TESTAMENT and METAL ALLEGIANCE guitarist Alex Skolnick was interviewed on the September 4-6 edition of Full Metal Jackie’s nationally syndicated radio show. You can now listen to the chat using the Podbean widget below. A couple of excerpts follow.
Full Metal Jackie: What is most important about the camaraderie of METAL ALLEGIANCE to the metal genre as a whole?
Alex: Well, it’s something that came together very naturally. It’s something that all the musicians involved participated in as fans. And the four of us who wrote this record — myself, David Ellefson [MEGADETH], Mike Portnoy [THE WINERY DOGS, ex-DREAM THEATER] and Mark Menghi — we got together and we wanted to create the album that we want to come out and that we think a lot of fans want to come out. It’s not tied into any one band. You know, bands establish a certain sound, especially bands that have been around for ten or more years, like most of us have. You have periods — you have this period of the band, [you have] that period of the band. We wanted to do an album that is fresh. There’s no definition. It’s not tied to any expectations and it taps into what the album that we want to come out as fans, the album that we think a lot of fans want to come out. And then, inviting a couple of dozen of our closest friends to help sing and do some guest musical parts on it. They all felt the same way. So it’s really… I think that the spirit is reflected in the music.
Full Metal Jackie: There are some big names performing on [METAL ALLEGIANCE’s self-titled] album. How did you decide what song would suit which person?
Alex: You know, it’s funny, because the fit of most of the vocalists, it’s such a good fit that, you know, the people that have heard it so far — mostly journalists who have advance copies — they are sure that we wrote the songs around those voices, and that’s not true. The songs were created, and as we were nearing the finish line for each tune, then we would start to think about what type of voice to put on it. And we also didn’t know who was gonna be available. We knew we wanted to get this out before our upcoming album cycles. And everybody’s got album cycles. THE WINERY DOGS has an album coming out with Mike, there’s a MEGADETH record coming. TESTAMENT is writing the record, and we’re gonna have it out early next year; that’s our plan. So we knew we were racing against the clock, and as we were finishing each song, we thought, ‘Okay, so-and-so would sound really good on this. Okay, what if he’s not available? Or she’s not available? What’s another name?’ And then we would compile this list of singers. And then, as we got to the point where we were ready for vocals, we narrowed it down and we talked to people. And in the end, the vocalists that we got just seemed to fit the songs like a glove.
Full Metal Jackie: Alex, you’ve also been working on new music with TESTAMENT. How did making this album [influence] that and visa versa?
Alex: Well, they’re very different. If I have a part that I know is right for TESTAMENT, TESTAMENT gets a crack at it. I did have a few ideas lying around that just hadn’t found their way onto TESTAMENT records. And it seems to have worked perfectly here. But also, some of the songs… It’s funny — the song that will most be compared to TESTAMENT is, obviously, the one with my dude Chuck Billy [TESTAMENT] as a guest vocalist on “Can’t Kill The Devil”, because when you hear the two of us, it’s naturally going to sound like TESTAMENT. Those riffs, they’re in the style of other TESTAMENT riffs that I’ve written, such as “Into the Pit” — the single-note type of riffs. But that really was a response to the drum beat that Mike Portnoy was playing, and I think, as it came out, we realized, “Oh, this would sound great with Chuck.” But I don’t really plan what music comes out of me. I think most artists are probably the same way. The best ideas, they just flow out. You’re not really thinking about it, and sometimes an idea will be right for TESTAMENT, sometimes it will be right for METAL ALLEGIANCE. In my case, I do instrumental music that has nothing to do with metal, including jazz with my trio. There’s an acoustic world music album called “Planetary Collusion” that I did last year. So certain ideas will come out that… they’ll find a home… or they won’t — they might just be stray ideas. Sometimes I can tweak ‘em for a certain project. But in the case of METAL ALLEGIANCE, there was a lot of opportunity to go places that might not have worked for TESTAMENT. For example, the song “Dying Song”, which we just released as our premiere video. Phil Anselmo [PANTERA, DOWN] does an amazing on the vocals. That wouldn’t have worked for TESTAMENT. It’s a one-guitar song — definitely more of a LED ZEPPELIN-, BLACK SABBATH-inspired piece. But then, I think, it goes to its own places. But with METAL ALLEGIANCE, there’s a chance to explore these ideas, and they’re different configurations that are completely different from TESTAMENT. But then, of course, there are moments where there’s a little bit of overlap.
Full Metal Jackie: Will METAL ALLEGIANCE be an ongoing recording project that makes more albums?
Alex: I believe so. It’s always hard to say. I think one of the reasons it’s working so well and the response is so good is that it wasn’t forced. When these guys called me and they said, “We wanna write a record. We think you’ve got the guitar chops and the writing chops to help write this record,” I was very flattered, but I really didn’t know what to expect. Because I’ve crossed paths with these guys on tour, but I really didn’t know them that well. I know them very well now. [Laughs] But we’d never worked together. We just said. “Let’s just see how it goes.” That was my whole approach, and I think that was their approach too. “Let’s see how it goes. Maybe we’ll get lucky and have a few good songs. Maybe we’ll do half a cover record, half an original record.” But it wasn’t forced. We never said we were gonna do this record; it just happened on its own. Because when we got together, music flowed out. It was just a great chemistry, and then the process just worked so well once we brought in vocalists and guest soloists and guest bass players. So I see no reason why it can’t continue. I don’t think it’ll ever be exactly as it was. First of all, the logistics of working with so many guest artists, that’s something else; that’s a whole project in itself. But I think as far as the four of us writing another record and doing something similar but with different singers —maybe some of the same ones — I think so. I think we all wanna do it. I think the response is great. If the response continues to be great, and the demand is there, as it looks like it will be, I can totally see it happening.
METAL ALLEGIANCE will release its self-titled debut album on September 18 via Nuclear Blast Entertainment.