Interview & photo by Mike Bax
This week marks the release of Shattered Sun’s debut album Hope Within Hatred. Signed to Victory Records, the album boasts ten original songs and a wonderful Testament cover of ‘Return To Serenity’. It showcases a strong lyrical and musical prowess harkening back to the early days of thrash metal on many of songs included on the album. Hope Within Hatred sounds quite refined for a debut – mixing elements of intricate guitar work and heavy thrash with an overall sheen most bands don’t achieve until a few albums into their repertoire. Where most newer bands riffing off of the 1980s thrash sound come off as somewhat disposable, Shattered Sun manages to impress almost immediately, blending mixtures of snarling vocals, melody, drums and blistering guitars to dizzying effect on song after song. There is a reason the band caught the attention of Jonny Z and Chuck Billy, and it’s blatantly obvious on every groove contained on Hope Within Hatred.
Currently on the road with Testament and Exodus on the Dark Roots of Thrash II tour, Shattered Sun will see their album released while out on the road. The recent announcement of the ROCKSTAR ENERGY DRINK MAYHEM FESTIVAL line-up has Shattered Sun included on the tour, so if you missed them on the Dark Roots II tour, you will certainly have an opportunity to witness them again shortly.
While putting together an interview around the Dark Roots of Thrash II Tour a few weeks ago (featuring Marcos Leal along with Steve Zetro Souza and Chuck Billy http://wp.me/p5B5c5-ez) There wound up being a lot of information that didn’t really fit into that article. The unabridged interview with Marcos is presented here.
Look for the release of Hope Within Hatred this coming Tuesday April 21st in multiple formats.
Mike: Where are you currently, Marcos?
Marcos: We are still in Alice (Texas). We are just getting ready to leave on this tour on Saturday.
Mike: Can you talk a bit about being a six-piece Texas metal band?
Marcos: Yeah, man. For sure. We are six small town guys based in the very small town of Alice, Texas right next to Corpus Christi. We’ve been playing music with each other since we were eleven, twelve years old. We grew up with each other. We did the whole cover version thing and all that good stuff coming up, and Daniel (our guitar player) was the one to put Shattered Sun together. It was always a hobby to us. Playing shows with our friends and getting paid in beer and pizza and doing that whole thing. It wasn’t until about 2011 that we took a look at the situation and really had to decide whether we were going to chase this, or basically work in an oil field for the rest of our lives. We kind of made the decision to chase it whole heartedly. That decision kind of started everything for us and got the chains in motion to put us where we are right now.
Mike: That sounds so simple when you say it. But getting six people to commit to a life of music and touring and everything else that is going to come with it is not something you want to undertake lightly. I guess I just want to recognize the significance of that.
Marcos: Yeah. Definitely dude. You know, we come from a place (Alice) where it’s all about the oil boom. It’s the kind of town where your life can be quite predetermined before you even get out of high school. With all of our friends going to the oil fields we were always the guys trying to chase the dream. Trust me man, there were a lot of people along the way that told us we weren’t going to make it and that we were wasting our time. You name it, we’ve been kicked in the nuts plenty of times. We were the ones who chose to refuse that and really tried to do this. We’ve wanted this since we were kids. We’ve got the talent to do it. It’s kind of weird, man – the stars just aligned for this to happen. It seemed like everything just worked out the right way and we are just very happy to be in the position that we are in.
Mike: It seems like that essential story hasn’t changed in over thirty years. The guys in Exodus and Testament will have the same story… their peers telling them that they were never going to go anywhere with their music. People telling them they are wasting their lives and to get a job…
Marcos: Yeah, man. There was definitely a lot of that coming our way. Where we come from it’s even more close minded. You are either going to college to do something else or you are working in the oil field man. And that’s just the way it is down here. It’s a way of life. You know, there’s members of the band still affiliated with the oil field. If it wasn’t for this opportunity and Breaking Bands (LLC., Management) and Victory Records man, we’d be living a completely different life.
Mike: You have the added bonus of living in the now – you can get downtrodden on the internet as well. People can smack-talk you from anywhere in the world.
Marcos: Oh yeah. (laughs) We’re experiencing that a little bit already. It’s all good. It’s fun. We know we are never going please everybody and that’s fine. Our main focus is to please the people who really do like us.
Mike: You mentioned quickly there Breaking Bands. How did you wind up getting in front of Breaking Bands Management?
Marcos: Man, that’s kind of a long story. I’ll give you the short version. As a local band we were always looking for something to try and get us ‘out there’ somewhat. You know what I mean? When we put out our first EP we were aware that we needed to stop playing shows around here, and wondered what we could do. So we bought onto a big national tour with a band called Spineshank that we got onto through a local promoter. He pretty much said that he needed five grand from us. We told him that we couldn’t give him that, so we gave him half. You know, we bought on. Nothing was negotiated for us. We really made friends with the other bands on the bill but when you are on that big level, it’s all about contracts and what was negotiated and unfortunately we weren’t negotiated for anything. So, the last date on tour was one of the best ones, at the Whisky A Go Go. It was one of the most costly, and we wound up stranded on the side of the road. So we called that guy who booked us on the tour and asked if there was anything he could do to help us and he pretty much said that he would pray for us and left us stranded there at the side of the road.
Marcos: Yeah! But through that experience a lot of bad things happened. Blame and a lot of everything that we were putting on each other, but through that experience we formed a friendship with Mike (Sarkisyan) from Spineshank. He helped us through the pre-production of this album and taught us that the experience was a lesson learned – not to be shelling out money to people that you don’t know. He told us that when the tracks were all done he’d see what he could do for us. I sent them over and he said he had this friend named Maria Ferrero who owns Adrenaline PR and that she could get us a PR deal. So he sent the tracks to Maria and a little while after she called and said, “Yo, I love the tracks, fuck the PR deal, do you guys want a management deal?” Of course we said yes, but we didn’t know at the time that she was forming Breaking Bands with Jonny Zazula and Chuck Billy. She just said that she was going to put us on a conference call later with her business partners. That’s when we found out it was Chuck and Jonny. They said they loved the tracks, and they wanted to fly down to Texas the next week and we signed with them right there. It was crazy, man. And it didn’t hit us until later when we were in California and doing some press with Chuck who said that Shattered Sun and Exodus were their first signees. After they released the news that Breaking Bands was a company and they were looking for bands they got a hundred thousand submissions and the six of us were this little band from small town Texas, thinking, “How the fuck did this happen?” We were pinching ourselves. Ever since we got with them they have treated us well. They are a huge part of why we are at Victory Records and why everything has been running so smoothly with us
Mike: Well, that AND the ten quality original songs that comprise Hope Within Hatred. Because they are pretty fucking good
Marcos: Thank you. Appreciated.
Mike: It’s a tight album. I’m curious whether doing a cover of a Testament song on an album while having Chuck Billy as part of your management freaked you guys out at all? How did that come about?
Marcos: Nah. We had been in talks for a while about covering a song. Me and Jonny were throwing that idea around for doing ‘Return To Serenity’. We didn’t know that we were going to be out on tour with Testament and Exodus. All we knew was wanted to do a cover. I wanted to ask Chuck his opinion on it and Jonny was all “Fuck that. Record it and send it to him and surprise him and see what he thinks.” So we went on and arranged it our way and got into the studio to record it. Once we were done we sent it to Jon and he loved it. And then we sent it to Chuck, and I swear to God that was the longest two hours of our lives, man. We didn’t know Chuck was on tour in Italy right then. We sent him the track and we were waiting for his response, and from my understanding he heard it with the rest of Testament and we didn’t hear back from for over two hours. We were all pacing around waiting. Finally he got back to us and told us that he loved it, and we knocked it out of the park. That started the consideration of it being on the album. We love that Chuck and Testament gave us the honour of putting it on our album and that’s just tribute to what a legendary and amazing band that they are. That is something we aspire to be in our career. Who better to learn from, you know?
Mike: It’s cool that it’s tacked on at the end of the album. To a new fan that maybe doesn’t know a lot about Testament, they might not even know that it’s a cover, it fits on so nicely at the end of the album.
Marcos: Yeah, that was the idea. Obviously we didn’t want to butcher the song, we wanted to stay true to its origins. We wanted to add a little Shattered Sun flare to it as well. I think we found the right balance. I’ve never been more nervous in my life than getting that phone call from Chuck. I thought he was going to tell me that it fucking sucked. (laughs)
Mike: Well, you know him a little bit now. He IS a bit of a clown that way… he totally could have pulled one over on you guys, right? Before telling you he dug it?
Marcos: Yeah, I know. And then told me he was joking. Since day one he has filled that mentor role. We appreciate him very much. He has talked a lot about the industry with us and he’s like family to us. We love him and Tif and Jonny and Marsha and Maria. It’s a great family vibe that we’ve got going on.
Mike: Nice. I talked with Chuck last week and he said he was pretty excited to take you guys out on this run of dates and thinks it’s going to be a good tour all around. He’s going out with his family too, really. He’s known Zetro forever.
Marcos: It’s awesome. I spoke to him and Zetro from Exodus and I think that it’s really awesome that bands of their stature would take a chance on an upcoming band like us and give us the opportunity to go out there and earn it. We’ll get to see what it’s like for veterans. They have both been around forever, right? It’s awesome for us. We’re really excited about it.
Mike: I think it’s cool that you both understand the relevance of this tour and consider them veterans. When I was your age there was nothing like this to renaissance over. I’m 48. I was into this stuff as it happened. For me, listening to music that was thirty years old was like going back to the 1940s/1950s, right? To see bands like yourself still aspiring to make music like Testament and Exodus and considering it relevant music, well it warms my heart.
Marcos: Yeah. I’ve told Chuck many times that one of the biggest accomplishments in my mind that those bands have is that they have songs that have LASTED all this time. I’ve asked him this too – “When you wrote these songs at 17-18-19 years old, did you know?” I certainly wasn’t trying to write songs that would stand the test of time when I was that young. So, I’ve always asked him how that felt. That is something that I’ve always wanted in a career, even if it’s just ONE song. One thing to last through time like that. That’s awesome, man.
Mike: I don’t think any of those guys thought that might happen. That was mid-eighties music, considered crossover back then. A mix of metal and hardcore punk, two different camps coming together, at a time when you tended to remain LOYAL to your one style of music, you know? For that crossover to happen, there were a lot of folks who didn’t get it back then. It didn’t sound like KISS or Maiden… the usual archetypes of heavy music back then.
Marcos: Yeah. We’ve heard a lot about that from Jonny. One of the most awesome things about Jonny is he’s like a father figure for this band. All of the stories that he has told us from back in the day are just so inspiring. Metallica, Testament, Anthrax – all of those bands that he spawned pretty much changed the face of metal. It’s a huge deal for us to be a part of his legacy, man. To be mentioned as a footnote amongst those other bands, you know? That is a huge honour to us.
Mike: Oh my God, yes. For you guys to even be able to name drop Maria Ferrero. She’s a legend. Maybe not as obvious as Chuck or Jonny… but really, she’s been around forever working with great bands in this genre, supporting the cause. Even with Chuck and Jonny out of the equation, she’s a big deal.
Marcos: We owe so much to Maria. If it wasn’t for us getting screwed over on that tour and forming that friendship with Mike, we would have never met Maria. Our single would have never made its way across her desk. That’s just something I always say … there are bigger hands at play than just us. We are a hard working band, but I feel like there was some fate happening as well. Things just worked out.
Mike: What would you say is your favourite Testament album, and why?
Marcos: I’d have to say Practice What You Preach. BUT, the newest one? Oh my God, it’s so good. It’s just brutal man. Everything about it – the riffs and Chuck’s vocals… it’s hard to pick one between those two. Preach is a classic one, and it deserves it. But for the new school fans, kids today who maybe don’t know who Testament is, I felt like Dark Roots of Earth was just so relevant and so great. And Chuck’s voice on it is so strong after all of these years. He’s somebody I definitely look up to for that alone.
Mike: I’m with you. Dark Roots blew me away. From the moment I heard it, just that intro cut, I could tell they’d stepped it up. For musicians their age, to put an album out that fast and relentless… And Exodus too. Blood In, Blood Out is crazy good. That is like their best album in decades.
Marcos: Yeah, when we first heard that album – it was when we were just signing everything with Breaking Bands. We got to hear a couple of the tracks and we were blown away. Zetro is amazing. His voice on that album is awesome.
Mike: All of these guys are either approaching 50, or have just crested 50, and they are showing no signs of letting up. It’s impressive.
Marcos: We’ve gotten to hear their thoughts on our album now, too. They’ve done some homework on us now, and it’s awesome to hear them talk about our album with enthusiasm. It’s a real welcoming feeling. It doesn’t feel like we’re just some crap band they are bringing along for the ride here. They seem to genuinely like our music and care about the act.
Mike: It’s sad to me that your debut album will see its release the last week of the tour. You will have three weeks of tour dates before you actually have a monument to put down on your merchandise table to sell to fans impressed with your performance.
Marcos: True. A little secret for you here, we will actually have the albums a week prior to the release. So people who come out early and like our sound will be able to buy the album a week before release directly from us.
Mike: That will be nice. You can meet some of the audience and have something you can sell them to take home. That’s cool.
Marcos: And Victory has really been good about promoting this album. We can do pre-orders at our table that are super simple. If you pre-order at our table and give your information you get an instant download of the title track. We have a lot of ways of getting the music out to the fans now and we are thankful to have a label behind us who really cares about that sort of thing.
Mike: Victory is not usually this style of music. I wouldn’t consider their roster of bands traditional thrash music like Shattered Sun. They have had a history of hubbing bands that are more screamo and scream-core (however you’d like to categorize that sound). It’s cool that they have an album that is as good as your debut is, lurking on the release schedule in the next month. That’s exciting.
Marcos: It is. Even going back to when we were unsigned and with Jonny, he told us from day one that he wasn’t looking for a label that was just going to sign us on and make us their 49th band and throw money at the project. He was after a label that truly believed in us and what we could be, and Victory has been that since day one. We are very thankful to have such an awesome label backing us.