Exodus, the founders of the Bay Area Thrash Metal scene, are about to
release their new studio album "Tempo of the Damned". After having
two cups of coffee and plenty of breathing exercises to calm myself
down, I met founding members Gary Holt and Tom Hunting in the Norfolk
Plaza Hotel in Paddington. With the precious help of my laptop
computer and the quite reliable "Optimus" tape recorder (cheers
Paul), I made a thirty minute trip in the wonderful world of Thrash
Metal, and found out why Gary feels like a kid in a candy store!
The last couple of years we have witnessed the revival of the Bay
Area scene: Bands like Dark Angel, Vio-lence and Death Angel are
getting back together recording new material. Exodus came back to the
music scene 12 years after their last studio album "Force of Habit".
What took you guys so long?
Tom: We were pretty much a dysfunctional mess between that time
(1992) when we actually broke up and now. We reformed in 1997: we did
the live album "Another Lesson in Violence", we did some touring, not
very much of touring actually, but every time we came home we didn't
really break up, but people would just go separate ways. A lot of
this happened because we were doing too many drugs and were not
really focusing on the music. We basically seemed to be getting lost.
So you say that the chemistry that made Exodus well known in the past
was not actually there?
Tom: More like chemicals were ruining it , you know what I mean?
(laughs). Gary (Holt: Guitars) though he had a writer's block, but
once we had removed the chemicals from the situation we were a lot
better off, the writing process just happened like that (clicks his
So when did you guys realise that what you actually wanted to do was
to get back together and make a new album?
Tom: I think that we've always wanted to write more music, that's why
I do this personally. I like the creative process of writing new
material, so you can imagine how happy i am right now (laughs). It
was starting to feel like we were just playing on the past, being
a "retro" thing, losing credibility.
In last year's tour, we played in Greece and all over Europe. We were having a great time doing that
and then we realised that we wanted to keep doing it and that's when
we started writing new material. Of course the death of Paul (Ballof:
original singer. Paul died after suffering a heart attack which was
related to years of alcohol and drugs use) made us wanna write a new
record more than ever, so that we would keep going. We decided to
pull the drugs out of this situation and things just started to flow
after that. It's a lot easier without them, you know!
I think that having to deal with the loss of a friend and continue
with your goals is quite a difficult task, but you guys managed to
pull through. I also believe that the result (being the new album) is
Tom: This album meant the world to us. We are proud of it and we are
ready to go home and write another one!
That's cool, cause we wouldn't like you guys to stick to just one
Tom: Well, the vibe is good. Once we get back home we will write more
Exodus are responsible for the creation of the Bay Area scene (in my
opinion if it wasn't for Exodus there wouldn't have been a Bay Area
scene). How does it make you feel knowing that your music has
influenced thousands of musicians worldwide?
Tom: It makes me feel good, it makes me feel proud. We, of course,
have our own influences and i think that there are some really good
bands out there like Slipknot who list us as their influence. Our
main influence was Mercyful Fate, and Ritchie Blackmore for Gary. I
think that when you play music your influences are going to come out
I think that it's really nice that you've mentioned this right now,
because in the old days (and that was the rule in Greece back in the
80's) if you were a Thrasher you would strictly listen to Thrash
Music, which is stupid if you ask me. Rock fans should generally be
Tom: Yeah, I will listen to anything. whatever moves me (It's really
strange to realise that most of the times people who create music are
more open minded and down to earth than the ones who listen to it).
What would you say was your best memory from the early days?
Tom: From the early days?
What will you be remembering after, let's say, twenty years?
Tom: Probably the first Dynamo festival, the first one that we
headlined back in 1989. That for me was the best memory. Actually all
of my most memorable shows have happened in Dynamo, cause the crowds
were huge and very receptive. It really feels good (laughs).
You have a new album coming out this February called "Tempo of the
Damned". Can you tell us a few things about the album?
Tom: We had a great time recording it. We had a great producer, Andy
Sneap (ex-Sabbat Guitarist, now well-known producer) who pulled
phenomenal performances out of all of us. It was a really fun and
comfortable working environment. A lot of it was also in the
preparation of the album. We practised for almost seven months,
practically every day before we went for the recording and that just
made it go smoother. Nobody was stressing like oh my God, what's my
part in here. The result was pretty much predetermined.
So what you are actually saying is that even a band with the
experience of Exodus will need at least seven months of practice in
order to be able to record an album?
Tom: Well, seven months is a drop in the bucket compared to the
twelve years that had gone by between studio albums (laughs), and to
come out with an OK or mediocre album. you need that amount of time.
If we did it any other way it would tell me about myself that i was
not serious about this, so, here we are (laughs).
People who have listened to your new album described it as a "Thrash
Metal dynamite" (laughs). What makes Exodus angry after all these
years? Who's on your "Black List"?
Tom: (Laughs) I think that most of the anger did channel through
Gary. He's responsible for all the anger and he wrote a lot of the
lyrics, practically all of them in fact (laughs). I don't really
know, i guess that we're that kind of band. We like the intensity, we
love the crowd's response when it's heavy and when we play together
nothing soft ever comes out of it.
How would you compare the crowd's response in the beginning of your
career and nowadays?
Tom: Since we've reformed in 1997 we've only had one US tour (???!!!)
but the European tour...The fans here were crazy, they are fanatical
about it. They were like that before we came here though. I am really
happy with the response and every time we play here they go crazy and
they also remember all the old stuff.
It's a different kind of vibe over here than I think in America.
In America they want what's new, what's now you know like
Grunge or Nu Metal. I think I will be able to judge it better when
we'll be out there playing the new stuff. I think that they're going
to like it.
The new album consists of 10 really good songs.Can you make a small
introduction for each song?
Tom: I think that it's probably better that Gary would answer that
question. There are very strong opinions about war, very strong
opinions about the state of the American government, about organized
religion which people don't actually speak out or talk about. It's
not that we're anti-American. Some of us might be anti-religion in
certain ways... You know, it's just an expression of opinions.
Back in the 80's, being able to speak your mind was always a Thrash
Metal thing as far as I'm concerned, Queensryche being the only
exception to that rule. This is also one of the main reasons why
people respect Exodus as a band - that "in your face" approach to
Tom: Yeah, I agree. We have a song in the new album called "Sealed
With A Fist" which talks about a man who's beating up his wife, and
the wife gets a gun and you know, handles the business (laughs). One
for the ladies (laughs).
The art of song writing differs from band to band. Describe the
process for the creation of an Exodus song.
Tom: I don't really know if we do anything differently than the other
bands. Basically everything usually starts with the guitar riff and
then usually gets feds me. This was the writing process that we used
for this album. We were together more during the creation of the
songs. Then of course we've made some changes to the songs as we were
writing them. I thing that the songs were a bit long on this record,
i think that there's only one song under five minutes. We had some
problems in that area when we were filming videos and stuff. All i
can say about the process is that it was easy and slow this time.
From what you've just said, we're expecting to see an Exodus video
coming out soon?
Tom: Yeah we've already made two.
Which songs are we talking about?
Tom: "War is my Sheppard" (one of the best songs in the album) was
filmed on the US Hornet which was a WWII aircraft carrier
and "Throwing Down" which we did on the studio a couple of days ago
(the interview took place on the 13th of January). With "War is my
Sheppard", it looks like we've spend 50,000$, but we didn't (laughs) -
the visuals were excellent!
At this point Gary Holt (Guitars) joins the conversation.
Gary, first of all allow me to congratulate you on the new album, I
think that it's fantastic.
Gary: Thank you
A question I already asked Tom. How do Exodus normally write a song?
Gary: It's usually quite simple, it just starts with picking up the
guitar and start banging some shit out, see what sticks. Sometimes,
some riffs i write without the guitar in hand - an idea comes and
then i try to get to a guitar as quick as i can when that happens.
Then by the time i finish writing a riff, if you could hear it when
it started, you wouldn't be able to tell that it was the same riff,
especially after all these modifications it has been through. I
always write the lyrics last. Usually i have the title, but first i
have to get the music finished and then i start putting words to it.
Does that mean that you are the main composer in the band?
Gary: Well, in the past Rick (Hunolt: Guitars) wrote some stuff, but
in this case ("Tempo of the Damned") i think i pretty much wrote
almost the whole thing.
What about the lyrics of the new album? Who wrote them?
Gary: I wrote most of the lyrics too.
I believe that "Tempo of the Damned" will become equally important to
the band as "Bonded by Blood" was in the beginning of your career.
Gary: I know, I am really proud about it.
What's really amazing is that it sounds so fresh and new and still
manages to sound so typically Exodus. I hope that the fans will
appreciate it accordingly.
Gary: I hope so too.The die-hard old-school fans loved it, the new
kids seem to love it too. It's a straight-head Exodus album and it's
very modern at the same time. Super-happy (laughs).
I think that the actual promo is making love to my CD player for the
Tom: Mine too (laughs).
Gary: That's cool (laughs).
(At this moment in time the interviewer and both the members of the
band spent a couple of minutes using strong language with references
to sexual activities which, for obvious reasons, we are unable to
pass through to you).
Based on the fact that music is the way of the artist to express
himself and give a message to the world, what do Exodus want to say
with this new album?
Gary: We want to tell them that we're back, we're angry. I hate
Christians, i hate pretty much everybody and i hope that the world
will just hate right along with me (laughs).
Who's then on the top of your Black List then?(Black List is one of
the songs of the new album).
Tom: We're equally opportunity haters (laughs).
Gary: Anybody who talks shit, who tries to stab you in the back and
tries to take what's yours from you.
You must have had plenty of bad experiences in the past in order to
say all those things.
Gary: Oh sure, that's the Exodus way you know. Everybody like wanted
to kick us when we were down but now we're back up and we're
"Tempo of the Damned" is the second album in which you use Andy Sneap
as a producer, first being the recordings of "Another Lesson in
Violence" back in 1997. What made you choose him again and are you
happy with the results of this collaboration?
Tom: We were happy with the results of the live record too.
Gary: It's the best live album, which sounded live and metal, i have
ever done. It's crushing!
Tom: Andy came out of nowhere when we were doing that one and just
said " I was born to mix this record".Then we recorded this album and
Andy completely backed it up!
Gary: Andy is more than our producer, he's like a member of this
band - he's family. We won't work with anybody else.
To me, after i listened to the promo, it sounded as if Andy was
inside your mind and knew how you guys wanted this album to sound
Gary: Oh, yeah! I mean this album owes as much to Andy Sneap as the
people playing and writing this shit!
Tom: He's as in tuned with how we would like it to sound as anybody
in the band.
Gary: He knew what he had to do and that was make this album rip your
"Tempo of the Damned" is your first album with Nuclear Blast records.
Knowing of your previous bad experiences with record labels, how
happy are you to work with them?
Gary: We are overjoyed.
Tom: I think that definitely for once we're in good hands.
Gary: Tickled pink (laughs).
Tom: All the departments of this label are behind us, so far things
are looking good.
Gary: They're really working hard, they believe in this band and they
loved the album. They are all fans and they know how to market this
Which is actually very important, especially since in the old days
people in the music business were just after the money and knew
nothing about Metal.
Gary: Yeah, they (Nuclear Blast) showed us "all due respect" and they
earned our respect just by how well they treat us, and by everything
they've been doing for this album. It's going to be really good.
So, hopefully we're not just talking about a "one album, one tour and
we're out of here" kind of thing.We are to expect more things from
Exodus in the future?
Tom: We want to go home and write another one (laughs).
Gary: I already have a bunch of riffs.
You have recently toured Europe with Nuclear Assault, Agent Steel,
Grave and some other bands...
Gary: Occult, Callenish Circle...Prospect, God Dethroned.
Would you say that this tour was successful for Exodus? Were you
satisfied with the results?
Gary: Well, some of the shows went really good and we were really
packed. The tour did a kind of bump in the road when we got to
Germany. The bottom line is that when we booked this tour we hoped
that the album would be out at the same time...
So that was the original plan then...
Gary: Yeah, but then it became too late to cancel it so we viewed the
tour as a promotional tour and it worked in that sense.Other than
that it was really good, i had a great time.
Tom: I thought it was awesome. There were nine bands at the bill when
we first started and that was a bit extreme, you know, to try to
send a festival out there. It wasn't that any of the bands played
bad, but once it got scaled down a little bit...
Gary: It became the tour was losing money and decisions were made
that weren't our decisions to make and we had to live with them, even
if we were not happy. Like Agent Steel went home cause the promoters
had to cut down costs and the bands had to get paid, so unfortunately
Agent Steel made only seven shows which was a drag cause they are old
friends of ours..
And a great band too.
Gary: Super tight live. What really sucked was that Bernie (Guitar
player) had problems with his passport, he still has a Philippines
passport, so he missed like the first few days of the tour, and they
played with just one guitar (!!!) and then by the time he gets out
here they did something like two or three shows and then he went
home, i mean he went through a nightmare in order to get here!
So still after all these years and all those people involved with the
Heavy Metal scene, bands still face the same kind of problems like in
the early 80's!
Gary: It's never going to stop. It's the nature of the beast
OK, should we then expect to see Exodus live this coming year?
Gary: I don't know exactly when because our tour scheduling is
totally up in the air right now - We don't know if we're doing the
States first, or coming here first. The only show we have booked at
all for this year is "Sweden Rock".
Tom: We hope to get all the festivals.
Gary: We have a bunch of festival offers but that's the only
confirmed show - period. Were going to be busy this year.
How does it feel to be playing live for the last 20 years? Do you
feel the same urge to go on stage and play as you did in the
beginning of your career?
Tom: Even more so, i mean we sound better as a band now than we ever
Gary: I love it, that's the only reason why i do this. I could never
be a studio musician, i have to go out and play live. I got to watch
people killing each other (laughs).
Tom: We're Huns.
Gary: Better than the ultimate fighting championships (laughs).
Tom: We love basking in the mindless agitation of the crowd (laughs) -
Gary: When they get really, really violent i smile really, really
You have reached certain levels of success throughout the years, the
name Exodus is heard all over the world. Are you satisfied with that
or do you feel that the band deserves bigger recognition? I
personally believe that the band deserves so much more...
Gary: Yeah, sure, absolutely.But how could i not be satisfied with
what we've got? I'm not going to take it for granted. I spent most of
my adult life living like a child - a kid in a candy store - and i
know that many people would cut up a foot to be in my position. It's
satisfactory - of course i want more and i hope to get more, but i've
had a good life.
I've travelled all over the world and I've got paid
to do it. My father hasn't travelled to many places i have and he was
in the military for many years. He had a real sergeant and i had
professional baby sitters, you know, road managers... Gary don't
drink too much, Gary get in the bus, Gary, Gary, Gary, here's your
boots, here's your food (laughs)...
Tom: What other occupation can you do something you love for two
hours a night and the rest of the day...
Gary: If two hours (laughs)...Forty or maybe forty five minutes and
the rest of the day is yours to fuck around.
Tom: You're riding around with a bus full of toys and us as kids and
the world is a toy.
Gary: It's like the special Olympics of Metal (laughs).
Tom: It's fun.
Yeah, but i mean that there must have been times when you actually
felt like "Oh, I've had enough of this, I really want to go home"?
Gary: Only when we broke at the first time when the industry just
kind of "showered" me, when my daughter was really young. It's harder
now because I'm older and i have to take better care of myself. When
i was twenty five, thirty i could just drink everything inside every
night and not have any problem. If now i get really drunk one night,
it takes me two to recover (laughs).
Tom: Mortality, you can't escape it (laughs)!
How would you rate the Exodus albums - scale 1 to 10?
Gary: "Bonded by Blood" - 10, "Pleasures of the Flesh"... an
8, "Fabulous Disaster" - 9, Impact is Imminent....7
That's a tricky one...
Gary: I would give it a ten for guitar playing, it's a guitar players