An Interview with Paul Bostaph of Testament

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This month, drummer Paul Bostaph – the guy who “took a lot of shit from Slayer fans for committing the cardinal sin of replacing Dave Lombardo” – talks to Metal Edge about his return to the drum throne of Bay Area thrash stalwarts, Testament on their latest critically acclaimed CD, Formation of Damnation. Enjoy!

Metal Edge: Since forming, Testament has had maybe ten different drummers, including you. How do you think the ongoing change in drummers has affected the band’s sound?

Paul Bostaph: Testament is definitely a band that’s been able to work well with many different drummers. Louie Clemente (1987 – 1992), who I respect immensely, is a really good drummer, and he was the best drummer for the band at that time. The argument has been raised that if they’d had a different drummer, maybe they could have been bigger. However, I actually don’t think so, because Louie’s simple style allowed all of the other musicians to shine. The guitar players could play better riffs because they had a simple drum beat behind them. Everything else could be busy because the drums weren’t. When Louie left, I toured with Testament and they were like, ‘Wow, with this kind of a drummer we can do this.’ They invited different people in over the years for the flexibility it gives the band.

Metal Edge: You’ve said that you primarily left Slayer because you wanted to become a more eclectic drummer. What does eclectic mean to you in terms of developing your drumming?

Paul Bostaph: I love lots of different styles of music, and I’ve tried to find that teacher who can open up my brain to learn stuff that’s really challenging for me. I’m not saying that metal is easy, but for me to become a more eclectic drummer I would love to, say, be able to sit in authentically with a jazz fusion band. I’ve tried playing other styles and, by stretching out, I’ve realized where my limitations are as a player in those styles. Coming back to metal now, especially on Formation of Damnation, I’ve drawn on the successes and failures of all of those experiences. It’s easy to stay within something that you’re really good at, but it’s really hard to take a chance, jump without a safety net and [know that] whether or not it works, you’re doing it for the experience. If you do that, sometimes the benefit is that you see more of who you are.

Metal Edge: Years ago you toured extensively with Testament and recorded the live EP, Return to the Apocalyptic City (1993). After spending time in Slayer, Exodus and all of your other projects, how does Formation of Damnation show your growth as a drummer in relationship to Testament’s music?

Paul Bostaph: Let me backtrack a bit. Originally I came from Forbidden, which was my own band. When I first toured with Testament I was actually in Slayer, but hadn’t recorded the first record yet. I knew Testament’s music because I had toured with them, so I knew their old style and lot of their old songs. So, in doing that first tour with Testament and then going to Slayer, I learned a lot about extreme metal drumming and it took my playing to another level. Coming out of Slayer I did a project called Truth About Seafood, which showed my experimental side. Then I came back to Slayer again and did Diabolus in Musica (1998). When I left Slayer after recording God Hates Us All in 2001, I recorded Pleasure to Burn with the rock band Systematic.

Testament took two and a half months to do pre-production with this new record. I had ten days to record, so we took our time and did it right. But I drew on my experience with the Systematic record, where Josh Freese replaced me on half the tracks. Likewise, I incorporated the improvisational skills from Truth About Seafood and the extreme drumming from Slayer. Also, in my touring experience with Exodus, we had many death metal bands open for us, so I was inspired by their amazing drummers: guys like Horg from Immortal. He was playing with a band called Hypocrisy at the time and –oh my god! – this guy is just a machine; he’s amazing! So, getting a chance to see all of these death metal drummers play on tour, doing the rock thing with Systematic, and taking into account that I’d played all of the old Testament stuff live before, as well as having seen them in the clubs when we grew up together – I knew exactly what Testament was. Chuck [Billy, vocalist] wanted me to come in and do what I did on the Exodus record Shovel Headed Kill Machine, which was just to be myself without overplaying. All of my previous gigs, along with learning how to be a team player, culminated in my performance on this record.

Paul’s Gear:
Drums: Pacific Drums, LX Model with Maple Shells
Sizes: 10”, 12”, 14” Rack Toms, 16” and 18” Floor Toms, (2) 22”x18” Kick Drums, 14”x5” Edge Snare Drum by DW
Cymbals: Paiste
Sticks: Vater Wooden Sticks, Power Wrist Builder Aluminum Sticks
Heads: Remo

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This article was originally written for Metal Edge Magazine as part of a monthly column by Gail Worley (under the pen name Jayne Rollins). With the magazines’ dissolution, the article has been added to the content base of The Worley Gig for our readers’ enjoyment.

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