Words & Pix: Cameron Edney
Latest release: World Painted Blood (American/Sony)
Few bands in history have made such an impact in their genre or faced as much criticism for album art and lyrical content than Slayer. Either in spite or because of such negative publicity this band has become one of the biggest and most influential metal groups of all. After an astonishing thirty year career, Slayer continues to play sold-out shows to one of the most loyal fan bases in music. Before they embark on yet more Big Four shows, they will be returning to Australia once again this month to take part in the Soundwave Festival. Cameron Edney caught up with Slayer's legendary guitarist Kerry King to discuss the upcoming tour, his love for Australian wildlife, the Big Four and future plans.
Q: Hey Kerry, it’s fantastic to be speaking with you today. Congratulations are certainly in order. You have once again been nominated for a Grammy Award. You must be pleased to be in the running once again?
A: It’s becoming old news [laughs]. When it’s all said and done, I might be, but I’m not a big believer in the "metal section" of what the Grammys are about. I think it’s an afterthought and it’s a little bit retarded.
Q: Slayer has been together for thirty years now and has been nominated for, and won, many awards during that time. Do you get caught up in that side of the industry, the chart success, award ceremonies etc or would you much rather try and avoid that and focus on the music?
A: Yeah I’d say that, this is just a part of our business that happens to come around to thinking that we’re good enough to vote for as far as Grammys go. But that’s not why we make our records.
Q: As a long-time Slayer fan it’s fantastic to see you returning to Australia this month for the Soundwave Festival. You must be pleased to be returning so quick after your last tour?
A: I’m totally happy man. I wish with every album we could do Australia twice. It’s a place I truly enjoy going. The wildlife is so unique there, it’s awesome. I think we’re only doing the festivals. We already played Australia, I think we’re playing most of the cities that we played on our own tour.
Q: How did you become involved with the festival, was it just as easy as a phone call or was there more to it?
A: That’s a part that I really don’t deal with so I don’t really have an answer for ya! It goes through our manager and whoever is putting the festival together, then if we can logistically make it. There wasn’t so much politics this time but just getting everybody in line to where it could happen.
Q: You’re certainly no stranger to touring Australia. The shows aside, what do love about touring here?
A: I’m a snake breeder and I specialise in Australian pythons so that’s extra special for me. I think it’s a gorgeous country and I think the people there are cool, and I’m not just saying that because I’m talking to you, I truly believe that. I love going down there.
Q: Let’s talk about the Aussie Slayer fans… You’ve played all over the world, how do our fans shape up when compared to the crowds in Europe and the States?
A: I think in any major city people are chaotic and crazy! I remember when we did Perth for the very first time; my wife was with us for that tour. I can’t see everything from the stage and she was telling me that one of the guys in the crowd had dreadlocks and lit his hair on fire and was hanging from the ceiling. That’s pretty crazy. I think Australia holds their own.
Q: The last Australian tour was alongside Megadeth and Sydney fans were treated to a very special one off Reign in Blood show. What memories do you have from your last visit?
A: Actually, I have a bad one 'cause Tom’s voice went and we had to cancel a show. Hopefully we’ll be playing close enough to where people that wanted to see us last time will get the opportunity to see us. Cancelling shows… it sucks but he couldn’t have performed anyway, it would have been a lousy show. It’s one of those horrible things that happen once in a while.
Q: Kerry, last year’s Big Four shows were amazing and it’s opened the gates for more shows this year, including headlining the U.K. Knebworth Festival. With all the success that’s surrounded the tour and now these new shows, do you see any plans for the Big Four to travel the world, playing shows in the States and of course here in Australia?
A: I think they’re just doing gigantic ones right now. The UK Knebworth Sonisphere show will have 100,000 people there. I think that’s all they’re looking to do right now. I don’t want to say that it’s being tested, but they’re just doing a big one here and there. I’m hoping myself that it becomes a tour and gears up to tour the world for six months… that would be great!
Q: Over the years you’ve had the pleasure of sharing the stage with many amazing artists. While on the road who’s given you the best advice and what was it?
A: I don’t know… people are usually scared of me [laughs]. I really don’t think any of my idols really gave me advice cause when I met them I’d already been touring for ten years. The thing for me was getting over my fan hang-up for some of my heroes, like the Priest guys and Sabbath. Tony Iommi was the last one. I finally got over the hump; he’s the nicest dude ever but it’s fuckin' Tony Iommi! What am I going to say to him? I think advice was just hands on for me. Every year you find out something you didn’t know and you incorporate that into how you live on the road.
Q: Thirty years on it’s obvious that when you hit the road you sometimes have to leave loved ones behind. That aside, what do you love and hate most about touring these days?
A: Playing is the best… the worst by far is travel. It doesn’t matter if you're first class or if you charter your own plane. We’ve done everything and sometimes you’re put into situations where if you didn’t have a chartered plane you didn’t make it to the next show. It doesn’t matter how coached you are, it just wears you out.
Q: Kerry, I wanted to talk to you a little about recording and studio life… it’s been a little over a year now since World Painted Blood was released and still fans are raving about the album. Looking back over the process is there anything you would have changed?
A: No, I think that record came out great!
Q: Since the album’s release there’s been a lot of speculation that this could be the last Slayer album we hear, from misquoted interviews we heard these could be Slayer’s last shows. Do you see the band returning to the studio anytime soon to make another album?
A: I’m in the middle of about four months off and I recently got a couple of new guitars, so that always inspires me to pick up and do something. We haven’t talked about it but everyone’s into doing another one… it seems like it. I want to make some use of my time off and make up something hopefully for a Slayer record. Slayer’s record contract is up so we either re-sign with American or look for someone else.
Q: With so many years of writing and recording under your belt, as time goes on, does it become more difficult or easier to put yourself into that mind-set for writing for a new album?
A: I think the mindset's easy but I also think it’s difficult, 'cause since the last time you’ve had to make up songs, you’ve already made thirteen more. Every time you make up stuff its cool to sound like yourself but you can’t sound like things you’ve done in the past ideally, that’s the difficult part.
Q: I would imagine having recorded so many albums now that trying to find that fine line could be one hell of a gruelling process!
A: Yeah, but I think that’s why people are liked. That’s why we like AC/DC, that’s why people like us. They're not the exact same albums, but it sounds like us, it sounds like AC/DC That’s why you get a fan base, cause people feel they know what you’re going to put out and know it’s not going to suck!
Q: Let’s go right back to the beginning for a moment. When every band starts out they hope to have the chart topping albums, the world tours and so on. Did you ever think that all these years later you would still be going, still selling out all over the world. Looking back, was that the goal for you?
A: Looking back… I think you have to be lucky to be in the right place at the right time and once you get that deal you have to continue to be good. When you start out it’s pretty much getting noticed and of course as a kid you’re fearless and you’re invincible and you think you’re gonna make it.
Q: Kerry, you lead a wonderful lifestyle playing music and seeing the world. Are there days where it all seems surreal to you?
A: Not so much, but when you put in perspective that Reign in Blood is 25 years old this year you go, "Holy shit, I’ve been doing this a long time!"
Q: Slayer is a band that’s really stuck to the roots of the thrash genre. You never really strayed away like some bands have done over the years. What’s the secret to the band's longevity? These days we’re lucky to see a band stay together for two to three years. Why do you think Slayer have outlasted so many other artists?
A: Well the front three people never changed and I think that’s important. You’ve gotta have a nucleus of people where you never wonder who is going to be on-stage. As far as a band thing I think that’s important. I don’t mean that as a shot on Megadeth but at the end of the day Megadeth is Dave Mustaine and that’s it. It’s whoever Dave decides to play with on this record. Could you imagine watching Slayer without me, Jeff or Tom? It just couldn’t happen! That’s something to be said there, cause we’re all irreplaceable. The last few years I’ve noticed people in bands are almost interchangeable. I’ve seen some of my friends stay home because their wives were going to have a baby and they’d have somebody replace them when they play live, and I think… how can you fuckin' do that?
Q: Just before we wrap it up, Slayer are back in town this month for the Soundwave Festival, you have more Big Four shows on the way. What else is on the cards?
A: That’s the next thing we do actually, so I get to see all of American football run its way out. I know us and Megadeth are doing Europe before the Big Four shows. I would imagine we will be playing through 'til the summer.
Q: Kerry, I want to thank you again for your time today, it’s been a true pleasure. Do you have any last words for our readers?
A: Not really! I’m fuckin' stoked to be comin’ back two times on one record. Hopefully I’ll have some days off and will be able to kick back and enjoy some of that great outback hospitality.