Monday 14 September 2009

Interview with Tom Araya & Kerry King of Slayer

Slayer have a new album, World Painted Blood, due out next month. Hopefully it will better than anything that they’ve released since 1986. They were in town promoting this new record and I was lucky enough to get an interview with frontman Tom Araya and legendary shred machine Kerry King – albeit individually. Here is some of the stuff we talked about.

AFITFOG: So, let’s talk about the new record. I haven’t heard it yet. Is it a continuation from Christ Illusion? A return to the old days, perhaps?

Tom: Very classic Slayer, more so than Christ [Illusion].

Kerry: It’s good! It was unusual for us the way it went down; all my songs I made up from the middle of January to the end of February. That’s usually the time I take to write one or two. Maybe. Ha ha. This is the only time we’ve ever learned music in the studio. Usually the music’s fuckin’ done. I think that’s why it’s probably as diverse as any heavy, heavy Slayer record we’ve ever done. It sounds very retro and I think that’s due to the manner in which we made it up. It’s the only time since the old days, for me, the old days in Tom’s garage, when you’d get outta school or get off work and go to the fuckin’ studio and just play. You know, that’s how we made up so much shit. In this one, I didn’t write it with the guys ‘cos we live so far apart. But, like, after rehearsal, I don’t go home and play guitar, I would go home and play for like four or five more hours, just to get quality enough tunes to work on, make sure we had enough material.

What, you still practice that much?

Kerry: Yeah, after rehearsal, it had to get done, this is something I can’t put off. So my life’s put on hold, I’d come in and play shit so many times, my wife was just fuckin’ dead tired of it. She doesn’t know or understand why I have to play something like five thousand times, because you gotta figure out how to get from this to that, you know. And then when she hears the final song, she loves it. But she hated some of them riffs when I made ‘em up.

What are you memories of touring with Venom?

Tom: That was actually a really good tour because it… it was good for us. You know, you’re young, having fun, you know, you get fucking obliterated, ha ha. Kerry was a fan of Venom, he had their first record, Welcome to Hell. But yeah, when we started out as a band we wrote material but it wasn’t Slayer material. It wasn’t until we listened to Metal Massacre [featuring Metallica & Ratt. Slayer would go on to feature on Metal Massacre III] that we thought: We could be heavier and faster than this shit. So we wrote a song, and just stuck to our guns. Thirty years later we’re still heavy and fast, which is what we always set out to do.

So was there competition between the bands? Who was the heaviest, the fastest, etc.? And was there a point where you thought: Actually, I can’t keep up with these guys?

Tom: There is no competition, ha ha. We’ve looked at it that way, there’s no competition. There’s no comparisons and no competition. Ha ha.

What bands were you listening to at the time, say early- to mid-80s?

Tom: Well, I got turned on to a lot of that material from the guys, when I hooked up with the band. I mean, that was in ‘81. I didn’t know about Maiden. I mean, I was going to school and working at the hospital [as a respiratory therapist], so I wasn’t really focused on the metal scene, I was more familiar with the American rock scene. Kerry said, “Hey, I’ve got a list of songs,” he listed off the bands and I was like, “Hey, who are Iron Maiden?” So I went out and bought it and I was like, (whispers) “Fuuuck, where have I been? This is awesome.” And then all of a sudden, Kerry breaks out Venom records and you start meeting up with other bands, Exodus, and we’d trade tapes. Then we went up north and we met the guys in the band, did shows with them and we’re like, “Fuck, these guys are fast,” not realising that we were fast too. They would go back, “No, YOU guys are fast.’

Kerry: I still fuckin’ love Venom. I don’t play it near as much as I used to, but you know to got back and visit Black Metal, fuck yeah. I love it, love that record. One of the new songs is about Countess Bathory (the track “Countess Bathory” featured on Black Metal) and people say, “You know Venom did that, right?” And I’m like, “Of course I know fuckin’ Venom did that,” ha ha. There’s no reason why if people write about something you can’t write about it as well, just don’t copy their shit. That’s a great song though.

Do you ever hear music and you’re like, “That’s our riff”?

Kerry: Oh shit yeah. Brian Slagel [Metal Blade Records founder] will call me up, we’ll have dinner or whatever and he’ll bring me all the new Metal Blade shit he thinks I might like. I heard Demiricous and I was like, “Fuck, I like it!” And I liked it ‘cos it sounded like us, I even told ‘em when I met ‘em, I was like, “You guys listened to a few Sayer records, huh?” Ha ha. I think everyone’s gotta start somewhere. You look at our first record [Show No Mercy] and I could pick out the Iron Maiden riffs. You gotta start somewhere.

Do you still listen to a lot of metal these days?

Kerry: Pretty much that’s it. I don’t know too much about new bands really; I still call bands like Chimaira and Arch Enemy new bands. They got lots of records you know. They’re a lot newer than us. I like Demiricous but I think they broke up already.

There’s a massive thrash scene again – in LA definitely.

Kerry: Yeah, I’ve got Municipal Waste, they’re kinda more like D.R.I. though. Somebody was telling me about Bonded by Blood and one of their guys gave me a disc and I haven’t seen it since I moved. I gotta find it, it’s supposed to be good.


So, fast forwarding a little, the Clash Of The Titans was another big tour, there was a semi-reunion of sorts earlier this year when you toured with Megadeth again 18 years later?

Tom: People say, “Oh, you said you’d never tour with [Dave Mustaine] again, but hey, it makes good business sense. Kids wanna see that stuff, the promoter was dying to get us to Canada, and Mustaine thanked us for doing it. I was hoping not to see him, but I ran into him, he was like, “Thanks for doing these shows,” and I was like, “Er… sure.”

Kerry: I went in there with an open mind, you know. I’ll always be cordial to Dave, but the instance he’s a dick, I’ll be a bigger dick. I saw him, I think it was the first show, in catering – that was the only time I saw him except when he’s on stage. So, I haven’t talked to Dave yet. The funny thing about that is even more so than Dave is the other guitar player, the only time I saw him was on stage, so I’m like, “Does he just teleport to the stage and get the fuck out?” Ha ha. I never saw that guy.

Speaking of Megadeth, they changed a lot musically in the 90s, along with Metallica, whereas you guys went back to your roots and covered a bunch of punk songs on 1996’s Undisputed Attitude.

Kerry: Definitely an idea we borrowed from Metallica too with Garage Days. Actually, Undisputed Attitude was supposed to be a collection of everything that moulded Slayer into what Slayer was, but in the context of the punk songs it didn’t really make sense. We were working on “Gates of Babylon” from Rainbow, “Burn” by Deep Purple… In the context of the thrash style, instead of punk doing metal, it was metal doing punk, so it kinda gave it more focus, and they were so fucking edgy it made all the other ones sound stupid.

Tom: We stuck true to what we do. Metallica went, and got to a certain level and were like, We’re gonna do it. Ready? Jump! Let’s see what happens! So they crossed over but they kept their fanbase, which was amazing. Dave Mustaine tried to do the same thing, he made the jump but… (mimics a guy clinging on for dear life, grabbing frantically at the sofa’s cushions) he fell off the cliff.

And he’s got his own coffee now.

Tom: Ha ha, right, I guess that’s success!

Were you into the hardcore scene in the 80s?

Kerry: I think we were the band most responsible for bringing the punks and metalheads together. ‘Cos in the beginning you’d see both at our shows and you’d see ‘em in little factions. I think they finally realised, Well, we’re here because we like this music, doesn’t matter if you’re a punk and I’m a metalhead, you know, it’s okay. I think D.R.I. probably did more work for it, after we did the initial work, ‘cos they’re totally metal-punk. I love D.R.I.; I just ran into Spike the other day, I think he said they were doing a reunion, which is kinda cool. I totally remember the days of the factions and you know, fights – fighting just because you’re different, you know?

Did the hair-metallers like you guys?

Kerry: No. They never liked us.


Kerry: Not really, no.

And you liked that?

Kerry: Absolutely, ha ha. The hair metal guys – the Poisons and the fuckin’ Ratts – were everything we didn’t wanna be.

You think that’s why the Bay Area/LA was such a haven for thrash in the early days, because of the hair metal scene?

Kerry: I dunno. I mean, being in LA, and being not a part of it but being there while all that was going on, it just cemented in stone what I knew I didn’t wanna be. But that’s probably where our black eyeliner came from [Slayer wore eyeliner at early shows]. I remember thinking, Why are girls going to do these shows to see guys dressed up like girls? Way back then it was always a question I always asked myself. So we did everything: we wore black, studs, more like [Judas] Priest, obviously. I dunno where the eyeliner came from, it must’ve been, like, being from LA – you kinda thought you had to do something, and we made ours fuckin’ ugly. First time we went to San Francisco they were all, “Why you wear eyeliner for?” That was the end of it. We never did again.

So, lastly, where do you see yourself after the tour. Making another album?

Kerry: Yep, I think I know what it’s gonna be called. I got ideas for music that I didn’t use on this one. So I definitely wanna work on those in a more relaxed manner than it was this time, ha ha. Looking forward to the tour and even though we’re not booked at any, I’m sure we’ll play some festivals next summer.

Tom: We gotta sit down and work out what we wanna do, this is our last record with Rick Rubin. Record companies aren’t, you know, signing record deals. We lucked out when Rubin said, “We’ll sign you to a ten album deal.” That doesn’t happen anymore. Now it’s, “Let’s do an album,” ha ha. You know what I mean? With us, we guarantee, they know if we put out a record our loyal fanbase will buy our album. So they know that they can guarantee a certain amount of records sold. Whereas with other acts, even with bigger acts, who knows what’s gonna happen, you know? It’s a new world for record companies.

It’s a changing industry – when you started out it was vinyl, now it’s MP3s.

Yeah, yeah, it was vinyl, tapes, CDs. We’ve been together 28 years and we’ve gone through all the formats. It’s funny though, ‘cos we’re sitting here and we’re like, (puts on a serious voice) “In 30 years we’ve gone from vinyl to…” But in a hundred and fifty years, the car has gone from four wheels and an engine to… four wheels and an engine! Ha ha ha.

Ha ha. Well, maybe at the end of your record deal you need to go and reinvent the automobile. By the way, you still in touch with Rick Rubin?

Tom: (Grins widely) Not like I would like to, no, no. I mean we did those three albums [Reign In Blood, Season in the Abyss and South of Heaven] and that was it. He’s got his own thing, producing other people. He does good but he doesn’t really do a lot… but he manages to get what he needs out of people. He did amazing stuff with Johnny Cash, same with Neil Diamond – that album is really great.

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