Lombardo drum machine for a year, Ive got Dave Lombardo programs, in my head Im like, OK Im going through his library if I know what he can do. And I know hes not going to say to me, like Slayer or Testament, after a while your older members start going, Oh, I dont want to do that. You know, after you get to know somebody, but after you first meet somebody and you work with them and they know you are paying them to work on this record, theyre basically going to do anything I ask them to do. So, its been more of an inspiration having people like that which has kept us going, I think.
virtual: Well, I think that most of us have always thought, wow, so many changes, so many problems, how can these boys continue!
Eric: Well, you know, its mostly been in the drum area. Guitarwise its just been basically James Murphy on the records and then live we have Steve Smyth, who is more of a live (player), he really never did a recording with us but he got to recording the last two Dragonlord records with me, so, it was pretty cool.
virtual: Now that slowly youve all come back together, how does it feel to be back as the original band?
Eric: It feels good, you know, now that weve, me and Chuck have gone off and kept the boat afloat, so to speak, and we got heavier, you know, we went back to our roots, and we did what the band didnt want to do at the time, after Ritual, at that point we see the band wanting to be more commercially successful, our drummer Loui wasnt able to do all the fast stuff, he just wanted to be like The Cult and rock, which is cool but at that point you try not to be thrash anymore and its like all these bands are coming out, Sepultura, Pantera, and I was just like, these guys are doing what I want to do, theyre probably influenced by us from our first records and now they are grabbing our ideas, or not just our ideas but our genre of music and going all the way with it. So, after we split up we got a lot heavier. It wasnt like I dont want to play with the world anymore or I dont want to do this style, so I just kind of went nuts and you can see from Demonic and The Gathering, which are just brutal records, but it established us in the underground again. I think that when Alex and Greggy and Lou had come back, they respected it at that point, because the came to see us live and they were like, wow, watching us play this heavy shit and just watching the crowd go off, and it was exciting for them again, like, Wow! This is cool.
virtual: I can just imagine. How has the creative process changed, now that you are all back together again to when it was just you and Chuck Billy?
Eric: Well, Im being a hoard about it, you know, Im keeping it the way I like it. Kind of like The Gathering and Demonic, where Im just making sure that everything goes through me and just make sure that its got to be heavy. Im not going to go back and let everybody come and just start cooking in the kitchen again, you know the kitchen is working fine right now. But ideas are accepted, definitely.
virtual: OK. So who does the lyrics?
Eric: Chuck comes up with most of the melodies and then we work with Scanny Dill James, who is a great writer and thinks of probably more intelligent words than we would think.
virtual: The lyrics are really awesome in this last album. He really did a good job.
Eric: Yeah, they are cool, they developed a lot better, but theyre all of Chucks patterns and his work as well but getting somebody to help from the outside with a higher IQ helps (he laughs).
virtual: After so many years, when you first started with Legacy, what did you expect? Where did you imagine this might lead you to?
Eric: Uhm& Well, if you would have told me, Hey, when you are forty-four you are going to put out a record Formation of Damnation, its going to be death metal, brutal. I wouldve been, no way (he smiles brightly). So, yeah, you know at that point in Legacy all I wanted to do was put a record out and just maybe do a tour in Europe I thought, because Im influenced by a lot of European bands, so I was like, it would be so cool to just go over to Europe and play just one gig. That would be cool&
virtual: Which European bands have influenced you?
Eric: Uhm& Shit! All of them! (He laughs). Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, a lot of the new wave of British heavy metal, Angelwitch, Saxon& A lot of the older stuff, you know&
virtual: Yes, theres a lot out there to choose from. Any regrets throughout these years?
Eric: Yeah, of course, but then the regrets turn into reality and then you make it work and something good comes out of it, so& No remorse, no regrets.
virtual: Talk to me about this latest album.
Eric: This record in particular compared to our old records, like in looking back at our records that were more popular like The Legacy or The New Order, we talked about future predictions and shit that has actually happened now, you know with war and stuff like that, and prophecies from Nostradamus. This record is actually stuff weve actually experienced in life, in the relationships, weve seen wars, you know theres been some events against our country&
virtual: That September 11th song was really good, very well put together.
Eric: Well, yeah, we really didnt want to touch that subject, but it came out good, so we said, what the hell. Theres a lot of people say its a shame that theres not that many people that really, well, theres a lot of people who stayed away from that subject. But it worked for that song, its just one of those songs that really works, works for good, really doesnt take any side, just kind of telling a story. It could actually be talking about any country, with being marked, it doesnt really pin point that, except for it says September 11th.
virtual: Yes, second line.
Eric: (sings) Early morning September 11th& Well, anyway, you know Chuck getting cancer and spiritual things, its just& Basically this record is things that have happened to the world and us, and weve really experienced it, were not looking in a book or going online or reading some history to write a song. Its things that have actually happened, so theyre experiences that weve dealt with. It makes it more real.
virtual: Then, would you say its your most personal album to date?
Eric: Yeah, I think so.
virtual: Probably thats the secret of why people who follow you have liked it so much. (Eric nods.) In that album there was one song, I am curious about the lyrics, More Than Meets the Eye. What can you tell me about it?
Eric: Uhm& Well, I kind of came up with the title, I wanted to have a song that had one of those cliché, not cliché but like more than meets the eye or déjà vu, one of those kinds of things, and that one kind of stuck, it went really good in that break. (He starts reenacting the song) tokudaun, tokudaun,, more than meets the eye& It just fit good in there. So I think the topic, what hes talking about is, basically, what he kind of pin pointed on his life, like being stubborn and going through all this shit, maybe seeing that his lifes heading downhill but then he turns it around. So, its kind of cool, you know, you can kind of take it towards your own life.
virtual: Yeah, I identified many things, thats why I was asking. Thats a really cool song, as you said, one moment its all bad but then it changes.
Eric: Yeah, it turns positive.
virtual: To finish all this up, Dragonlord, you have Testament and you come up with Dragonlord. Whats all that about?
Eric: Its more of an atmospheric black metal hard stuff and its a lot of fun. You know, there were voices in my head for the longest time and finally I was like, OK, Ill do it! Its just one of those things where if I didnt do it, I was just going to go crazy because I had all these riffs just being poured into my head, it was almost like a wiji board, as soon as I put my guitar on, my hands are going urrr (he reenacts his guitar playing) and Im not even thinking and I was like, woe! So that whole project just came together really quickly. So, yeah, Im a big fan of dragons, so I wanted to use the word dragon in there. I just kind of identified it for me because I was born the year of the dragon, my names Eric, it means king or whatever, so I kind of put that together, Dragonlord (he laughs softly).
virtual: No, no, thats cool, its a good way to get a band name. But, its kind of difficult to have two bands going.
Eric: Theres a lot of work put into that one, as well, just as much if not more into that because Im the lead singer. I didnt even know I could sing, I just was like I couldnt find anybody who could sing like that so I was like, well, I really know what I want to hear, so let me, just give me the microphone see if I can do it.
virtual: Isnt that a strain on your vocal cords? You really rip your voice in those songs.
Eric: I warm up properly. Ive watched Chuck warm up for twenty years now, so I kind of know how he does it and Ive learned, Ive got some of his warm up tapes. I do the warm up exercise before and whats amazing is I can sing for two hours and scream my head off and I can walk away talking normal when I wake up, but if I dont, theres been times I havent done the exercise, and my voice kind of sounds like this, where it starts to break up.
virtual: Not good.
Eric: Yeah, its not good and specially if youre doing shows, weve done back to back shows before, but luckily Ive done my exercises so Im good.
virtual: Well, I believe Ive got all my questions answered. I appreciate your time and hope its not the last time we sit face to face to talk about many other aspects involving Testament.
Recorder off, the meeting gradually came to an end, as we just talked about odds and ends, while Eric Peterson autographed some album covers and pictures, and I got my last photos of this get-together. As I slowly left the soft light of the tour bus and walked into the harsh brightness of daylight, I realized I had left one question unasked, but truth be told, only time will answer, what does the future hold for Testament?