By Andrew Bansal
Heavy metal giants Slayer have had a difficult year, to say the least. Parting ways with original and longtime drummer Dave Lombardo followed by the tragic and sudden death of guitarist Jeff Hanneman left them shocked and devastated, and as the days passed, they were under the scrutiny of fans who followed the band’s every move. Taking the challenge head on, Slayer decided to move forward, recruiting Paul Bostaph to make a return to the band, and continuing on with Gary Holt on guitar. They will be embarking on a North American headline tour on October 25th with support acts Gojira and 4Arm, their first full headline tour in a long, long time, and will include two shows at the Hollywood Palladium. Yesterday on a fine Los Angeles Monday morning, I spoke to bassist/vocalist Tom Araya to talk about the Palladium shows, the tour, fans’ opinions, the new lineup, the next album and the recent India show. Enjoy the conversation below.
Tom, it’s great to have you on Metal Assault. Firstly, you’re playing two shows at the Hollywood Palladium next Sunday and Monday. I believe it’s been 25 years since you played there. What do you remember from that show?
It was a great show! It was an awesome show, and we didn’t have a clue of what was going on until we were done playing. Our tour manager came to us and told us, ‘Hey, there’s a news crew here wanting to do an interview with you guys.’ We were kind of shocked! We normally don’t get interviews from the news crews, you know. We’re not that big of a band to make such a big wave as far as it making an appearance on the local news broadcast. So we were like, ‘Sure, we’ll do that!’ They got the four of us together, and the guy was like, ‘We really appreciate you guys doing this interview because normally you don’t do this kind of stuff after a show. We just wanted to ask you, what do you think about the riots outside?’ We were like, ‘What? What are you talking about?!’ (Laughs) So it was a great show but we had no idea that was going on. We had no clue. No one told us, not even after the fact. It was the news cast that did. There was riot police out there, they chased a lot of people away, and there were a lot of fans outside. We didn’t know any of that. So that’s the memory I have of that show. The show itself was great, we had three huge mosh pits going on at the same time, and the place was packed. From the point of view of the stage, watching all these kids having fun, it was awesome! But after the news crew left, we got more information on the riots. A week or two weeks later, I was at Geffen Records and one of the senior people there had a Slayer story to tell me. He said that after the show was over, he was walking outside to go to his car and the riot police wouldn’t let him (laughs). So yeah, I had no clue about any of the events going on outside, but inside it was awesome.
Well, let’s hope there’s no riot this time, specially because you’re playing two shows.
Yeah, we’re doing two shows. Hopefully the first show will go great, and then they can do the riot on the second show (laughs).
Right, exactly! So, you’re kicking off a full tour this week. You haven’t actually done a proper full Slayer headline tour in North America for a while. Over the past few years you’ve done Mayhem Fest, Big Four, Clash Of The Titans and all that, but it must be a good feeling to do this again after a long time.
Yeah! We haven’t done it in a while. It’s been quite a few years. So may be this will be interesting. We’ll be doing an hour-and-a-half and going on late. That’s the one thing I liked about doing festival-type stuff or Mayhem kind of thing. We usually go on early. We didn’t really headline any of those shows, we just had the prime spot. You play an hour, and life was easy. Now we’ve got to do 90 minutes, and we have to go on at 10. Ugh!! (Laughs).
Did you enjoy doing the smaller sets more? You could make it more intense because it’s just shorter.
Exactly, dude. You hit it right on the head. People are always saying, ‘You guys should play longer!’ People can’t deal with an hour. Some say we should play for two hours! And you’re right, when it’s an hour of music we just go out and we jam out our music. There’s none of this cheerleading stuff. I don’t say stuff like, ‘OK, all the girls now scream, all the guys now scream, everybody now scream!’ I don’t do cheerleader (laughs). It’s an hour of intense music. We do three songs in a row, then four in a row, then three in a row and we’re over. Before anybody realizes it, an hour has gone by. But you’re right, it’s more intense that way, and to us it’s a good thing. Now that we’re going out and doing 90 minutes, it’s still going to be intense but it’s an hour-and-a-half of Slayer just pounding in your face. So, it will be good, but I don’t know how good it will be for some (laughs).
It seems like a lot of Slayer fans have been making up their own decisions and minds about what the band should do (laughs). We’ve seen comments on different social networks and on various interviews out there. There are some Slayer fans out there that have an opinion, and it’s 50-50. They can live with those opinions. Some of the things that people have said are a little upsetting. But like I said, some Slayer fans have already made up their mind, so they can live with that (laughs). We’re going to do what we’re doing. Me and Kerry have a lot of communicating to do as far as how to move forward and what we should do. We haven’t really had a chance to do that because a lot of this stuff was already set up. A lot of these tours were booked almost a year ago. We’re just going forward and finishing up what we started. Once we get an opportunity to sit down, we’ll communicate on how to move forward.
You mentioned the comments on social networks. Did you guys actually read any of that yourselves or were you staying away from it when all this was at its peak a few months ago?
You know, my daughter would tell me, ‘Hey, they just posted the interview you just did.’ And she would show it to me. I would read the interview just to make sure it’s the interview I did and that I did say those things. A lot of the times when I come across interviews like that, once I’m done with it I’ll scroll and read comments, just to see what kind of things people have to say. That’s what I was saying, some fans have already decided what the band should do. When I read that stuff I was like, ‘Fuck, man. These people are brutal.’ But hey, whatever. We’re Slayer, and we’re going to do what we do. People have thoughts and opinions. Thoughts and opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one (laughs). But yeah, you know, if my happen to see an interview or if my daughter points me to one, I do read some of the comments, just to assess how people feel about the band. I read what they write, but it’s like water drops that roll onto your back. Here comes a drop, and there’s another one. It doesn’t affect my decision making. The only thing that affects my decision making is how I feel.
In this current lineup of the band, you’ve brought back Paul Bostaph as the drummer. Was he an automatic choice or did you actually have to go through the whole process of trying to figure out who the drummer was going to be?
For me, it was obvious. As soon as the issues with Dave started coming up, to me it was an obvious decision and I was the one that brought that to Kerry and Jeff’s attention. Paul was in the band for quite a long time and did four albums with us, really great albums. So to me it was a no-brainer, and Jeff and Kerry seemed to agree. So I’m glad he’s back because he’s an awesome drummer, a really great songwriter and helps put the songs together really well. And on top of it, he’s a really good guy. I’m not good with strange people (laughs). It’s one of the reasons why Gary is playing with us because I’m not hip on strangers and people I don’t know.
Right, I was going to ask you about him as well. The fact that he actually filled in for Jeff for a period of almost two years before Jeff passed away would have made it a little easier for you to get used to having him next to you on stage instead of Jeff?
Yeah it has, but I knew Gary. I had the pleasure of meeting Gary 33 years ago. That was the reason why I didn’t have an issue with him sitting in for Jeff. I had an issue with someone sitting in. I didn’t like the fact that we were going to bring someone we didn’t know or I didn’t feel comfortable with. But when Kerry said, ‘What about Gary? May be we can ask him.’ I was okay with that, because Gary is someone I knew. When I first met him and from what I knew of him, he was a really nice guy. So I said, ‘OK, I can deal with Gary. Gary’s good!’ So we asked him to see if he would do it, and he was more than happy to. That just made the whole transition a lot easier, for me at least.
Is this going to be the lineup that records the next album?
That’s something that me and Kerry are going to have to sit down and talk about. But Gary has been sitting in for a while so I’m sure he’ll be involved somehow if we move forward and complete this record we started a few years back. But he’s an obvious choice. It would be kind of dumb to have done all this time with him and then find someone different, you know what I mean? But like I said, me and Kerry will have to sit down and communicate our thoughts as far as that goes. I know Kerry has expressed his thoughts as far as Gary sitting in, but it’s something the two of us will have to talk about. But it’s like Paul; it’s an obvious choice.
Talking of new music, ‘World Painted Blood’ came out more than four years ago now, and after that you guys kind of took a different path with the Big Four, the Seasons In The Abyss 20th anniversary tour and all of that. So, you must be looking forward to making a new album now. It’s been such a long time.
Yeah! I remember our manager saying, ‘When are you guys starting work on a new album?’ And that was brought to our attention like two years ago (laughs). So we started the process back then and lately things have been kind of slow in this camp. Then after Jeff died, things moved even slower. So we’ll see. We started this process so it’s something that we might be expected to do because it was brought up and people are waiting. Business people are waiting too. So it’s something we’ll have to do. When it comes out, I don’t know. I do know that we’re looking to put some time and energy into it and make it something that’s awesome. It has to be something awesome. That’s where I am at with that. It has to be something that just blows everybody away. But it was something that was brought up a few years back and we were all a part of it. Kerry and Dave at the time were demoing a bunch of stuff that Kerry had put together, and Jeff was making periodic visits to the studio. So I’m sure it’s a process we’ll have to finish at some point.
Recently, you did a show that I wanted to ask you about. You played in India last year in December. What was that experience like?
What was that like? (Laughs) That was interesting. India is a very interesting country. The city we played in was Bangalore, which was a very different world compared to the world that we’re used to. But it was awesome. They had some great gear, sound and lights. So it was a really good experience as far as performing and putting on a show. Sometimes when you play in certain areas, the quality of the lights and sound systems isn’t that great, but the experience there was awesome. They were on it. They had an amazing crew, and amazing production. Then we realized that we had so many crazy Indian fans (laughs). That’s a country about which you go, ‘Slayer fans? In India?’ So it was awesome!
One of your old albums ‘Christ Illusion’ wasn’t even allowed to be released there because of religions reasons or whatever. So it must have been surprising for you to see that you had so many fans there.
Yeah! But you know, it’s more surprising that out of all the records that we’ve done, that was the one to get banned. I found that interesting because some of the other albums were a lot worse than that one (laughs). Out of all albums, Christ Illusion was the one they decided not to sell in their country. But we had a shitload of fans there. It was easily 8000-10000, which was mind-boggling. It was a good experience.
As you said, you didn’t think you would have that many number of fans there. So even after all these years, would you say you still have a lot of new things left to experience as a band?
Oh yeah! There’s regions on this planet that we haven’t been introduced to. Everybody talks about where we played and ask us about certain places, ‘Have you guys played there?’ We’re like, ‘No!’ So there is a whole new area of the world that we still haven’t been able to perform in, so we’ll see. May be that will come to pass.
Slayer North American tour dates with Gojira & 4Arm (get tickets on slayer.net):
25 The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV
27 Hollywood Palladium, Hollywood, CA
28 Hollywood Palladium, Hollywood, CA
30 Events Center @ San Jose State, San Jose, CA
1 WAMU Center, Seattle, WA
3 Stampede Corrall, Calgary, AB
4 Shaw Center, Edmonton, AB
5 Praireland Park Center, Saskatoon, SK
7 MTS Center, Winnipeg, MB
8 Myth, Minneapolis, MN
10 FunFunFun Fest, Austin, TX
12 Bayou Music Center, Houston, TX
13 South Side Ballroom, Dallas, TX
15 Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, IL
16 The Fillmore, Detroit, MI
17 LC Pavilion, Columbus, OH
19 The Fillmore, Washington, D.C.
20 Stage AE, Pittsburgh, PA
21 Ricoh Colibsum, Toronto, ON
23 CEPSUM/University of Montreal, Montreal, QC
24 Pavilion de la Jeunesse, Quebec, QC
26 Oakdale Theatre, Wallingford, CT
27 Theatre @ MSG, New York, NY
29 Susquehanna Bank Center, Camden, NJ
30 Tsongas Arena, Boston, MA