Sunday, 12 May 2013

Interview with Kerry King of Slayer

One of the first jobs I ever got whilst working as a fledgling music journalist for Vice was to interview Slayer. I thought this was some sort of office joke when it got offered to me, actually, but no, they were serious and with a new album and a European tour on the horizon, I was sent to Sony's west London office to interview both Tom Araya and Kerry King. I didn't know this before I went in, but I would be interviewing them individually.
Now, as you may have guessed from any of my interviews, I don't go in with a pre-written list of questions I have always wanted to know about xyz-band. In fact, I usually just arm myself with a dictaphone, a few loose topics we may talk about, and shoot from the hip.
I sat in the lobby of their parent-label's offices for a few minutes when a lady came in informing me that Tom had finished a phoner he was doing with another magazine and that my slot was ready. I was led upstairs and in through one of those really awkward open-plan offices where people only communicate to each other via instant message before being shown into a glass-fronted room (somebody's office) where Tom Araya was waiting to see me (That interview was posted about six months after the combined one featuring him and Kerry, and can be read here.)
Our tabled 20-minute interview ran well into half an hour, such was the ease of the conversation thanks to Tom's friendly, stoner persona. He wasn't difficult in any way and softly spoke about everything with a surprising amount of zeal and gusto. I was then pretty much expecting the same vibe with Kerry after leaving Tom to deal with a Guardian journalist, before being navigated to Mr. King's domain.
I say domain because that's what I think he was trying to create. It was a much larger, brighter room, more in the centre of the office, to which we were only obscured by some blinds. He was sat up on this high chair bang in the middle of the room, shades on, like a king on his throne, pun not intended. It was maybe three in the afternoon and he was drinking pints of, what seemed to be, straight vodka.
I think I tried to open proceedings by casually talking to him like I did with Tom and almost trying to pick up the conversation where we had left off. It did not work, at all. He made it clear from the off that he did not want to be spoken to like a regular guy. He was Kerry King, after all. He was arrogant and scoffed at a few things I said before I just got down to asking him what now seems like a lot of questions about Dave Mustaine. Most people would agree that Dave is the Big Four's number one asshole, but I would like to think I have proof to the contrary.
Here is exactly what I kept from that interview, much of which already featured in the combined interview posted back in 2009.
AFITFOG: So, I just finished talking to Tom about your trip to Singapore.
Kerry King:
Yeah, we went there day before the show and they gave us a general statement saying that anything with anti-religious sentiments can't be played here. And I thought, 'that could be construed as just about everything we wrote'. That's when they came back to us with five songs we couldn't play, four of which were in the set. So we had to yank 'em. It's cool to be the rebel, but I'm not getting caged in Singapore, you know what I mean. We luckily know enough where we could take those four out. I mean, they were serious parts of the set—"Hell Awaits", "Disciple", "The Antichrist"—those three were in, I can't remember what the other two were. First and only time we've been to Singapore and probably the last. It wasn't really the promoter's fault, the government came down on her because somebody complained. Apparently all you gotta do is complain and they take it as if it's from the entire country. 

Damn. So let's talk about World Painted Blood, then. How is it.
It's good! It was it was unusual for us the way it went down. We recorded it in such a condensed fashion and made-up stuff [as we went along]. All my songs I made up from the middle of January to the end of February. That's usually that time I take to write one or two. Maybe, ha ha. But we made a decision to book studio time and reserve our producer when we were in recording the first three [tracks] in October. This is the only time we've ever learned music in the studio. Usually the music's fuckin' done. But I know at least two of mine and two of Jeff's we just showed Dave at the studio. So the main thing was making things up to make sure they sound different, 'cos when you write in that short a period, it's easy to have things that sound alike. 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, 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 [normally], I would go home and play for like four or five more hours, just to get quality enough tunes to work on, making sure we had enough material.

Wait, you still practice that much???
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.
Let's talk about the early days a bit. Tom says you put him onto a lot of stuff—Maiden, Venom, etc. Were you still listening to a lot of stuff like that around, say, 84/85?
Yeah, absolutely. I still fuckin' love Venom. I don't play it near as much as I used to, but you know, to go back and visit Black Metal, fuck yeah. I love it, love that record. One of the new songs is about Countess Bathory and people say, "You know Venom did that, right?" And I'm like, "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. 

You still listen to a lot of metal these days?
Pretty much that's it. I don't know too much about new bands really. I still call new bands like Chimaira and Arch Enemy new bands, even though 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 healthy thrash scene again.
Yeah, I've got Municipal Waste [records]. 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 but I haven't seen it since I moved. I gotta find it, it's supposed to be good.

Do you ever hear some of these newer bands and think, 'Hey, that's our riff'?
Oh, shit yeah. Brian Slagel will call me up, we'll have dinner or whatever, and he'll bring me all the new Metal Blade shit he think I might like. [When] 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 and I could pick out the Iron Maiden riffs. You gotta start somewhere.

I guess when you guys started out there wasn't necessarily a blueprint for the sound you were trying to achieve—something faster, more evil, etc. Whereas now there is.
Anyways. As I was saying to Tom before, it's good to see the original band is still together.
Well, I think that's partly why the fans are so loyal to us. It's consistent—musically it's consistent—you don't have to worry about spending your money on a disc and hating it, you don't have to worry about spending your money on a ticket... I use Megadeth as an example, and I'm not picking on them, but you go to a Megadeth show and other than Dave you don't don't know who the fuck's gonna be there. There's a lack of consistency. Other than fans wanting to see Dave play, it's like a crap shoot. You don't have that with us, it's Jeff, Tom, and Kerry, for sure. Now Dave, for sure, ha ha. It's cool, it's almost like insurance, you know?
Yeah. And not only have Megadeth changed personnel with nearly every album and tour, but they've changed their sound a lot too, a bit like Metallica.
Yeah, Metallica had 'the thrash years', then they became a pop band, then kind of a hard rock band, and now they're tryna be a metal band again. Its confusing to me as a fan, I'm like, "What happened?" How do you make the decision to be drastically different and then try to go back to what you started [out] doing just because people say, "Hey, I'd like to have another Master Of Puppets", y'know? I'd LOVE to have another Master Of Puppets but I don't think I'm ever gonna get it.

So instead of musically changing direction, you guys went the opposite way and released an album of punk covers on 1996's Undisputed Attitude, essentially going back to your roots.
Yeah. But this was definitely an idea we borrowed from Metallica with [their] Garage Days [album]. 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.

Were you into the hardcore scene in the 80s?
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 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. prolly 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 cos you're different, you know?

Did the hair-metallers like you guys?
No. They never liked us.

Never?
Not really, no.

And you liked that?
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?
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. And that's probably where our black eyeliner came from [worn 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 Priest, obviously. I dunno where the eyeliner came from, it musta 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 the Exodus guys were all, "Why you wearing eyeliner?" And that was the end of it. We never did again.
What do you make of black-metallers corpse paint?
To me that's more like a King Diamond thing, that over the top [look].

By the way, how did the recent shows with Megadeth go?
The four shows? 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 at 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, the other guitar player I only saw when he was on-stage, so I'm like, 'Does he just teleport to the stage and get the fuck out???' I never saw that guy.

Who else have you not quite enjoyed touring with?
Hmmm, the last Unholy Allaince was my least favourite. It was us, Trivium, Mastodon, and Amon Amarth. And, ha, they were tryna tell me in the UK that Trivium was big enough to co-headline with us and I went, 'Okaaay'. So we closed every show but they had equal time and, well, they're not as big as us, ha ha. That's not me being an asshole! You look at them and you feel so safe, the crowd all clapping, doing the cheeleader thing and it's like, nothing bad can happen. Then we come on the stage and you think the world's gonna end. Even though they're a metal band the vibe is just completely different.

The aggression's not there.
No, it's happy. It's fun times.

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

And that was that, I think. After the interview was posted I badgered the people at Sony for tickets to their upcoming shows which were reconvened, I think maybe due to beginning of Jeff's illness, to the summer months. It was without a doubt one of the most disappointing shows I have ever been to. It was awful, with most of the tracks sounding like they were being played at the wrong speed. I also remember thinking that any average Slayer tribute band would actually provide more of a show. When they did try a fast song it fell short of expectation, which is probably why Dave used a kick-drum trigger. Yes, Dave Lombardo uses a fucking trigger. Fuck. All of this made think that the graphics behind the clearly aged thrashers weren't a joke:
 
But I would never judge a band on a live show 25 years since their best work was written so I forgot about it rather swiftly, burying memories of it in a place in my brain that is still haunted by those Stooges and GBH covers they butchered.
The photoshoot that ensued the next day, featuring all four original members, is another story altogether. Maybe one day I will get round to telling that one.

2 comments:

Mandrake said...

Awesome!
Congrats for the great interview and thanks for sharing!

Angelizer said...

Kerry is a complete dick and a hypocrite. I cant believe they are continuing with only Tom and Kerry left in the band..