Interview with Hatriot’s Steve “Zetro” Souza

Steve “Zetro” Souza is a thrash metal legend thanks to his years as the frontman of Exodus, and has just released the second album Dawn of the New Centurion, with his new band Hatriot. Steve took the time to answer some questions for Swirls of Noise:

Hello Steve, first off thanks for answering questions for Swirls of Noise. 
ZETRO – Thanks for having me.  It’s my pleasure to chat with you and talk all things metal!!
Thrash metal band Hatriot is your most recent project, playing with your two sons, Cody on bass and Nick on drums, you’ve raised them right!. How did that come about, and how is it working in a band with them?
ZETRO – Yes, Hatriot is my only band right now.  It is my total focus.  My kids have always been around heavy metal.  They grew up on tour buses and in studios, with rock stars coming over and hanging at the house.  It’s just the environment they grew up in.  So it was pretty natural that they wanted to play instruments as kids.  I bought Cody a bass off Jack Gibson from Exodus, when he was about 13 years old.  I handed it to him and said “here you go… learn to play it.”  And I’ll be damned if he did!  Same thing went for Nick.  He was about 10 when he got into drums.  He just worked real hard over the years and got to a level where he could play as good as any pro that I know from the scene.  Originally we had different guys in Hatriot, but as the bass and drum slots became available, both boys wanted in.  I was against it at first.  I knew the whole world would clown on me if they sucked, so I made them both try out the same way that anybody else tried out.  They both came in and kicked ass.  There was no nepotism with me.  It had nothing to do with them being a Souza.  They both tried out and earned their way into the fold.  It’s been great working with them.  Both of my sons are very focused and they know what it takes to be in a band on a bigger level.  They watched me go through it.  Plus I know their personalities, so there were no surprises.  It adds a bit of a ‘novelty’ for the press to talk about, so that’s pretty cool too.
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Would you say it’s easier to write songs as a unit, given you’re obviously so close to them?
ZETRO – Well, all the songs are written by Kosta Varvatakis and myself.  The other guys put their own individual twist on things, but Kosta writes and arranges all the music.  I will say that it is easier to deal with them on a personal level.  I know their moods and their personalities, so there’s no learning curve there.  That is definitely a big plus when you are dealing with five guys in a band plus the crew on tour.  So it definitely has advantages.
You’ve just released your second album with Hatriot, entitled Dawn of the New Centurion, and it sounds really angry and vitriolic! What themes fuel the anger, what is the album about?
ZETRO – There’s no set theme.  It’s not a concept record or anything like that.  I basically write about whatever topic intrigues me.  The only rules are it has to be dark and it has to be fucking heavy!  No subject is off limits or too taboo.  The world gets more and more violent as the years go by, and there’s never a shortage of things to write about.  Just turn on the news!  This record has a wide range of topics.  I have songs about corrupt world leaders, Constitutional rights, a cabin in the woods killer, the end of the world, and a lot more.  It’s a very heavy record lyrically, as well as musically.  It takes more than one listen to catch everything going on.
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The riffs on the album are really pounding, but the album retains a sense of melody too. How important is it to get a balance between the two?
ZETRO – I have to credit all the riffs to Kosta, my guitarist.  He is really becoming a force in thrash metal.  The guy is just a fucking monster.  He grew up listening to all the thrash greats, and taught himself to play guitar by using old school thrash as a template, so he has a style that is perfect for me to write lyrics to.  I think thrash has a certain list of mandatory dynamics.  There are tempo changes, breakdowns, dueling guitar solos, and all that good stuff on this record.  Balance is important because you need dynamics to make a song flow properly, otherwise it is just noise.  Classic thrash bands have dynamics, and that is that is what we set out to do.
Do you have a favorite song from the album? And which ones will be on upcoming setlists?
ZETRO – I’d say right now “Super Kill” is my favorite, but that can change.  I love the whole record.  We have the ability to play both Hatriot records from start to finish, so the set list will change depending on how long we get to play.  I never want to become predictable.  We can pull any of our songs out at any time.
How do you approach writing the music for Hatriot? Given that a lot of time has passed since you first started do you approach it the same way or do you have a different writing style?
ZETRO – My approach has always been the same.  I listen to a riff or a completed song and come up with vocal lines and melodies, and that leads to the actual lyrics for the song.  As for Hatriot, our music and arrangements are done by Kosta.  He is the band leader in that regard.  He teaches the song to the rest of the band.  From there I take the completed work and add words to it.
With two albums released in two years, is Hatriot now your main band, or will you be reviving projects such as DDP?
ZETRO – Hatriot is my only band.  I wanted to put all my creative energy into one thing.  DDP was fun for a while, but it was too hard to juggle schedules.  Chuck is so busy with Testament and it makes it hard to do anything on a large scale with DDP.  But in reality DDP was never meant to be a serious band.  It was a fun project for us to do, to escape the bullshit that comes from being in a ‘real band’ and having the business take the love out of the music.  DDP was a ‘for fun’ band where we all got together and just jammed for the love of heavy metal.  Right now I have to focus all my time and energy into one thing, and that is definitely Hatriot.  I just turned 50 and I have to get this shit out there while I can.
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Thrash metal isn’t the most lucrative genre in the world, and with the rise of illegal downloading, it must be even more difficult to make money from it these days, so you must be doing it for the pleasure, does thrash metal still bring that rush through all the years?
ZETRO – It is definitely a labor of love.  I fucking love heavy metal and it is in my blood.  Metal has never really been about the money.  Unless you are an upper tier band like Metallica, you can count on having another job to support yourself.  I am a foreman at a construction company, and have been for twenty years at this point.  It would be insane for me to try to support myself only playing heavy metal.  It’s almost impossible.  I won’t drop names, but you would be surprised at all the ‘big artists’ in heavy metal that have other sources of income to help make ends meet.  It’s unfortunate, but true.  So the downloading thing doesn’t really affect me.  I’m not making money off of album sales anyway.  As long as the music reaches the people, then I am happy.
You’ve been the singer on some classic albums by Exodus, so when you play live with Hatriot do you put some songs from Exodus albums on the setlists?
ZETRO – Definitely.  There will be several surprises in the set.  We are able to play a lot of songs from my past, going all the way back to the Legacy days.  Exodus was such a huge part of my life, and it wouldn’t be fair to the fans for me to not give them a song or two.  It was like when Ozzy went solo.  Fans definitely wanted to hear him sing the Black Sabbath stuff live.  So, yes, we are definitely ready to do that.  We play them just like the records, so the fans will get what they want.
Retro-thrash is on the rise with lot’s of younger kids being influenced by the blueprint laid down in the eighties. Are there any bands you’ve heard lately have really blown you away and actually influenced you, in the same way that you might have influenced them?
ZETRO – I personally love the retro thrash movement.  It’s a fucking honor to have bands carrying the torch.  When we first started doing this 30 years ago, nobody had any idea that it would become a music genre and influence people for generations.  We were just playing fast and loud, and having a good time with music.  So when bands tell me that they are influenced by my work, it is very flattering.  I am not personally influenced by any new bands, but the kids in Hatriot are very much into the new scene.  They pick up on elements of extreme metal, like the blast beats and gang shout vocals, and that stuff does make its way into the Hatriot sound.  So in that way, yes there is some modern influence in what Hatriot does.
Maybe a question that’s on a sadder note. Being a part of the early Bay Area of thrash metal scene in your time with Exodus and Testament, you must have known Slayer’s guitarist Jeff Hanneman, who unfortunately passed away last year. How did hearing this news effect you?
ZETRO – The news was devastating to me.  Jeff and I are the exact same age, so that really hits home when you think about it.  I knew Jeff back in the Slayer club days, but didn’t really hang out with him once they became international stars.  He will go down in the history books as being one of the riff lords for thrash.  There is no doubt about that.  Jeff’s riffs and arrangements made Slayer the heaviest band in the fucking world.  It was crushing to hear of his death, but his music and influence on heavy metal will last forever.
You’ll be hitting up the UK later this year with Onslaught and Artillery. Are you looking forward to playing in the UK?
ZETRO – I can’t fucking wait to get over there.  We have been wanting a proper tour to come our way, and this one will be a killer every night.  I hope to meet all the fans and talk metal.  It’s been too long!
Thanks for the time, do you have anything else to add?
ZETRO – I just want to say thanks for the interview.  It’s the underground zines and web publications that keep this music alive.  Looking forward to seeing everyone out on tour this year.  Come up and say hello!  Go get the new Hatriot record, “Dawn Of The new Centurion,” and spread the word.  Stay metal!  ZETRO

Dawn of the new Centurion is out now, listen to Consolation for the Insane:

Catch Hatriot live supporting Onslaught:

Thrash Invasion 2014 flyer

Hatriot on Facebook

 

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