SLAYER – Total Devotion
Metal Forces, Issue 66 (1991)
Slayer are in London for a two-day promotional tour for the forthcoming live double album Decade Of Aggression and things are rather hectic. The day’s batch of interviews are already running behind schedule after Tom Araya (vocals / bass) and Kerry King (guitar) decided to take a trip to the London Dungeon. Meanwhile, Metal Forces photographer Nick Matthews is looking a little pissed off having struggled down to the plush Langham Hotel in the West End with his studio equipment, only to be informed by the snotty nosed doorman “You will not be allowed to bring that in here sir, not unless you have a reservation.” Phonogram press person Sean Bye suggests he could hire a room for the photo session, but quickly withdraws the offer when he discovers it will cost £265 for the privilege, no doubt feeling that the funds available will be best served by keeping the bar tab open for the Slayer boys and the assembled journalists – quite right too!
Nick eventually finds a suitable location outside the hotel to do the photo session, and becomes more concerned at the late running schedule of the interviews. He still has to shoot the session, get the slides developed, mounted and returned to the Metal Forces office within two hours before he flys off to Sweden for a three-week holiday.
“Do you want photos of the other guy as well?” asks Matthews.
“What other guy?” I question, turning around to see drummer Dave Lombardo standing at the bar. It appears that Dave has surprised everyone by turning up in London a day after Tom and Kerry had flown over from LA.
“We wasn’t told Dave was coming over too,” comments Sean, obviously a little concerned at an additional £265-a-night room bill. Tom and Kerry too, were unaware of the drummer’s intention to join his colleagues’ promotional visit. It later transpires that Dave has had a somewhat stressful weekend (for a reason which will become clearer later in this article) and has decided to get out of California for a well earned break.
Having not had any sleep since his arrival, Dave informs me that he’s feeling tired and may go for a lie down after the photo session. However, considering his comments in Metal Forces #60, I suggest it may be advisable for him to stick around for the interview to set the record straight about his relationship with the rest of the band. Fortunately he agrees.
So, eventually at around 6:00pm (some 90 minutes later than scheduled), we sit down to begin the interview as Nick disappears into the distance to develop the photos, leaving behind a half drunken bottle of beer which Tom Araya unwittingly picks up to top up his own glass.
I first enquire why guitarist Jeff Hanneman had not come over? “Well, originally it was just gonna be Tom,” explains Kerry. “Then I suggested I’d come over as well, and then today Dave kinda just drops by. Ha! Ha!”
“The first I knew that Dave was coming over was when I saw his reflection in the mirror here in the hotel,” reveals Tom. “I couldn’t believe it was Dave standing there.”
And Jeff? “Jeff’s a family man,” says the bassist. “He prefers to stay at home with his wife who he loves very much. Jeff doesn’t like all this shit.”
Okay, let’s begin by talking about the Clash Of The Titans tour Stateside; the package featuring Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax and openers Alice In Chains. How did Slayer view the tour? “It went really well,” enthuses Tom. “I know a lot has been made of the recession in the States affecting ticket sales, but out of all the packages that have been touring this summer ours was one of the most successful. The attendance, especially for this kind of music, was really, really good.”
Did the success of the tour reflect in your record sales? “Yeah, I think so,” believes Kerry. “I mean, we came back into the Billboard album charts.”
Tom, before you came over to Europe for the Clash Of The Titans last year, you told me that you didn’t feel that a package tour like this would work in the States. “Yeah, I really didn’t think so,” admits the bass player. “But, obviously as it went on it just got bigger and bigger and… well, I guess I was proved wrong. Ha! Ha!”
In the interview with yourself, Scott Ian (Anthrax) and Dave Mustaine (Megadeth), that ran in Metal Forces #62, prior to the US Clash Of The Titans, it was suggested… “Yeah, that interview,” interrupts Tom. “I got there late and the interview had already started. Did you notice how nice they were after I arrived? Before, they…”
Well, the point is, Scott and particularly Dave, were questioning how Slayer, who were selling less records than Anthrax and Megadeth, could gain co-headlining status on the Clash Of The Titans bill. “Sure, they’ve got gold records, but we can sell out arenas, they can’t,” offers Tom. “That’s why it was a co-headliner of three.”
“It was really funny,” adds Kerry. “As you know it was a rotating bill, and the first show that we headlined, both their managers came up and suggested we closed every show. But we said ‘Fuck you! You wanted to rotate, you sit in it’. We had no problem with rotating… but they did.”
The claims you are making there, was that reflected in the audience response? “Yeah, definitely,” insists Tom. “We’re not making this up. It didn’t matter where we played on the bill, the audience always chanted for us.”
How about merchandise sales. Did that reflect your popularity? “We even did more than the event shirt,” states the four-stringer.
“We’d already come through a tour of our own,” adds Kerry. “And we still outsold those other guys.”
“These attitudes about record sales really piss me off,” continues Tom sounding very pissed-off! “I just hope this tour has levelled a few heads. I mean, they think we’re nobodies that don’t sell records and we should be bottom of the list. But we’ve proved we can sell tickets, more than they do.”
How did the US tour compare with the European Clash Of The Titans shows? “Pretty much the same,” reckons Tom. “I mean, you have areas where people are more into it than others, but we still got a better response than those other two idiots!”
Are you referring to the US? “No, both the US and Europe. The crowds are pretty much the same everywhere…”
No, I mean the idiots’ statement? “Oh, I’m talking about the US,” confirms the bassist. “In Europe there was only one idiot. Ha! Ha! And we all know who that was! But in the US there were two idiots (bands) who thought they were bigger than we were. Actually, Anthrax are really nice guys and I don’t wanna knock them in anyway. They’re a very good live band and I like watching them, because they’re funny and I think they’re very entertaining. The other band (Megadeth) I thought were very boring, and they’ve never done anything for me anyway.”
Why is there this animosity between Slayer and Megadeth? Is it because you’re both from LA? It hasn’t always been like this has it. I mean, you Kerry even used to play live with Megadeth in the early days before they had a record deal. “Yeah, that’s true,” acknowledges the guitarist. “I dunno, the only problems I have with them is… Dave Mustaine. He’s a miserable son of a bitch, nobody wants to be around him, and whenever you are he makes it a point of making you feel miserable, regardless of who you are. I mean, I could be in David Lee Roth and he’d make me feel miserable. I could be in a pop band and he’d make me feel miserable. He’s just a miserable fuck! And he goes out of his way to make everybody as miserable as he is.”
“He just has nothing nice to say to about anyone,” adds Tom. “At one time I thought I could consider him as a friend, but after that last tour and all the things he had to say… I just have nothing to say to that fucking idiot.”
So, from what you are saying, Slayer would never play with Megadeth on the same bill again? “Never,” confirms Tom. “Not after what happened on the European tour. I mean, I thought the US tour would be different, but it didn’t change. Okay, he admits that he’s had a drug problem and he’s getting over that, but his personality problem will always be the same.”
You mentioned earlier Tom, that you have more success selling tickets than you do albums. Did that inspire you to release the forthcoming live album, Decade Of Aggression, so that people can hear what a powerful live act you are? “No,” he says bluntly. “That was something we had planned to do always. Nothing inspires us to do anything. We do it because we want to. Not because it’s hip or because other people say we should.”
As well as the live album, I understand you’re putting out two separate videos at some point. Can you supply any more details? “Yeah, there’s gonna be a long form video, featuring our promo stuff and various outtakes, and there’s gonna be a concert video,” confirms Tom.
“We filmed the Wembley Arena show in London, but we had second thoughts about putting it out after we played the Lakeland (Florida) show,” admits Kerry. “The Lakeland show was just incredible. I mean, we videoed Wembley after just a few weeks of touring and we recorded Lakeland after eight months of touring. It’s just a much better performance, and considering we had the Lakeland show coming out on record we felt that we should have a comparable live video, so we’ve decided to use some clips from Wembley on the long form video and then we’ll do another complete video recording on this next tour.”
So when is the long form video going to be released? “We don’t know,” says Tom looking puzzled. “We’re still playing around with it.”
When I spoke to you last year, you told me you were working on a video concept that was very unique? “That’s right, and that hasn’t changed,” reveals the bassist. “But we’re not sure whether we’re gonna do that one now or later.”
So the full concert live video could actually be released first? “Yeah, it could,” admits the bass player. “Or if not then I guess it could be second. Ha! Ha!”
At the Wembley show, towards the end of the set, you announced to the audience that you were gonna perform ‘War Ensemble’ to a pre-recorded tape, while you were being videoed for a promo clip. You saw the reaction of the crowd, who disapproved, to say the least, on your decision to mime to the tape. How did you feel? “Well, we were told we had to do it that way because that was how everyone made performance promo videos,” defends Tom. “We didn’t wanna do it that way, we knew what the reaction would be from the audience; we wanted to play it again live. But they said just give it a try, so I announced it and the crowd were booing and stuff. I just looked over my shoulder and said, ‘Told you so! What are we gonna do now?’ They said, ‘Go ahead and do it live’. I thought, why didn’t we do that in the first place? Then I wouldn’t have had to make a fool out of myself. I mean, we’d already played the song live earlier in the set, but I guess they wanted to get some more camera angles to make it better. But there was nothing wrong with playing the song again live. To ask us to mime to the song was totally unnecessary.”
How do you feel about making promo videos? Obviously, to a certain extent, they’re a necessity, but does a band like Slayer really get the exposure to warrant the kind of money that is actually spent making a video? “Yeah, in this day and age, it is a necessity,” acknowledges the bassist. “But at the same time I agree that they are a waste of money.”
The people who want to see them can when they appear on the long form video,” declares Kerry. “But regarding exposure on MTV and stuff, then yeah, they’re a waste of money. I mean, a couple of plays on the Headbangers Ball and that’s it.”
The second video you made for ‘Seasons In The Abyss’ was filmed in Cairo and must have cost an arm and a leg? “Oh yeah,” confirms Kerry. “But, as I said, it will appear on the long form video, so I’m sure the money we spent on it will eventually be made back on video sales.”
The only reason we initially made that video for ‘Seasons In The Abyss’ was for MTV,” adds Tom. “And at the end of the day, it’s a case of why bother? Rick Rubin (Def American label boss) asked us to do it because MTV said that they’d definitely show it in its entirety. Then they asked us to do an edit because it was too long, and having compromised with that they hardly show it at all. But never again; we’ll never spend that kind of money on a promo video again. Don’t get me wrong, I think ‘Seasons In The Abyss’ is a great video, and the idea of going to Cairo was great, but obviously MTV didn’t think it was so great otherwise they would have played it more.”
Now, Decade Of Aggression is being released on October 21st to commemorate ten years of Slayer. Looking back to those early days, did you think you would gain the kind of success that you’ve achieved to date? “No, I never thought it would amount to this,” admits Tom. “I mean, I was into the band, I thought what we were doing was great, and I still think we’re great, but to get to five albums down the line, be on a major label, selling lots of records, making a living out of what I enjoy doing… that’s incredible!
“I was in a band prior to this that didn’t get anywhere and then I got kicked out. Then Kerry called me up and said, ‘Look, I’m putting this new band together, do you wanna join?’ I did, and now look… I mean, I never thought I’d be going to a K-Mart and having people recognise me. Ha! Ha! I never thought in my life that I’d ever be known or well known. Y’know, people coming up to me in the street and saying, ‘Hey, aren’t you Tom Araya!?’ It’s all unbelievable.”
In those early days the mainstream press treated you as a joke. But now those same journalists hail you as the ultimate thrash band. How do you view that? “It’s called following trends and pretending you like it too!” offers Kerry. “I mean, Kerrang! were like that when we first came out, but then Hell Awaits (1984) got released, thrash is suddenly getting bigger and all of a sudden they love us. But why? We’re not really doing anything different. I guess it helps them sell magazines if they pretend to like Slayer.”
“We have obviously changed in a sense that we’ve evolved, progressed as musicians from those early albums,” adds Tom. “But this is the music we’ve always done and we’ll always do. We’re not here to impress anybody. The only people that we care about are ourselves, and if we like a song we’ll put it on the album, if not then we don’t. We don’t think or care about what other people expect Slayer to do. We do what we think is right.”
I mentioned earlier how Slayer were initially treated as a joke but still became acceptable, but another influential band from the early 80s, Venom, never got taken seriously. I know Venom feel very bitter about the fact that the likes of yourselves and Metallica went on to gain so much success, yet they (Venom) are still struggling for the true recognition that they feel they deserve. What are your views on that? “Well, the big difference is between a band that can play and a band that can’t play,” snaps Kerry. “And Venom are definitely a horrible band… but I liked them and I still like them. You see, we go out and relearn things that we’ve forgotten. For example, most recently I took guitar lessons. We just keep bettering ourselves, and you have to because there’s just so many people out there who just shred on their instruments. You can’t sit and be stagnant, you’ve just got to keep improving.”
“Venom can feel bitter, but it’s not our fault and it’s not the public’s fault,” adds Tom. “You have to better yourself and you have to succeed, but you can only do that, nobody’s gonna do it for you. See, when people said that we sucked, we didn’t give up, we just kept on doing what we believed in and have proved to ourselves that it can work.”
Obviously now you have gained the success, there are a lot of bands coming up who have taken their influence from Slayer and are achieving success in their own right. How do you feel about that? “It would be nice to have a little originality,” quips Kerry. “To do something unique.”
But were Slayer so unique in those early days. I mean, the story was that back in ’81 / ’82 you were playing on the same bill as Metallica and after you saw / heard them you went away and completely changed your style away from a mainstream metal band, by writing faster and heavier material? “Okay, we played with Metallica on one bill,” acknowledges the bass player. “But at the time we were writing a song called ‘Aggressive Perfector’ for a Metal Massacre compilation album (Metal Massacre III, 1983) on Metal Blade Records. We were rehearsing that song over and over and over, because we wanted to go in the studio and record the song and not have to spend a week in there just doing one song. The fact is the more and more we rehearsed it, the more we thought, ‘God, this is good, maybe we should do more stuff like this’. So all the songs that we’d originally written, which were more in the Scorpions and Iron Maiden vein, we dumped and wrote more faster stuff and continued from there. We took that one song and expanded our music, and I think that that is original. It had nothing to do with Metallica or Venom.”
“When you hear a Slayer song you immediately know it is Slayer,” adds Kerry, keen to emphasise the band’s uniqueness. “You don’t even have to hear Tom sing, musically it’s obviously Slayer. But when you hear a band that sounds like Slayer then it could be any one of twenty bands. They don’t have that distinct signal, that distinct guitar sound… they’re imitating and copying.
“Don’t get me wrong,” continues the guitarist. “I don’t have any problems with up and coming bands, it’s just a word of advice to them that to be more successful is to be more unique, because otherwise there’s always someone out there who will be doing it better.”
Okay, well changing the subject. As a unit, Slayer have always given the impression of not getting on with each other. Obviously the interview with Dave (Lombardo) in Metal Forces issue #60 is a prime example, where it comes over as if he almost despises the other members of the band. “I think that has more to do with the person (Borivoj Krgin) who wrote the fuckin’ article,” snaps Tom.
Oh c’mon, is Dave now gonna deny he said those things? “No, I accept he did say those things,” concedes the bassist. “But it’s the guy who’s asking the questions. I mean, I read that article and I thought, ‘Oh well, he’s only answering questions’, and it’s up to the journalist to print whatever he thinks should be printed. I just don’t think he should have let some of those comments be put in print.”
But Dave actually states that he’s unhappy that he doesn’t get the writing credits on the album (Seasons In The Abyss, 1990) that he deserves. Is that true? Dave, c’mon, you’ve been quiet up to now, you’ve surely got to make some comment about this? “Okay, I will,” says the drummer seeming somewhat embarrassed by the situation. “I did say those things, erm, I just haven’t really discussed it with you guys (Tom and Kerry), but maybe we can talk about it later? The fact is, in the studio I come up with some stuff that can change the entire songs, just little things, and I feel I should get some credit for that.”
“The same with me,” considers Tom. “They (Jeff and Kerry) write the music, but I’ll come up with the bass lines; they didn’t show me how to play it. I don’t get any credit.”
Kerry? Do I sense a touch of controversy here?! “Well, to add to these fun stories,” replies the guitarist. “I remember playing a lead on ‘War Ensemble’ and not getting a credit for it. I guess we could talk in circles all day about things like that.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” agrees Tom. “They write the music and I contribute to it, but why should I take credit for something that is in their framework?”
Obviously a touchy subject? “Well, no. Jeff and Kerry write the music, that’s it,” states the bassist. “I just don’t think it was fair to print that stuff on Dave. I’ve met this guy (Borivoj Krgin), I know what he’s like and he was just out digging for dirt.”
“I never thought it would come out as big a piece as it did,” says Dave. “Y’know, an 8″x10″ picture of my face with the words: ‘Dave Lombardo speaks out!’. I’m not denying I said those things, but it just came out in a more controversial way than I was explaining. What you’ve got to understand is that the past five years have been kind of funky for me. I felt a lot of those things, but they were blowing inside of me and it’s been really difficult. But that’s all gonna change now.”
Change in what way? “Dave had a lot of personal ordeals going on and it was affecting the band,” reveals Kerry. “There was a lot of animosity flowing through everyone. I think it’s true to say that Dave realizes that he made a few bad mistakes and choices, but now that’s all behind him and I think he’s looking forward to having a good time.”
“I was really stressed out and it was affecting my playing,” admits Dave. “I was going through a lot of problems and I was taking it out on the rest of the band.”
I don’t wanna get too personal, but… “I got a divorce on Sunday,” reveals the drummer. “That’s it, plain and simple.”
So what you’re saying is that from last Sunday (9th September, 1991) Slayer are a stronger unit? “Yeah, definitely,” confirms Dave.
“Dave has a lot of catching up to do,” laughs Kerry. “That’s why he’s here in Europe now. Ha! Ha!”
“Before, we were functioning at 75%. As from now we’re functioning totally 100%,” concludes the drummer. “And if people thought we were hot at 75%, imagine what we’re gonna be like on 100%!”
Well, European fans can witness a fully charged Slayer in November when the band undertake an extensive tour in support of Decade Of Aggression, including seven shows in the UK. I’ll see you down the front!
Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 66 (1991)
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