Interview: Testament's Eric Peterson Offers Touring Advice, Discusses Early Success, Metallica and More
I went up to them and I was kind of mad, I was like, “You know, you shouldn't have kicked Dave out. He was perfect!” I was a huge fan of them; I just didn't get it. Of course, I didn't know the horror stories, and I didn't know what it was like being in the band, but I was disappointed at first. Now that I know the whole story, it makes sense, and I know Kirk was destined to be in the band, but when I first saw Metallica with Dave, there was so much presence.
I think there would have been a huge fight later, though. There were two frontmen in the band, because Dave did all the talking back then; it was really weird. After the songs James would talk a little bit, but Dave did his classic kind of real mellow, “Hey, fuckers!” He did a lot of talking; it was cool.
I saw them with Dave when they got Cliff. That was a good show. I remember right after they kicked him out, he bounced right back up and got Megadeth together. And I remember seeing them at The Stone, and Kerry King was in the band and I was like, “What, Slayer broke up?” I remember being a roadie for another friend's band and Slayer was playing at Ruthie's and there were literally like 30 people there.
What would you recommend for young bands and musicians out there today that want to get where you guys are?
Well, it's different now. The internet, YouTube … look what Justin Bieber did. That's a totally different music scene, but that's a new artist and look what he did. He put his talent out there. I see a lot of young people -- I've got kids, you know -- and I’m always seeing new things online because my daughter’s like, “Look at this girl!” and “Look at this kid!” It's a great way for people to see your stuff; there’s a lot of networking to be done on the Internet. And I’m thinking of the young hungry kid, what do you do?
Well the first thing is, do you really want this? I think when you really want do something you'll do it, right? I really wanted to do this and my parents were supportive, but I remember them telling me “You’re not going to make it, there are too many bands.” and I looked at them like, “How dare you talk about my girlfriend like that! This is what I'm doing, this is it! I'm all in!”
And when I wrote riffs, I just wrote stuff that I really liked. I always had a good ear for music. I was the person who always turned people on to bands, like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. There are the kids out there that always know about bands before anybody else does. That's a good start, a good sign that you got something. That means you’ve got a good ear and you’re a little ahead of the game with other people.
And then it’s just about really enjoying what you play. You can tell when you play a riff for someone if it knocks their socks. If people go, “Wow.” When I played a riff for the older, established guitar players at practice pads, one guy would always come in and say, “Hey, check this kid out!” or there would be some band there that were just about make it, and they¹d come in and say, “Hey Eric, play that riff.” I’d play some real fast thing and nobody played that fast back then. I mean like Metallica did, but they hadn’t made it yet and a lot of these people hadn't even heard of them.
So a lot of these people were just tripping out that instead of a lead I was doing this real fast stuff on the low E string, and then Lou would do the fast drums and they would sit there and laugh at us. They were amused by it. They’d shake their heads and wave goodbye and go “Man, these guys are crazy.” And then three years later, they were like, “Hey man, can we get an opening gig?” [laughs.]
Did you do a lot of promotion of the band back then? You strike me as the guy who would be out there stapling posters on walls.
Yes, we put flyers everywhere. We would go to shows and flyer there -- that's how it was done back then. Now everybody's got a Facebook or whatever and you can just post on the Internet. You got 50,000 friends and you look at the way how some people start packing some park or something and you say, “How did everybody know?” It’s because they did it on the Internet.
There is a whole generation coming up right now that has never paid for music, and they think that it’s OK. How has that affected your life, your band and people that you know?
Fuck, it sucks. But you know, I'm a part of that era [laughs]. There's got to be some kind of compromise. It's cool that you can check it out for free but if you become a fan of the band, buy their records, man. Support them, you know? I still do that too. if I like something I'll go buy it. I'm not the hugest Anthrax fan, but I like their new record, so I went and bought it and all of the guys in the band were like, “No you didn't!” And I was like, “Yeah, I did,” and I showed them and they were like, “You bought our record?” and I’m like, “Yeah, I thought it was killer” [laughs].
So, you know, if you like something, buy it. People work really hard and you know a lot of people depend on it and you know this is just a band. If you want them to continue and do well, you’ve got to support them.
What were your early record deals like?
When you've been in the business this long, if I knew what I know now, things would be different [laughs]. But you live and learn, and it all depends on what kind of person you are. I would just say don't sell your soul. Atlantic Records owns our masters forever on our first four or five albums. And now it's like five or six or seven years. Ten years, that's pushing it a little bit. Fifteen years, yeah, that's pretty long, but time goes by before you know it.
And now we've got some of our catalog back and we’ll resell it again to another company and push the record, but we've done all right. We got big from our earlier days, but that's not where we made the money. Everybody made money on us but us. But we were strong enough to survive. Most bands, that would drive you into the ground and make you say, “Fuck this business, fuck everybody else. Fuck this, I'm out, this business sucks!”
What we did basically is everybody else kind of bowed out and said, “Whatever.” and we went, “OK, I get it.” So we opened up our own record company and use our own name and then, instead of licensing the band, you know, making a record deal, we were like, “OK, our record company is called Burnt Offerings and here's the band we’ll license it to you for a certain amount of time.” You know, going about it a whole different way. Everybody was kind of like, “Huh?” but we ended up making a lot more money selling less records.
What would you tell the younger version of yourself if you could go back and talk to him? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
Let's say you get on a tour, and you go, “Wow, OK, we’re on the Judas Priest tour.” And then you go, “Cool, all right, let’s go over the budget.” So every night, each band member gets their own hotel room. And the tour manager wakes you up out of your bunk at 4 in the morning and is like, “Here, man, here’s your room key.” So you go to your room; you sleep and get your lobby call at 11 a.m. So what are you doing? You're spending $150 per night for five people to go sleep? You add that up for three months and you're talking about a lot of money there [laughs].
I finally said to myself, “Would you rather get out of your bunk, or in two years how about you get a down payment on a house? Or how about we go buy each band member a brand new Camaro?" So you’ve got to look at the bigger picture. There are a lot of little things that add up. I wish someone would've said to me, “OK, guys, let’s look at the budget. If you guys don't stay at the Clarion or the Don Cesar's every night, then maybe on the days off you guys get your own suites or I don't know.”
I was talking to Dave Mustaine, actually -- it's funny because we were on tour in Europe and we were talking about that, and he's like, “Where are you guys staying at?” and I’m like, “We’re just showering here at the gig” [laughs]. But it's a good place to save money; you're on a nice fucking bus, why get out of your bunk to go sleep and wake up?
Then on top of that, you get into your room and you're hungry, so you order room service. And room service is like 20 to 30 bucks, depending on what you get. Half the time you don't even need the whole thing because you know you're hungry and you’re like, “I’m going to get breakfast, man, that looks good. I’m going to get the full breakfast.” And then you go downstairs and check out and you see, "OK, God, $20 of phone calls" … and you watched a movie, OK, so that’s $60, and it's like, “Fuck!” So that's one thing [laughs].
You guys seem like you have a really great relationship with the fans. Is there anything you’d like to say to them?
I just appreciate them supporting us all these years. And it's cool that they're turning their kids onto our music. I see a lot of repeats; it's weird. People that come to our shows, now they've got kids that are 16, 17, 18 at the shows. And even if the parents aren’t coming to the shows, there's a lot of young people finding out about us. And it's funny because a lot of the younger kids are buying our older records and they're just getting into them. So that's pretty cool. So just thanks for the support. It's awesome!
Dave Reffett is a Berklee College of Music graduate and has worked with some of the best players in rock and metal. He is an instructor at (and the head of) the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal department at The Real School of Music in the metro Boston area. He also is a master clinician and a highly-in-demand private guitar teacher. He teaches lessons in person and worldwide via Skype. As an artist and performer, he is working on some soon-to-be revealed high-profile projects with A-list players in rock and metal. In 2009, he formed the musical project Shredding The Envelope and released the critically acclaimed album The Call Of The Flames. Dave also is an official artist endorsee for companies like Seymour Duncan, Gibson, Eminence and Esoterik Guitars, which in 2011 released a Dave Reffett signature model guitar, the DR-1. Dave has worked in the past at Sanctuary Records and Virgin Records, where he promoting acts like The Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson, Korn and Meat Loaf.
Dave Reffett headshot photo by Yolanda Sutherland