STEVE “ZETRO” SOUZA (EXODUS): “This Is Our Finest Moment – It’s Very Violent And Very Brutal”

Exodus 2021

Exodus were on tour in Europe with Testament and Death Angel when Covid first took a hold only making it back home by the skin of their teeth the world locked down. While the band have been off the road, they spent the time writing and recording their first album in seven years resulting in the release of Persona Non Grata, which sees Exodus in particularly brutal form. Mick Burgess called up Steve “Zetro” Souza to talk about the making of the album.

Covid hit you quite badly at the start of the pandemic when you were over in Europe with Testament and Death Angel? How was that whole experience for you?

It happened so fast. All of a sudden, the Italian dates were cancelled and we went straight to Spain. I wondered if things were getting really bad. By the time we got to Belgium it was fully blown. Chuck and his wife were sick and a couple of people on the crew too. When we go home, Will Carroll, Death Angel’s drummer, was in hospital on a ventilator for 16 days and we didn’t know if he was going to make it. Gary Holt got sick too but it didn’t affect him that hard. It was an unfortunate situation.

Did you fear that you wouldn’t be able to get home once the lockdown came into force?

The whole lock down around the world was strange for everybody. We weren’t able to finish the tour. The last show that we played was in Brussels and there was actually one sold out German date left in Hannover that we had to cancel because of the developing situation. The night we flew home back to The States was the night that the President announced that they were restricting all flights into the country. We thought we were going to be stuck in Europe but we were able to fly back the day before that restriction came into force. It was so strange when I got back home and was riding through the streets of San Francisco, there was nobody there. It was like a zombie apocalypse.

How has this affected your drummer Tom Hunting, who has been undergoing treatment for cancer?

We were worried about Tom and his health being compromised but he’s good. He played with us at the Aftershock Festival and he kicked ass. We played the first night of the festival and Tom was on fire. So he’s back now and getting stronger.

How did it feel to be playing live again?

Oh man, it was just fantastic. We have played 3 shows so far, one at the Aftershock Festival in Sacramento, we played at the Full Terror Assault in Illinois and our first show after the lockdown was at Psycho Las Vegas. They were one off festival shows so now we want to get back into the rhythm of playing every night. It’s still such fun to play live. I love it. The crowds are extra hungry now and just so happy to see live music again.

On to better news, you have a new album, Persona Non Grata, out on 19th November. How do you feel ahead of its release? 

The lockdown gave us the time to really delve into the production and recording process but it did seem weird not playing concerts for so long. I’m as excited as everyone else is. It’s been 7 years since Blood In, Blood Out and some bands have broken up and got back together in less time. I’m excited and think that this album is our finest moment. It’s very violent and very brutal. It has so many hills and valleys. It’s got great vocal hooks, great grooves and we’re so excited to play it for everyone. It’ll be a complete mayhem-fest when we finally get to play these songs live.

“Persona Non Grata” means “unwelcome” or “unwanted”. Is this referring to Exodus being outsiders or is it more directed against the whole Covid situation?

Gary wrote the lyrics but I’d say it’s a collective bullet to the head. We’ve always written aggressive stuff as we were angry young men. Now we are cantankerous old men, everything pisses us off. We’re just being ourselves and Persona Non Grata is not about a person in particular it’s just a mentality.

Are you pleased with the reaction to your first two singles “The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)” and “Clickbait”

Everybody loves them and I love that as to me, the record is so much better. My favourites are “Prescribing Horror”, “Lunatic-Liar-Lord” and “The Fires Of Division” so if they like the singles just wait until they hear the rest of the record.

It’s been 7 years since your last album Blood In, Blood Out. Was Gary’s involvement in Slayer part of the reason it took so long to follow it up?

I would have to say that it’s not part of the reason, it’s probably all of the reason. Let’s be honest, Gary Holt IS Exodus. Most of the drive and direction is definitely him and we didn’t want to take that away from him. He’s had such great success with Slayer and exposure playing on a larger forum. He deserved it and now that, that work is done he’s back and there’ll be many people who may not have been aware of Exodus who will now because of Gary playing with Slayer for the last 11 years or so.

Do you think that the involvement with bands outside of Exodus brings in fresh ideas to the band?

We’re all big Metal fans and we are always learning. There can be anything from Power Trip to The Butcher Babies that may catch your eye or ears. So long as you are always open to listen then what you do will work out so much better for you. It enhances what people already know that you do.

When did you start work on writing the material?

Tom and Gary do it and they go to what we call “Jam Camp” where they basically do the guitars and drums and write the shells of the songs. Then we usually record our own pieces but this time we went up as a band and recorded together around August 2020. Gary was writing lyrics while we were up there and me and Gary were going over them. I loved it like that. It was so fresh. We had time to really work on it as we weren’t going out on tour or somebody didn’t have to rush off to another project. We had the time to rip into it and refine it and make it what it is. That’s why I think it’s so good. Covid worked in our favour in that respect.

Where did you record the album?

We recorded the album at Tom’s property up in Lake Almanor in California. It was wonderful, I was literally buying bags of apples to feed to the deer every morning. We went up there and there was no pressure. We went up at the end of August and finished in the second or third week in October.

You worked with Andy Sneap. What did he bring to the making of the album?

Andy has been doing Exodus albums since 1998. We haven’t had anyone else twiddle our knobs, even when I wasn’t in the band. As Judas Priest weren’t out on the road it meant that Andy was available to work on album.

The artwork for the album by Par Oloffson is striking. Do you still feel that artwork is an important part of an album in the age of downloading and streaming?

We are heading back to the age of the collector so we’re going back to the times when we were kids, buying records and lying on our beds listening to the record while looking at the artwork and reading the sleeve notes. There’s so much going on in the cover. I love Par’s work.

Your old guitarist Rick Hunolt makes a guest appearance on the album. Whose idea was it to have him on the album?

We keep in touch with Rick, in fact we stay in touch with most of our ex-members. Rick played with us at the Psycho Vegas show a few weeks ago and he played 5 songs with us. We keep him in the loop and I love him. That lead-section on “Lunatic-Liar-Lord” with Gary, Rick, Lee and Kragan Lum is my favourite lead section on the whole album.

You also have your kids Cody and Nick providing some backing vocals. That must be a proud Dad moment for you?

What is good is that we needed to do some back-up vocals as they sounded a little thin so I said I’d call up my sons and they came in and we blended their voices in to fill the backing vocals out. They were excited to do that. They are doing their own fourth record right now with Hatriot and that should be out in May.

This is your third stint in the band. What was the catalyst for you to return to the band again for a third time?

It is easy to explain. This is what I am and this is what I do. It’s what I was as a kid and it’s how I’ll be until the day I die.

How do you see Exodus now as a band compared to when you first recorded with them in 1987 on Pleasures Of The Flesh?

We are a knowledgeable machine now. We were a machine back then but we were an erratic machine but now we are a very knowledgeable, tight nit machine.

What are your plans to tour in support of Persona Non Grata?

There’s some festivals popping up already so we’ll be over on your side next summer including Bloodstock and we’ll play more UK shows around that. We’ll be in Europe for around 7 weeks so we’ll be playing everywhere with festivals on the weekend and headliners during the week.

What you got going on outside of Exodus in 2022?

Exodus has been my main focus since we started working on the album. I know what we have here and I think that for those people who never really paid attention to Exodus then they are now. I think this record is going to be a career defining moment for us. We’ve turned the page to another level so I’ll have my focus 100% on Exodus.

Persona Non Grata is out now on Nuclear Blast.

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  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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