Interview – Inside Dave Lombardo’s High Profile Return to Testament
The news that "The Atomic Clock," Gene Hoglan, was amicably stepping down as Testament's drummer was a profound bummer. He radiates nothing but positivity — a walking, drumming ray of sunshine — and his skills behind the kit helped add exciting new dynamics to the group's sound over the last decade. With the legendary Dave Lombardo back in the fold, however, a dream scenario for countless fans has now become a reality.
This isn't Lombardo's first tour of duty with Testament. It's actually the second time he's replaced Hoglan in the iconic Bay Area act after initially joining in 1998, following up Hoglan's contributions on Demonic with an outstanding, pummeling performance on The Gathering.
The former Slayer drummer, who also occupies the drum stool in many, many other bands (Suicidal Tendencies, Misfits, Mr. Bungle, Dead Cross, Fantômas...) departed in 1999, though, and, since then, fans have wondered what a reunion would sound like. After all, The Gathering is perhaps Testament's most aggressive, fury-laden record of their career.
In our exclusive interview with Lombardo and founding guitarist Eric Peterson, it was even revealed that they, as well as singer Chuck Billy, have been entertaining the idea of playing the full album live with most of that recording lineup, save James Murphy who would have been on the out with Alex Skolnick still in tow.
That all still sounds like more of a pipe dream, one of hundreds of "what if?" scenarios mentioned in general conversation between mutually respected musicians. For now, it's all smiles and the attention of everyone in Testament is getting a set nailed down in rehearsal for the upcoming "The Bay Strikes Back" tour, that has been thwarted multiple times by the pandemic.
Testament will embark on a headlining North American run alongside longtime thrash allies Exodus and Death Angel this April (see dates here), and, right before their first rehearsal together with the new lineup, Lombardo and Peterson spoke with Loudwire about the new change, what lies ahead and what about the past makes this reunion so invigorating.
When did Testament realize that with scheduling conflicts with Gene that a change in the lineup was needed?
Eric Peterson: The whole pandemic has thrown everyone under the bus in the whole industry. I wouldn’t blame anyone for anything. It’s unfortunate that everyone had to pick and choose what they needed to do.
Gene had a lot of stuff planned that would have been after all the touring, but we started booking a lot of stuff and he had a lot he wanted to do and rightfully so. Our schedules didn’t match up. We couldn’t sacrifice Testament to wait on him to finish what he’s doing because that would have been another year and a half. We agreed to agree to do what we both need to do.
Did you have a short list of potential drummers in mind? Were you going to hold auditions?
EP: We had a short list and a lot of videos came in. A lot of kids out there are badass. We had a couple of people in mind and one of them is right here.
I talked to Chuck the day before the announcement and Dave’s name came up. When we announced [Hoglan was leaving] all of the comments [on social media] were, “Lombardo, Lombardo, Lombardo, Paul Bostaph, Lombardo, Lombardo, John Tempesta, Lombardo, Lombardo, Lombardo…”
We thought Lombardo was really busy and Chuck called me and said, “Hey, guess who just called me? Lombardo! Call him up!”
How did you find out that Gene had left, Dave?
DL: I had just woken up. My wife nudged me and said, “Hey, Gene left Testament,” and I said, “Oh, really? Why are you telling me?” [laughs] She knows my schedule and I immediately texted Chuck, “Hey man, it’s Lombardo.” A real simple text.
Dead Cross, Mr. Bungle and Suicidal Tendencies haven’t been touring much lately, Mike Patton has been taking care of himself, so my schedule is open. I have a lot of projects floating around, but there’s really no touring happening so this was the perfect opportunity for [most of] The Gathering members to get back together and for me to also to get back on tour.
I let Mike Muir (Suicidal Tendencies) know that I had to commit to these shows with Testament and I’m assuming there will be more shows for Suicidal. I’ve had to step out of that band for several shows because of Misfits, Mr. Bungle or Dead Cross, but I’m sure he’ll find somebody to fill in during my time away. I left the door open if he needs my help and I’m available.
I’ve been off the stage for two and a half years and that’s like taking away my breath. I need to play. It’s part of my DNA and I’ve been doing it since I was 16-17 years old.
EP: We had been talking about doing a The Gathering tour and that's in play for later on select dates.
DL: Two and a half years ago, I ran into Chuck at the airport somewhere in Europe and he said, “Let’s put The Gathering back together.” At the time, I was overwhelmed with other projects. Then about six months later, before the pandemic hit, we were doing some shows together for NAMM, I approached Chuck and asked him about putting The Gathering together whenever you guys are ready.
Would that mean James Murphy would temporarily return to the lineup?
EP: No, I don't think so. Alex knows half of the record because we play a lot of the songs live. “Fall of Sipledome” was Gene’s favorite and we never played it. That was the first song Dave and I wrote together and it was part of "The Legacy," the ballad [off 1990's Souls of Black], it was supposed to get heavy. But that's a different story...
Dave, what did you enjoy most about what Gene brought to Testament, having come into the band after him for the second time now?
DL: His style is very old school with a modern twist. He brings in a lot of the new influences from the death metal drummers — blast beats and these certain cymbal accents. He has a style on its own and it’s so much fun learning where he’s taking the music.
He is left-handed and plays a right-handed kit just like I do. I have to decipher what he’s playing and I’ll think of a right-handed drummer playing a right-handed kit, so I have to listen to his performance in a whole different way with the open-minded idea that he’s leading with his left hand. It’s complicated, but being a left-handed drummer on a right-handed kit, it makes more sense. There’s a lot of studying before you perform it.
Dave, this is your first time playing in Testament with Alex.
DL: We’ve known each other for a while and I always knew he was a jazz player and intro different styles. We have a lot of shared musical interests and we like a lot of different jazz players and composers.
Playing with him on this tour is going to be a lot of fun. His leads are phenomenal — just like yours, Eric — so I’ll be able to lay the foundation while he’s going off. It’s going to be a lot of fun. There’s going to be a lot of chemistry onstage.
Fresh blood of any sort always seems to yield a new sense of creativity. Eric, what does Dave's return open up for you as a songwriter?
Eric: Gene is great. I don’t have anything bad to say about Gene, he’s amazing.
In Dave and I's first hour together we wrote “Fall of Sipledome” and that was 20 years ago. Over the pandemic, I wrote a lot of new riffs so it’ll be fun to throw riffs together with Dave and jam after we get all these songs for the set list down. We have great chemistry.
Dave, do you have any favorite Testament songs that came out after The Gathering?
This new album [Titans of Creation] is phenomenal. I had to dive into it and listen to some of the songs to learn them and it blows me away how the band has evolved and they continue to recreate themselves. The songs are heavy and powerful. The first song we're playing in rehearsal is "The Pale King" [off 2016's Brotherhood of the Snake].
Everything is on point and I’m really happy to be back with these guys.