Considering the speed of the music played by thrash-metal pioneers Exodus it is no surprise that singer Steve “Zetro” Souza is more than a bit hyperactive. Shortly after the release of the band's tenth studio album, Blood In, Blood Out, Souza slowed down briefly to talk to us about his return to the band, the legacy of metal, and his extensive ink.
Speaking at roughly 10,000 words-per-minute as he rattles off all of the horror-themed tattoos covering his body one has to wonder how Souza was able to sit still for long enough to get the ink. His hyper personality and his pain tolerance were put to the test recently when he covered up a 30-year-old tattoo of Iron Maiden’s Eddie with a brand-new realistic portrait of the metal icon.
“I was like, hurry up dude,” Souza says. “I can’t sit still for more than two minutes. Fuck, man, with all of that color you just hit the wound over and over and over again. Every time the motherfucker wipes you groan in pain. Tattoos do hurt like a motherfucker, but that’s a whole part of it.”
Souza knows the pain well. His arms are, in his own words, draped in horror. While his tattoos span generations from Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein to a portrait of The Exorcist’s Linda Blair they are all united by a love of the horror genre. From the early age of three Souza was watching Dark Shadows and other macabre fare alongside his mother. In Souza’s opinion this means that his mother is directly responsible for each and every tattoo he comes home with.
“She takes the blame,” Souza says with a laugh. “'Oh what a terrible mother I was, I made you watch horror.’ Made me? I loved watching horror, it’s what made me who I am today.”
Souza goes to his friend Cory “Corndawg” Reed to get all of his ink. When it comes to choosing his next piece of horror related ink Souza knows that Reed will be able to kill it thanks to the familiarity the two have developed over the many hours they have spent together in tattoo parlors.
“I pretty much have all of my shit custom done,” Souza says. “I never buy the hat off of the rack. I’ll have an idea and then I trust him to go with it.”
Souza shows so much trust in his artist that he has made sure that both of his sons have also gotten ink from Reed. Since he doesn’t wear shorts or walk around shirtless that often Souza considers himself to be strictly an arms guy when it comes to tattoos. With only his arms to cover Souza has reached a point where his main worry is no longer what to get but whether or not there is room left for the Leatherface tattoos he is craving. After getting an Oakland A’s tattoo—his only two non-horror tattoos are the logos of his beloved Oakland sports teams; the A’s and the Raiders—Souza was left with only about three inches near his armpit unfilled.
“That’s precious real estate,” Souza says. “When they gave me the A’s logo he pulled out this big one and I had to ask to make it a little smaller. I’m going to have to start doing little bats and shit, maybe some spiders crawling around places.”
Naturally, the most fitting music for an avid horror fan to be into is metal. For the last 30-odd years Souza has been playing in a number of different metal bands, but more often than not he has been singing for Exodus. With their new album, Blood In, Blood Out, Souza is returning to the band after a ten-year hiatus.
“I guess you can call this my third tour of duty,” Souza says. “We were playing together when we were 20-years-old and now we’re 50. It’s kind of like I’m putting on a pair of old pants. It was really easy to step right back in.”
Unlike his previous stints with the band, Souza didn’t have much of a role in writing the songs for the new album; it was pretty much ready to record by the time he was called in. In order to learn the material Souza put himself through cram sessions where he listened to the album on repeat until he knew it frontways and back. Within the first couple of chords of listening to the tracks Souza was amped, he could barely contain his excitement to get in the studio and start belting out the material.
In today’s music scene prominent rock bands are few and very far between, it’s a situation that has led to people including KISS’s very own Gene Simmons proclaiming rock dead. Yet despite the lack of mainstream media coverage—the Grammy’s don’t even air the award for Best Metal Album—the genre thrives in underground circles.
“Metal will always be here because it’s a thing that people never throw away,” Souza explains. “You never hear someone say, oh, I was into Slayer last summer. You either [love metal] or you don’t. I love it all.
“It it’s heavy and it makes my head bang I can dig it,” Souza continues. “It will always be here. I know that Dio said that 20 years ago but I agree with Ronnie 100%.”
One of those places where metal is thriving is South America. Shortly before the release of Blood In, Blood Out Exodus toured the continent extensively and were amazed by what they saw. Every night the venues were packed, even when they were playing in small towns in the middle of the rainforests of Brazil. Fans would be waiting at the airport and waiting at the hotels. Despite the complete lack of similarities from the San Francisco Bay Area that Exodus calls home and Santiago, Chile, the heavy tunes the band churns out creates a connection.
“We opened up with ‘Bonded by Blood’ and I didn’t expect them to sing it,” Souza says about the South American shows. “But they sang every fucking word of it every night. I just sat there kind of mouthing it and thinking, cool.”
While the members of the band may be quite a bit older than they were when Exodus first hit the scene in the early ‘80s, Blood In, Blood Out shows that they are still rocking at the same breakneck speed. Now that Souza has rejoined the band for a second time expect them to keep up that frantic pace since that is the only way the frenetic singer knows how to live.
Exodus is currently hitting the road with Slayer and Suicidal Tendencies. Check out when they'll be raising hell in your town here. See more of Souza's ink in the gallery below.