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Interview: Exodus (Tom Hunting/Gary Holt)

Pure metal...interviews

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 fingers).

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 quite amazing.

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 album.

Tom: Well, the vibe is good. Once we get back home we will write more stuff.

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 anyway.

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 more open-minded.

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 things!

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 last month.

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 swinging.

"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 like.

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 face off.

"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 stuff.

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?

Gary: Absolutely.

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.

Tom: Yeah.

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 (laughs).

OK, should we then expect to see Exodus live this coming year?

Tom/Gary: Absolutely.

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 had (live).

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) - it's great!

Gary: When they get really, really violent i smile really, really good (laughs).

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 album..

That's what I always thought...

Gary: We kind of ignored the rest of the band and me and Rick (Hunolt: Guitars) just went crazy (laughs). "Force of Habit" I would give it an 8, I think it's underrated, I think it's a great album and this one, this one goes to 11 (laughs).

What would you still like to achieve musically?

Gary: What I would still like to achieve? I'd like to get that big slice of pie at the top of the pie i've been chasing.

Back in the 80's everyone was talking about the big four Thrash Metal bands in the US. Would you like that to change and people start talking about the big five Thrash Metal bands instead?

Gary: No, I would like to make it to one (laughs).

Tom: Without taking anything away from the other bands but we are really not worried about what happens to them right now.

Gary: You have the big four Thrash Metal bands as they say but, now you can only say about two since only two of them are actually playing Thrash Metal anymore, and that's us and Slayer. Other bands out there are not making Thrash albums anymore. It's just us and Slayer. That of course doesn't mean that they are not good albums. You can still call them the big four if you want though.

I have never agreed with that though, that Testament, Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer kind of thing...

Gary: Everybody always said that the four big was Slayer, Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax.

Anthrax? What about Testament?

Gary: Testament was always loved in that second tier like us and Death Angel. You know, I'm here to take my crown back (laughs). It doesn't fit them right anyway, it was made for my head (laughs). I am the Thrash Metal dictator, and all will bow under my hard metal boot (laughs).

Tom: Benito Garolinni (laughs).

Gary: Garolai Tsaouseskou (laughs).

What made you decide that you want to become a musician in the first place?

Gary: Pussy, Pussy and beer! Anybody who says they picked up an instrument for any other reason than chicks is a liar. Gene Simmons from Kiss said the best: He said that anybody might later in life find some musical joy in it, but everybody picks an instrument up for that reason.

It's an ego boost, it's a way of coming out of your shell. It was for me, I used to be very shy at some point in my life but now I'm just an outspoken prick (laughs). I have more in common with a pervert now (laughs). I wanted to play guitar cause i wanted to be like those guys, my heroes up there. They had it all and as a kid, you know, you look up to them, like "that's what i want to be". I want to be Ted Nugent, to get all that Nashville pussy (laughs). Now I just enjoy watching people killing each other.

Just that?

Gary: Yes, it's my own chance to start a war every night.

Which artists have been your main musical influences?

Gary: In the early days we were influenced by big Hard Rock bands like AC/DC, Van Halen, Ted Nugent, Nazareth, UFO, Rainbow and Deep Purple. From Metal we had Sweet Savage, Diamond Head, Angel Witch... Tom: Venom, Mercyful Fate...

Gary: Tigers of Pan Tang, Thin Lizzy, probably the greatest two guitar bands ever was.. Judas Priest, we can't leave them out. Black Sabbath!!! Every time you bring up these kind of questions you always remember something, you don't want to forget anyone. It almost feels like you've disrespected someone, like if I had left Sabbath off, how could I have lived with myself? (laughs). Black Sabbath invented that riff, you know? I mean Tony Iommi has written more great riffs than anybody ever will.

OK Guys, and now for the last question: Would you like to give a message to your fans or to people who will come to see you live?

Gary: Bring your helmet cause you're going to need it - Helmet and steel-toed boots (laughs).

Tom: See you on tour.

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Interview © 2004 John Stefanis

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