Interview: Thy Will Be Done’s J. Costa

Among the diverse acts that appeared at Metallica’s inaugural Orion Music + More festival in Atlantic City this summer, Providence, RI’s Thy Will Be Done is the type of band you would actually expect to perform at a Metallica festival. They specialize in old school thrash metal in the vein of Anthrax, Exodus, Testament … and yes, 80’s Metallica. Joshua Pelta-Heller and I caught up with lead singer J. Costa backstage at the festival, just after they performed their set on the Damage Inc. Stage. Thy Will Be Done’s new EP, Temple, is out September 25 on Eye.On Lion Recordings.

215 Mag (Jonathan): How did you guys get asked to play Orion Music + More, and what was your reaction when Metallica asked you?

J. Costa: I lost my mind. I freaked out. First off, I got the e-mail from the promoters. Totally didn’t believe it at all. I thought it was some sort of cruel joke. I had to authenticate this e-mail before I even replied. I authenticated the e-mail, and then proceeded to run around my house for 5 minutes screaming, “Are you freaking serious? We’re gonna play with Metallica!?!” (laughter) A minute later, of course, I replied to the e-mail, “Yes, Thy Will Be Done is available to play with Metallica.” I almost wanted to put “Duh” in there, but I didn’t. (laughter) Then I had to wait two and a half weeks to find out if we got the offer. It was just great, I lost my mind. Then I found out how it all came to be. James Hetfield had reached out to Jose Mangin over at SiriusXM, and asked him for a list of bands to check out. He gave him a list. He picked three bands, and we were one of those bands that Hetfield checked out and really dug. So this is absolutely surreal.

215 (Jonathan): So, you guys started in 2005?

JC: Kind of, yeah. What happened was, there was a band before Thy Will Be Done, and it kind of morphed into it. We had already changed the name and got to doing shows back and forth. So, we had changed members, and the sound had changed, and it was just kind of evolving. So we said, “Let’s keep this going.” I’ve been doing this stuff for a long time, my gosh. Probably even before 2005. It’s kind of blurry, I’m not gonna lie. It could be the sun … I don’t know. But yeah, we’ve been at it for a while. Our first album came out in 2007 [Was and Is to Come]. The last album came out in 2009, which is In Ancient of Days.

215 (Jonathan): You’ve had a bunch of line-up changes, is that correct?

JC: Yeah, for the first album, our lead guitar player just couldn’t tour, so we got a new lead guitar player. The only other changes that have happened were, since the last record, just our rhythm section – our bass player and drummer from the last record – couldn’t tour anymore. The drummer actually had a child, so that was the end of the touring for him. He said he couldn’t do it. Total respect. Our bass player, his back was just not having it. But I’ve known him for 12 years, it was just time. This new rhythm section has just brought a whole new dynamic to the band. Things happen for a reason they say, and I feel like it has. It’s just been one giant juggernaut just leveling everything now. It’s cool.

215 (Jonathan): Has that been frustrating for you to be switching out people?

JC: To be honest with you, no. I’m used to it. From the early days of my first few bands, I think I just always took it more seriously than other people did. I was just super serious. And these guys were like, “yeah, I don’t really want to do it anymore.” I just couldn’t understand that. That wasn’t my mentality. I think going through it was just mental conditioning for what was going to happen. I didn’t know it at the time.

215 (Josh): The original drummer for Pearl Jam, he left for the same reason before the first tour. To me, this is what you want to do, and you get to that point, and then you go, “Wait, I can’t go on tour because I have kids.” I don’t get it either.

JC: Right. And then reality sets in for some people … or fear … and I think that’s what it is. It’s the deciding factor. People get nervous and say, “I can’t do this.” I always preface people coming to even audition for the band, by saying, “Do this because you love it, not for any money.” Because, it doesn’t matter. If that’s why you’re doing it, it’s not going to jive, because that’s not why we do it. For us it’s about music, it’s about expression. We want to just pass something along that’s positive to help people out because music has done that for us. Bands like Metallica … those bands just helped me get through so much. And that’s the thing … if you do it because you love it, every day is a reward.

215 (Jonathan): A band name like Thy Will Be Done carries a lot of religious connotations, obviously. Was there a purpose to that … was there something you were trying to get across about religion by naming the band that? Or is it just a cool name?

JC: I think it’s a plethora of all those things. Obviously, a lot of people know where the name comes from, but at the same time, I don’t think people really take the time to realize what the words mean, and what somebodies will is and what will is. For us, a lot of people ask us if we’re a religious band … we’re not. A lot of people assume that because of the name. But, I tell people, think about all of the band’s with the timeless names. We grew up listening to bands like Exodus, Testament. Even Lamb of God. Even Genesis! (laughter, crosstalk) People automatically assume that we are [Christian], and it’s like … no, if you listen to the lyrics, the lyrics are for all walks of life.

I don’t think people really take the time to understand what will is, and what it means to the individual. People don’t take the time to develop themselves. I look at faith and spirituality as a personal journey. It’s subjective. And that’s why there are so many conflicts with people, because you can’t try and explain something to somebody, because they’ve had a completely different life then you’ve had. It’s very subjective. And we’re just trying to bring people together through the common love of music. If you take a phrase like that …  you can chalk it up as to seeing the fruition of watching your love and watching something that you wanted to do just manifest itself. And that’s important. We try and let people know, “hey, actually take the time to listen to it, go to our site.” People just assume … they read it on the internet … and they automatically assume that there’s a connotation to it, and they just shut a door on us. And then you say, “Okay, you’re going to call X, Y, and Z ignorant, but you’re doing the same thing, by just assuming!” So, if we have to exist to actually defend against that, too, then I think we serve a purpose that way. Take the time to learn about something. Take the time to actually listen to it, and you’ll have your experience.

215 (Jonathan): I picked up a lot of references to the working class in your lyrics. What’s your opinion of the plight of the working class in our country – and, I guess, in the world – right now? Is there a specific reason that you reference that?

JC: Absolutely. I think people sometimes don’t even realize that they’re letting their own jobs define who they are, and they lose their sense of self. They lose their drive and their purpose for actually attaining a higher sense of their self. I don’t think enough people in this society do that. There’s individualism, but there’s people out there that over sensationalize this life of celebrity. You take certain social media sites out there … that’s why it’s so huge. They want to be a celebrity. Or they’re just so caught up in their jobs, and their careers. And I’ve just seen a whole shift from when I was a kid growing up, how kids were being raised by their parents. To now: there are people having kids, but are they being parents? And it’s not my job to judge. My parents taught me: if you want something, you work for it. Expect nothing, give everything, bust your hump. You’ve got to work for it. But, at the same time, you’re you. You are who you are. Be a good person and don’t let your job define you. It’s not about money as much as it is about doing the right thing in life. And I think sometimes people lose sight of that.

And as far as the working class, I think people don’t realize that there’s indentured servitude going on sometimes. I think people need to open their eyes to that. They’re buying into all these big corporations, and then they complain that there’s no money out there. Think about it. Open your mind and actually think about it. I don’t think enough people open their minds or open their hearts to realize it. They’ll close it out and point fingers. People feel like it’s either got to be one side or the other. What about being centered? What about being balanced? Wasn’t it supposed to be about checks and balances, last time I checked? Just saying. But yeah, I want people to just open their eyes and realize what they’re doing. I grew up with the mentality of … if you do what you love and you ask yourself, “what do I have to offer the world,” that’s what you do.

215 (Jonathan): When I was watching you guys play, toward the end of the set, you were doing a song where you were doing more talking then singing. With your lyrics and your delivery … this is probably going to sound out of left field … but it almost reminded me of Chuck D from Public Enemy.

JC: Wow! I’m honored. Wow!

215 (Jonathan): Has he ever been an influence for you?

JC: Chuck D is a huge influence. Public Enemy is one of those bands that still is underrated. I think the youth of today need to understand, open their eyes, and just realize how prolific Public Enemy is. I’m not even going to say “was”. The music always exists, so a band always exists. Man, thank you so much. Wow.

215 (Jonathan): Yeah, it just popped into my head when I was watching you guys play.

JC: Well, thank you, because there are certain things that I really want people to pick up on. Sometimes it’s difficult. I try to articulate things as best as possible, but you get so caught up and the energy is there. I grew up watching bands like Bad Brains, and HR is just up there killing it. There are those things that just come out and you feel it and you go, “alright, I’m vibing, I get it.” That’s where I’m coming from. That’s what I try to do.

215 (Jonathan): Well, that gives us a nice segue into the next question. We have some general questions overall, that we’re asking everyone. The first one is, what are your top five favorite artists?

JC: Wow. Musicians?

215 (Jonathan): Or it can be artists, bands, whatever.

JC: Wow, man, that’s difficult. Um. Just in general or that have influenced me?

215 (Jonathan): Whatever comes to your mind right now.

JC: Oh my gosh. (laughter). Okay, okay. Bob Marley. John Lennon. Black Sabbath. Metallica. Did I reach my limit?

215 (Jonathan): You got one more.

JC: Wow. It’s a tie between Elvis and Johnny Cash. Man, that’s tough.

215 (Josh): I find it interesting that when we ask bands what their top five are, a lot of people give names of musicians that have nothing to do with the music that they themselves play. So, I wonder what it is about the culture of metal, or the sound of metal, that attracted you so much that you wanted to play metal specifically.

JC: I think metal as a whole, for me, it felt like it was a place for the outcasts. When you feel like you don’t belong in the world … I found something I connect with in metal. There was an abrasiveness to it, but I also saw the positivity in it. And there are people that exist in the world that won’t see that positivity in it. But I find it cathartic, so that’s how I connect with it. With those other artists that might not necessarily be in those genres of aggressive music, those are artists that I connected with lyrically and musically because they lift me up. They make me feel good, and that’s what music is about. When you find a song or an artist that touches your soul, that’s what it’s about. I don’t necessarily know that enough people do that … they just kind of vibe out on it. Real art, real expression can be commodified. But it’s expression, there’s nothing commercial about it.

215 (Josh): I also find that answer hard to reconcile away, because Metallica is the fourth biggest selling band of all time. So it’s hard to say they connect with outcasts. Obviously, this is something that’s mainstream, it’s something that tons of people feel.

JC: Fair enough. But there are a large percentage of outcasts in the world. (laughter) But yeah, you’re right. I mean, look at this. They’re just a legacy. The living legacy of Metallica is crazy.

215 (Josh): 30 years, I can’t believe it.

JC: It’s nuts. If someone told me that when I was ten, I wouldn’t have believed them. But yeah … sorry if I go on tangents or it doesn’t answer your question. I apologize. It’s such a special time. Music as a whole … there are artists out there that are just unsung or underrated, and I don’t think enough people hear about them. So, I think bands like us; it’s almost our responsibility and obligation to spread the word about bands like that.

215 (Jonathan): Were you surprised by the diversity of the bands that are playing here? When I heard about a Metallica fest, I thought it was just going to be metal, but that’s not at all what it is.

JC: I absolutely love that element, and that part of Orion, I think, is the part that I love the most. The diversity in the demographics that it attracted and all the genres that it brought together. Because it just shows that it’s music, and music is what’s going to bring people together, tear down those walls. All walks of life are here today. And if that’s not a testament to what music can do … c’mon. And if there’s a band that’s going to do it, it’s Metallica. So ridiculous. So cool.

Photos by Jonathan Roth and Joshua Pelta-Heller