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Songs About God and Satan - Part 2: An Interview With Slayer's Tom Araya

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Wednesday, May 3, 2006 @ 4:25 PM

People won’t be disappointed.

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In Part 1, Slayer guitarist Kerry King talked about the band’s modus operandi when it’s time to work on new material and confirmed that, indeed, their still-in-progress new album would “sound like Slayer.”

In a separate phone interview a couple days later, bassist/frontman Tom Araya picks up where King left off, offering his own thoughts on the band’s 11 new songs and his own contributions. He also spoke of the “rule of law” Slayer works by, the band’s enduring legacy and how they just now are enjoying some of the fruits of their two decades as thrash metal’s most fearsome foursome, and why they’re lending a hand to his brother’s band this summer.

KNAC.COM: You guys must feel pretty confident in the material if you went into the studio the only 11 songs you had?

ARAYA: Definitely. I guess our thought process about that, for some reason it seems to be pretty unanimous among the three of us, is that it’s best to work on the songs you feel really good about. If you do 30 songs you have to wade through which ones are best — and, of course, not everyone’s gonna agree. And you’ve spent all this time with 30 songs, when you might only end up using 12. To me it’s like we’ve got these 11 that sound great, we’re just gonna work on these 11 and make them the best we can.

On God Hates there was a shitload of songs, by a shitload I mean like 16, which is a lot for us. And we had a bunch of songs that to me, the last few that we worked on anyway, didn’t come out as great as they could of been and to me that was a waste of time and a waste of some really good material that could have been better.

The record company’s always gonna be like, “Can you do two more?” And that’s primarily for the foreign market. And this time we’re like, “You know, fuck that. We’re gonna give you this many songs, how you want to divvy them out is up to you. And you know why? These are the ones we think are great. The other ones that we had sucked, so we dumped them.” (laughs) To me, it’s work with what you like, otherwise forget it.

KNAC.COM: It’s been five years since the last album, so you obviously were pretty well prepared for this one?

ARAYA: We usually rehearse our songs a lot, that’s how we know whether we like them or not. There’s a lot of time when someone will come in with a song that all of a sudden just disappears.

Sometimes I’ll ask, “I wonder what happened to this one?”

And they [Kerry and Jeff] will be like, “Oh, we didn’t like it.”

“Ah, OK, I thought there were some good parts in it.”

“Yeah, there were, but overall the song was terrible.”

Sometimes they take the good parts and mutate them into another song, so by the time we get in the studio it’s all pretty well rehearsed. On this one, we’ve been working with the material for a few years now. I think we’ve had it for about three years. But we’ve done a lot of touring, we’ve had a lot of opportunities come up.

And, I’m not going to lie to you, it was all about money. Money and opportunities, and not only that, they were high-profile opportunities so we figured, “Fuck it, we’ll do this since no one was in any real hurry.” And then Rubin got into this distribution thing that was going on, so that allotted us even more time to take advantage of the opportunities that came along.

And when it came time to record, I came out and we started demoing stuff and they started fine tuning it and to me everything was sounding really good. We were ready in December, that’s when I started coming in so we could demo everything. I thought everything sounded great, it was tight. But then there were the usual delays. And we were trying for a June release date to have it out on the “magic number” this year.

KNAC.COM: That would be June 6 [6/6/06]?

ARAYA: Of course (laughs). But we lost that. I think the tour starts on that date, so at least that’s something.

KNAC.COM: Speaking of release dates, I asked Kerry about this, but are your thoughts on God Hates coming out the day of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks?

ARAYA: I couldn’t help but put those two together. It wasn’t irony, it was more like, “Fuck! Somebody’s god really hates us.” Their belief system, their god is why they do the things that they do, and he obviously hates us. I think that was a pretty fucking strong coincidence. Definitely does make you stop and think.

KNAC.COM: Kerry spoke of “Jihad” as a song that touches upon that belief system, but he also mentioned a song you wrote the lyrics for, “Eyes of the Insane,” that dealt with the after-effects of the war.

ARAYA: Yeah, it was based on an article I read in Texas Monthly about the casualties of war, the soldiers. The article was about how a lot of soldiers are really having a tough time coping with the trauma and all of the shit that they witnessed, basically they get really mental.

That song is about that part of the war, and it is a great tragedy and it seems to be neglected. At points in their tour of Iraq, they need help and the military tends to ignore that, they kind of brush it under the mat and hopes it goes away. They try to make everything seem hunky dory and fine and dandy, when in actuality there is a lot of shit going on that people can’t handle. There’s a lot of soldiers coming home with mental anguish. And the sad part is, we heard about post-traumatic stress after Vietnam and the first Gulf War and the military seems to want to wipe the slate clean with every new war. It’s fucked up.

This whole issue of Texas Monthly was about the war and the Texas military’s involvement with it. It looked at all the services and talked about the good and the bad, it was very “fair and balanced,” (laughs). But it had an article about all of the Texas who had died, and that one article I mentioned about those who have returned from the war really blew my mind. They go and come home missing a few pieces.

KNAC.COM: Kerry mentioned a few other songs, but I’d like to get your take on the rest of the material?

ARAYA: The two songs we were just talking about are the only ones that touch on the subject of current events, the recent war. There are some other songs that are loosely based on war, but it could be anywhere at any time. He must have mentioned the song he wrote called “Flesh Storm.” The title alone says it all with that one.

There’s a song that we’re still feeling that is almost done that Jeff and I have been working with called “Black Serenade.” And right now there’s one other song that needs to be written to that lately I’ve been trying to come up with some ideas for. But I want to write it first before I start talking about it (laughs).

What else did Kerry tell you?

KNAC.COM: Pretty much what he always seems to say, that they “sound like Slayer songs.”

ARAYA: (Laughs) Well that’s about all I can tell you, too. It’s a Slayer record. People won’t be disappointed. We’re not going to come out with something completely different. And I don’t want that to mean that this one sounds just like this, that or the other, but the minute you hear it, you’ll recognize it as Slayer. It encompasses everything we’ve done. And usually ever record encompasses everything we’ve done, with something new added to it. And this one isn’t any different.

There’s one song that has a new element for a Slayer record and somebody yesterday was asking, “Well, what is it?” And I’m not gonna tell you, when you hear it it’ll be like, “Ah, that’s what he was talking about.” It’s pretty obvious. It’s Slayer, but you’ll realize that it’s something new for us.

KNAC.COM: How do you feel about having Dave back?

ARAYA: It’s cool. The one and only thing that he brings to what we were and what we are is his style, he helped create the foundation of what Slayer is and there’s nobody like him. He’s a very freestyle drummer, not a very disciplined drummer. Paul was a very technical drummer.

Paul had a lot to do with the albums that he was on, he didn’t get much credit for anything and he really had a lot to do with everything. When Divine [his first album] was being put together, he helped a lot and didn’t get any real credit for any of that.

KNAC.COM: He did get the opening salvo on the opening song.

ARAYA: Yeah, but on Divine a lot of the stuff on there was from Kerry. Paul helped arrange a lot of stuff on the album, and the same thing with God Hates, which was a lot of songs that were Kerry’s. So Paul had a lot to do with those albums arrangement-wise and structure-wise. When Jeff writes, he usually everything thought out and he hands everyone a demo and we learn it. With Kerry, once he has the riffs, he’ll sit down with the drummer and work out the arrangements.

Dave has a style of his own and he comes up with some real crazy shit, he’s really into just playing. He’ll come in, you’ll show him a riff and he just starts playing. And it’s never the same, he always changes as it goes along. When we hear something that we think is cool, the trick is trying to get him to play it twice. He does really good stuff just off the cuff.

KNAC.COM: Now that he’s toured and recorded with you again, how is the band as a unit?

ARAYA: Dave’s acclimated back in the band, but that’s not going to ever change how we are. We’re dysfunctional, and that’s never going to change.

KNAC.COM: Still, I guess it says something that this is his third stint with the band Paul had two turns. You can take the boy out of Slayer, but you can’t take Slayer out of the boy.

ARAYA: (laughs) Yeah, that’s about it. It comes down to one rule, the one rule of law that we all know and understand, that without the other, this wouldn’t exist. So we’ve lived the past 25 years knowing that, so you either co-exist or you cease to exist. We understood that a long time ago.

KNAC.COM: So when Slayer season’s over, so to speak, you all go your separate ways and keep your distance from one another? That’s your idea of peaceful co-existence?

ARAYA: Pretty much. I don’t live in California anymore, like everyone else, so it’s easy for me to have my own space, but that’s basically how it is. But when we see each other, it’s kind of how we were when we left off, so it’s kind of like putting a book down, and when you show up, you pick it back up and continue reading where you left off.

It’s like the tours are over, the record cycle is over, all the stuff is over, you put the book down and when you come back together to start working on ideas or start doing stuff, it’s time to pick the book back up and start reading again. And once you’ve read your fair share of chapters, you put the book down and you’re gone, then you come back and start reading again.

KNAC.COM: Since you’re making analogies to books, how many chapters do you see left in the Slayer story?

ARAYA: I don’t know. I do know that after this record there is one more record that Rubin has an option of either doing it or not. But I do know that after this record cycle is over, there is one more record to be done. And it’s up to Rubin whether he wants to pick up the option, and I guess everyone is hoping that he will. And if he does, it means we have at least one more chapter (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Earlier you mentioned something about tours that you did “for the money.” Slayer’s been a relatively successful band, comparatively, but are you happy with the career path the band has had? Would you have liked to have had more commercial success?

ARAYA: Everyone’s gonna feel like they should have sold a few more records, and that would have been nice. But I’m not complaining. I think we’ve had a very good, long, slow-growth career, which means that we’ll definitely be around a long time. Being rich doesn’t make you popular, and I think the slow growth that we’ve had, it’s taken us this long to reach the level that we’re at, it’s gonna take twice as long for people to forget about us. That’s the way I look at it.

This is going to be around way after we’re gone, by the time this physically ends for the band itself. Kind of like the Sabbath thing. Sabbath didn’t get the recognition they deserved to begin with, but shit, 30 years later they’re like fucking gods. They’re getting so much recognition now and it’s finally paying off. That’s the way I look at it for us.

After 20-25 years of doing what we do, we’re just starting to reap the rewards of what we initially started. We’ve been given opportunities, offers, that we just couldn’t turn down. So you do them. And after 25 years we’re getting top dollar (laughs). In my opinion we’re being paid what we’re actually worth now. For all those years we weren’t getting what we were worth, now we are. But I’m really happy with the success Slayer has had.

KNAC.COM: Up-and-coming bands still look at Slayer as the benchmark, I guess they figure if they can reach your league, they’ve made it.

ARAYA: Well we’ve actually given the heads up to a lot of bands that have gone beyond us (laughs). But somehow they tend to fizzle out, they don’t have the staying power or the will, I guess, to keep it together and try to make it a long career. But that was never our intention, we never meant to make it a long career, you just never know what happens in this industry. So we happen to be very lucky to have stayed around as long as we have.

And with every new cycle we have a new audience. There’s always that kid out there who’s into metal and then there’s his one friend that goes, “Well, do you want to hear something really heavy?” (laughs) And they flip on a Slayer record and that kid listens to it and goes, “Fuck!” And his friend tells him, “Well, look at all these other ones they’ve got.” And right there we’ve got a new fan and a new kid who wants to see the band or get the new record or whatever. But it’s been a cycle of that, and every 10 years it’s repeated.

KNAC.COM: In some weird way, it’s probably a good thing you didn’t have a 5 million selling record?

ARAYA: (laughs) Hey, you know what, it’s still possible. My glass is half full, I don’t know about yours. We’re still waiting for that one record to do it, so I’m not discounting anything, there’s always that possibility. But until then, or if then, we’re very content with the way things have gone. Yeah, it would have been great, but I don’t think I would have appreciated things as much as I do now if we had.

KNAC.COM: Your brother John’s band, Thine Eyes Bleed, will be on the Unholy Alliance Tour, have your bands ever played together before?

ARAYA: Never, this will be the first time ever. I’m excited and I think it’s going to be pretty exciting for them because for one, they actually have a really good record. He joined after the album was recorded, but John has been through this process for as long as we have. He was a part of us and worked with us for 15-20 years. And during that time he worked with other musicians as a guitar tech. He was Lou Reed’s guitar tech for a while, he’s worked with really good bands and everyone’s come to know him, so he’s had a life on the road for some time.

KNAC.COM: Is his first band?

ARAYA: At this level, yes. His dream has always to be a part of a band or do his own thing, and they offered him this opportunity to join the band and the band is doing really well. Just like any other band, you get on tours that just kind of fizzle. So they’ve had their lumps, they’ve had their school of hard knocks trying to get on something stable, so when this came up I told our manager, “I want my brother to open up the tour. They’re a really good band and I’m not going to take no for an answer.”

And I talked to Dave and Jeff and Kerry and said, “Hey, I want them on the bill, I don’t want to hear no’s, I just want to hear no problem. They’ll open the show and there’s no problem there.”

Nepotism really can pay off.

They’re a good band and I want them to at least have a full-blown tour where they can say, “hey we did an entire tour.” We’ve given everybody else opportunities.

KNAC.COM: And they’ll get to play for big crowds, not in some hole in the wall.

ARAYA: He’s had his fair share of those, which is no different than the first time we toured (laughs). We played to a packed house of 20. But he’s been unfortunate enough to play before a crowd of like the three or four other bands on the bill, and no one else, so they’ve had their fair share of disappointments.

KNAC.COM: Whose idea was this tour?

ARAYA: It’s something our manager [Rick Sales] has been conjuring for a while now. They set it up to do a European tour, which we did with Slipknot like a year, year and a half ago. And that’s where it started and he wanted to market the title and he hopes it will be a recurring tour that comes through the states, kind of like Ozzfest. He wants to brand the name. He actually wants to take it worldwide. And this time around he said he wanted to put together a package that could rival Ozzfest so he came up with these bands, and it’s a cool line up.

Mastadon is a “different” type of metal altogether, and I mean that in a good way. They toured with us before and they’re actually really good. And Lamb of God is a different style of metal than what we do, as is my brother’s band. Children of Bodom is European metal and I’m not really that familiar with them, but I listened to the disc and if they sound anything like the disc live, they should be pretty good. It all should be pretty good.

Read Part 1 with Kerry King here.

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