Slayer's Kerry King can be intimidating. I had the fortune of touring with Slayer twice with my ex-band, God Forbid: 2004 Ozzfest and 2009 Mayhem Fest. Benchmarks like that seem mythically unreachable, considering Slayer was one of the reasons I got into metal at all as a young teenager. You don't think you will ever meet these people, let alone become a musician performing on the same playing field. Despite touring with them and hanging out a bit, I wouldn't go as far to call Kerry a friend, but rather a professional acquaintance. I'm sure my reverence blocks me from ever getting too comfortable. He has always been really cool to me, though.
This talk is the most in-depth and personal I've ever gotten with Kerry— and a bonus, I get to ask him nerdy fan questions without punishing him when we've hung out in casual settings. My main takeaway from our discussion is that their laser-sharp focus, commitment to execution and productivity, and comprehension of the big picture with no equivocation in regard to the identity of Slayer, shows exactly why this band has been so successful for so long. Slayer's new album Repentless will be available Sept 11th 2015, and I think it shows a band, who has come to define extreme metal, at the top of their game with a lot to prove.
Doc Coyle: I heard about the video shoot yesterday [for "Repentless"], and how brutal the heat and long the hours were. This new record, it's seems like you're really going for it as far as promoting and getting everything together.
Kerry King: Yeah dude, I'm more excited for this video than any other video we've done. I'm more excited about this video from the director to the actual actors that are in it, and happy to be in it. It's exciting. I can't wait to see it. I don't even know what to say. The director was joking that you're going to go on YouTube and have to prove your age to see it.
By way the way, I have to say that I really, really enjoy the new record. I've listened to it about 6-7 times. I'm really into it. Was there a chance when Jeff [Hanneman] died that this record wasn't going to happen? Did it ever cross your mind to hang it up?
Not me personally because I know for a fact that if I didn't do a Slayer record —and by a Slayer record, I mean with me and Tom— that I would have written the exact same music, and I would have a different singer singing songs that sound exactly like Slayer. That's what I am, and what I'm about. Why am I not doing Slayer anyway? So for me, that was never even a thought. But I know Tom had to...it hit him hard, not harder, it just hit him differently than it hit me. You know? He had to ensure that he was into it and wanted to continue.
As far as being a band that's been around as long as you have, is there an end in sight? Or do you see yourselves like a Motorhead or Judas Priest who will keep doing it as long as you can do it? Is there an expiration date?
There's no endgame by any means. I think what we know about ourselves now is, the product we put out now, is extremely tight with me, Tom, Gary, and Paul. We put on a show that sounds good. We're still putting on a show that's active and violent, so to speak, and the fans are into it, and it sounds good. So, to me, it makes sense to continue doing that, and I hope I'm smart enough to realize that if it becomes anything less than what people have ever expected, that I have the insight to say it's time we don't do this anymore.
I have to say what you guys do is [physically] a lot more demanding than bands like Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath. I can imagine it can definitely takes it's toll.
Oh yeah, dude. When you go see Sabbath, other than incredibly, awesome songs, there's not a lot to look at. (laughs) Tony stands pretty much in a 10 foot circle, and that's fine because Tony Iommi doesn't have to move anyway. What we bring is definitely different than them, for sure.
I really love the production on the new album. It's probably one of the best sounding Slayer records.
Terry [Date] did a great job.
Yeah. And it sounds modern. It's dense. One thing you guys have done through the years is stay organic. The drums sound like real drums. There's not tons of layering. Have you guys ever considered working with a more "modern" metal type of producer like a Colin Richardson or Andy Sneap and go for something a bit more polished? Has that ever come up with the ideas for any records?
I think, personally, I'm not a production nerd. I don't geek out on people producing records, and like a record because of that. I'm the kind of guy who likes the record because of the songs, because of the band, because of the singer. But Terry, I knew of Terry because of Pantera of course, but I'd never met Terry. When his name came up for this, I thought it made sense for him as well as us because we had been record free for 5 years, and it seemed to me he didn't have anything in the metal horizon that came to my mind. So I thought him marrying Slayer, and Slayer marrying Terry Date made sense for both of us. Then the results are better than I imagined, you know? I love the record. I think he did a great job, sonically, performance-wise, it's all there.
Did he mix the record as well?
Wow. He did a great job, really impressed.
The only thing he didn't do was master it.
I want to get into the writing process. When it comes to writing riffs and songs, are you super old school, playing on a 4-track at home, or have you moved into the modern realm working on a computer with Pro Tools and drum programming and stuff like that?
I'm more old school than you even hit on. I never even graduated to a 4-track.
I used to, up until this record or maybe the one prior. But up until then, I still used a piece of shit Radio Shack cassette player. Oblong, rectangular-looking thing with the buttons on the end, and a piece of shit fucking Radio Shack mic I put in front of my amp. Because at the end of the day, all I'm looking for is saving the musical idea, which is what I'm going for. I can keep drum ideas in my head til I meet with Paul or Dave or whoever the drummer is, and I can convey whatever it is I'm thinking, or if I'm just in a grey area and say, "What would you play here?" And if it's not something I like, I'll say "That's not really doing anything. Could you do something else?" It's been incredibly primitive, and the only thing that makes it not primitive now is I record basically on the iPhone because it's always in my pocket. When I'm warming up for gigs, I don't play through an amp, you know? I'm going through the motions, get my hands warmed up. But if I get an idea, I'll just put the phone on my lap, play this unplugged guitar in, so I can keep that thought. Dude, it's primitive, but if it's not broken, don't fix it. That's how I think about just about everything.
Yeah, I still do that. I went through my phone and I probably had like 20 little diddies (laughs), stuff I just forgot about. I definitely understand that.
I'll even play entire songs, if I finish a song, I'll put the entire song on the phone and just email that to Paul. And then we'll go through parts, and I'll say, "Dude. I got: fast, upbeat." Which in our lingo means snare on the 1. Fast, upbeat-double bass, or 4/4 or thrash, and we'll have the song mapped out before he's ever played it.
And is that all coming from you? I don't know if the process is different with Dave and Paul as far as the drumming and what's happening there. Do you give them a lot of freedom or is there a tight rope there?
There's things that I'm definitely married to, if I come up with something. It's what I've got. I'll have an idea what I want the entire song to be, but if I'm not feeling something is very important, because I'm not a drummer, you know? I have a lot of ideas for drums, but that's not what I do all day. So if I think my idea is mediocre, I'll say, "This is my idea, but you've got a green light to do whatever you want here," and sometimes we come up with really cool shit.
Is that process different with Dave than Paul, or is it similar?
No. I've always worked the same way.
Is there more pressure from a writing standpoint without Jeff? Not only riffs, but also lyrics, because it looks like you wrote most of the lyrics on the album. Do you feel the weight of the world coming into a record like this?
You know, if I didn't work on any new material 'til after Jeff passed, it would have been a gigantic burden. But luckily, when Jeff got bit by the spider is when I started focusing, and coming up with material. Just by that happening, I didn't know if Jeff was gonna write five songs, 10 songs, no songs, one song, a riff. So I took it upon myself to have Jeff covered, and I thought if Jeff has half a record, cool. I'll have half of another record to put towards the next one or put towards playing with all my friends. I have billions of friends in this business. So I took it upon myself to have that base covered, and by doing that, taking the pressure off, when Jeff passed, no one knew that was going to happen either. The scenario worked out as good as it could for me under shitty circumstances.
Do you feel like in some kind of weird way, that whole situation brought another level of emotional creativity? Because you obviously had this tragic event, and Slayer is this band that talks about reality and dark things, and there's obviously nothing more dark than losing someone that's part of your family in a lot of ways. Do you feel that put another fire under your belly?
That's hard to say. Purposely? No. Inadvertently? Possibly.
When I wrote "Chasing Death," that one, that was when Jeff was still working with Slayer, and trying to get back on board. It was about abuse —be it alcohol, be it pills, whatever— because I had lost my guitar tech [Armand Crump] the year prior to that. I think he was pill popping. I can't remember exactly, but it was something I didn't even know existed. I didn't know he had a problem, and I get the call one day: he's dead. And I never thought I would have to look for a guitar tech in my life, because he was younger than me, you know. I thought we were gonna be lifers like I think I am with my guitar tech now. We're getting to that age, I certainly am, where I'm going to more funerals than I am to weddings or birthdays, you know what I mean? Shitty part of life, and "Chasing Death" kind of addresses that.
Listening to Repentless, and part of it I guess is having Paul [Bostaph] back, I feel like this record is a bit more mid-tempo and has more groove songs than maybe the last couple of records. It almost feels like a more '90s type of Slayer. It makes me think of Divine Intervention and songs like "Serenity In Murder" and "Gemini." What are your thoughts on Divine Intervention? I think it's the most underrated Slayer record.
It probably is. I also think that's for a good reason, because I think the production on that is atrocious. And I didn't know it at the time. I didn't know for a long time. I don't think realized until the 2000s, because if we haven't toured in a while, I'll go to the iPod and just check out our discography. What do I want to address, ya know? What haven't we played in 10 years that would be really cool to play live, and people think we're never going to play again, and I think I played Divine Intervention right before or after God Hates Us All. And I went, "This production is fucking horrible". (laughs)
What don't you like about it? I think the guitar tone is amazing.
I never listened to it in that context. Looking back at the recording of that album, it was the weirdest recording ever. We went in to record, we had an engineer, we get 10 days in and he's like, "Ok, the next guy comes in." And we're like, "What next guy? What are you talking about?" "Yeah. I'm done after this. I gotta go work on something else." Nobody told us, and it was like that for two or three guys in two or three places, and no one would tell us when they were leaving. It was like a secret and keep Slayer in the dark, and that affected how it came out for sure. But those songs, there are some great fucking songs on that record. I'm not compelled to play as many of 'em because when I listen to it, I just get bummed because the production is so shitty.
Would you guys ever consider doing a Divine Intervention top-to-bottom show or something like that? Especially with Paul back.
I doubt it. Personally, I'm done doing Reign In Blood top-to-bottom. I'm done doing Seasons In The Abyss top-to-bottom. I guess it's cool for the fans, but it really alienates what you're able to play. Reign In Blood makes sense, because it's only a half hour, so you can still play another hour of your catalog. Seasons takes up something like 40 minutes. If you're in a situation like the last tour we played Seasons, and we only played an hour and 15 minutes, that means we can only play seven other songs from our 30 year career.
To kind of change the subject a bit, not to directly go over lyrics, but in a general sense, you touch on some political things. But are you connected politically? Do you stay attuned of what's going on? Do you vote? Does Kerry King go to the voting poll?
I haven't recently.
Are following the current Presidential campaign?
I'm fairly out of touch. If there's something on the news for more than a day, I might notice. When I do stuff usually political with Slayer, it's from a general perspective as I can get, because I don't want it to be about America. I want it to be more of a worldwide rebellion of your government or the people in charge, because that's something that everybody gets in every territory. You're never happy with the government. You're never happy with your police. You're never happy with any of that stuff, and to have a general song, it touches on it where you can say, "This is about my government".
I definitely hear that. Connected to that to a certain degree, there is a Pew Poll that says that number of atheists and agnostics have doubled in the US since 2007, and the number of Christians has down 7% in that same period. Do gain any solace in that? Is that encouraging to you to see that people are evolving in America as far as religiosity?
America is still probably the worst country as far as being brainwashed or bullied into any kind of ideology, but I also think that America is catching on to Europe, to Australia, to countries where their not afraid to have their own opinion. Nobody should be afraid to have their own opinion, but I think it's very important that opinion is yours, and not someone else's.
Are you a fan or do you follow people like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins, who are at the forefront of atheism and promoting it?
A little bit, ya know. I watch Bill Maher from time to time. I love the John Oliver show. That one's just a joy from top-to-bottom.
Yeah. He's doing some really incredible journalistic work, uncovering stuff that I think a lot of us didn't know about, as far as big issues. I agree.
One of the things with Slayer throughout the years is you guys always seem to bring bands on tour that are up and coming that end up becoming really important bands. You seem to catch wind of them while they are still coming up like Machine Head, Meshuggah, Hatebreed, Killswitch Engage, so obviously you have your ear to the ground as far as new bands. You aren't someone who is just living in the past. Is there anybody new you've been checking out or anyone waving the flag for stuff you like?
I was more into them than I am now. And I did find Machine Head, and I did insist that they tour Europe and America with us, because I was so impressed with the record (Burn My Eyes). I wanted to have a good product, as well as show the world how awesome this band is, and at the time, Machine Head was the only thing I was impressed by. Music in general is so different now. You can have a thing you've done on a computer, and it can be worldwide after you made it up yesterday. There's so many records, and there's so many new bands that I don't really go out on my own to do it. What I'll do now is my friend at Nuclear Blast, Gerardo and my friend Brian Slagel from Metal Blade will pass stuff my way that they think has a shot at me liking it. Maybe five or so years ago, one on Metal Blade was the first Demiricous record, and I loved those guys and was bummed when they broke up. More recently, I got one from Gerardo (laughs). It's not even a new band and I didn't even know, but I was on tour somewhere, and had some cd's around, and I gave 'em the two-song test. If they can't hook me by the second tune, that's it. The one I got from Nuclear Blast was Decapitated; apparently they had a number of records, but I didn't know that.
They're sick. They kind of brought groove death metal, because their from Poland like Vader.
I've never gone back and listened to it. We've been so busy doing this record, I haven't really had any time, but I definitely was to address that, check it out again.
Yeah. They're definitely killer. Alright, I have one more question, and I'll let you go. Are there any questions, and I hope I didn't do this, that you are just sick of answering? (laughs) So we can just put it out there as a post to all the journalists out there to stop ask you these questions.
Are there any questions I don't want to answer again?
That you get asked over and over, and you are just tired of it.
All of 'em.
Stop asking Kerry questions! (laughs)
On a day like today, I've told the same story seven times to different countries. It's a little unique talk to someone from Spain, someone from Germany. You're my first American one today, so that's refreshing. (laughs)
Well, I hope it's been fairly painless, and it's been good chatting with you, brother. Definitely digging the record, and I think it's gonna do great.
KK: I think people are going to love it.