Chuck Billy Interview, Metal Maniacs


Jul 3, 2002
Wa. State
I got my Metal Maniacs in the mail a day or so ago, and read the Interview with Chuck. I thought it was so good, I typed it out for here in case some of you can't get it, or don't like Metal Maniacs.


Metal Maniacs interview with Chuck Billy, by Liz Ciavarella.

“I spoke with Chuck Billy via phone just a day before the band’s shredding performance at the 2004 March Metal Meltdown in Irvington, NJ. Having recently recovered from a rare form of cancer, much of what he had to say gave me Goosebumps…

Metal Maniacs: How are you feeling? You must be glad to be back on stage….

Chuck Billy: I’m feeling good! We did some shows last summer which was really my first time being back after being sick. We’ve been writing some new songs…

MM: I hear the studio is finally complete.

CB: Yeah, we just built a new recording studio so we’re pretty excited about that and we didn’t waste any time. As soon as it was done we just went right in and started knocking out the writing. I think that’s what we really needed. We were in limbo without some real place to play. We need that home vibe, you know? We’re gonna do some web cams so people will be able to actually sign on and watch us. We have some other plans. We’re going to Europe in June. So it’s starting up again. We just gotta get this new record done.

MM: So many people are eager to see the band again…especially since the Metal Gods tour didn’t exactly pan out.

CB: The agent they happenedd to use to book the tour, we actually got rid of him the year before because we weren’t happy with his work. Then Halford wound up hiring this guy and we were like, “oh no. This is gonna be a nightmare.” Then we heard he was booking the whole tour. I was so nervous I warned management and everybody that I didn’t think the guy could do it. The first week of the tour all the guarantees Halford was supposed to pick up weren’t real. The guy never had a contract signed or anything. The first week I think Halford lost like $23,000 or something. That’s what they were short and there were still 6-7 more weeks to do so we’re like, “wait, we’re losing this much the first week. We’re gonna be out a couple hundred grand by the end of the tour”, and that was then they cancelled. At the same time, Halford agreed to get back with Priest so they had plans of doing that and we just didn’t regroup. We came all the way out to New York just to find out the tour was cancelled so we were bummed. That would have been a really good tour to get back in. We played our first show and the last show all in the same night [laughing].

MM: You’ve been through a great deal over the last couple of years. Can you explain to our readers what Germ Cell Seminoma actually is?

CB: It’s a form of testicular cancer but the way the doctor explained it to me, I guess when you’re developing as a cell, all these lymph nodes grow all the way up your spine and with the guys, the testicles drop below but you still have these nodes in your spine. But mine grew on one of those. Instead of just growing on the testicle, it grew on the node up near my heart. It entwined in my heart and valves. It was about the size of a squash and it was too big to operate on so I had to go through chemotherapy and the whole bit.

MM: How did you find out and how do you react to something like that?

CB: It’s strange. We actually thank our real estate lady like all the time. Basically, this lady shows up to my house one day and she says she has somebody who wants to buy my house but I’m like, “well, I’m not interested in selling my house but by the way, how much are you talking?” She gave me a figure and I said, “shit, well if you can get me that much I’d consider selling it.”

A week later she sold it so I had my wife look at house where John and Steve Lived. There’s a new community growing out there. So we moved out there. We were too far to go to our old doctors so we had to get a new doctor. We picked a doctor and decided to go get physicals. My parents both have a history of Tuberculosis so he wanted to do an x-ray. He called me back that night saying he sees a mass in my chest and wants me to do another x-ray so he did a cat scan and he called me back saying, “I see a big mass in your chest. We need to do blood work.” Then he called me in and told me I had cancer. It went in one ear and out the other. It didn’t really hit me at all until I went home and my wife’s like, “how was the doctor? What did he say?” I was like, “oh, he said I have cancer”, and that’s when it hit me. I just crumbled to the couch and we just sat there. I just tripped out thinking, this is it. I didn’t know much about cancer so I was just like, “this is it. I’m done. It’s over.” But the very next morning I woke up and said, “bullshit. Fuck this I’m gonna fight. This ain’t getting me down.”

MM: Besides going through chemo, you also explored some more holistic methods.

CB: I’m a native American so I started going to see a few Indian medicine men. I have a friend of a friend who’s a medicine man and she’s been trying to get me and him together for years. We finally [did]. Before I was diagnosed though, she told me had this dream that me and this guy Charlie were putting on was paint, meeting for the first time and about to go into battle together.

MM: I just got chills.

CB: Yeah! It was such a weird story especially with me being “Chuck”, but it went in one ear and out the other until I thought about what she said after I was diagnosed. One day, Charlie shows up at my house. No one was home. I open the door and he’s like, “I’m Charlie,” and it was like we knew each other for a long time. He did a healing ceremony on me. He waved this eagle’s feather across my chest and I felt like I was floating, just flying in the sky. It was like this journey with the flutes and chanting and everything. When he waved this eagle’s feather over me, I really felt something move in my body and you know, he told me that day, “I’m gonna tell you some things that you’re not gonna understand. It’s not gonna make any sense but as you go on, things will start falling into place and making sense to you. You’re gonna have the wind as your spiritual guide.”

One night we were having some really bad weather. It was violently windy outside and I couldn’t sleep for a bunch of days. I had stomach problems. One really windy day I got up and noticed that the [lawn] furniture was blown all the back [yard], and there was bunch of beer cans slamming against the side of my house. I got sick and right as I did, the wind stopped, the beer cans dropped and I felt, right then, that I was healed. I woke up my wife and I was like, “I’m cured. I don’t have cancer anymore.” And she’s like, “what?”, And I just said, “I don’t know what it is but I just released something out of my body and I think it’s the sickness.” I went back to my doctor for blood work and the tumor wasn’t cancerous anymore. I still had the tumor there so I started doing chemotherapy to shrink the tumor and also, I met with another Indian medicine man who was teaching me self-healing techniques to focus on shrinking the tumor with my mind. The tumor finally shrunk down small enough to be operated on, then I had open heart surgery and they removed it off my heart.

MM: That’s an unbelievable story.

CB: I’m Native American but I’ve never really been into that part of it. But I really started to believe. I got really spiritual and that was the thing. You have to believe.

MM: The power of the mind is an amazing thing.

CB: Hell yeah but when things started happening I was just so blown away. That feeling, the sensation I had was incredible.

MM: Did your regular doctor know that you were seeing a medicine man?

CB: Yeah, I told my doctor the whole thing. He was just like, “good, you have something to believe in.” It was wild and it made me a lot more spiritual just believing in native heritage.

MM: How else has the experience changed you life?

CB: All these years we’ve toured, I’ve never really sight seen or took in anywhere I’ve been. I’ve been to a lot of places. Once I had a chance to start playing again, when we went back to Europe last year, I was really like a tourist. I appreciated every day and everything having to do with mother earth, you know? Just nature, the beautiful blue sky, everything. I soak it all in a lost more. I appreciate my family life.

MM: What about your music?

CB: My music, which used to be on the front burner, is on the back burner. There are things in my life that are more important than music. I can always play music just for the joy of it but if I never went on tour ever again I’d still be happy. It’s definitely turned my life around, that’s why right now, we’ll do a record but we’re not gonna tour like crazy. There will be a couple of cool things to do but you know, our joy in life is focusing on writing good songs and records.

MM: Testament has made their mark on metal long ago so any show you play is going to be a special event….even if that means only doing a week of dates or something.

CB: Exactly. Also, touring too much you just burn out. When you’re on the road that much, you start to treat your fans bad, I guess. They expect you to be the coolest nicest guy and you’ll take a minute to talk to them but when you’re doing that and it’s every day and you’re not paying attention, you’re letting down some of the people who really want your time. I find now, when we go play, we sit and take time to talk to people. Let them get off. They’re the ones [coming to the shows] to get off on it. Let them enjoy everything. We’ve always done it but more so now. I sit and talk to everyone now. I know that’s what they want and who knows how much longer I can do it…..or want to do it or have fans there to do it.

MM: Let’s talk about Thrash of the Titans. It was a historic event even in its planning stages but it really did a lot to revive that whole scene. We now have new records from Death Angel, from Exodus….

CB: My friend Walter [Morgan] lives with us. He decided to do the show and he was like, "if I had a show, who would you want to play?” So I started naming all these bands and as the weeks went by he’d be like, “oh, I got Death Angel. They’re gonna play. Oh, I got Exodus, they’re gonna play. Forbidden wants to play.” Everyone just started coming out of the woodwork and I said, “you know it would be great if Anthrax or S.O.D could come. That would just be the ultimate.” That was the start of the whole thing. It got bigger and sold more tickets than we ever imagined. But I didn’t need all that [profit]. I had health insurance. That’s why we donated everything to Chuck [Schuldiner, R.I.P.] He didn’t have health insurance and he needed the money. It was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. Everyone was so on their performance, the vibe. It was just a scene back from Bay Area thrash days. All these people who hadn’t been involved in the scene [for awhile] or haven’t been to any shows, all came out to the show. It was like we stepped back 20 years. It was amazing. Exodus. They weren’t going to do a record again and now look at them. They wrote a great record. I had a smile ear to ear that whole day.

MM: Looking back, particularly with an event like this, did you ever think that Testament would garner the status it has.

CB: For me, I started out as a guitar player before I joined Testament and I knew Eric and Alex had a special talent in their songwriting and playing style. Back in 1987 it was way beyond anything I had ever heard. I always knew that they had that special thing and I was lucky to get onto it. When I look back on it, all those songs stand the test of time. Definitely. I just wish we had the technology back then because the production isn’t very good for the early stuff.

MM: But for the time they were released….

CB: Oh yeah, for the day, it was great!

MM: So the recordings for First Strike Still Deadly must have been truly special for you.

CB: Yeah the re-recording was special for me because Alex, when he came back to play, he hadn’t performed with us for a long time. I was getting goosebumps. His first solo was like over the wall! He just took me back.

MM: Tell me about the new material. Paul [Bostaph] is back in the band now….

CB: Yeah, I mean Paul toured with us and he’s been with us now for the last five of six weeks. We kind of threw him into it. We called up, said, “we’re writing some new stuff. You wanna jam?” Paul actually had a knee operation. He didn’t play drums for like eight months and then he started playing again in December. So we called and threw him right into the songwriting then a couple weeks later we’re like, “hey, we got some shows coming up, too.” It’s been good. He’s a real dedicated guy and he’s real excited to get back with us.

MM: Systematic didn’t exactly show off his skills or anything.

CB: Yeah, Systematic was a totally different style. He said, “you know, I don’t even break a sweat.” He said he had one kick drum and two toms. [laughing] He literally didn’t sweat so when he started jamming with us and he was pouring sweat he was like, “man, this is killer

MM: Tell me about some of the new songs.

CB: I think Eric takes from a lot of the music he listens to now. He takes a lot from the black metal stuff and also stuff like The Haunted, Arch Enemy, Soilwork type stuff. Those guys are influenced by us and we’re sort of being influenced back by what they’re creating. A lot of the stuff tied in with influences from a lot of other bands. We have about six songs done. We’re just gonna keep writing and have a whole bunch of stuff to choose from.

MM: How have your personal musical influences changed?

CB: I listen to everything. For me, music takes me back. I listen to music to remember good times. You know, I’ll listen to stuff I listened to back in high school because high school was good times. I also listen to a lot of The Haunted and Soilwork. The new Exodus has been in my CD player for the last two months. When the whole nu-metal thing came around, it felt like the old metal just dropped. But, it’s everywhere again. I don’t feel like coming back hard and strong is a bad thing.

THANK YOU WERY MUCH FOR SHARING THAT WITH US!!! Definitely one of the best interviews I've ever read. And you got to love Chuck for his honesty and talking about his problems and personal life in such an open way.