Interview: Tom Araya of Slayer
Thu, 06 Aug 2009 14:35:38
Slayer are an eternal source of musical mayhem.
They've injected their classic vitriol into this summer's installment of The Rock Star Mayhem Festival, giving some girth, gusto and authority to the package tour. Playing for an hour right before Marilyn Manson, Slayer have been simply immolating and impressing crowds across the United States all summer. The tour hasn't wound down yet either, and there's no rest for the wicked.
Slayer singer/bassist Tom Araya took some time in between making mayhem to talk to ARTISTdirect.com about Slayer's forthcoming epic World Painted Blood, their current tour, serial killers and the real witching hour…
You've done OZZfest, Tattoo the Earth and Extreme Steel. What separates Mayhem?
Easy—there isn't another summer tour going on right now [Laughs]. That's what separates it from the other ones. It's the only one left. How can I compare it?
Has your experience been different on this tour from those other packages?
Yeah, this one has actually been a really good experience. There's a good chance it's because of the people we've got working with us in our own little circle. OZZfest was organized. Mayhem is really well organized. The organizers put together a really strong metal bill. They purposefully and intentionally wanted to get the audience that they got, which is a huge metal audience [Laughs]. The second stage has really good up-and-coming bands that kids want to see. Some of the OZZfests didn't have a conglomerate of bands in a certain style of music. They tried to get a variety. In some cases it worked and in some cases it didn't. OZZfest started off as a great idea, but it kind of lost its momentum. This tour is just a gathering of metal bands.
Mayhem is very decidedly metal.
That's what I was getting at. This tour is very focused! It's like a focus group [Laughs]. It's doing really well. The attendance that it's gotten blows my mind. We've been doing capacity crowds up to sell-out crowds, which is really cool.
Would you say Slayer has mastered art of the minimalist stage setup with one or two really cool props? All you needed at Mayhem was the flaming pentagram.
We go on the philosophy of "less is more." With using pyro, we were afraid of where to use it and how much, but it's worked out really well. We don't really need a lot. The music in this band has always done the talking. All the lights and the flames are little extras.
You play a varied setlist too. It includes the classics that people have to hear, but you add in songs like "Jihad."
Looking at the set the other day I felt it was a solid cross section from the very beginning of our career until now. There are a few records missing in between, but there's a very big cross section of songs that we play. We only have an hour to play. We're not very big on trying to pick a different setlist every night. We like to hit you in the face and then leave.
Well, if you didn't play "Angel of Death" and "Raining Blood" there would most likely be a riot.
Oh yeah, I know [Laughs]. That's exactly it. A signature note to our career is a less than two minute song [Laughs].
Slayer fans are so rabid that if they didn't hear those songs they would probably burn the venue down.
We're well aware of that [Laughs].
Keeping the setlist constant is a safety precaution.
Yeah, we make sure that certain songs are played. As far as adding new songs every night, we'd rather focus on the staple songs. The better we get at them, the tighter and faster the set gets. It makes for an exciting show.
Speaking of speed, new songs "Psychopathy Red" and "Hate Worldwide" maintain Slayer's traditional speed and intensity.
Everybody is going to love the new album. It's awesome. It's very classic Slayer. It's everything you want to hear in a Slayer album. You won't be disappointed, let's put it that way.
Does World Painted Blood continue Slayer's storytelling tradition?
It does [Laughs]. The title track is actually really cool. It's the one song that I can't wait for everybody to hear. There are a few tracks on there I can't wait for the world to experience, but the title track is just big [Laughs].
What was the genesis of it?
Shit, it fell together like a lot of the songs did on this album. We had the music, and then we started working out the parts. Jeff brought in words, and he kept bringing in words. I offered some words and lyric ideas. There are a lot of dynamics in the song. I think everyone is going to enjoy it. It's a very big song. That's all I've got to say [Laughs].
What's the story behind "Psychopathy Red?"
We recorded that one last year in October with two other songs. That was the song that initiated the idea of staying in the studio and recording as opposed to doing a tour in January and February. "Psychopathy Red" was the first one we recorded, and it just fell together. Boom, it was done! We had it done in less than a week. We figured that we should just work on a whole album. The bulk of material came out when we were in the studio while we were recording, which is new for us.
Was "Psychopathy Red" the album's catalyst?
Yeah, that one sparked it. That's about a Russian serial killer named Andrei Chikatilo. He came out in the '80s around the same time that Jeffrey Dahmer and an Englishman by the name of Dennis Nilsen were doing what they were doing—you know what I mean? Dahmer and Nilsen were doing the homophobic thing, and this Russian guy was doing the little kid thing. All three were killing and eating their victims. We came out with a seven-inch vinyl for "Psychopathy Red." All of the record and song information is in Russian. It's pretty cool.
Are there other serial killers on World Painted Blood?
Actually, there's just one. The other songs are written in the first person—in the eye. They're not particularly about a person or a specific serial killer.
Would you ever want to take these characters and write a book or movie to accompany the music?
I haven't really thought of that [Laughs]. We've had friends suggest ideas and stuff like that though.
Do you watch a lot of movies while you're writing?
It depends on the movie. Sometimes if I'm writing on a subject and I happen to watch a movie that deals with that subject, things will spark. I'll write scenes of what I see and try to describe them the best way I can. Books do that too. Jeff wrote about Unit 731, which was a Japanese military medical unit that did experiments on people to judge different things. A subject like the philosophy and the theory behind frost bite will inspire me—different ways to survive frost bite. You look these up on the Internet. You want to read up on it and make sure that what you're singing about is what you're trying to convey. You have to do a little reading [Laughs].
It always seems like Slayer records require some research.
Oh yeah! It's good research because I'm learning! In the middle of all that I'm learning. You're teaching the fans something too [Laughs]. They'll go, "Wow, what's that?" Then they'll research the true story and all of the disgusting details.
Slayer has created its own myth. Kids can still pick up Hell Awaits or Reign In Blood, delve into them and ask questions.
There are definitely stories behind a lot of our songs.
That's probably why you have such devout and crazy fans.
[Laughs] I don't know! That isn't why we have crazy fans. When we put out our first record, Show No Mercy, on Metal Blade, it tripped the label out because we had sold so many records. We sold something like 16,000 copies, which blew their minds. They immediately wanted another record, so we did the Haunting the Chapel EP. We didn't have quite an album but we had an EP. To me, it was surprising when we had such a strong response to the first album. It blew my mind. Right out of the gate, we sold quite a bit. I guess at the time it was unheard of for Metal Blade because they immediately wanted another record. They got the EP, and then we gave them Hell Awaits. It was the same thing with Reign In Blood. Right away it sold a lot of records, and the response we got was really surprising.
Being a father, do you need to get into "Slayer Mode" before you go on stage or in the studio?
That's something I've always done. My life hasn't changed at all since I had kids. Before we go on stage, we have a one-hour stage call. That one-hour is when I start trying to get my mind set and get focused. I'm not really amping myself, but I go through everything. I hope I don't forget words. In that hour, I prep. Jeff and Kerry warm up their fiddle playing then. They stretch. They headbang while they're practicing. We give ourselves that hour. It's the time we use to psych up and get ready for the show.
So it's the witching hour?
Exactly, that's the witching hour [Laughs].