HATRIOT – Weapons Of Thrash Destruction
Hatriot (l-r): Cody Souza, Kosta Varvatakis, Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza, Nick Souza and Miguel Esparza
Californian thrash metal outfit Hatriot formed in 2010, erstwhile Exodus frontman Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza attending a live concert at which drummer and son Nicholas performed in a band situation. Also performing that evening as part of a collective was guitarist Kosta Varvatakis, who Steve spoke to that very evening. The gig in question was the last Kosta participated in as a member of said group, the axeman departing. Kosta had authored several compositions, cutting a demo which lacked vocals.
“I wrote some vocals to them and recorded them,” remembers Steve, co-founder and vocalist of Hatriot. “I let some people hear it like the guys in Testament, guys like Phil Demmel (Machine Head guitarist). Andy Sneap (producer / ex-Sabbat guitarist) heard it; a lot of people heard it. They were all like ‘Man, it sounds a lot like Legacy, a lot like Exodus. This is what people want from you.’
“We talked about it a little bit, and so him I and started it. We pieced it together slowly. We actually had another guitar player named Drew (Andrew Gage), and we actually had another drummer named Alex (Bent). Over the last two-and-a-half to three years we’ve written songs, and gone through a couple of members. We have a solid line-up now, got a record deal, and went through all these kinds of things. We’re at a point where we’ve recorded the record, and the record has come out. It wasn’t an overnight thing. It has taken me a couple of years to get this going, but we’re all very excited about it and very excited by what’s to come.”
Son Nicholas Souza was the first port of call to fulfil Hatriot’s vacant drumming position, but it wasn’t initially to be. “Nick’s speed wasn’t up to par, to where it needed to be,” the frontman feels. “We started with Nick actually, and the two guitar players at the time came up to me and said ‘Nick’s not cutting it.’ This was probably in January or February of 2010. Nick wasn’t even out of high school yet, but over those two years he practised and so on. It came down to the fact that Alex wanted to play with this band called Arkaik, and Alex wanted to play with Decrepit Birth. Alex wanted to play with every band that would ask him to play, and I really didn’t want that. I wanted it be ‘If you’re gonna play with me, you’re gonna play in my band and you’re gonna play here.’ He moved on, and we talked to a couple of different drummers.
“Andy Galeon actually – formerly of Death Angel – was very interested in trying out. He was gonna try to come back to it. Nicholas said he could do it though, so we brought him into rehearsal one night and he just fucking nailed it. It was amazing, so we practised with him for like three weeks and I finally gave him the gig. I didn’t want to. I was very much reluctant to. I didn’t want the industry to think that it was nepotism on my part, because I already had one son in the band. Nick came in and kicked ass though. I think both of the boys did an amazing job. It doesn’t sound like it’s a first record for them, for any of them actually.
“They were up against my history, you know what I mean? I hammered that into them. I was like ‘Look, we can’t go out there and just put something out so it’s on my name.’ ‘Oh, Zetro’s making a comeback and he’s got this new album out.’ They will fucking skewer us. We know that, and I don’t want that. Everything I’ve ever done musically I think is very credible, and especially being my baby that I started, I didn’t want for this to be ‘This is okay. There’s a couple of good songs on it.’ I want it to be as good as Legacy and I want it to be as good as Exodus, which I think it is. Very much so.
“The boys knew how well I wanted it, and how good it had to be. Nick knew how fast it had to be, and Cody (Souza, Hatriot’s bassist as well as Nick’s brother) as well. Both of the guitar players, Miguel (Esparza) and Kosta, knew that this record had to be as good as something that followed Tempo Of The Damned (February 2004). I think when we went into rehearsals for it, everybody knew what they were up against. At the live shows too, every one of them carries themselves professionally and I think my boys too because they’ve been around it longer. Both of the guitar players as well are very, very strong though presence-wise as well as in the studio, and writing music. They’re young but they’re very much professional, which makes it easier for me.”
The departure of sticksman Alex Bent wasn’t by mutual consent. “He didn’t really leave of his own accord, because he wanted to play with us,” Steve clarifies. “The problem was that we knew that we were about ready to get signed and record the record. My whole thing was that everybody needs to be at rehearsal every night for four to five nights a week as we go in to do this, which was probably gonna be two and a half months. He was like ‘Well, I’ve gotta go on the road with Arkaik for five weeks.’ I was like ‘If you’re the drummer and you leave, then we stop. It just stops and we have to wait for you.’ I tried to sell him on the point that I’m a proven commodity in metal, that I was part of the beginning of thrash metal and that carries some weight here. I played in Exodus and I’ve written for Testament, so I’ve got some validity to speak of. I told him that if he had patience, then he would get those things.
“He just couldn’t sit still for five minutes, but I wouldn’t necessarily say he was fired. It was Hatriot having to move on, and him having to deal with that. He had other gigs, and he chose to take those gigs. Had he said ‘No Steve. I wanna be here; I really believe in you, and I love what you’re doing in Hatriot,’ then there wouldn’t have been a problem. My son (Nick) knows in that respect. He wants to play with his dad, and he isn’t looking down the road to play with anybody else. All the members that I have in this band now are very much proud of what they’ve done, and they want to be there. It seems like this will be a solid line-up for years to come.”
An advertisement was published on May 29th, 2012, the advertisement publicising the fact that Hatriot sought a drummer. Nick would eventually occupy the position behind the drumkit, however. “I think his ferocity had improved, and just his confidence,” the lyricist observes. “Honestly, that’s the major thing. You have to have confidence in extreme metal, and as a metal drummer. He’s watched his heroes, and his friends as well because of me being in the business. I know drummers, and people who play. His heroes are John Tempesta (ex-Exodus / ex-Testament), Joey Jordison (Slipknot), Dave McClain (Machine Head), people that he’s got to know and got to see are awesome, incredible drummers who just nail it, and are great guys. That’s what he had to hold up to, and those are the things that I said to him. It wasn’t like ‘Okay, you’re my son, and I’m sure you’re just gonna walk right into this.’ If you wanna be like your heroes, you have to work hard. He did, and he had to put the time in.
“Watching him play, he actually plays the Hatriot songs better than Alex and I didn’t think that was gonna be possible. He does though. To watch Nicholas play drums is like watching a young Dave Lombardo (Slayer). He hits the same way; he attacks the set the same way, and so it just adds an element. We were in rehearsal the other day, and after rehearsal I talked to Kosta. He said ‘Nick is just on fire,’ and the guy who runs our studio said ‘Man, Nick is on just top of it tonight.’ I go ‘I know. He’s just a really, really good, solid, confident drummer,’ and it really shows when we watch him play, and when we’re writing songs he’s very much involved. He might say ‘Let’s play the song at this speed, and see what it sounds like.’ He’s very much involved in it. Kosta has already written three songs for the next Hatriot album, so we’re already starting to work on that.”
One would naturally assume that mainly the thrash genre informs the playing of bassist Cody Souza, Nick’s older brother and Steve’s eldest son. This isn’t the case, though. “I think he’s more influenced by The Black Dahlia Murder, and Faceless,” Steve cites. “Cody’s not thrash. He loves thrash, and his dad was one of the innovators of thrash (laughs). He grew up on thrash, but if you were to get into Cody’s car right now he’s listening to The Black Dahlia Murder, he’s listening to that technical stuff. Cody’s very much all fingers; he plays a five-string bass, and his fingers are up and down that thing. Two other guys tried out at the time Cody came into the band, and he had the same pressure. He was like ‘Dad, do you think I’m good enough?,’ I was like ‘Dude, are you kidding me? Yes, you’re good enough, but I don’t want the other guys thinking that this is my band and they have to take on my kid, and that’s the way it is.’
“I didn’t want that element, so I said ‘You have to go in there, and you have to play with them.’ He played with them, they liked him, and that’s how he got it. He really knows that his craft is very much important, and his stage presence is really, really good – very much professional – and his playing is top notch. He’s learnt from watching guys like Jack Gibson (Exodus). I think Jack is an amazing bass player for Exodus; Jack’s much better than Rob McKillop (ex-Exodus) ever was. Like I said, The Black Dahlia Murder, The Faceless; those are his bands. He loves that type of stuff. All Shall Perish, As I Lay Dying; he loves those types of bands, but Cody is very well schooled on what to play metal wise.”
The Hatriot mainman purchased an ESP bass guitar off of Exodus member Jack Gibson, the instrument a present for Cody. “We had this rotten little bass around the house, and that was his mother’s,” he recalls. “We were married at the time, but we’re not married anymore. There was this rotten bass sitting around that was really heavy, and he used to pluck at it all of the time. Jack was going to a new endorsement. I think he was no longer with ESP and was going with Yamaha, so he couldn’t play ESP anymore. When you endorse a company you have to play what you endorse, so he said ‘Do you want to buy this bass off of me? I’ll sell you this bass really cheap.’ I said ‘Sure.’ I bought it from him, came home one night, opened the case, and said ‘There’s a real bass. If you wanna be a bass player boy, his name is Steve Harris (Iron Maiden)… There’s the bass. Learn how to play.’ He picked it up, and he learned how to play that bass. He played in a band that was kind of like Amon Amarth; he played in that band for two years, and that’s where he learned about playing in a band. He jammed with a couple of other guys, and then he got the opportunity to try out for the bass position in Hatriot. He’s been playing since he was 13 and he’ll be 23 this year, so he’s been playing for ten years.”
Separating his roles as Hatriot’s frontman as well as being a father is arguably a difficult task. “They intertwine, they definitely intertwine,” Steve concedes. “There’s some stuff that I have to tell them. Those two like to be lazy, for example. I’ll tell Nicholas and Cody to do something, and they go ‘I will Dad, I will.’ The next week I’ll then say ‘Hey man, did you take care of that?’ ‘Oh shit… No… I’ll get to it.’ Then I’ll be all pissed off and go ‘No… You need to do it now.’ Now they’re getting interviews – people wanna talk to them. The other day they had two written interviews that they had to do for a couple of fanzines, which I want them to do. I called them, and said ‘Did you guys take care of those interviews?’ They go ‘Oh no… We haven’t done that yet’ and I just started yelling at them, going ‘This is time-sensitive material. You need to get this shit together. I don’t care care if you wanna mess around in your real life, but don’t you mess around here.’ They go ‘Alright, alright… We’ll get it done tonight.’ I then called them later. ‘Did you get those interviews done?’ ‘Yeah, we got those interviews done.’
“Being the lead singer and the father definitely very much intertwines. They’re just kids though, just kids. Their attention span is short, but not the older one. The older one is more responsible. Nicholas, I’ve gotta kick his ass to do everything. Cody, I tell him once and he gets it done. ‘Nick. Please, tell me you’ve got that done… Please, tell me you’ve got that done… Please, mother of lord tell me you’ve got that done.’ That’s how Nick is, but he gets it done. I’ve gotta remind myself he’s a teenager; he’s still a teenager, and he’s still a kid. He’s now playing in a major band with his dad, and the whole world is looking at him. He has a record out, so he has to try to step up and mature really fast.”
Cody and Nick are full brothers, sharing the same mother. “I was married to their mother for almost 19 years,” the songwriter divulges. “We’re actually divorced; we got divorced in 2008. I actually have another child with her as well. I have a 14-year-old daughter, so Cody and Nicholas have a sister. She’s actually a very, very good singer. She sings in a choir, but she still goes to school and that kind of thing. Cody and Nicholas actually live together. They have an apartment in town about 15 minutes away from my house, and they both have really, really good jobs. They pay their own rent, and pay their own bills. They’re both responsible boys.”
Sharing an apartment as well as being brothers arguably provides much chemistry within Hatriot’s rhythm section. “And they practice together too,” Steve adds. “There’ll be times when even the guitar players and me are not there, and they’ll go to the studio and practice for hours together. They’re very much on the same page. It’s a plus for me; it’s a plus that the brothers live together. They do everything together; they’re very good friends, and they’ve got each other’s backs. It’s not like one lives with me and one lives with their mother, or one lives on their own. When we practice and there are two brothers playing there, they’re very much a unit and they get it. I’ll go to rehearsals, and usually they’re the first two there. When I walk in I hear bass and drums going, and they’re just playing some thrashy shit or going off together. They’re very much in tune with each other as far as that goes, so that helps with everything, with music. Just with everything, it helps.”
Though Hatriot’s stable features the familial trio of Steve, Cody, and Nick, the family’s patriarch didn’t initially plan to stand behind the microphone stand. “When we first put the band together, it was gonna be Nick, Kosta, and another singer,” he admits. “I wasn’t gonna sing – I was just gonna lead them along. I didn’t wanna do this again. I was like ‘Oh my God. I’ve gotta come up with a name, and then come up with all that stuff, and then have a guy design the logo, and then hire members, and then write songs, and then do a demo, and then shop the demo, and then play gigs in little clubs and stuff.’ I knew what it took, and I wasn’t really ready for that again I guess. Once ‘The Fear Within’ and ‘Weapons Of Class Destruction’… Those two were actually on the demo. I don’t know if you ever heard the demo, but that’s what got me to do this again. Those two songs were really good. I wanted to do this, because I loved this.
“As much as people have asked me ‘When are you gonna rejoin Exodus? You need to rejoin Exodus?,’ that’s never gonna happen. They have a great singer, and he does his job. I was in the band over an 18-year period (1986-2004). Let it go. I love Hatriot. There’s two great bands now, and I’m not going anywhere. We’ve signed a multi-album deal with Massacre, and I plan on releasing an album every single year to a year and a half like normal bands should do. Put a record out, do a world tour, and when that record starts to slide a little bit, go back into the studio, and then record another one. We have several songs right now for the next record; I already have song titles for the next album too. I’m not gonna waste any time, because I wanna be out playing. I wanna be out on tour. My boys are older now and they’re in the band with me, so this is just the beginning of big things with these guys.”
If Exodus guitarist and mainman Gary Holt ever offered Steve the opportunity to return to earlier pastures, the thrash veteran is adamant he would decline. “I would definitely turn him down, definitely,” he stresses. “That would put this on hiatus, and why would I do that? I’ve worked so hard in the last two years to create this. This is the way I look at it; I built Testament. I even put Chuck Billy (Testament vocalist) there – handpicked him – so I built that hot rod about 27 years ago. I’ve just built me a new hot rod, brand new with brand new parts. I’m not gonna let this steel – hot rod get away again – I wouldn’t jeopardise that. If I was to rejoin Exodus again, that means I would have to put Hatriot on hold and go write music, and be on their schedule, and I couldn’t do that. That’s not possible, because my schedule now is on Hatriot’s schedule. We’re gonna go out on tour. However strong the record is, we’re gonna keep that tour going. As soon as I see it starting to cool, we’re coming home, recording another record, and putting it out. That’s why we’re writing songs right now, so we can do those types of things.
“You’re not missing me; you’re getting a record every year and a half. I’m not trying to make you wait three to four years for a new record. Exhibit B: The Human Condition I think came out in (May) 2010, the last Exodus record, and it’s now 2013. That was three years ago. I’m not gonna do that, and I don’t wanna to do that. I wanna keep putting out new music, and the next record is gonna be better than Heroes Of Origin (Hatriot’s 2013 debut full-length). I can just tell by the three songs we’ve already written it’s great, that it’s good stuff. It’s the type of stuff that people wanna hear me sing, so you can’t get me in Exodus but I would say this is pretty damn the next best thing.”
Jeff Hanneman – guitarist of Californian thrash metal quartet Slayer – underwent emergency surgery in late January 2011 resulting from a serious infection. Possibly contracted through a spider bite, necrotizing fasciitis was diagnosed as being the cause. The majority of Slayer live dates since that time have included Gary handling guitar duties. “Sure, and that’s the other thing,” the singer continues. “Gary’s so much busy with them, so does he really have time to sit down and write a record with Exodus? I love that, and I’m glad for him. Good for him, because Slayer’s a great band. To get an opportunity to play with a band like that, especially when you’re a guitar player like Gary… Gary’s phenomenal. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but I saw him with Slayer in 2012 at NAMM. He’s phenomenal with Slayer; I love him with Slayer. It’s a great job. He fills in for Jeff, and you can really tell. Gary and Kerry (King guitars) together are fucking awesome and good for him, but right now I’m building Hatriot. I’ve been asked that question before, and I’ve just said that I wouldn’t do it. I think he knows now that I wouldn’t rejoin, and I think his pride wouldn’t allow that at all. I don’t think Rob’s (Dukes, Exodus vocalist) going anywhere; I think Rob does a good job, so I think they’ll be okay.”
Rumours exist which state Gary is a fully-fledged member of Slayer, and that Jeff Hanneman is physically unable to play guitar on a permanent basis. “I have heard that – I’ve heard that too,” Steve confesses. “If he is in Slayer, then do you think he’s gonna do a new Exodus album? I know that Exodus is touring with Anthrax, Municipal Waste, High On Fire, and somebody else in the United States. It’s called the Metal Alliance tour, and that’s through March and April 2013. I know that that’s happening, but other than that? Maybe that’s Exodus’ last tour. I don’t know.”
Gary disbanding Exodus to pursue Slayer commitments would be a surprise, given the 30-plus years the man has spent building and nurturing the ensemble. “I agree, but Slayer?,” the Hatriot co-founder queries. “C’mon. Exodus plays to how many people? And Slayer plays to how many people? It’s night and day. Those guys are millionaires, and the Exodus guys are broke. At this point in your life, if you’re gonna get an opportunity to play in a band that carries some weight financially and stability from what I understand… Jeff’s probably not gonna play guitar again, and that’s what I understand. I don’t know the parameters of it so I wouldn’t like to comment on it and say something that isn’t true, but from what I understand the spider bit him pretty bad and his arm is pretty messed up. That would be the normal thing to do I guess.”
For a potential union between Gary and Slayer to prove successful, the band would have to welcome songwriting contributions from the Exodus guitarist. “I think they would be stupid not to, and that’s what he is,” Steve reckons. “He’s an amazing lyricist and an amazing songwriter, so why would you not do that? He is in my eyes, anyway.”
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