Rebelling against all the spandex and makeup of the LA glam scene in the early 1980s, a number of bands from the San Francisco Bay Area took a rawer, more no-nonsense approach to their metal. Their relentless riffage and angst-fueled, socially conscious lyrics were the hallmark of what became known in the mid- to late ’80s as “thrash” metal. Among these pioneers of power were Metallica, Death Angel, Exodus and Testament.
Over the next two decades, Testament would cement their status as thrash icons, releasing eight albums and touring with heavyweights like Anthrax, Megadeth, Judas Priest and Slayer. Throughout their numerous lineup changes and personal challenges (including singer Chuck Billy’s being diagnosed with cancer in 2001), they never lost their passion, integrity or legion of devoted fans. But now, with original members Alex Skolnick, Eric Peterson and Greg Christian (along with ’90s drummer Paul Bostaph) returning to the fold and the release of their first studio album in nine years, Testament are back to reclaim their electric crown. In celebration of this renaissance, the band appeared for a private interview/performance session on Sirius XM Radio’s Artist Confidential last summer. And thanks to some friends in “high” places, I was able to score an invitation to this exclusive event.
The band was set up inside the large glass studio in the Sirius lobby. I quickly secured a seat in the first row of folding chairs and waited anxiously until they were ready to go. Testament started off the show with “Over the Wall,” a classic from their first album, The Legacy, then talked about how they’d shot the song’s video (their MTV debut) guerrilla-style at Alcatraz.
“We didn’t have a permit,” Peterson recalled. “We just came in with a tour group and shot it when security wasn’t looking.”
Next, they played the title tracks from their second and third albums, The New Order and Practice What You Preach. I’d brought my old vinyl copy of the former, and caught the band’s attention when I held it up during the song. Then came their mosh anthem “Into the Pit” (also from The New Order) and “More Than Meets the Eye” from their latest album, The Formation of Damnation, which they recorded at Billy’s home in the NoCal suburbs.
During the next break, host Lou Brutus asked whether they’d ever had any “Spinal Tap moments,” and Billy recollected a close call involving cannabis in Texas.
“The person hired to be our driver was this 17-year-old kid who turned out to be a pot dealer,” he explained. “While we were driving to the hotel, we got pulled over by the police. So the cop finds a bunch of weed on him and all this cash on me and says, ‘You must be the supplier.’ I had to explain to him that I was in a band and just came from the venue. He said, ‘Testament, huh? I’ve heard of you,’ and luckily, he let us go. But he made the kid throw away his pot and stomp on it, and the kid got fired.”
When the show was over, I lined up in the lobby with some of the other fans to take a picture with the band and get my album signed. I whipped out my silver Sharpie and started collecting their signatures. As they passed the album around, I got to talking with bassist Greg Christian, who, after learning that I was from High Times, confided that he was a medical-marijuana user.
“I had really bad stomach ulcers,” he said, “and weed was the only thing that helped.”
I offered Christian a joint of Granddaddy Purps, but before I could dig it out—or get the final signature from Billy, who was still holding my album—the publicist herded the band into the green room. I quickly reached into my bag and fished out my silver Tightpac with the joint inside, then slipped past security and followed them in.
“Here, this is for you guys,” I said, holding the silver Tightpac out to them. Billy, who still had my album, mistook it for a marker and took it from me. As he pulled off the cap, the joint fell out in his lap.
“Whoa—this isn’t a marker!” he laughed.
He then handed the album to me and the joint to Greg, who immediately turned to me and said, “Let’s go outside and smoke this.” And smoke it we did—right in front of the building. Fortunately, there were no cops around this time.