Former Longtime Nyack Resident/Exodus and Generation Kill Singer Rob Dukes Discussses His Heavy Metal Music Career
New Exodus Album Out Later This Year
Former longtime Nyack resident and current River Vale, NJ resident Rob Dukes had never sung a note professionally when he joined legandary thrash metal band Exodus in 2005.
“I was living in Los Angeles at the time and working on an Exodus tour as a as a guitar technician, preparing all the guitars and basses for the live shows,” Dukes said by phone recently from Northern California, where he was recording a new Exodus album due out later this year on Nuclear Blast Records. “We seemed to all get along real well and they had a fill-in singer at the time because their permanent singer had quit.
“By the end of the tour they were looking for another singer and asked if I wanted to come up and sing a song with them on the last show of the tour,” Dukes said. “I did and I guess I impressed them. They gave me an audition and I got the gig.”
Dukes said he wasn’t nervous about handling vocal duties for the influential San Francisco band. “I knew I could sing but I was also winging it,” he said. “It’s one of those things were you just say, ‘I can do it,’ and figure it out as you go along.”
But performing before audience, whether it be for hundres of people at clubs or tens of thousands at European music festivals, was not so simple. “For the first year to 18 months I used to get sick before going onstage,” Dukes said. “That’s how much anxiety I had. Playing onstage is a good feeling and a terrifying feeling. You’re so jacked with adrenaline and fear and happiness. But once I sing the first note I’m fine.”
Dukes is an imposing, intimidating presence who commands the stage, aggressively shouting and screaming out vocals at the top of his lungs. Offstage, however, he’s soft-spoken and humble, a guy who loves spending time with his fiancée and two Persian cats, and riding his beloved Honda RC51 motorcycle throughout the region. In River Vale and neighboring Rockland County, New York, you might find Dukes at his favorite restaurants like Houlihans on Route 17 in Ramsey, No. 1 Sushi in Pear River, N.Y., and U-Me Sushi in Nanuet, N.Y.
In a two-part interview, I spoke to Dukes about his experiences with Exodus and his own band, Generation Kill, in which Dukes sings in a more traditional, cleaner style. Generation Kill released its second album, “We’re All Gonna Die,” this past November.
Rob Dukes joined famed San Francisco thrashers Exodus in 2005. The band is currently working on its fourth studio album with Dukes on vocals and 10th studio album overall. The band formed in San Francisco in 1980 and is considered one of the forerunners of the thrash metal movement along with Metallica and Megadeth. In fact, Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett was a founding member of Exodus.
Q: Can you tell us about the new Exodus album you’re currently recording?
A: This album is very fast and has more of a punk rock feel to it, whereas I think the last few Exodus albums were metal epics, with longer songs. These songs are shorter and a little faster. It has a really different feel to it. It sounds great.
Q: Were you an Exodus fan growing up?
A: I liked Exodus, I liked Paul Baloff [the band’s first singer] a lot. Their fist album was a very dark, dangerous album. I was a metalhead growing up but I also loved punk rock and Pink Floyd and Rush. I’ve been influenced by so many different kinds of music. I could listen to Rush in the morning and [metal band] Venom at night. I love everything. I try to measure up to Paul, though I don’t do drugs and I don’t drink. That whole craziness and insanity [which Baloff was known for] is not part of my life
Q: How have you progressed as a vocalist from album to album?
A: On the first album I was very green. But with playing hundreds and hundreds of live shows you just get better at it, as a singer and a performer.
Q: Having never sung profesionally before joining Exodus, and singing a very aggressive style of music where you scream and shout a lot, was it hard to pace yourself and not blow your voice out?
A: I did hurt my voice a couple times in the beginning but over the years I learned how not to do that. At first I would go all out every night and I learned real quick how to pace myself. I’ve actually written the word ‘relax’ on my setlist and my monitors in front of me because you have to remind yourself that you have an hour-and-a-half to play.
Q: How did you develop your stage persona?
A: I basically decided I was just going to be myself and see how it goes. I didn’t take on any kind of weird personas or anything. I’m a normal guy, not a rock star. I try to convey the fact that yesterday I was watching bands and now I’m up here doing this. I think I’ve kept a bond with people. I enjoy the bigger shows, but the smaller shows where the crowd is right in your face and there’s a direct connection are the best.
Q: What are some of the highlights of your time with Exodus?
A: Besides making killer music and playing for the fans, it’s been cool becoming friends with a lot of the bands I was a fan of when I was younger. Kirk Hammet from Metallica is a friend, all the guys in Slayer, Death Angel,TSOL, Pennywise, the list goes on and on. Bob Tyrrell, an amazing tattoo artist. I’m also really close with the band. Lee Altus, one of the guitar players, is going to be my best man at my wedding. Overall it’s the whole life I’ve been able to lead. I’ve been to over 100 countries and seen the world. I know cool places to go in Thailand and Japan. Even if I went there alone, not on tour, I would know where to go to hang.
Exodus is: Rob Dukes (vocals), Gary Holt and Lee Altus (guitars), Tom Hunting (drums) and Jack Gibson (bass).
Exodus Albums With Rob Dukes
Shovel Headed Kill Machine (2005)
The Atrocity Exhibition... Exhibit A (2007)
Let There Be Blood (2008) Re-recording of Exodus’ first album, Bonded By Blood
Exhibit B: The Human Condition (2010)
New album coming later this year
Shovel Headed Tour Machine (2010)
While Rob Dukes is best known for his work in Exodus, with any justice he’ll soon be just as recognizable for his work with his own phenomenal band, Generation Kill. The group released its second album, “We’re All Gonna Die,” this past November, and it’s a monster of a heavy metal disc. The record incorporates aspects of traditional metal, thrash and more. Dukes also expands his vocal techniques, showing he can do a great job singing as well as screaming.
Q: “We’re All Gonna Die” is a huge leap forward, sonically and musically, from Generation Kill’s 2011 debut, Red White and Blood. What did you do differently on the new album?
A: The first album we recorded in my house in three different sessions, and with different players. We were all very busy with other things. I really look at the first album as a demo. This time we brought in a real producer (Zeuss) and stepped up the musicianship. We didn’t want to just be a thrash band. We wanted to play different styles and not limit ourselves. We’re all old-school metalheads and love thrash and that’s still there, but there’s more than that. It’s not a pure thrash album. We brought other elements of other styles into it without compromising what we wanted to do. It’s a very honest metal album. We wrote what we like. It doesn’t sound like every other band out there.
Q: One of the major changes is your performing cleaner and more melodic vocals at several points during the album. Was that something you’ve always wanted to do? Did you know you had it in you?
A: I knew that I had a singing voice but I never really got to try it live before. What I didn’t know is that I could do harmonies and multi-layering. It was a total challenge. That’s also one of the reasons it was really hard for us to get signed to a record deal. Record labels were like, “this is the guy from Exodus but now he’s singing soft.” With Exodus, they’re a pure thrash band and I already do that, so I wanted to do something different. But every record label turned us down. One label said, “the world doesn’t really need this.” We were just getting slammed.
Q: How did you finally get signed by Nuclear Blast?
A: We were playing the Graspop festival in Belgium at 11 in the morning and 10,000 people showed up. It was one of the best shows we ever played and the crowd loved it. And we were playing songs people never heard before and they were going crazy. Nuclear Blast’s people were there and that show got us signed.
Q: You hired Zeuss before you had a record deal. Was the band nervous about putting out its own money for a professional producer without knowing if you’d get signed?
A: I knew it was a risk but I knew we were doing something cool. I told the guys that even if nobody signed us, you have to agree that what we have is awesome. So we paid Zeuss and did the record and said, ‘we’ll worry later about getting signed.’ My band was freaked out and I was saying, ‘please just have some faith.’ Fortunately, it all worked out.
Generation Kill Is: Rob Dukes (vocals), Jason Trenzer (guitar), Jason Velez (guitar), Rob Moshetti (bass) and James DeMaria (drums).
Generation Kill Albums
Red, White and Blood (2011)
We’re All Gonna Die (2013)