Has Slayer written her own songs
Interview with SLAYER: King is King
Three years after the death of their guitarist Jeff Hanneman, Slayers seem to have risen from the ashes like a phoenix. Her current album, Repentless ‘, has been praised by fans and the media alike and is already considered the legitimate successor to cult records such as, Reign In Blood‘,, South Of Heaven ‘or, Seasons In The Abyss‘.
The American metal veterans haven't lost any of their intensity or harshness on stage either, thanks in part to Hanneman's successor Gary Holt, a former member of Exodus and close friend of the founder, guitarist and main composer Kerry King. Above all, it is thanks to King's unwavering determination that Slayer - in contrast to the chronically ailing Metallica - continue to be one of the most energetic Thrash Metal formations in the world and delight the masses again this year.
We met with Kerry King at the Slayer gig as part of Rock im Revier in Dortmund's Westfalenhalle, had us show us his current equipment and asked him about his new role in the band. Whereby: It is actually not that new ...
Kerry, has your life changed significantly since Jeff Hanneman's death?
Kerry King: No, not particularly. I don't mean that disrespectfully at all, because his death changed my life at Slayer a lot, of course, but not that as a private person. With Slayer, Tom (Araya, singer and bassist) and I have moved even closer together. There is a song on the new album that was still written by Jeff. Another was partially recorded, but not completely finished. I hope that maybe it will appear on the next record. In this respect, his absence from the recordings has of course a certain influence on my everyday slayer life, even if I always played his rhythm guitars in the studio anyway. There wasn't much more input from his side.
Did his death shock you? Since then, have you been thinking more about how quickly life can be over?
Kerry King: To be honest, I would have loved to have learned from it how to take better care of myself. But I don't. (laughs) Well, yes, I do a little. Bad things like that happen. A year before Jeff died, my guitar technician Armand Crump died. He was just in his early thirties. I have the impression that people are dying like flies right now. We are all now reaching a dangerous age. Life as a musician is tough and exhausting, and if you don't take good care of yourself, you're more likely to bite the grass than if you've done something for your health. I think I'm somewhere in between, neither living excessively healthy nor letting myself go too much. I still drink with the boys, probably too often, but I'm part of this scene and have a reputation to defend. However, I regularly do fitness training on this tour and thus at least pay a little attention to my body.
When you say that Jeff's death has welded you and Tom closer together, does that mean: The structure within the band is different today than it used to be?
Kerry King: Well, there were three original members of Slayer before, now there are only two.
So more responsibility for you?
Kerry King: Oh yes, absolutely. Eleven of the twelve tracks on the new album are mine. Almost 100% of what Slayer is today is based on my ideas. Jeff and I were each 50% the composer of Slayer, almost all of the time. All of the band's music came from us. For Repentless, I wrote the pieces by myself, with the exception of the idea that came from Jeff. It was a Herculean task for me, but I saw it as a challenge and the new album shows that it worked.
And, Repentless ‘has consistently received rave reviews. So did the greater responsibility motivate you in particular?
Kerry King: Two years before his death, Jeff was known to have been bitten by a spider, and then I did his part too. His arm looked really terrible, so I asked myself: Can I do it alone, can I write a full album? It worked, and the mass of other tracks that we haven't even recorded yet shows that I'm up to it. We have never had so much unpublished material up our sleeve as this time. More than 50% of a new disc is already included and could be used if we wanted to. We have never seen anything like it. I'm happy about that because it means that we won't need another six or seven years to get the next record out. There are many days off on the current tour, sometimes two or three in a row. On these days I work on the new material so that I don't have to work it all up at home later.
Are you prouder of Repentless than other Slayer discs?
Kerry King: I'm very proud of it, but not for the reasons I mentioned, but because it turned out so well. I'm not proud of all Slayer's work, but I like Reign in Blood ‘a lot and am even more proud of, Repentless‘. Not because they are my songs, but because the album sounds coherent and versatile. There are fast pieces, punk numbers, heavy tracks, moody songs, everything that makes Slayer stand out, and everything is really well done. I worked very productively with our producer Terry Date, he gave the album a cool twist. Everything fits perfectly, the perfect storm that you didn't see coming.
Was Gary Holt the logical successor to Hanneman? Have you thought about other candidates as well?
Kerry King: We got Gary to help us out on the 2012 tour of Australia because Jeff couldn't be there because of the spider bite. Gary and I had therefore discussed earlier that he could occasionally help out with Slayer. You don't make a big fuss about that, so it was only internal for the time being. Gary and I are friends, and you don't send a friend to public purgatory without a pinch. When we needed him in Australia, he was there and stayed. Gary was my absolute dream candidate.
Did he have to think about it for a moment? After all, joining Slayer changes your whole life.
Kerry King: No, because he thought he should just help out for a moment. We all thought so. Who but Gary would have been a more perfect fit? I've had admiration for Gary for years. It's funny, I was just thinking about it recently: The two original Exodus guitarists now play in two out of four bands in the 'Big 4' (the 'Big 4' of Thrash Metal are Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax; Metallica is known to be played by the former Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett). Fascinating! Gary came to help out and became a permanent member of the band.
How was it with him in the studio? After all, Repentless ‘is your first collaboration.
Kerry King: It was super easy. I thought about every aspect beforehand, wondering whether I should involve Gary in the songwriting and what the fans would say about it. I talked to Tom about it. I said, "I think it would be cool if Gary did a few solos so that he doesn't feel like he's just playing cover numbers on stage." Especially since Gary takes every number to a higher level. Plus, Slayers have always been a two-guitar band. It's a great fit with Gary, he's done a few solos, which is good for the fans and for him.
So all the rhythm guitars come fromall overdubs and some of theSolos on, Repentless ‘from you?
Kerry King: Right. After all, I've been working like this for almost 20 years. That's why I don't miss Jeff's guitar playing, but rather his presence. He did great solos, but the rhythm guitars were almost always mine. As soon as I finished a rhythm part, I switched to Jeff's guitar rig and played the second track as well. Not because Jeff couldn't have played it, but because it saved time. He agreed, so we did it.
If you compare Repentless with your debut: What has stayed the same, what has changed?
Kerry King: Differences are difficult to explain. Back then on our debut we wanted to play hard, atmospheric stuff. Later songs like, Seasons In The Abyss ‘or, Dead Skin Mask‘ were already a further development, as was, When Stillness Comes ‘. Jeff, in particular, pushed such songs. For me it was quite a challenge to enforce my soft spot for the harder and more atmospheric numbers. But whenever Tom sang to it, it sounded great and typically Slayer.
So your hooks and riffs on Repentless ‘aren't that different from the ones on your debut?
Kerry King: Of course I've evolved. At the time of our debut, Jeff and I were only 19. We've both gotten better at guitarists over the years. Has my songwriting improved too? Well, that's a matter of taste. I think I've become a better composer, but some fans may see it differently. Probably the truth lies in the middle. Compared to the first album, my riffs are better, compared to the third album, in my opinion, they are on a similar level. The reason I make this music, and Jeff and I made it for years, is to find the perfect riff. Have I already found it? Maybe maybe not. Tony Iommi probably found it 40 years ago. (laughs) That's what drives us, namely not knowing the next riff and the song you develop from it. That's the most fun part.
Don't you ever worry about copying or repeating yourself?
Kerry King: Of course, and that makes things more difficult. Just think of the many pieces that weren't even written in 1983. Metallica, Black Sabbath, their songs are all based on riffs that didn't exist before and that you could have taken if they had occurred to you. In the run-up to 'Repentless' I gave myself a lot of thought, because if you write all the songs on your own, the risk is of course quite high that you will create something that is already familiar. But I think we managed to avoid this.
So you had to discard ideas because they already existed in one form or another?
Kerry King: Yes, of course. There were riffs that reminded me of the Slayer past or old Judas Priest songs. Sometimes you don't immediately know where you know something from, and a few weeks later you suddenly remember: Oh yes, I've heard that before. At this point I either discard the idea or change it. I always hope that I notice something like this before a song is released because I don't want to steal anyone.
In which phase of your career did you develop the most musically?
Kerry King: As a person, there is no specific phase, as a musician our fans would certainly say that I developed the most between 1985 and 1990, that is, during the phases of 'Reign In Blood', 'South Of Heaven' and 'Seasons' In The Abyss'. Otherwise life develops evenly. On the first five records we were still little boys, then families came along, our own children, band members dropped out, producers switched, friends lost, life changed. Of course I'm not the same as I was when I was 19, but I still dedicate most of my time to this band. Nowadays, of course, Tom and I also want to spend time with our families, which was not the case in 1983. At the end of the day, we're just trying to do justice to all sides if possible.
Does that still apply to your ambitions to develop your own guitar brand? Your BC-Rich models are more cult than ever today.
Kerry King: When I first came to BC Rich in the eighties, I really wanted a guitar that looked completely different from the regular models. That's why I came across the Warlock model. I love Les Pauls and Stratocasters, but I never wanted to play them. I wanted to show the fans in front of the stage that I was doing my own thing. So I went to the large BC Rich warehouse 22 miles from my home to buy a Warlock. But the employee tore off the price tag and said, "We want to give it to you." I was totally amazed. Every newcomer these days thinks they need to be endorsed. We just had two albums out at the time, so I wasn't expecting anything. From nobody. The BC-Rich staff showed me letters from customers looking for a guitar like Kerry King's. Feeling flattered, of course, I went home with a free guitar. Three years later I was thinking about a Flying-VStyle, so 22 frets, no whammy bar. I went to Bernie Rico (Bernardo Chavez Rico, founder of BC Rich) and asked him: “Have you ever thought about a V-Type? Only with a slightly different shape, 24 frets, with Kahler vibrato and your latest technology. ”They built two prototypes. Bernie gave the first to one of his sons and the second to me.
Do you still have it?
Kerry King: Yeah, it's the gray one I played in the eighties. That's where it all started, from then on I knew what I wanted. Then Jackson put a King-V on the market, I thought, "Hey guys, are you kidding me?" But somehow I had to laugh about it too. I felt confirmed, also because BC Rich then built the model for the broad market. At that time, Flying V hardly ever played, at most Michael Schenker with his black and white model. But Schenker was already an attraction for many back then. Sure, a lot of people hate me too, but there are also a lot of Slayer fans, and I wanted the Flying V to get a boost in popularity. I think I succeeded. When I switched to BC Rich for the second time, Bernie's second son, Bernie Rico Jr., suggested the tribal artwork to me. I immediately agreed and let the guy who designed my tribal tattoos also design my guitars. In this respect, the design is the continuation of my body art.
The phenomenon is that not only Slayer fans buy these guitars.
Kerry King: Exactly this aspect was of particular importance to me. Right from the start I wanted this guitar to stand on its own and not be perceived as a pure Kerry King or Slayer model.
But you never had the idea of starting your own business like Zakk Wylde with Wylde Audio or Kirk Hammett with KHDK?
Kerry King: No, that was never an issue for me.
Because you don't think it's a good idea?
Kerry King: I can't answer the question. Zakk is a good friend and I am guaranteed not to say negative things about him. But I have to admit that I've been thinking about your question for a long time. I met him the other day on an American TV show called "That Metal Show". I rarely see him because we are on tour all the time. Zakk was the main performer that night and always appeared before and after the commercials. It was the first time I heard his guitar, speakers, and pedals. And then as now, I don't know what to think of it. I am happy for him and I hope that he is happy with it. But I also see it from the perspective of his previous endorsers, who have supported him for years. For them it has to be like a slap in the face. So I don't know if it was a good idea.
What visions do you have? As a person and as a member of Slayer?
Kerry King: I feel like I don't have big goals anymore. I did everything I wanted to do. With one exception: I would like to play in South Africa one day. Slayers have never been there. The same goes for China, which refused us entry because of the song, Blood Red. Actually a joke with all the shit that we used to get so much that they hate us because of this song of all things.
Would you like Cuba? Keyword: Rolling Stones.
Kerry King: No, I don't care about Cuba. That sounds terrible, because I really have nothing against the country, but for me Cuba is like Florida. I'm just interested in completely different cultures. Oh yes, I forgot one wish: I would like to play a show with AC / DC one day. But unfortunately they are currently sliding from one embarrassment to the next. We played with all the other big bands, with Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden.
Last question: How can you picture the private Kerry King? Do you have a garden, do you go fishing ...
Kerry King: ... no, I don't do boring things. Sorry to everyone who loves fishing, but not even my brother and sister got me excited 40 years ago. I hate fishing. I just need relaxation and rest in my free time. To me, being at home is pure relaxation because my life as a musician is so hectic and busy.If you ask me what I do on vacation, all I can say is: my home is my vacation. For my poor wife this is of course stupid, because she sits at home and would like to experience something on her vacation. But at some point I have been on the road too long for me to travel voluntarily ...
Well understandable, Kerry, all the best for your future!
From guitar & bass 01/2017
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