Exodus – Let the Beatings ContinueSunday, 14th November 2021
Outside of the big four of thrash, many will place Exodus on that pinnacle tier for their contributions to the movement in terms of discography, energy, aggression, and overall blistering live performances. We all know the classics: Bonded by Blood, Pleasures of the Flesh, Fabulous Disaster. Or newer albums like Temple of the Damned, The Atrocity Exhibition Parts A and B, or Blood In, Blood Out that still snap limbs or move massive pits globally. The veterans are back for another round with Persona Non Grata – losing no impact on what stirs adrenaline, makes heads bang, and releases tension out of every pore of your being.
We reached out to vocalist Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza to have a fun discussion on all things Exodus: new album, Tom’s health issues/recovery, the Video Vault series Zetro has been doing on YouTube, special memorabilia, struggles for set lists, and even his recent weight loss journey. Enjoy!
Dead Rhetoric: Persona Non Grata is the latest Exodus album, seven years after Blood In, Blood Out. Can you delve into the songwriting and recording process, especially the scheduling and challenges that took place with Gary being a part of the Slayer camp for so long and the longer Exodus touring excursions that justify the lengthy break between records? Do you believe this makes for a stronger, more cohesive final product due to these factors?
Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza: I think it all created that. I came in before Blood In, Blood Out, and I have now been in the band longer than I was in the initial period from 1986 to 1993 and we did four records in that time, I was like ‘wow’. We wanted (Gary) to explore that time, and this gave us the time that we could do a record that concentrates on the songs and compositions. I know it’s been seven years but at least the time is here and the album sounds great. We came off the Bay Strikes Back tour last year, we knew what was going to happen. We thought we would still have to tour a little bit, but we would have a chunk of time to do this.
Obviously the world fell into what the world fell into, and it created more time for us. Gary and Tom started practicing together, and that’s usually how it starts with the songs together themselves. The basic songs, and then we all went up there. We knew we were going to go up to Lake Almanor where Tom lives and we were going to record in there, we knew who we were going to use to record it, so the pandemic gave us the time to take on the record. There were no other strains on it. Usually you go in to record a record, it’s going to be out, listen back to it, and wish you could have done certain things better. We knew we weren’t going to put this out for a while, while everything was shut down. We sat on it for a while, a lot of other things happened, vinyl being backed up for six months, that helped to release it later. Tom getting sick delayed it, there were a lot of factors.
The album is that good because we all worked together as a band. At the house, it was just the five of us – when I was working, the others weren’t. When they were making the music, I was working on things. It was a full band effort, and that’s why I think it’s so good. I didn’t come in to do the vocals after this guy was all done and didn’t hear it. This was a full family thing – I was there while Tom was doing the drums, Jack doing the bass, Gary and Lee playing guitar, we were there together through the whole process.
Dead Rhetoric: Where did you want to go with some of the lyrical content this go around – as I’m sure there is never any shortage of topics to discuss and espouse your views upon considering the turbulent global society we live in today?
Souza: I wrote two songs lyrically on this – I wrote “Elitist” and I wrote “Slipping into Madness”. The latter was about the fentanyl epidemic, and how lethal it is and how many hands are in it. We are thrash metal, we are very socially aware. “Elitist” is coming from a point of being elitist, and that was Gary’s idea. Most of the lyrics were Gary’s outside of “The Years of Death and Dying”, that was Tom’s idea coming from a poem. It worked really well with the music they had written, so Tom gets his first full lyrical credit.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it an easy decision to make for the first single to premiere from this album?
Souza: I was like ‘really, what song is it?’. I’m sure they knew, honestly I thought it was going to be “Clickbait”. I was wrong, I didn’t know. I love “The Beatings…”, it’s a short Exodus song with one verse, two choruses and a lead section. It was a good song to put out, it’s brutal, it’s heavy. Definitely exemplifies what Exodus is all about, kick in your face type of riff and murder your wife type of lyrics, it has a good blend of everything we are all about.
Dead Rhetoric: Is it hard at this point in your career to push yourselves creatively because all of the work you’ve done at this point? Are you more self-critical for every album?
Souza: I think there’s a certain idea that goes into what you are going to do creatively. I’m always looking to listen to something completely musically different and incorporate it into what I do. I wrote a song called “Fuel for the Fire” on Force of Habit, I stole the vocal part totally off a Tears for Fears song, kind of. I incorporated it into a metal song, and it worked out. I’m always listening. I am aware of what is lame, that’s a three-chord rhythm, verse, lead section, get out – and don’t want to be boring. Give the fans something that they pay money for, write songs. Don’t be afraid, you can’t be afraid, that’s for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: How is Tom doing in recovery at this point – were you surprised by the outpouring of crowdfunding support to help with his hospital bills, does this speak to the power of the metal community to take care of each other in these times of need?
Souza: That’s amazing, isn’t it? He’s the nicest guy in the world, there isn’t a person in the world that would say anything bad about Tom. He would give you the shoes off of his feet if you couldn’t walk. It happened to the worst guy, but he’ll be back as he’s the strongest guy I know. Before we go on a tour, he does the Rocky type of shit. He chops wood, he lives in the mountains in Lake Almanor. His house was almost burned down by the fires, that’s just how it is in Northern California. You have to be careful.
He’s getting strong now. He had to move a lot of gear from his house. He is setting up the drums and getting his chops down. He still has a couple more chemo treatments, the surgery got all the cancer out. He is feeling better, he can’t wait. The outpouring of people, the money, the greetings, and well wishes. The metal community is definitely awesome. Just the best, when one of them is hurt, they all come to the plate.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you assess the status and career of Exodus at this point? Do you believe you carry a certain amount of respect and consistent credibility not just from fellow musicians and bands, but the first, second, and possibly third generation of thrash followers because of your work?
Souza: I think I explain things very simply. In the 80’s we were rock stars, in the 90’s we were has-beens, and now we are considered legends. You have to go through that and appreciate that whole process. As stupid kids you don’t know you are eighteen, writing all these songs, all these people around telling you how great you are while they put your money in their back pockets, it’s all a learning process. Now we value what we’ve done, and we know what it’s worth for us. We know what we are capable of musically and we know what the fans expect from us and we deliver to them. It’s a mutual appreciation from both sides. We would never give them a record that sucked or didn’t have any of our feeling for what we wanted to do. Now we know what we want – musically the direction is there.
I hear aspects of Tempo of the Damned and Exhibit B in this new album. That’s just me personally – the mentality seems that way. But I can see a little Fabulous Disaster, there are some songs that have a bit of “Cajun Hell” atmosphere. Anger, tempo, and intricacies. Gary, talk about compositions on an album – this is why it took seven years, but wow. I like it better now, the focus is completely into Exodus and these songs prove it.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been doing a killer YouTube series for a few years now with Zetro’s Toxic Vault – giving people more insight into the metal scene through your talks with musicians, reviews, and opinions on the scene. What do you enjoy most about your channel, what have been some of your favorite talks or moments, and what do you hope the viewers gain from watching your channel?
Souza: Just fun, insight, freedom. I do it because this area and myself – the rolodex in my head is so long. I know so many things, I’ve seen so many connections. I had Chris Kontos on recently and we did a Motörhead thing, I remember the time I had crank with Lemmy inside a dressing room, doing Jack Daniels with him. Where do you get to hear that? I like to talk and have fun, spotlight some people that didn’t get the notoriety that other people may have. The stories are all genuine. I can get five guys from the same band and get five different episodes. It’s just a different view of what each guy thinks, how things happened, and the stories. A lot of fun to do. The meat and potatoes of course (are) the music interviews, but I have a lot of fun with the movie reviews. I have something to give to the people, so I might as well give it away – why not?
Dead Rhetoric: Heavy metal as a genre is now over fifty years old. What still excites you and motivates you within the genre – and where would you like to see some changes (if any) to make the movement stronger and healthy for the future?
Souza: I wish it was more recognized, but I guess it never will be. It pisses me off, and it shouldn’t because I have been in the business long enough, I know what I get. See LL Cool J get in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G., not the Scorpions, Iron Maiden, or Judas Priest. Do you understand? It kills me. Iron Maiden was up this year, and wait a minute. LL Cool J can maybe sell out a small theater up to 3,500 people playing live – Iron Maiden sells out stadiums, they haven’t moved enough people musically to where they belong in the Hall of Fame? Give me a break. I go down the list. If it did, it would make things more mainstream.
The best part about metal is our bands don’t give a fuck. If you are a metalhead, you are a metalhead- nobody is telling you to be a metalhead. You love it because you love the aggression. I hear new albums all the time – the new Lamb of God is great, new Armored Saint, I love John Bush. I’m excited for metal – I thought the new AC/DC album was killer. You may have thought they were washed up, but they came out with a rocking, killer record. I am so excited for the bands, I like the two new Iron Maiden songs. Good hooks to them. Even Firepower, the last Judas Priest record they put out in 2018, one of the best records they ever put out. The legends are still killing it. I love bands like The Black Dahlia Murder, Of Mice and Men are my friends. Butcher Babies. I am a metal supporter. If it’s metal I have my horns up for it, I’m all about the allegiance.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the ‘Tales of the Damned’ action figures and comic books Incendium has developed based on classic tracks from Exodus – how does it feel to explore this medium as a way of promotion?
Souza: I don’t know either! I called management because I wanted those figurines for my dungeon on my video set! It’s funny how (promotional items) go through management and I will have no clue. I want one! I want one of everything we do. We made these neck wraps for COVID-19, and they were piranha faces. They only made fifty of them, and I couldn’t get one! Time out. I’m the singer of the band, and I can’t have one. They sold them out. Make fifty more then, and give me one. If you pulled it over your face it was a piranha. One of those things – I hope I get them. They did a comic book a couple of years ago with the five of us, and the first time I saw it was when one of the fans asked me to sign it. Where did they get this? I look over to my manager – comic book, when did these come out? I didn’t get the memo, can I get five copies for my mother please? I love pop culture like that. I still lose my mind over being on a trading card.
Dead Rhetoric: How much of a challenge is it now with all these Exodus albums to carve out a satisfactory setlist – especially if you are in more of a festival slot position versus headlining shows? Is the process a balance between satisfying yourselves as musicians plus what you know are crowd favorites?
Souza: Uh, that is the biggest war ever – and I hate it! Zetro, Tom – go make a set! And I will be like, no because we’ll make a set and you assholes will go, no I don’t want to play that one. I want to play this one. So you guys make the setlist. Sometimes we make it a half an hour before we go on. We get the stage people who say, ‘can you make a set – we need to give it to the sound people!’. Don’t worry, we go on in twenty minutes. When we go into the first song, you’ll have the rest of the songs (laughs). It’s a battle. It took me three years to get “Parasite” put back in the set. I’ll take them all out for steak and lobster, please find room for “Parasite” on the tour. We have eleven albums now, one hundred something songs, and you have to play fifteen songs. You have to play “Toxic Waltz”. You have to play “Bonded By Blood”. You have to play “Strike of the Beast”, “A Lesson in Violence”. And then “Blacklist”. Yeah, that’s worse than writing a record to be honest with you.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there also times they want some of the Rob Dukes-era songs in there?
Souza: I am the one that wants those songs. I love those songs. I am the one calling them. I reopened “The Ballad of Leonard and Charles”, let’s open with that. That intro that comes in, it’s so killer. Since I have been back in the band the past seven years I’ve probably done fifteen of his era’s songs. Easily. They are always in the set. “Deathamphetamine”, “Iconoclasm”, “Children of a Worthless God”, “Good Riddance”. I’ve played a lot of them. “Funeral Hymn”. I love the Rob-era songs.
Dead Rhetoric: What is left on your personal bucket list to accomplish within the music industry? Any specific countries you’d like to play, or projects/albums you’d like to release?
Souza: I’ve played everywhere, pretty much. I haven’t been to the continent of Africa. I played in this thing a couple of years ago called Hail! – James Lonrenzo, Phil Demmel, Chris Alder and myself, and we went to Bahrain, which is in Saudi Arabia. And we went to Dubai, which is hella fun. I’ve gone to so many places. I’m still hungry, I have not satisfied myself yet musically yet. I have a lot to do and a lot to prove. I’m 57 years old, and I don’t plan to go anywhere soon. I’m not on my retirement. I’m going to be like Biff of Saxon. Straight up, this is what I do. As long as I sound good, and people say that I still sound good. I’m in a little better shape – I lost 65 pounds in the last year. I run four and a half to seven miles every single day. I’ve transformed myself, I’m eating 1,200 calories a day. Because I want longevity. Because I’ve seen so many of my friends getting diabetes, or a heart disease. I’m in the back nine man, this is when shit starts happening. When you wake up one morning and you get Parkinson’s, I have friends my age that I graduated with that are dead. I’m still a young man with a lot left to do. I still want to rule the roost live. A lot of time left.
Dead Rhetoric: Is that how you spent a lot of your time with the pandemic, just getting in shape physically?
Souza: Yeah. Everyone else was gaining weight and I was losing weight. It was weird but it worked out. I transformed myself, made the best record I could vocally and I am going to get myself in shape so when I come out there live, people will be like ‘woah – what happened to Zetro?’. When I played Psycho Vegas, people were impressed. I’d like to lose another twenty pounds, but as you get older it’s hard. I’m at 1,200 calories a day, do you know how hard that is? I weigh all my food, I check everything, I log everything. I have a twelve-step program with food and I had to learn everything. It’s one of those things, I fought with it all my life, but I just learned how to do it. I learned how to eat slower, and kick your ass for twenty more years!
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Exodus over the next twelve to eighteen months? I’d imagine a lot of touring and festival appearances – what can the fans expect when taking you in live these days?
Souza: Probably in the next year we will tour abroad when that seems to break up. We are still unclear about things. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. Yes, world domination again. The world gets to hear Persona Non Grata for sure – and we will be on.