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Rockstar Energy Mayhem Fest Special! Part 2: Platinum Records, Staying Mellow and Michael Jackson: Interview With Tom Araya of Slayer

By Mick Stingley, Contributor
Friday, August 21, 2009 @ 3:13 PM

“I was working at the hospital when Michael Jackson…came in…when he did the Pepsi commercial where he burned the back of his head.”

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On August 4, 2009, The Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival rolled into Mansfield, Massachusetts. Boasting a line-up featuring co-headliners Marilyn Manson and Slayer, it was an all-day affair from 2-11PM with a host of bands decidedly influenced by Slayer, including (among others) The Black Dahlia Murder, Job For A Cowboy, All That Remains, Trivium, Cannibal Corpse, Bullet For My Valentine, KillSwitch Engage, and Behemoth.

While there were many highlights during the nine-hour long affair, from endless merch tables and refreshment stands to the heart-stopping Motocross cyclists, the day proved to be solely about one thing and one thing only: Slayer.

And for good reason: Slayer is about to release a brand new album, “World Painted Blood,” it’s ninth studio album for Warner Music Group and the last on its’ contract under Rick Rubin, the man who signed them. A few months back, Slayer released a new song to the masses, “Psychopathy Red,” which has been streamed endlessly on YouTube and other websites and which heralds anticipation about what many would refer to as “a return to form” – or more plainly, it sounds like classic Slayer. This, along with the recent Hot Topic release of the song “Hate Worldwide,” showcases the band at the top of its’ game as the members come off the fevered success of 2006’s Christ Illusion and two subsequent Grammy wins for Best Metal Performance.

Christ Illusion was the first album to feature original –and beloved- drummer Dave Lombardo (along with the stalwart original members Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman and singer/bassist Tom Araya); and now the advance excitement of the two singles from the highly-anticipated follow-up, World Painted Blood seems to acknowledge the fact that there ain’t nothing like the real thing.

Slayer has been on tour for a few months, abroad and now at home in the States, and Tom Araya has done a small but significant amount of press discussing all of this. And more. In fact, a YouTube search of “Tom Araya” and “Interview, 2009” returns a few videos of interest to the average and die-hard Slayer fan. He’s been asked and has answered a lot of the same questions over and over…

Given the opportunity to interview Tom, this writer tried to offer something different which might satisfy both the reader and the subject as fresh, as well getting a glimpse into what’s going on right now.

With that in mind, I prepared a few questions for Tom and hope that what follows succeeds in that vein…

KNAC.COM: Please discuss the new album: what makes it so exciting for you? Speaking as a Slayer fan, what can you say to other Slayer fans about it?

TOM ARAYA: It’s awesome! I really love it. It’s all there. As a Slayer fan, I can say that everything they want from Slayer is there. “Pschopathy Red,” “Hate Worldwide,” “Beauty Through Order”… I love this record, you know what I mean? This is a Slayer record for Slayer fans… yeah. (Laughs)

KNAC.COM: What was the songwriting process like?

TOM ARAYA: On this one it was pretty cool, we had maybe, we had three songs initially recorded from the year before, in October. Jeff and Kerry had, initially five or six songs that were together. And those songs and the rest of the songs kinda came together in the studio. And it was still done the way we’ve always done it, it’s just that instead of learning them and practicing them, we learned them and recorded them. You know what I mean? It was, uh, ‘cuz that was the one thing that was different. ‘Cuz Jeff came and he would go in, and we would all work, and it was kinda like an assembly line. Jeff would come in and then he’d take a day off or two. I would work and then Kerry would come in and each of us would have some time alone away from the studio for a few days. In that time-frame, Jeff would come up with some songs – he’d have all the parts and he’d put them on disc – bass, guitar, drums… he’d hand everybody copies and we’d all listen to it. And then we’d listen to them and arrange them, or re-arrange them.. and that was a first for us. So Jeff came in with his stuff and Kerry came in with his stuff, and that was what was different for us. And that allowed everybody to give input.

KNAC.COM: What was your contribution?

TOM ARAYA: My contribution? My contribution was trying to make the songs sound good! I made them all sound great! (laughs) I made them sound like Slayer! (laughs) But… actually, I contributed to three of Jeff’s songs – just helping the songs come together. I kinda did that with Kerry’s too, you know what I mean? It was… all of us.

KNAC.COM: Any release date confirmed yet?

TOM ARAYA: I keep saying the end of September; maybe the more I say it the more it’ll happen! (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Is there a chance, given the advance excitement about the new leaked songs, that the new Slayer record could go platinum - could this be the one and what would that mean to you?

TOM ARAYA: It would be awesome!

KNAC.COM: Isn’t that something you kind of want?

TOM ARAYA: It’s just another stepping stone… another achievement. It would be great… we’ll have to see. (smiles) Yeah. That would be… ‘cuz we – well, first off, you know, it’s like anything else, you want to be in a band. So I got lucky, because I hooked up with three other guys with the same thoughts. otherwise we wouldn’t have accomplished much. (smiles). First we wanted to have a single (on the early MetalBlade compilations); then we wanted to have a record… You know what I mean? Then we got… a deal with a major label… and now… (long pause) …that would be very cool. We’ve gone Gold, but… but not yet, not yet… so… (laughs).

KNAC.COM: It’s time! It’s time! The fans need to rally! But I’m wondering… do you feel that Slayer has been marginalized by the mainstream media as being "too dark" (or "controversial") to gain acceptance in spite of your Grammys?

TOM ARAYA: No… with so many people listening to satellite radio and internet radio… digital… and even though there’s a lot of listeners that can’t afford satellite - but the music’s out there. And the listeners are there. They come out to the shows, so they must be getting it from somewhere. But that never mattered to us. We just wanted to make music… as Slayer. It doesn’t bother us if we’re not… whatever the mainstream perception is, the fans know who we are. And what we do. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: You recently appeared -very briefly - in the Anvil doc ("Anvil: The Story of Anvil"): what else can you tell us about Anvil (beyond what you spoke to)?

TOM ARAYA: Yeah, yeah, yeah… very briefly! (laughs) Well, uh… they were a band that I got into, a friend of mine asked me if I’d heard of that band. And when I got into them, I was like, “Wow, they sound like Metallica!” (laughs) And the guy goes, “Well, they were around before Metallica.” And I was like, “Oh, wow, really?” That was my introduction to Anvil. So, uh… and they were friends with my buddy Ray, who, uh, lived up there in Canada. And we got to know them… and stopped seeing them… and then every now and then they would come by and do shows… every now and then. But that’s… that was what I knew about Anvil, I was like, “Wow.” And then you hear the influences. You know what I mean? So I was, well, I heard that immediately. You know? And thirty years later, they get their big break! (laughs) They get their big break – which is amazing!

KNAC.COM: They just opened for AC/DC up here in Foxboro, where the Patriots play…

TOM ARAYA: Yeah! They’re good, man. I mean… they’re good. And it’s well-deserved, after thirty years of trying to… really struggle.

KNAC.COM: It’s very Spinal Tap.

TOM ARAYA: Yeah, very; but it’s well-deserved. They stuck to their guns and Lady Luck had a little soft-spot for them. And it’s awesome.

KNAC.COM: The question I want to follow that up with is: what would we learn or be surprised to learn about Slayer if there was a documentary about Slayer?

TOM ARAYA: Wow. (pause) I don’t know. (pause) I don’t think of my life as interesting, okay? I know that this aspect of my life is interesting (gestures to the room); You know? And that in itself isn’t interesting. You know what I mean? This is… there’s no big party. Like, you gotta perform. You know what I mean? And unless you have a death-wish, you gotta get up and perform and you gotta do what you do. In my gig, I can’t call in sick. You know what I mean? If I’m sick, they’re gonna figure out how to make me well so I can perform. It’s not like anywhere else, where if you’re sick – stay home. Or go to the doctor. Here they bring the doctor to you to make you better so you can play. Right? That’s it. Even before a show, like I said, like at one point we did do that – party – but… at some point.. I don’t want to say “grow up”… but… I don’t think anybody should ever “grow up” – but at some point you have to… you… you just have to come to your senses, would be the word… or phrase. Do I want to do this or is this your lifestyle?

So there’s no big party here – even though people want to get backstage and think it’s like “Whoa!” I can tell you right now, honestly, for almost any of the other bands that are on this bill, they’re going right to their dressing rooms. Or they’re probably not even there, they’re on their bus, chilling. Hanging out. No partying going on. You know what I mean? That’s why it’s not interesting as my life, for a documentary: it would be like, this. This is what you would see. Outside of this, it’s personal and private life. I really wouldn’t want people to record it or document it. I get miffed sometimes when people tell me, “They’re going to come in and record it with cameras.” They’re gonna record? I’m like… You know? But… I don’t… it’s uncomfortable for me. This is it. I mean… when we did “Unholy Alliance,” they wanted “backstage stuff” – and none of that backstage stuff really happens. It happens… maybe at the end of the show, but by then the camera crew is packed up. You know what I mean? And the only one who really does any of that is Kerry. He’ll sit there… hang out and he’ll drink that beer and all that other stuff… You know what I mean? But everybody else in the band – Dave does every now and then… although apparently, from what I’ve heard he’s a big partier now… he’s uh… (smiles) he’s uh… he’s out and about.

KNAC.COM: You have your family here…

TOM ARAYA: Exactly. Even if they weren’t here now, I’d be in the back lounge of the bus. Reading. Just chilling. Thinking about when we’ve got to go on. And then after we’re done here… we’re out of here. I don’t want to sit here until 2 in the morning, 3 in the morning trying to get out of the parking lot. But a documentary? They might find Kerry’s life interesting. (smiles) But…a documentary about us? I don’t think so. No.

KNAC.COM: Given the tours with Megadeth in Canada and Australia/New Zealand, will the US fans be able to look forward to a Slayer/Megadeth tour in 2010?

TOM ARAYA: (laughs) I don’t think so. We’ll see how Australia goes.

KNAC.COM: Do you think that there would ever be a revival of the Clash of the Titans (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax) and would you be willing to do it? (If the money was right maybe?)

TOM ARAYA: (laughs) You know… that was something that was brought up. But that was a while ago, though. And I remember our manager bringing that up. But I don’t think so… but if they want to watch us together… (Slayer/Megadeth) they can watch us on YouTube. I’m sure somebody filmed the Canadian dates with them (Megadeth). When we do those dates in Australia, I’m sure those will be popping up. Maybe Kerry will get up on stage and play with Dave Mustaine… (mutters) I doubt that… (laughs)

KNAC.COM: You've spoken often about enjoying spending time with your family. Without betraying your privacy, what are some things that Tom Araya - husband, father - does when the band is off-cycle that we might enjoy hearing about? (i.e. Do you mow your own lawn or go to Home Depot to buy mulch? Do you cook - if so please share?)!

TOM ARAYA: One word: rancher. (laughs) That’s about it. (smiles)

KNAC.COM: Are you in your local PTA?

TOM ARAYA: No, actually, we home-school.

KNAC.COM: Oh…is that Right?

TOM ARAYA: Yeah, we home-school. Actually, my wife home-schools. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Is she a teacher… certified?

TOM ARAYA: Nope. No… we, uh… we uh… have a school that we’re signed up with. We’re working through it with the state of California. It’s cool.

KNAC.COM: Can you tell us a little about your time before Slayer as a respiratory therapist?

TOM ARAYA: Huh…. wow. Yeah, that was… I don’t know… yeah- I’d get up in the morning and deal with traffic; and then leave at three and deal with traffic. Uh… some days were pretty hectic and some days were easy. I always wanted to make sure that people that were getting treatments and didn’t need ‘em- there was no sense in billing them. So… if I felt the patients were healthy enough, not to…

KNAC.COM: Was this at a hospital or a medical center?

TOM ARAYA: Hospital, yeah; a hospital. I worked in the pulmonary department. But, yeah.. and sometimes I’d work in with the ER. I had an ER buzzer… so I’d have to go to ER. I was working at the hospital when Michael Jackson… came in… with his Pepsi… when he did the Pepsi thing... the Pepsi commercial where he burned the back of his head.

KNAC.COM: Wow. Really?

TOM ARAYA: Yeah… he was at that hospital. In the burn unit. They were, uh… no one was allowed to go on that burn floor – only one person was allowed to work with him. As far as from my department; though I never got to see him. It’s like a major burn-center. It was Brotman Medical Center. Major burn-center in Culver City. (The Burn Ward is now known as the Michael Jackson Burn Center at Brotman Medical Center)

KNAC.COM: Do you have any thoughts about his passing?

TOM ARAYA: Do I have any thoughts about it?

KNAC.COM: Well, different genre… but a fellow musician let’s say…

TOM ARAYA: That, that… (pause) I don’t think he was ready to go. I think that the doctor… uh…. fucked-up. I sincerely believe that. I don’t think he was in any… they showed too many clips of him (a few nights) before… working on putting that tour together. You know what I mean? And they had too many clips of him working on doing that tour… the production and that stuff. I mean… for a fifty year-old, for a fifty-one year-old…

KNAC.COM: Sixty is the new forty…

TOM ARAYA: Yeah… so you know… he didn’t…. I think it wasn’t his time. I seriously believe that. It wasn’t his time. And now a lot of stuff is surfacing. I mean, about his personal life… they’re showing clips of him… showing that he was a normal guy – (pauses, makes face) – with his kids. You know what I mean? So… whatever he was charged with… I don’t think he was ready to go. I think that was a major mistake and somebody messed-up.



KNAC.COM: So, uh… as far as being a respiratory therapist: is this a good career choice for people and what advice would you give to anyone seeking to go into this field?

TOM ARAYA: Respiratory therapy? A career choice for people? Yeah, I guess it’s good… if you’re working in a hospital you have to remember that you’re being exposed to germs! (laughs) So… I don’t want to say that that’s a pitfall… but the first year you’re working in a hospital, you’re always sick. But then eventually your immunity builds up and you’re no longer sick. But all the things that go on… it’s pretty dirty! (laughs) It’s pretty dirty… but that’s about the only thing that I see that’s… that’s not… But other than that, if you like helping people… if you like… saving lives… if you like knowing that you do something to better someone’s life… then that’s a job that you should pursue…

KNAC.COM: So… last question: how do you still stay so mellow?

TOM ARAYA: (smiles) This is therapy. Therapy. Stage is therapy! Yeah. You know what I mean? I yell and scream. I get all my frustrations out. You know? Even if they’re my inner frustrations. Yelling and screaming, I’m releasing all that out… and that’s… therapy! You know what I mean? (laughs) Everybody should get out and scream every now and then, you know what I mean? (laughs) Yell out your aggressions, yell out… and a lot of these songs allow me to do that. And when you get that aggressiveness out and that anger out… You know? It feels good… it’s actually very good…

KNAC.COM: So people can get mellow by coming to a Slayer show and just start yelling and screaming?

TOM ARAYA: Yeah! Yeah… You know what I mean?

KNAC.COM: It works for you…

TOM ARAYA: Yeah… yeah it does (laughs)!

    Photos by Evelyn Duncan

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