Interview with vocalist Steve "Zetro" Souza
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 22, 2014
Californian newcomers Hatriot, led by the one and only Steve 'Zetro" Souza (ex-Legacy, ex-Exodus), let loose a storm of Thrash Metal on the band's debut album, Heroes of Origin, in 2013. The album also introduced Steve's sons, Cody Souza on bass and Nick Souza on drums, to the metal world.
The band didn't rest on their laurels for long and now the silence has been broken again as Hatriot returns with their follow-up record, Dawn of the New Centurion, which offers more melody along with the same heaviness and full-on, Bay Area Thrash.
Steve wanted to share his thoughts about the band's latest album and what it's like to be on the road with two of his kids, plus the Bay Area's "secret weapon" for Heavy Metal and so on. Read on...
Luxi: Hey Steve, how are you doing, mate? Last time we chatted, which was November 2012, if I recall, you had just finished the recording of Hatriot's debut album, Heroes of Origin. You now have your follow-up album, Dawn of the New Centurion, coming out on Germany's Massacre Records. How would you say this album is different compared to the debut? Did you try to maintain a similar musical approach or maybe add a few additional twists and turns?
Zetro: We just did what came naturally. Basically, we have another year under our belts and I think we have really found our sound. Dawn of the New Centurion has more of a melodic twist to it, but we didn't set out with that in mind, it just happened. Heroes of Origin was a full-on Thrash record where we just went in and killed everybody. The new one is more of a stealthy killer. It is still as heavy, and in many cases heavier than the debut but with a more sophisticated twist. The songs are longer and the arrangements are more complex. The approach to writing was the same. Kosta writes and arranges the music, then gives it to me and I put lyrics to it. The only real difference is, with the extra time together, have become more of a force to be reckoned with. It is still heavy Thrash Metal, but with a slightly different feel. It's more similar to what I did with Legacy than with Exodus, but it still definitely has the signature Bay Area sound.
Luxi: Swiss Heavy Rock band Krokus is obviously a favorite of yours since you recorded a cover version of "Midnite Maniac," from their album The Blitz, for the digipak version of the new Hatriot album. This also seems like the king of song Dublin Death Patrol might have done for one of their past or forthcoming releases...
Zetro: I guess it could be something on a Dublin Death Patrol record. I never really thought of it like that, but you are right! What happened was Kosta learned the main riff, and would play that riff at practice when he was tuning up, or just messing around; dialing in a tone on his amp or whatever. So he kept playing the riff night after night, and finally I told him "if you're going to keep playing that you might as well learn the whole damn song." He did learn the whole song and we worked it up at practice, and it turned out great. It's a great bonus track. The thing with me is I am still a huge fan of Heavy Metal, especially the classic shit, so it was a lot of fun and a real treat to put our own twist on the Krokus tune. I think the fans will love it.
Luxi: You have been streaming a song called "The Fear Within" for quite a while. How has the response to this song been? The song is sort of calm in the beginning then bursts into a full rage. What is this song about, lyrically?
Zetro: "The Fear Within" is actually the oldest Hatriot song. It's the first one we ever did, and is on our original demo that we put out a few years ago. I decided to leave the song off of Heroes of Origin, simply because it didn't fit with the rest of the material. Everything else was just crushing Thrash Metal, and "The Fear Within" had a lot more dynamic to it. It fits perfectly on Dawn of the New Centurion and is actually the first single from the record. The reaction has been amazing. People are blown away by this song. Lyrically it is about a cabin in the woods killer who has a lot of time to sit and reflect on his actions, but cannot stop himself from continuing to kill.
Luxi: The Hatriot 2014 line-up, which is you on vocals, your kids Cody on bass and Nick on drums and Kosta and Justin on guitars. You must be pretty functional indeed, as the songs for this new Hatriot album seemed to come together so quick. What do you think what makes the Hatriot line-up so uniform and tight, other than the bloodline connecting the three of you?
Zetro: I think it's the fact that we are all hungry for success and we all work hard to make it happen. These guys are too young to know that most rock stars are lazy and like to sit around. That doesn't even cross their minds. We rehearse constantly and are always working on new stuff. This album came together quickly because no big tour offers came in like we thought they would. I really had my heart set on hitting the road to support Heroes of Origin but, when the offers didn't really come in, we decided to not waste any time. Why sit around waiting? Fuck that - let's write a new record! So we are all very hungry. These guys all know what a unique situation they are in and they want to make the most of it. I turn fifty this month and don't have time to fuck around, so that's my motivation!
Luxi: Have your sons, Cody and Nick, surprised you, the proud dad, with their maturity or cool ideas?
Zetro: Yes, definitely! They both have really become masters of their craft, and I look over sometimes and think, "fuck they are great!" They blow me away. The thing is they both practice all the time, especially Nick. I mean he can't slack off or it will be obvious in the drumming. His shit has to be perfect or everybody will know.
Luxi: Since Heroes of Origin was so well received all over the world, did you have to set the bar higher for the songwriting on Dawn... so it would equal, or be even better, than the debut? Do you believe you achieved the goals you set for Dawn...?
Zetro: There is definitely pressure to be as good as the things I have done before. Really, we are competing against my history more than anything. If a fan buys a Hatriot record and it isn't as good as what I did with Exodus, then they are going to be very disappointed and won't want to hear anything else from me. I can't let that happen. So it is our goal to put out the best Thrash possible, every time. There is no room for filler tracks or half-assed performances. It is all or nothing with me.
Luxi: Is it hard to be objective when you come up with something great for Hatriot? I'm guessing the search for the perfectly crafted song is a never-ending journey.
Zetro: I'm not sure that any artist is ever 100% satisfied. I think we get pretty close with Hatriot. I am very meticulous when it comes to having all the little nuances worked out before we hit the studio. We do a lot of pre-production and a lot of rehearsal before we make a record, so I think we get as close to perfection as can be expected. It's all perception really. I love all the old Zeppelin records, but if you ask Jimmy Page he will tell you where every flaw is. He wrote the music so he has a different outlook on it. As fans, we think it is perfect.
Luxi: Can you tell us where the title, Dawn of the New Centurion, comes from?
Zetro: I've always been a fan of definitive album titles. There were so many of them back in the day. When you heard somebody talk about Master of Puppets or Among the Living, you knew exactly what era of the band they were referring to. I think a lot of that has been lost in the modern Metal scene, so I wanted big album titles for Hatriot. With Heroes of Origin we were the heroes, and it was the beginning of our recording career, so that's the origin. With Dawn of the New Centurion we are the centurion, and this is the beginning of the next chapter in our career. We are at the dawn of it.
Luxi: You teamed up with the producer Juan Ortega for this new opus and I guess it was very easy for you to work with him again as your cooperation was fruitful when you last worked with him about two years ago. Do you think Juan both as a producer, as well as a friend, has the best understanding of how a band like Hatriot should sound? How do you get on with him in the studio environment?
Zetro: Juan is a total professional. He is the Bay Area's secret weapon for Heavy Metal. With Juan you get a laid back environment, so the guys can relax and get their best takes, plus his ability to get tones is amazing. Trust me, I have worked with a lot of big producers, and Juan is right up there with the best of them. He is like Andy Sneap without the heavy price tag.
Luxi: Was it easy to determine the song order for Dawn of the New Centurion, or did you struggle with which song should follow which?
Zetro: I do all the track sequencing for the band. I knew that I wanted to open the record with "Cold Dead Hands" because of the Charlton Heston intro, but that's the only thing I had set in stone. The rest just seemed to fall in place as I listened to the final mixes. You just sort of feel what song should come next. It was a fairly painless process really.
Luxi: Is there any particular song on this new Hatriot record that stands out to you, for one reason or another?
Zetro: I love the whole record and I think it's one of my best works so far. It's hard to pick, but I'd say "The Fear Within" is a very special track for me because it was the first song we ever put together as Hatriot. Like I said earlier, we did a primitive version of it on our 4-song demo back in 2011, and the plan was to put it on Heroes of Origin, but when we heard how brutal the Heroes... record was, the song just didn't fit within the rest of the record. So we saved it for the Dawn of the New Centurion record. I think it fits this album well, and has a lot of dynamic and complex arrangements that keep the listener hooked. It's a great song, and has a classic "Bay Area" feel.
Luxi: The album cover for Dawn of the New Centurion, again by Mark DeVito, looks great, in my sincere opinion. Is there a deeper meaning behind the choice of artwork?
Zetro: Mark is another secret weapon here in the Bay Area. His portfolio is amazing, and the list of clients he has worked with includes a lot of Heavy Metal greats, so we were honored to use his talents for both Hatriot album covers. Mark is such a pro that we just give him a general concept and let him run with it. On Heroes... we wanted a bright color scheme and a lot of carnage going on. He totally captured the idea with his art. On Dawn of the New Centurion, we wanted the exact opposite. We wanted dark and dismal colors, and a very "dungeon like" feel. He came back with the art and it was perfect. There's no hidden meaning. It's just a killer Heavy Metal album sleeve.
Luxi: I think people have asked you this before but what's your relationship with all the pentagram figures? The Hatriot logo itself has a pentagram in it, plus both of your album covers have pentagrams. It's a really powerful, magnetic symbol, isn't it?
Zetro: It's just a cool symbol, and to me it represents old school Heavy Metal. There are not a lot of people using it anymore. I know Anthrax and Testament still use it, and that's very cool, but back in the day all the bands used it for shock value. Everybody from Venom to Mötley Crüe used it. It was shocking, especially with all the "devil music" hysteria that went on at the time. Nothing scares the shit out of the religious folk like a pentagram. We use it in Hatriot because we are an old school thrash band and to me a pentagram is a very old school symbol. You just know what you are going to get when you see a pentagram on the cover.
Luxi: I'm sure your near future plans include a video for one of the songs off this new album, to boost the record sales a bit. Have you decided which song will be? Could it be "The Fear Within"?
Zetro: We will definitely be doing at least one video, and that will be for "The Fear Within." Not sure when this is happening. I'd say it will be out in the next few months.
Luxi: I am sure you will start doing gigs soon again, to support to release of Dawn of the New Centurion. Are there plans on the drawing board that you can reveal?
Zetro: We plan on hitting the road hard for this record, and a lot of that depends on how much of a buzz we can create with promoters. There are talks of a South American run this summer, as well as a return to Europe, so we are definitely hoping for that. As soon as all the details are ironed out we will be announcing a tour.
Luxi: How easy (or difficult) is it to be a dad to all of the youngsters in the band when you are on the road with Hatriot? I mean, they are all at that age when doing little, devilish pranks, and other funny things to each other, is something that helps create a better chemistry within the band. How is it to be on the road anyway with these young gentlemen, in general?
Zetro: These guys are actually way more behaved than we were back in the Exodus days. They have heard all the war stories and know what they should do and not do on the road. We have a lot of fun, but it's not a big party like it was back in the day. I am way more disciplined now. I don't drink or do drugs at this point in my life, so the other guys sort of follow my lead with that. It's fairly painless being on the road with them. I often feel like a football coach, leading them around and showing them what to do, but they don't give me many problems.
Luxi: What's the funniest story so far, from your shows with these young band mates of yours?
Zetro: I don't know how funny it is, but we were so heavy in Europe that the whole fucking PA system caught fire inside the club. That was pretty Metal! It wasn't funny, but it was definitely memorable. Maybe a bit scary too... That shit caught on fire and flames were shooting out. All I could think about was the Great White tragedy where the whole club burned to the ground years ago. Luckily, the road crew had the fire put out quickly. It could have been a real mess.
Luxi: You turn 50 on March 24th this year (2014), so my sincere congratz for that (although not so many of us like aging). Do you believe its Heavy Rock or just Metal music in general, that does the trick and keeps you young? What's the best way to celebrate your B-day, by the way? Going to see the Calgary Flames playing somewhere, perhaps? ;o)
Zetro: I do think that Heavy Metal keeps me young! I have a very young outlook on my band and that has to be what keeps me going. I went to my 30th school reunion a couple years ago and all my buddies looked so fucking old!!!!!! I was thinking "what the fuck?" There's nothing you can do to fight off aging except take care of yourself the best you can. I try to eat right and go jogging to stay in shape for the stage. I don't smoke or drink to help care for my voice. So I'm hanging on to my youth for as long as I can. 50 is just a number! I don't have any real plans for celebrating, but my girlfriend might have something lined up. I won't be seeing the Flames play, but that would be nice!
Luxi: The Calgary Flames have scored 51 points so far (at the time of this writing - Luxi). What are their chances regarding this year's play-offs?
Zetro: Well, you obviously know that I am a Calgary Flames fan, but how in the hell are they going to make the playoffs? They are like the third worst team in the NHL! I love hockey, and I love the Bay Area, home of the San Jose Sharks, but I'm not a Sharks fan. I love the Calgary Flames and have followed them since 1986.
Luxi: That was all I had in my mind this time, so thank you Mr. Souza for your time again for getting this interview done, and last, but not least, I want to wish you all the best with Hatriot. Any closing comments, perhaps?
Zetro: Thanks for having me back for another interview. We appreciate all the help and support! I encourage all the thrashers out there to go and get the new Hatriot album, Dawn of the New Centurion, and crank it as loud as it will go! See you on tour! (Zetro)
|Other information about Hatriot on this site|
|Review: Heroes of Origin|
|Review: Dawn of the New Centurion|
|Interview with Steve "Zetro" Souza on December 2, 2012 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Video: Blood Stained Wings|
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