Guitar World magazine recently conducted an interview with TESTAMENT guitarist Eric Peterson, who talks about touring, recording, early successes and several of his contemporaries, including METALLICA, MEGADETH, SLAYER and ANTHRAX.
When Testament was first coming up, what was it like going from a lesser-known band to a huge success? Did it feel like it happened overnight?
Looking back, I always say we were a day late and a dollar short on some of our fame. But at the same time, we were pretty lucky. I was in high school and I started a band — and that band is this band. I just got lucky with people and I think what I was playing and what I made up, and I wasn’t following the trends.
At that point, everybody was dressing like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Almost every band looked like that, and everybody had names that were Exciter or Metal Mania or all these trendy names copying your favorite bands or whatever.
That’s when I was like kind of trying to do my own thing and I was incorporating GBH and listening to Motorhead and the Sex Pistols and trying to mix it with metal. It wasn’t until when my friends were in a band called Red-Hot or something stupid, they got this gig and said, “We’re going to play with this band from LA and they are really killer. Can you help us roadie tonight?” I was like, “Alright.” So I went to check them out and it was a band called Laaz Rockit and a band called Metallica.
I still have the flyer. It says, “Imported from L.A.” It was with Ron McGovney on bass and Dave Mustaine on guitar. I remember fighting with my girlfriend on the phone and this music starting, and then all I heard was this “chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga” and I just hung up the phone and I ran up totally tripping because I was like, “This is what I’m trying to do!” It really all came together that night when I went home. I wrote “First Strike is Deadly,” “Curse of the Legions of Death” and all of these songs within a week. And I got a drummer; Louie Clemente came into my life and it all just kind of happened overnight.
It was really weird, after I saw Metallica, it wasn’t like I was like, “Yeah, I want to do that!” or “I want to sound like this!” I already knew what I wanted to sound like, I just didn’t connect the dots, you know? I had all the influences; at that time I was starting to listen to some really heavy shit. I had just discovered Venom and Angel Witch, and everybody else at my school thought I was a devil worshiper or something. I had ninth-graders coming up to me going, “Hey, can you put a hex on this guy for me?” or “Don’t put a spell on me!” [laughs].
Everything I would wear was red and black back then. I never ever took my jacket off. I was one of those kids … kind of trippy. But, yeah, I mean Lou [Clemente, ex-drummer] ended up moving from LA and he came to the park where I was hanging out and I noticed these two kids with denim jackets on with all these European band patches — and this was not something you’d see in my town. I think the next day we were jamming at his house, and a month later, Zetro joined the band and it just happened really quick.
Within a year we were playing gigs and opening for people, and then before you know it we were headlining and Exodus had just gotten signed, and we got signed, and everything happened really quick. Once we got signed, that’s when I was scared. I remember when we recorded our first record, we were just like, “Wow, what’s going to happen?”
I was so paranoid that nobody would like the record and I remember when it came out it just took off. What I didn’t like was how the European press kind of badgered Metallica, saying, “Oh, Metallica should sound like this; this is what they need to be doing.” I remember feeling kind of honored but at the same time I was like, “Don’t say that” [laughs]. Now we are never going to be able to play with them [laughs].
But Anthrax ended up taking us out on tour, and it’s funny because we’re out on tour with them now, but we ended up doing a US tour with them. We did like 45 shows, then we went to Europe and we did 30 shows and then we had to do the new record, The New Order, and I think we just got lucky, you know?
If we weren’t recording, we were on the road. Our first big break I remember we were on tour in the States. We were in an old beat-up Eagle bus, and I remember Chuck woke me up in my bunk and said, “Dude, the tour’s been canceled.” And I was like, “What!?” And he goes, “We’re flying to Europe tomorrow, Dave Mustaine’s in rehab, we got the spot on the Monsters of Rock tour.”
It was Frankfurt and Eindhoven, and it was with Kiss and David Lee Roth. It was huge, like 100,000 people. It was like the US Festival. Super-huge, you know. We were scheduled to play that night too when we got the word — a sold-out show, but it was for 220 people, so that’s when we went over to Europe and just exploded over there. This was all right after The New Order, right after that.
What was it like seeing Dave Mustaine live in those days?
I used to go to all of their shows, and I knew James a little bit because my cousin went out with him. I used to go to parties with them; keggers and stuff like that. I remember seeing those guys; I hadn’t seen them for a while and they were in the parking lot at the Cow Palace. They were all in Lars’ old beat-up Volvo drinking with Kirk.
I went up to them and I was kind of mad, I was like, “You know, you shouldn’t have kicked Dave out. He was perfect!” I was a huge fan of them; I just didn’t get it. Of course, I didn’t know the horror stories, and I didn’t know what it was like being in the band, but I was disappointed at first. Now that I know the whole story, it makes sense, and I know Kirk was destined to be in the band, but when I first saw Metallica with Dave, there was so much presence.
I think there would have been a huge fight later, though. There were two frontmen in the band, because Dave did all the talking back then; it was really weird. After the songs James would talk a little bit, but Dave did his classic kind of real mellow, “Hey, fuckers!” He did a lot of talking; it was cool.
I saw them with Dave when they got Cliff. That was a good show. I remember right after they kicked him out, he bounced right back up and got Megadeth together. And I remember seeing them at The Stone, and Kerry King was in the band and I was like, “What, Slayer broke up?” I remember being a roadie for another friend’s band and Slayer was playing at Ruthie’s and there were literally like 30 people there.
What would you recommend for young bands and musicians out there today that want to get where you guys are?
Well, it’s different now. The internet, YouTube … look what Justin Bieber did. That’s a totally different music scene, but that’s a new artist and look what he did. He put his talent out there. I see a lot of young people — I’ve got kids, you know — and I’m always seeing new things online because my daughter’s like, “Look at this girl!” and “Look at this kid!” It’s a great way for people to see your stuff; there’s a lot of networking to be done on the Internet. And I’m thinking of the young hungry kid, what do you do?
Well the first thing is, do you really want this? I think when you really want do something you’ll do it, right? I really wanted to do this and my parents were supportive, but I remember them telling me “You’re not going to make it, there are too many bands.” and I looked at them like, “How dare you talk about my girlfriend like that! This is what I’m doing, this is it! I’m all in!”
And when I wrote riffs, I just wrote stuff that I really liked. I always had a good ear for music. I was the person who always turned people on to bands, like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. There are the kids out there that always know about bands before anybody else does. That’s a good start, a good sign that you got something. That means you’ve got a good ear and you’re a little ahead of the game with other people.
And then it’s just about really enjoying what you play. You can tell when you play a riff for someone if it knocks their socks. If people go, “Wow.” When I played a riff for the older, established guitar players at practice pads, one guy would always come in and say, “Hey, check this kid out!” or there would be some band there that were just about make it, and they¹d come in and say, “Hey Eric, play that riff.” I’d play some real fast thing and nobody played that fast back then. I mean like Metallica did, but they hadn’t made it yet and a lot of these people hadn’t even heard of them.
So a lot of these people were just tripping out that instead of a lead I was doing this real fast stuff on the low E string, and then Lou would do the fast drums and they would sit there and laugh at us. They were amused by it. They’d shake their heads and wave goodbye and go “Man, these guys are crazy.” And then three years later, they were like, “Hey man, can we get an opening gig?” [laughs.]
Did you do a lot of promotion of the band back then? You strike me as the guy who would be out there stapling posters on walls.
Yes, we put flyers everywhere. We would go to shows and flyer there — that’s how it was done back then. Now everybody’s got a Facebook or whatever and you can just post on the Internet. You got 50,000 friends and you look at the way how some people start packing some park or something and you say, “How did everybody know?” It’s because they did it on the Internet.
There is a whole generation coming up right now that has never paid for music, and they think that it’s OK. How has that affected your life, your band and people that you know?
Fuck, it sucks. But you know, I’m a part of that era [laughs]. There’s got to be some kind of compromise. It’s cool that you can check it out for free but if you become a fan of the band, buy their records, man. Support them, you know? I still do that too. if I like something I’ll go buy it. I’m not the hugest Anthrax fan, but I like their new record, so I went and bought it and all of the guys in the band were like, “No you didn’t!” And I was like, “Yeah, I did,” and I showed them and they were like, “You bought our record?” and I’m like, “Yeah, I thought it was killer” [laughs].
So, you know, if you like something, buy it. People work really hard and you know a lot of people depend on it and you know this is just a band. If you want them to continue and do well, you’ve got to support them.
What were your early record deals like?
When you’ve been in the business this long, if I knew what I know now, things would be different [laughs]. But you live and learn, and it all depends on what kind of person you are. I would just say don’t sell your soul. Atlantic Records owns our masters forever on our first four or five albums. And now it’s like five or six or seven years. Ten years, that’s pushing it a little bit. Fifteen years, yeah, that’s pretty long, but time goes by before you know it.
And now we’ve got some of our catalog back and we’ll resell it again to another company and push the record, but we’ve done all right. We got big from our earlier days, but that’s not where we made the money. Everybody made money on us but us. But we were strong enough to survive. Most bands, that would drive you into the ground and make you say, “Fuck this business, fuck everybody else. Fuck this, I’m out, this business sucks!”
What we did basically is everybody else kind of bowed out and said, “Whatever.” and we went, “OK, I get it.” So we opened up our own record company and use our own name and then, instead of licensing the band, you know, making a record deal, we were like, “OK, our record company is called Burnt Offerings and here’s the band we’ll license it to you for a certain amount of time.” You know, going about it a whole different way. Everybody was kind of like, “Huh?” but we ended up making a lot more money selling less records.
What would you tell the younger version of yourself if you could go back and talk to him? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
Let’s say you get on a tour, and you go, “Wow, OK, we’re on the Judas Priest tour.” And then you go, “Cool, all right, let’s go over the budget.” So every night, each band member gets their own hotel room. And the tour manager wakes you up out of your bunk at 4 in the morning and is like, “Here, man, here’s your room key.” So you go to your room; you sleep and get your lobby call at 11 a.m. So what are you doing? You’re spending $150 per night for five people to go sleep? You add that up for three months and you’re talking about a lot of money there [laughs].
I finally said to myself, “Would you rather get out of your bunk, or in two years how about you get a down payment on a house? Or how about we go buy each band member a brand new Camaro?” So you’ve got to look at the bigger picture. There are a lot of little things that add up. I wish someone would’ve said to me, “OK, guys, let’s look at the budget. If you guys don’t stay at the Clarion or the Don Cesar’s every night, then maybe on the days off you guys get your own suites or I don’t know.”
I was talking to Dave Mustaine, actually — it’s funny because we were on tour in Europe and we were talking about that, and he’s like, “Where are you guys staying at?” and I’m like, “We’re just showering here at the gig” [laughs]. But it’s a good place to save money; you’re on a nice fucking bus, why get out of your bunk to go sleep and wake up?
Then on top of that, you get into your room and you’re hungry, so you order room service. And room service is like 20 to 30 bucks, depending on what you get. Half the time you don’t even need the whole thing because you know you’re hungry and you’re like, “I’m going to get breakfast, man, that looks good. I’m going to get the full breakfast.” And then you go downstairs and check out and you see, “OK, God, $20 of phone calls” … and you watched a movie, OK, so that’s $60, and it’s like, “Fuck!” So that’s one thing [laughs].
You guys seem like you have a really great relationship with the fans. Is there anything you’d like to say to them?
I just appreciate them supporting us all these years. And it’s cool that they’re turning their kids onto our music. I see a lot of repeats; it’s weird. People that come to our shows, now they’ve got kids that are 16, 17, 18 at the shows. And even if the parents aren’t coming to the shows, there’s a lot of young people finding out about us. And it’s funny because a lot of the younger kids are buying our older records and they’re just getting into them. So that’s pretty cool. So just thanks for the support. It’s awesome!