Slayer Interview: Tom Araya Unplugged? Not Just Yet
, September 3rd, 2009 14:44
Le Homme Du Hibernia Mark Eglinton finally meets up with Tom Araya to apologise for pretending to like Dokken over Slayer. Sacre bleu!
Instead of depositing Armageddon-inducing megatons on the heart of the metal metropolis, Slayer this time elected to roll a nasty little dirty bomb — ‘Psychopathy Red’ — into a back alley, allowing its vile stench to permeate our air and offering no opportunity for aural decontamination whatsoever. Putting to one side the fact that it was, in most people’s eyes, the band’s most clinically brutal output in twenty-something years, the devious idea to air such a vital new song so far in advance of its album has meant that interest in the now imminent World Painted Blood has completely red-lined a couple of months prior to general release.
In the grand scheme of things it’s an important album, too: the height of bar set by the lead track suggests that Slayer just might have another landmark record reminiscent of their mid-80s zenith festering within them. Despite e-tickets being printed off years ago guaranteeing all band members descent into the foul pit of hell, Slayer’s recent albums — while always in character — have somehow lacked consistent bite since 1990’s Seasons in the Abyss or, in truth, even earlier.[You’re treading on thin ice Eglinton! Ed] So a return to truly top form wouldn’t be considered in any way overdue.
Recorded in parts between October 2008 and spring 2009 under the guidance of Greg Fidelman (whose resume encompasses most prominently: engineering/mixing duties on Metallica’s Death Magnetic and Slipknot’s Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses)) World Painted Red was written predominantly in the studio with full band input — as such, it boasts spontaneity bordering on the incendiary. Bassist and singer Tom Araya is as vocal as anyone when it comes to backing their music, and despite his decidedly malevolent stage presence hunched over the mic he’s actually one of metal’s nicest guys.
Firstly an admission, Tom: I lied to my parents in 1986 and told them I was going to see Dokken and not you guys.
Tom Araya: “So why did you do that?”
I felt bad listening to Reign In Blood if you must know.
TA: Really? And did you feel bad because you thought your parents would find out or just because you did?
I never told them so it never mattered, and the only way I could move on was by telling you.
TA: [laughs] OK, move on then . . .
Having heard World Painted Blood only an hour ago, I'd say it’s very obviously Slayer, but with some melody and atmospherics that are far less typical. Fair comment?
TA: Yeah there’s a new element but I think it’s fucking amazing. I mean when we were done with the record, even when we were writing or in the studio singing the songs, I was like “Wow, this is awesome.” I mean, ‘Playing with Dolls’: a song where I’m just singing. I just kind of did them that way and Jeff liked it.”
It's probably the least ‘Slayer’ song to date.
TA: Yeah, it works. When I did it I thought that it sounded really cool and my only thought was whether Jeff was going to like it as it’s his song. Then he didn’t say anything about it — he liked it, so I was like “Cool”. The other songs where I’m kind of singing are a whole new element to what we’ve done — but it still reeks of classic Slayer.
Sure. ‘Psychopathy Red’ seems to have been around forever now. Was that ready long before anything else?
TA: Yeah. That was actually recorded last year in October. Actually we recorded three songs last year. One song didn’t make it on the album but there’s three; ‘Playing with Dolls’ was the other. We finished this time around when we went in and did the rest of the album.
So those three came together really easily?
TA: Jeff had these three songs and the managers come up with these brilliant ideas. It was like “Why don’t you guys get a studio?” Then it was “Let’s record what you have.” And then it was “Let’s get a song out there and get people ready and teased up for a new album.” So we did that and ‘Psychopathy Red’ just kind of fell together and that one was such a strong and fast song we thought it would be a good one to release compared to what was being released. Compared to what was out there or being released by certain people. We thought that it would definitely make an impression and it did right?” [Laughs]
No need to mention any names [Eglinton! You’re fired! Ed] Did writing while in the studio – a first for you - add an element of spontaneity that’s been missing in the past?
TA: Yeah it was very more so because we’ve never done that. I mean we usually go in ready with however many songs we have, but this time when we recorded the first three songs we really liked working with Greg, and Greg really wanted to work with us on the new album. So we said we really needed to book some time to make sure we don’t lose him. We booked it for the beginning of the year when we were supposed to do a tour. We then said “Let’s blow that off and start recording an album.” So when we got together and started recording; Jeff had a few more songs up his sleeve, but the rest of it came together in the studio. You can hear it in the album— you can hear the fact that it was spontaneous and together and everybody had something to say about everything. It came together really quick and everything was just falling into place. Jeff would come in with a song and we’d listen to it, learn it and record it. There wasn’t any time to sit back and change anything and we pretty much did it on the fly.
As you’ve got older, and I hesitate to say more ‘adult’; have your views and ideas mellowed even a little?
TA: Hmm, not really mellowed, but we’ve grown up as songwriters. I mean if you go back and look at an album like Show No Mercy, and you look at the subject matter and what the songs were about compared to now, we’ve grown up and matured. Things are more of a reality sense — not so much devils and demons.
Isn’t it difficult being a responsible father while singing about some of that challenging subject matter?
TA: No, my kids are fans of the band — they’ve seen the band live. Our album covers: they’ve seen all that and know all that and you know,they’re two separate worlds. It’s like you when you’ve got your day time job and you do your work, then you go home and you’re with the kids. It’s no different from me. Even when I’m out on the road they come with me it’s no different; they know that the minute I’m on stage I’m in Slayer and I’m playing and singing. But I come off the stage and I’m Dad. They kind of have a grasp of what’s going on or the extent of the popularity of the band but they know me as Dad and don’t know me as anything else.
How did the tour with Megadeth go? And was there any evidence of a rift between Slayer and Dave Mustaine?
TA: You know I ran into him on two occasions, but when you see someone and if you’re a human being you respect them and treat them as human beings — they’re another living person. Other than that the only thing we shared was that we did those four shows together. You know what I mean...nothing’s really changed for me about him, I’m just waiting for him to open his mouth. [Laughs]
Yes but what is the issue?
TA: What was that?
What is the burning issue between Megadeth and Slayer?
TA: There isn’t really a burning issue; the thing is he talks a lot of shit — then he apologises for it, then he continues [talking shit]. Did you see Some Kind of Monster? That should give you some kind of idea how he is!”
OK. When Slayer’s all done, I could see you doing a Johnny Cash style acoustic covers project, produced by Rick Rubin...
TA: Wow, I don’t know if I’d do covers, I’d probably do originals.
What kind of stuff would you do? Do you like music outside of what you do now?
TA: Well I don’t know... I’d need to be in the studio and see what happens. If you mean musical interests like do I do stuff on my own? Then yes I do stuff on my own. I don’t know but they recently did a study about multi-taskers and if they’re pretty dumb they don’t get anything done! So to me focusing on Slayer is about it.
So you don’t have a Jazz fusion album coming then? Have you thought about a solo career?
TA: No. No, I don’t know what I’d come out with but it couldn’t be jazz fusion.[Laughs] It’s something I have thought about but it would be something that I’d really have to put some kind of energy into. I don’t like going 50/50 with anything. It’s all or nothing and that’s the way it should be. Focused, and you should be on one track rather than doing a million things. It’s like writing thirty songs for an album and then you pick the best. Why put your energy into thirty songs when you can put that energy into the twelve great ones.
In hindsight, would you have ever radically compromised your style for commercial gain? It must have been discussed?
TA: We’ve never discussed it and it’s something we’d never do. And we haven’t. Let’s put it this way, when we did Divine Intervention, this was the last conference we ever had with a record label where they sat us down and sold us the idea of how they wanted to do Divine, and how they were going to do this with the cover... and all these different ideas for the album. Then one guy looked at us and said “But we need a hit song.” And we said “But you’ve got eleven songs, and if you can’t find a hit in one of them than you’re shit out of luck because that’s what we’re giving you.” So we’re like saying to them, “Right, you write the fucking hit song and we’ll record it.” That shut the guy up and that was the last time we had any kind of meetings like that! [Laughs]
So monetary success is not a driving force?
TA: No, it’s not really. Well, it would be nice to have monetary success but we’re not going to go out of our way to try to achieve that— we’re going to be Slayer and you’re going to like us for what we do. We’re going to make you buy a million records!”
Is the controversy spotlight off Slayer nowadays given some bands have taken things somewhat further and appear to mean it too?
TA: I don’t really think about it and I don’t really care. Even if we were getting the attention and now we’re not, it doesn’t really matter. If we’ve got protesters, I don’t care. Someone says they don’t like it, I don’t care. No one has to like us and they’re more than welcome to hate us.
How do you replace the huge adrenaline that Slayer must give you when you’re at home and away from the band?
TA: Home’s a sanctuary. Peace and quiet is what I want there. You know it doesn’t take much to get the adrenaline going— we’re in Slayer! You start playing the music and you get a rush so there’s no shortage of adrenaline. You recharge the batteries and I enjoy that kind of tranquillity. I don’t realise how much noise goes on around me until I get home and sit outside listening to the trees. Silence...just quiet.
Ok, just confirm when Slayer will tour the UK?
TA: November/December. We’re going to be here in the Fall. We’re going to be going to Australia and New Zealand first but we’ll be coming back after that.
Look forward to that...
TA: Ok and you know what? I think you should let your parents know. I don’t think they’re going to be bothered. Let them know you kept this inside all those years...
Twenty three years later?
TA: Yeah! They would probably ask you why you waited so long. Parents are very understanding— you should know that!
World Painted Blood track by track next week