Rob Dukes made his presence felt on the heavy metal scene by injecting extra life into Exodus when he became their third vocalist to sing on an album, debuting on 2005’s Shovel Headed Kill Machine, having taken over for the departed Steve “Zetro” Souza, who had replaced the late Paul Baloff.
In 2011, Dukes pulled double duty by forming Generation Kill. But the group’s debut album Red, White and Blood barely made a dent in the public eye. A change in approach, and switch of labels to Nuclear Blast Records, however, has Dukes more optimistic about the forthcoming release of Generation Kill’s second effort We’re All Gonna Die on Nov. 26.
The style of vocals Dukes is known for are apparent on Generation Kill’s new tunes, as is the thrash style of music. But Exodus fans will likely be surprised to also hear a melodic side of Dukes’ voice meshing with the aggressiveness on many songs. It’s a combination Dukes wanted to blend while teaming with bassist Rob Moschetti (Pro-Pain/M.o.D), guitarists Jason Trenzcer (Mutilation) and Jason Velez, and drummer Jim DeMaria (Merauder).
I phoned Dukes to talk about his older band — including what guitarist Gary Holt’s inclusion in Slayer means for Exodus — and his newer band. We also wound up discussing the strange goings-on often seen at carnivals. That last part is not for the squeamish. And not just because Dukes is a no-nonsense straight-shooter. Consider yourself warned:
Q: Fans who know you strictly from Exodus will get to hear songs that still keep your vocal style at times while often including a melodic side, without compromising the band’s heaviness, such as in Prophets of War, Death Comes Calling, and There Is No Hope. Is mixing it up a nice change of pace for you?
A: Absolutely. Not to take anything from Exodus. I love doing it. I mean, it’s f—– killer. But Exodus is a thrash band, pure and simple, and very aggressive, and that’s what I do there. I listen to more diverse music, so to be able to bring that into the fold is the object of the whole thing. I didn’t want to start another thrash band, you know? Me and Rob Moschetti both grew up on Maiden, Black Sabbath, early (Judas) Priest. We surrounded ourselves with guys who like the same stuff, and we just f—– went out and wrote songs that — you know, we’re not reinventing the wheel here. So we just basically wrote songs that we like, that we wanted to hear. Not only play but songs we wanted to hear. So we stole a little bit from here, we stole a little bit from there. It wasn’t like we sat down and said, “Let’s steal from these albums.” But those are the albums that shaped me as a person. Like when I was a kid, those first two Iron Maiden albums, Sabbath albums and early Priest were the stuff that I grew up on. And Rush, Pink Floyd — bands of that era. I appreciate you saying that it doesn’t lose anything. Even though it’s got some mellow stuff, it’s actually dark and cool and seemed to fit. If it didn’t fit, we wouldn’t have done it, you know what I mean?
Q: A lot of people, including myself, are going to become familiar with you guys through this album and may not have heard much of the first album. So what’s the biggest difference with the new record?
A: Oh, you guys are hearing it (laughs). We were on Season of Mist. Just a f—– total s—bag of people and s—-bag of a label. We paid for it ourselves, made it at my house. It sounded decent enough that we said, “OK, we can put it out.” At the time, that was all the money we had, and we did the best we could. No production. We produced it ourselves. I think there were highlights of it that were really good. At that time, (producer Chris) “Zeuss” (Harris) approached us because there were highlights of it that were good. And he said, “Dude, there’s some really good songwriting on here, and there’s some really good stuff. You just need to hone it in.” So that’s what we did. We focused on what we wanted to do, how we wanted to be. It’s good to actually like what you’re doing. I’m proud of the album. I’m really proud of the vocals because I got to experiment and try stuff that I’d never done before. Never really did harmonies before, and I did ’em all over the record. And it was f—– cool. Challenging. The first album, you never heard it because they didn’t push it. I didn’t do any interviews. It didn’t sell very well. They didn’t try to sell it. I didn’t do one interview for that album. I’ve already done 50 for this one.
Q: Well, that was going to be my next question — that you left that label — what advantages and disadvantages did you encounter by financing the new record on your own?
A: Basically what happened was this: Season of Mist treated us like s—. I actually called my lawyer and said, “You know what? Get us out of this contract. There’s gotta be a loophole somewhere.” Basically, they didn’t live up to their end, so we got out of it. And they said, “OK, fine, you guys are released from your contract.” And I said, “Cool.” The guys were kind of bummed out, but I was like, “You know what, dude? Just relax because it will all work out.” So we financed the album by ourselves, and then we went on tour. We had no label, no home. We shipped it to everybody. No one really liked it, to be honest with you. Napalm (Records) actually said, “No one needs to hear this. This is a f—– terrible album” and passed on it. Every label passed on it. They were like, “We don’t really know how to market this, Rob. Sorry.” So then we went on tour in Europe with Heathen (read the SAMME’s 2011 interview with singer David White here) and this band Dust Bolt, and then people saw us live, and they said, “Holy s—! Someone needs to sign these guys.” Right then and there, they wrote a contract, and a week later, we signed it.
Q: You guys just released the lyric video for Vegas (click above left). Is that about someone you know or about the scene in general?
A: Actually, I don’t really know Vegas that well. I’ve been there a dozen times, and I like the area. But I actually tossed out (a story) on crystal meth. The story was really about a guy who went there. He had his own business, and he had a family with three kids. He went there on vacation, and now he lives in a sewer underneath the streets of Vegas. He smokes meth, and he’s addicted to gambling, and it took everything from him. And then I was watching a story about a girl. She took away her life. You ever seen that photo of the girl when she’s 17 and then you see her, like, 10 years later, she looks like 100 years old at the end? Just awful? I wrote the story based on the ideas in my head: what if a girl was going to L.A. to be an actress, leaves Kansas, stops in Vegas and takes one hit from a pipe, and next thing you know she’s a f—– addict, and then in the end, she kills her f—— cab driver (chuckles)? I made it a short story in my head based in a sort of reality.
I cringe a bit whenever I hear the intro to Carny Love, especially the part about the spike!
(Laughs) I’ll tell you where that thought came from. There’s all these little inside things. Have you ever seen the movie with Val Kilmer, where he’s in college? “Real Genius?”
I have not, but I’m vaguely familiar with it.
OK, it was a movie from the ’80s. I liked that movie when I was a kid. I remember seeing it a few times. I remember there was a line in there, and she goes, “Well, hey, can you nail a 12-inch railroad spike through a board with your penis?” And he’s like, “No, not right now.” And she goes, “Well, I’ve gotta have standards.” That always stuck in my head. That’s how that lyric really evolved. It was from that movie, and watching people do crazy s— at a carnival. Sometimes the s— they do is, “Oh, Jesus.” You never know where inspiration will come from.
Some of those carny things are part of metal tours every now and then. I’ve seen some crazy stuff there too, but have you actually seen the spiked penis thing yourself?
No, I’ve seen someone shove two AA batteries length-wise into the hole of their c—, which f—— just made me cringe in f—— pain.
Kind of makes those sword swallowers look like saints.
Yeah, that’s nothing! I read constantly, and I watch documentaries constantly, and it is a really disturbing world out there. And that’s really what inspired most of the lyrics. The carny idea was based on how carny people keep making more carny people, you know what I mean? That’s what I wrote about. People keep perpetuating more carny people: “Hopefully, we’ll make an elephant, and then we’ll cash in on it.” I had fun with these lyrics. I don’t get to do that in Exodus; I only get to write a couple songs for an album. But to think about it constantly was a lot of fun.
Q: You’re not only the most well-known musician in the band but also the guy who formed it. What would you like fans to know about your bandmates and how the group came together?
A: Well, basically, to be honest with you, we never dreamed it would go this far. We never dreamed we’d be on a tour bus in Europe playing Graspop. We’ve all been friends since high school, maybe some of us a little earlier. Me and Jim are really close, me and Rob have been really close for a long time. Basically what happened was when I came home from tour — I don’t drink, right? I’m kind of a homebody. I like to hang out with my friends once in awhile. So we got together and said, “Hey man, let’s rent a room somewhere and f—– jam.” So we started playing covers and writing songs. Then doing more and more, and it evolved into something that was, “Maybe we got something here.” We changed a couple players from the first album to the second album. I went out and got people that I thought fit us better. Stan is a great drummer. I love the guy. He’s a little mad at me now because I replaced him, but the truth was I wanted somebody a little more dynamic. I didn’t want to play fast all the time. I wanted to do mellow stuff. So it was kind of a push-and-pull thing. Good guy, just not right for what we wanted to do. Jay Velez is a great songwriter and great guitar player, and the other guy was a mess.
Q: I know band members hate the tour question since you’re not the guys who book the shows, but I know you just recently played sporadic dates around the U.S. Do you know of any plans to come to San Antonio or Texas anytime soon?
A: I hope so, dude. We can’t do anything until the album drops because no one really knows us. Hopefully people like you will spread the word, people will hear it. Management is always trying to get us on stuff, but it’s a matter of priorities of doing it: Is it worth going out on the road for no money? The situation we’re in is we’re an opening band. We’re not a headlining act. So we have to get in the right situation. The offers are coming. The album’s been done for a year, but it’s not coming out until three weeks from now. Once it comes out, I’m hoping that it does well enough that people will want us to go on tour with them. That’s kind of how it works. We have a viable product, and I think we can tour with anybody. We’re a really good band live. I think we’ve cut our teeth in New York. We play a lot together, and we’re all friends. We got signed because someone saw us live. They didn’t sign us because of the record. I don’t think they really got it. The truth is, no one’s ever heard this music before. They’ve only heard Exodus, so they’ve only heard “gah gah gah gah gah gah gah.” So all of a sudden, they were like, “We don’t know how to market it.” That was their reasoning: “We don’t know how to market this, Rob.” And I’m like, “Dude. F—— put my name on it, and we’ll figure it out from there.” You know what? The right people will understand what we’re doing. The people that like early Iron Maiden, early Priest and Sabbath are gonna get it.
Q: I was on the inaugural 70000 Tons of Metal cruise with you guys (Exodus), and you were kind enough to take a photo with me on the final night on my birthday, so thanks again for that.
Q: What did you think of the cruise?
A: Oh, it was great, man! My tattoo artist went with me and his girl at the time, and my son. Death Angel was there (watch here). The f—– karaoke was fun as s—. I think Generation Kill is in the running to do it this year. I know that we’re on the table. I haven’t heard anything for awhile, but I know that we’re on the table to do it. So I’m hoping that we do.
Lee Altus introduced me to the pleasures of vodka and tobasco sauce.
Oh yeah, man! You can easily find me and Lee at the roulette table. That’s where we hung out most of the time. I think we were there I’d say at least 20 hours.
Q: What’s the latest with Exodus? I’m sure with Gary filling in for Slayer for obvious circumstances, his participation has taken place a lot longer than you guys probably anticipated. How has that affected Exodus going forward?
A: Well, we haven’t toured as much. That’s apparent. We’ve got way more down time than we’re used to and had in the last 10 years, so that’s one aspect I’m not really a big fan of. But that’s how we all make our living, so we had to go out without him. It was what it was. Wish he was there, but listen, the guy’s in Slayer. I’m not going to begrudge him for that. That’s awesome for him, and I know he’s having fun doing it. I think eventually, when we do this new album which we’re doing in February, he’ll find a way to do both. There’s a lot of people who do multiple things in life. Financially, it’ll be good for him to have two incomes. I think we’re going to find a way in 2014 to make it all happen.
I remember interviewing him a couple years ago by phone (click here), and Gary was telling me how much heavier he thinks the band has become since you took over on vocals compared to the previous singers. I’ve gotta agree. I don’t know how you feel about that, but a lot of bands these days that have been around a long time kind of level off or don’t get as heavier, and obviously you can’t say that about Exodus. You guys just seem to be heavier and crunchier with every record.
Yeah, I think so, man. I hope I’m carrying the torch well. I try not to read into the comments on f—– Blabbermouth and all the f—– haters. There’s certain people that won’t let go of the past. I realize, for the past, that’s what it is for them. They love the time in the past, and I get it. Not everything is better than the original, and I never claimed to be. I claim to be doing this. Paul died, unfortunately, so he’s not here. So I’m carrying the torch. Zetro f—– quit. He f—— walked in one day — he didn’t even walk in. He just didn’t answer his phone and said, “I’m not doing this anymore.” And he quit. And now he wants back. You know what? I think we’re heavier. The first album, Bonded By Blood, was so f—— dark, dude. Lyrically and just darkness. And then I think they went in a direction that kind of took away the darkness of it. By the time I joined, they were back into the dark. They were moving back in that direction. I stepped in and I said, “I’ll carry the torch. I’ll f—– do it.” For the people that don’t f—— like it, go f— yourself. That’s all I got for you. F— you, you know what I mean?
Q: Do you ever foresee a time on tour where both of your bands get together and Generation Kill opens for Exodus? Occasionally, you hear about band members pulling double duty, but you never hear about it with a vocalist because of the strain on your voice. But if the opportunity presented itself, would you be open to that?
A: I don’t think it’d be a problem. Generation Kill is actually a little harder to sing than Exodus because I actually sing. It would be like this — 30-minute set for the opener, for Generation Kill, then there would have to be another band so I could kind of relax, then go out and do Exodus. I could do that for a whole tour, it wouldn’t even be a problem. But I doubt it would ever happen. But you never know. Gary did Slayer and Exodus back-to-back for a tour with Rob Zombie, and sometimes he had to go do two in a row. But playing guitar is different than singing. We’ve done two-hour sets. Exodus only plays for an hour and 20 minutes now, we don’t do two-hour sets anymore.
Q: Before I let you go, I gotta tell you I covered the 2010 show Exodus did in Austin at Stubbs with Megadeth and Testament (see review in blue below). There was a point where you brought up a young boy on stage, and Gary let him strum his guitar a bit (see slideshow above). Immediately after, his father took my info because he wanted my photos of his son on stage. That’s when I met them, and to this day, I see them in the front row at many San Antonio and Austin shows. We wouldn’t have befriended each other if it weren’t for you guys doing that, so I just wanted to mention that.
A: It’s all about kids and lives, dude. You never know what you’re going to do for somebody. Little kid in an audience, what cooler f—– thing? You think he’s ever gonna forget that? “Oh, Exodus had me on stage and put a guitar on me and let me strum it?” Come on, man, you’re never going to forget that. I wish someone had done that to me when I was a kid. It just wasn’t viable. Exodus are all really good people. We really are. We’re friends with the fans, we walk out in the crowd. We don’t hide from anybody. We’ll sign whatever you want us to sign, we’ll f—– hang out with you after the show by the bus. We’re not rock stars. Sometimes it gets a little nuts when people are drunk, but for the most part, we’re pretty approachable people.
Awesome, Rob. Thanks again for taking the time. I wish you guys the best of luck. I will do my best to spread the word. The record is killer. Hope you guys can come to San Antonio. Maybe we can shake hands and do another interview.
I hope so, man. If you definitely ever come across me, I hope we meet, shake my hand, and introduce yourself. I hope we play San Antonio, and thank you for spreading the word about the record.
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