Interviews with James Murphy & Dave Lombardo
Let's be quite honest with ourselves here. Testament's newest release, "The Gathering," exceeded all our expectations, and proved Testament to be an undying force. This incredible album didn't happen accidentally... it was a collaboration of some of the best musicians in the field. Among these are Dave Lombardo and James Murphy; both of whom have been involved in countless projects, past and future, yet have found time to bring their combined skills into the collective whole known only as Testament. In this interview, we delve into the thoughts and projects of these metal veterans, and find out what to expect next.
Enslain: How did you end up getting into Testament?
Murphy: Well that was after I formed Disincarnate, and then we did our album and then we did a reasonably extensive tour of the states, and when we came back from that tour, our booking agent just didn't have any other tours for us, but it was way too early to do another record. We needed to do more tours, we needed to go to Europe, we needed to play areas of the states that we hadn't played, you know, like the west coast; we needed to hit more markets, it was still far too early to do a new record. We still needed to do a lot of promotion via touring for the debut record, but the booking agent wasn't forthcoming with any tours at all, so we were just sitting around for a couple of months, and finally, it came around time to like enroll in the next college semester, and two of my members decided, well, if we're not going to be on tour, we're going to enroll in college classes. So here I was, with no band really to rehearse with, two of my members were going to college, and I wasn't getting any tour offers from the booking agency, and things were just looking really grim, and I started to get really depressed about it, and I started trying to write some material for another Disincarnate but I was really just getting stagnant with it. You know, our tour went good, but we just weren't getting any offers for any more, which was really a bad thing for me at the time. Then I just got a telephone call out of the blue... from an A&R representative for Atlantic Records, which was Testament's label at the time... He called me up out of the blue and said 'how would you feel about auditioning for Testament, they need a guitar player"... I said 'well, I'd be thrilled to, because I love Testament.' At that point, he got me on the phone with Eric, I talked with Eric, and Eric sent me a demo tape, with one song that ended up on "Low" as the song "Dog Faced Gods", and he sent it to me on a four-track demo, and he asked me to add a solo to it, and send it back to him, and I did, and he really liked it... So I went out, and auditioned, and I got the gig, so I moved to California, and here I still am (laughs).
Enslain: So, how long have you been with Testament now?
Lombardo: Approximately, we started rehearsal for the record April of '98... April of '98 I started going up to San Francisco, and I started just hanging out with him (Chuck) and just started working on the new record, and December we started to record the record, the later part of November/December.
Enslain: Are you a permanent member?
Lombardo: No, I'm just working with them... I needed a fix, a metal fix, I've been doing a lot of different stuff lately, so I thought that this was the right time for this to come out, because metal has been underground, and kinda dormant for the past maybe five or six years, so I thought that it would be kinda cool.
Enslain: How do you feel about the new album?
Murphy: I think it's awesome, I think it's really amazing. It's the best Testament record in a long long time... of course I felt that way about "Low", but I definitely feel that way about "The Gathering." I think it's a very, very strong record, and every song just hits me in the gut, and that's a good sign. With Dave Lombardo playing the drums, you know, one of my all time favorite drummers, it just can't go wrong, this record, for me. Eric wrote a crop of really excellent songs, and Dave Lombardo put great drums to them, and everyone just made their contribution just right. Chuck did an absolutely amazing job on this album vocally, I'm very very proud of Chuck's performance on this one, he did great, and it just came together... the mix came together great, everything just came together right on this. So I think it's going to be a breakthrough record for Testament, if there's any justice in the world at all!
Enslain: Are you going to do anything on the next album?
Lombardo: That's hard for me to say right now. We talk as if there is going to be another record, but there's nothing laid out in concrete.
Enslain: What are you currently working on?
Murphy: I'm doing another album, I had my old band before I joined Testament called Disincarnate, and I'm finally doing another album under that name, so I'm working on writing the music for that in my studio...
Enslain: Is it going to have the same members?
Murphy: No, actually not, because I live in California, and they still live in Florida, and, you know, 6 years down the road, most of those guys aren't even playing music anymore. The singer is still singing, but he's the only one who's doing anything, and he's not even singing the same style. So those guys have really moved on with their lives, and aren't really available for it.
Enslain: Do you enjoy moving from band to band?
Murphy: To tell you the truth, I haven't really done a whole heck of a lot of jumping from band to band or moving on, I've only actually done it twice before. There's only two bands that I was once a member of, and am no longer a member of or working with in any way, and that's Death and Obituary. There's only two other bands which I've ever been a member of in my life, and that's Disincarnate and Testament, both of which I am still doing. All the other bands that you might see my name associated with, like Cancer or Konkhra... were simply just guest positions, I was asked, you know, hey, would you like to come play a couple solos on our record...
Enslain: Why did you leave Death and Obituary?
Murphy: Death, quite frankly, I just didn't get a long with the singer, I didn't get along with the leader of the band at all, we didn't have a good chemistry out on the road... Much like many of his X-members, I was unable to get along with him. With Obituary, what it was is I came in, and I replaced Allen West, who was on the first album, and I came in for the second album, and the tours for the album, and I replaced Allen West who had to leave the band because of personal problems. At that point, Obituary wasn't really a moneymaking entity; Obituary had never toured at that point, and wasn't really earning any income. So Allen, his girlfriend got pregnant, they decided to get married, and so they got married and had a baby. And Allen needed guaranteed income to support his family, and so, you know, he had a job that he didn't want to quit to go on tour with Obituary because that was very much a gamble, and he needed a sure thing... there was, you know, a child involved, and so it was a respectable decision... and consequently Obituary needed a guitar player, so they got me. But they told me from the very beginning when I joined that there was a possibility that Allen may want to return one day, so just keep that in mind. So I kept that in mind, and sure enough after the band started to become a successful touring entity, Allen decided that he wanted to return, and so I just stepped down and gave his position back to him, and just moved on.
Enslain: What did you get involved in next?
Murphy: I started forming Disincarnate. I had a break or two from that because I did quite a few studio musician guest type things in that type, for instance I played on the Cancer record, and you know, that was a pretty extensive guest spot, I pretty much played on the whole record, but it was as a guest. And then also I played very short guest appearances on like Gorguts, Malevolent Creation, Solstice... stuff like that. I did a lot of studio guest work, and I began working on Disincarnate.
Enslain: Concerning your solo project, how does "Convergence" compare to the new one, "Feeding the Machine?"
Murphy: I'd say it's in a similar vein... I would say that the new one is sort of a progression from that first one. They're not hugely different, but I definitely think that the new one is a little bit better, just because, well, every artist is going to say that, right, their newest thing has got to be the best thing, but that's the way it usually looks in the artist's eyes. Trying to be as objective as I can, I would say "Feeding the Machine" is definitely a progression from "Convergence." It shows two years of maturity in both song writing and engineering, as well as, you know, lead guitar playing.
Enslain: How did you ever get involved with Fantomas?
Lombardo: I was a big fan of Faith No More, and a big fan of their drummer, Puffy, Mike Bordin. I went to the last Faith No More show and Mike Bordin introduced me to Mike Patton, and we kind of, it was like one of those moments like you see on TV (gives shocked expression), like we were both in shock of each other's presence. He calls me up three months later and says do you want to help me out and do this album and all, and he explained to me the music, and gave me the warnings, and (I said) I know exactly what you want, and I can do it, no problem. He gave me all the music, I learned it, recorded it, we rehearsed 6 days and did (a few shows).
Enslain: And this is after you were together for how long?
Lombardo: Two weeks... Brilliant, Mike is a genius; I worship the guy, as a musician, composer, and everything else. I guess we're both a fan of each other's music, which makes it even more interesting. And we're both from really different kinds of music, I've been doing metal, and he took on more of the alternative kind of music, and now he's really going in the direction of changing music in general. In the future we'll probably be releasing another record that is more musical...
Enslain: Are you likely to stick around with Fantomas?
Lombardo: I would say Fantomas is a little more my, kinda up on my want list. I enjoy being different, I don't like to stay with one thing too long, I get kinda lost, I don't know where I'm going musically, so I have to always change, that way I can turn back and find out really, what do I like? Like I did now with Testament, I did many years with Grip Inc. and now I came back and did really hard core metal. And now I'll probably venture on with Patton, and come back and do something else, so many years later.
Enslain: What happened that cancelled the Grip Inc. tour?
Lombardo: The singer (Gus) he had to go to the hospital, he had to take a year off, for a mental instability. He's doing okay, just a matter of time, which gave me a lot of free time to do this and other things.
Enslain: Who are your favorite bands?
Murphy: My all time favorite metal bands are like the original Black Sabbath line up, all the old Judas Priest and Sabbath stuff, old Kiss, up to about '79. More currently, I'm really into stuff like... this isn't in any order of preference, but um... I'm heavily into Meshuggah, I really like Dimmu Borgir, I love Megadeth, always have, Slayer, Emperor, Old Man's Child, Hypocrisy... I've got an overwhelmingly large CD collection... Nevermore, I love Nevermore... it ranges from extreme black and death metal stuff to more progressive metal stuff...
Lombardo: I'm into everything that is good, but there's a lot of stuff out there that bores me. I'm very picky. I can go through CDs like people drink water, or drink soda, I just sit there and go through the numbers, and if nothing appeals to me, fast forward it. Music is a constant evolution, so I feel that... what do I listen to now? Karlheinz Stockhausen, a composer, who is kind of like... his theory is developing me as more of a writer, instead of just a drummer for a writer, I want to become a writer. He is, for me, kind of an innovator of music... he has all these new ideas aside from your typical baroque classical music. He has a lot of really good theory; I'm reading a lot of books on him. I'm not going to be creating classical music, but I'll be using his theory, his vision, on how to approach things.
Enslain: How did you end up getting into that?
Lombardo: Patton... being on tour with Patton, he used to play Stockhausen before he went on stage. Very eerie music, very dark, very... I feel like wings are going to grow on the back of my back if I listen to it. I think that's why it appeals to me, because I've always liked the dark side of music, not the happy side.
Enslain: How do you feel about metal's changes over the years?
Murphy: In the metal scene, I'm seeing a really cool swing back of the pendulum back towards heavy stuff... I'm seeing improved attendance at metal shows here in the bay area... A couple of years ago, if I would have went to Nevermore and Iced Earth playing at the Club Cocodrie in the city, they would have been lucky to have had about 30 people there. As it was, I went to this show here in the city, and this club was packed! And it was great! I went to a Cradle of Filth show at a place called Maritime Hall in San Francisco, and, you know, a couple of years ago, they would have been lucky to have a couple hundred, maximum maybe 150 people. As it was, that show was 600-700 people! That's a drastic improvement over a two-year period of time. I've definitely, over the last two years, seen a steady growth in like the amount of people showing up at metal shows. Also, local record stores, a couple of really big local stores where everyone goes to buy music, Amoeba and Rasputin's in particular are two, which two years ago did not have a specifically metal section in their stores, but starting about a year and a half ago or so, both stores have introduced a metal section, and it has steadily grown in both stores, and have become a popular feature. This is something that couldn't have happened two years ago. But now, you can walk into Rasputin's, and go to one section to find all your death, black and thrash metal, all together, and it's huge! It's a huge, steadily growing section in the store. These are all good signs about the heavy music scene becoming healthier. And of course, I'm just looking at it in the microcosm of the Bay Area, but the Bay Area is a pretty good barometer. It's one of those types of places where movements develop and flourish first, before it spreads to the rest of the country, you can use this area as kind of a barometer, and stuff like that, because it's such a diverse area. I have a pretty good feeling about the way the heavy music scene is going.
-- Lady Enslain