"I really canít care whether someone likes me or not. I am doing what I want to do, and every last one of them would cut off their testicle to do what I do."
With the bandís latest record, Shovel Headed Kill Machine, thrash metal titans Exodus seem to be leading the tide and revival of thrash metal. Tempo Of The Damned , proved to be the resurrection of a band primarily known for thrashing and having fun. Although the band has not lost their fundamental principles, aggression and fury have been added to the bandís music arsenal. With a nearly entirely new lineup, including Paul Bostaph [Slayer, Testament] and primary song writer Gary Holt, Exodus is leading the new tide of thrash metal, comprised of both their old friends in Death Angel and Megadeth, and of course with the new crop of thrash bands worldwide. With 2005 nearing a close, the year could not have ended with the release of the most crushing album, Shovel Headed Kill Machine.
Alexi Front: Tell me a bit about how the process for the new album, Shovel Headed Kill Machine differed from the previous album, Tempo Of The Damned.
Gary Holt: Well with Tempo Of The Damned Andy Sneap was invaluable as far as having someone there to push me. But I am in the control room the whole time and Andy and I see eye to eye on everything as well. I have been doing this long enough also so that it is at a point where I know what I want. Production isnít really rocket science, it just knowing what you want people to do and getting the performances and handing it off to Andy to work his magic on it. I basically produced or co-produced every Exodus album whether I get credit for it or not.
Alexi: How do you think the product differed this time around from Tempo Of The Damned. What sets Shovel Headed Machine Kill apart from Tempo Of The Damned? Is there any more of a connection you have to this one because you produced it one hundred percent?
Gary: No, not really. I love working with Andy, but I just know what I want and itís cheaper to have me do it [laughter]. But I love working with Andy and there have been times when I missed having him in there to help me out there, especially with his engineering expertise. I wouldnít say this album is more personal; it is just angrier and more aggressive. I had to overcome a few more obstacles which always inspires me. I work better when I have my back against the wall.
Alexi: In comparison to the past Exodus albums, would you consider this one to be the most aggressive one and the best one production wise?
Gary: Iíd say it is the most aggressive I would say for sure. It is pretty raw also, more so than Tempo Of The Damned. I kind of wanted that really because Tempo Of The Damned is super polished and sounds amazing. The both share a lot of similarities. Iíd rank this one second in the catalog just because I will never rank anything above Bonded By Blood.
Alexi: When some people say that an album losses feel because the production is so good and the raw feeling disappears, what do you think of that?
Gary: Not necessarily, I like my shit to sound great. The better it sounds, the better it sounds loud. It should always be as tight as possible. This album is a bit more raw because of the way we recorded it. We had less time to record this album than we did for Tempo Of The Damned. There were times when we were going for it because we had to get it done. We really pushed the envelope with this one and just flew through it. We made shit happen quick. A lot of people say drums may sound too produced, well I want them to sound like canons. I want them to sound great, the last thing I would want to do is make an album that sounds like it made it on 1987 technology. I never want to do that, I want it to sound great, I want it to sound better than everybody elseís shit.
Alexi: Tell me a bit about the cover art. You talk about the drums sounding like canons, you have a piece of artillery right on the front.
Gary: That is a question I really should know the answer to. The artwork was done by a guy named Anthony and we sent him a rough idea and what he came back with on the first draft was exactly what we wanted! It envisioned the entire thing! It is the best album cover we have had and it has a great vibe to it.
Alexi: Itís got a bit of a death metal vibe to it also.
Gary: Yeah, and I like that! I like artillery, I like skulls, I have the best of all three worlds.
Alexi: Tell me a bit about how each of the new guys got into the group, starting with Paul Bostaph.
Gary: Oh totally! When Tom [Hunting, drums] had his mental break down, the first name that came to mind was Paul. The thing was that I didnít know if he had any other projects going on at the time. I got in touch with him and as luck would have it he didnít. He wanted to come jam, so he came up and we jammed. Things clicked right away. Tom, leading up to his initial breakdown, was already dealing with his issues, but was keeping it to himself. This was before he believed he was dying. He was battling me on tempos a bit. He didnít want it to be as fast as I did.
Alexi: He couldnít have done ďDeathamphetamineĒ in that kind of condition.
Gary: Well, I jammed that on Tom too, but when he started getting worse and before it got bad, ďShovel Headed Kill MachineĒ was half the speed it was when I ended up playing it with Paul. So when Paul asked if he could put some double bass in the songs and I said, not at all! [laughter] You play it that fast, sure I dream double bass. I let him play what he wanted.
Alexi: Tell me a bit about how Lee Altus joined the band.
Gary: Well when Rick [Hunolt, guitars] quit the band, Lee was the only person I had in mind. He is one of my oldest friends and one of the best guitar players I have ever known. So I never considered anyone else, I just called up Lee and he told me he had been waiting twenty years to join the band anyways. He is here and it is perfect.
Alexi: How have people accepted the new album?
Gary: They love it! The reviews have been off the hook. People are saying it is better than Tempo Of The Damned. Of course you have the few nay-Sayers, but they are usually people who arenít fans anyways. Every other review I have read, the people have been blown away. With Tempo Of The Damned, it is a great album, but it was held by low expectations. People expected Exodus to get back together and make a mediocre album and just be another band well passed their prime making an album of re-hashed eighties thrash and then going out and tour, playing only two songs from it and living off their past successes. I am not about that. I am about making killer new albums and not living off past albums. This album here, with all the problems, people didnít expect it to be this good, especially with all the problems. You should never doubt me because I will shut you up. Because I am that kind of guy, I work better when people question your abilities.
Alexi: I think that especially the label has put you as the face of Exodus and how do you feel when someone criticizes something so personal to you?
Gary: I donít care. I donít expect people to love me. People donít have to love my band to be my friend, thatís not the type of person I am. I donít give a fuck, love me or hate me. There was a time when we were metal darlings, but now with the internet, people love me and people hate me. I really canít care whether someone likes me or not. I am doing what I want to do, and every last one of them would cut off their testicle to do what I do. These little kids sitting behind their computers talking shit, it is like dude, I have forgotten sex with more women than these kids will ever have. I have had more fun and visited more countries than they will ever have the luxury to and I get paid to do it. So I tell them, fuck you, I donít care if you like me. So long as there are people who do like what I do and support what I do I will keep doing it because I am having fun. If you donít like it thatís fine. I donít expect a fan of Stratovarius to like Exodus, and I donít expect and Exodus fan to like Stratovarius. When we were starting out, people supported all the forms of heavy music and now it is so alienated. I love black metal and I love death metal, but now kids are close-minded.
Alexi: I think that the close mindedness comes with categorization and putting little labels on different bands. You couldnít put two bands in a category and say, ďI only like Amon Amarth for example.Ē
Gary: I love Amon Amarth!
Alexi: I love Amon Amarth also, but throw Iron Maiden into their own category and people screw themselves over out of close mindedness.
Gary: Well if you go over to Europe, you can see the same people loosing their minds over Saxon as they do with Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth, and The Haunted. All fantastic bands. Here in the states everyone says they like only a few bands and only those bands. It is getting better.
Alexi: The internet is creating a dichotomy. People are close minded because they are exposed to so much of one thing, say power metal. At the same time, there are opportunities to expand into so much stuff.
Gary: There is good and bad to it. The internet also allows cowards to talk all the shit they want. People who would never say these things to my face, because they will get hurt. I am not by nature a violent manÖyes I am [laughter]. I am cool. A good example of internet. I have read reviews, say on Blabbermouth they are talking, some dude says the album is great and another guy says he met me and that I was an asshole. I am completely nice to everyone and I am the most open person to my fans. I am more active on my own message board than most people in any band. But, you get some guy who was wasted out of his brain, obnoxious, bad breath, drunk, and drooling, and I donít want to talk to him. All he remembers is that I didnít want to talk to him. But he doesnít remember he was fuckiní idiot. Whatever, it doesnít matter that much to me. I want to have fun, and I wouldnít be doing this if I werenít having fun, that is why I quit in 1993.
Alexi: What exactly happened between 1993 and Tempo of The Damned?
Gary: Well in 1993 I quit because I wasnít having fun. It had become too much of a business and a bad one at that. I had a brand new daughter at home and it was a no brainer for me. I chose to walk away. In 1997 we did the reunion with Paul [Baloff, vocals] and that was great and we planned on making a new album, but my marriage was on the rocks, so I decided to step away from it for awhile. We never actually broke up. Some people say we reunited and then were done, no that isnít the case. We were just separated and in 1997 I was able to come back and play. Then with drugs, Paulís death, more drugs, and things were a mess, it wasnít the right time. It wasnít till Tempo Of The Damned, and that was only because I was clean. I wouldnít have been able to do that album if I was still on dope.
Alexi: There has been a huge change of lifestyle on the road from the early days till today?
Gary: Well I still like to drink, but drinking wasnít my demon. I drink, I get drunk I get up and a fall down, no problem. But methamphetamine was our demon and we always did the shit. But there was a time when we did the drugs and the drugs didnít do us. Unfortunately that still is the case for Rick. I tried for two and half years, and I will be clean for three years in December, and I tried the whole time to get Rick to follow me. We could just never do it.
You have to do it for yourself. Some people can do it and others have trouble. Some people are weekend warriors, they will work all week and then go out and do a few fat bumps of speed and they go out and party on Saturday night. Some people smoke up an eight ball. Whatever, it is a mess and itís awful, sometimes you need to hit rock bottom before you can get out.
Alexi: What drove you to get clean?
Gary: Well, it had nothing to do with the band, I just didnít want to follow Paul. The other four friends I know have all died from the shit. A lot of people donít know one person who has died from the shit. I know five, all where my best friends. It is a life choice, a choice to live. I got my life back. When I was getting high, I could sit in a room with some of the finest gear in the world and the most beautiful guitars and Iíd play them for five minutes and then put them down to do more dope. Now I donít ever want to put them down.
Alexi: What was it like to tour with Dave Mustaine and Megadeth last fall?
Gary: It was great! Dave has been a friend of mine since the early 1980's and it was great to reconnect with him. We had a great time. I owe a debt to Dave for having the balls to take us out on tour because not a lot of people do.
Alexi: Here is an open ended question. Why do you think thrash metal started in San Francisco?
Gary: I think it started in San Francisco because the bay area was far and away the first location in the United States to be hip to all the great metal coming from Europe. New York, Chicago, LA, all those places had no idea who Angel Witch, Diamond Head, Tygers of Pan Tang, Venom, and Sweet Savage were. We were the first to get into it. We were doing Iron Maiden covers when everyone thought they were originals playing backyard parties. People in the bay area knew who Iron Maiden was. We took that influence along with the classic metal like Black Sabbath and MotŲrhead. We were also into the early 1980ís British hardcore punk. Priest and all that stuff also. The bay area, especially largely due to Rampage Radio run by Ron Quintana, was listening to that stuff before anyone else in the states.
Alexi: So it was that and the network of tape trading. How involved were you in that?
Gary: I would send people an occasional tape of our shows. I have known people have shown me their lists of over 300 live shows on tape. They were all categorized by time, length, where they were from, quality of the audio, all that. I was never much into it.
Alexi: How is the internet like or not like?
Gary: The thing about the tape trading was that it didnít hurt album sales. You are trading live bootlegs and stuff like that. It is a double edge sword also because the internet is great for unknown bands to be discovered. People are going to bootleg and people are going download; there is nothing that can be done about it. It is here to stay. Makes me wish that sometimes all we had were 8-tracks and LPs, but albums get leaked. Shovel Headed Kill Machine leaked and Tempo Of the Damned leaked, there is nothing you can do about. It hurts you if your album sucks, fortunately, none of ours have. It can work for you by building a buzz around how good the album is. Someone downloads an advance copy and say it sucks, it is going to hurt you in the first week of sales.
Alexi: How are things with Nuclear Blast?
Gary: Great! WE put them through hell in the last year with all the member changes. By the time I see them in Europe the guys in Germany will have gray hair. But we love them and they have done nothing but great things for us.
Alexi: Compare Rob Dukesí vocals and the vocals on past records?
Gary: I donít think there is any comparison really between him and Zetro [Steve Souza], he is much better. Zetro did a good job on Tempo Of The Damned, but there are a lot of things that he does on the record that annoy me, like the Bon Scott love shout thing. But that is what Andy and I went out of our way to minimize on the last album, and that is why he went over so well. He did a good job, incorporated some other elements into it, but he left a lot of that out. I think that Rob has a lot more in common with Paul than Zetro at times.
Alexi: In some ways, the Bon Scott thing is something you leave to be someone elseís signature. You have to find yourself as a vocalist really.
Gary: Canít eliminate what someone else did because you have to pay homage to them, but you canít milk it. You put your own spin on it.
Alexi: Are you planning to re-record anything?
Gary: Before Tom and Rick left the band, we were planning on re-recording Bonded By Blood with different guest singers. We had a lot of really great singers lined up to do it, but I would never do it without Tom and Rick. That would be wrong of me to do it by myself.
Alexi: How do you do the setlists for this tour? How do you manage to balance all the old stuff and the new material?
Gary: It is hard [laughter]! We are doing almost everything from the new album that is what I am here for, to make new albums, not rehash the old stuff. I am not playing ďToxic WaltzĒ tonight because I am sick to death of that song. I would happy to never play that song again even though tons of fans like it. I have been thanked actually for not playing it because it is overplayed. It is a great little thrash anthem, but it is not what the band is about anymore. We are about thrashing, fury, and aggression.
Alexi Front (firstname.lastname@example.org)
We'd like to thank Alexi for submitting this interview, to the Exodus camp, and to at Nuclear Blast Records.