Jeff Hanneman – S L A Y E R
Interview, off – and onstage pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
Thanks to Carlos A, Jason B, Craig K, Arto L, Owen M and Zach T for the help with the questions.
Thanks to Duke for the transciption
“The Unholy Alliance” tour stormed Finnish shores on November 12th and 13th 2006. It featured 5 popular metal acts in the same package: Thine Eyes Bleed, Lamb of God, Children of Bodom, In Flames – and of course the headliners of the whole tour, no less than the true Thrash kings from Los Angeles… Slayer. Last time the same tour hit European soil in 2004, having such highly popular American metal bands as Mastadon and Slipknot booked on the tour line-up.
With such a variation of metal bands both from today and yesterday, it was the kind of tour that appeals to many generations of metal fans. For the younger metal loving generation, bands like Children of Bodom and In Flames surely gave a good run for their money – and for the old fucks (ha!) like me, Slayer was basically the only good reason that dragged my lazy ass to witness this happening that took place at the Ice Hall in Helsinki on a snow storming Sunday evening, on the 12th of November´06.
Before the show got started at the Icehall of Helsinki, I managed to meet and talk briefly to Jeff Hanneman from Slayer in their tour bus for about 20-minutes about the band´s ongoing tour, the band´s warmly welcomed new album CHRIST ILLUSION, Jeff´s collection of Nazi-medals, censorship problems of the new Slayer album in India, and naturally we couldn´t avoid talking a bit about the past times either.
It was actually very nice to meet Jeff as normally it´s been both Kerry and Tom who have worked as spokeman for Slayer in the interviews. Jeff turned out to be a really nice, mellow and funny guy, as this interview with him proves this fact so well…
“THE UNHOLY ALLIANCE”
First off, talking about this “The Unholy Alliance” tour, you have quite a package with you this time, 5 bands traveling around and playing at either near sold-out or sold-out concert halls. How well do you all get along? Do you think there´s good chemistry between the bands?
Oh, we get along great with each other. There´s always somebody to hang out with, there´s no animosity and we all get along great after the show when we´re all drinking together.
Finland´s Children of Bodom are also involved with this tour. How are those guys both on stage and outside of the stage?
They are good. They´re great live and I don´t know how many drunk nights we´ve had, just hanging out. No fist fights, ha-ha! It´s been a good tour so far.
How would you say this tour is different than the other tours that you have done earlier, I mean the way it has been organized and make it going and working for you the most ideal way? Has something changed?
I think now we´re just trying to get the whole package thing going, kind of like the Ozzfest. We´re trying to accomplish what he´s done in the past. He won´t be along forever and we don´t want to be on his fest anymore. We want to have our own little tour with upcoming metal bands that can play. So we hope to keep doing these sort of things.
Does Slayer lead a healthy life off tour or do you drink and party most of the time (or are those days well and truly over?)
Well, me and Kerry do most of the drinking. Dave chimes in once in a while, Tom not so much anymore. But me and Kerry can still do some drinking! We still have fun.
“ILLUSIONS OF CHRIST”
A couple of thoughts about your latest album CHRIST ILLUSION up next. As you have probably heard from almost every possible direction many have said that the aggression and brutality of your old days have returned. So, what actually happened in the Slayer camp when you started writing new songs for your latest album?
I think a lot of it has to do with having Dave back in the band. We just felt this new old chemistry with Dave again. When we were writing stuff it had a lot to do with Dave and his speed. We don´t sit down and think about what we´re going to do before we do it, it just comes out that way. I think that is the better formula for writing songs, because if you sit down and over-think it, it´s usually shit. You try to do too much and you´re not playing from the heart, you´re playing from the mind and try to think it through. So with Dave back in the band, we just let it happen. And it turned out great.
There´s also more of this Hardcore –vibe in these new songs on CHRIST ILLUSION. Obviously it has something to do with your musical backgrounds as Punk/Hardcore bands have always been close to your hearts. You even did this album (UNDISTIPUTED ATTITUDE) full of some of your favorite Hardcore/Punk songs.
Yeah, once again it has a lot to do with Dave. I was into Punk and Dave and Kerry got into it much later. So I kinda influenced Kerry who influenced Dave which comes out now, because he wrote a lot of the songs for this album. It´s kinda funny that it sounds more like Punk with Dave back. It´s a weird thing, but it works out.
What inspired you to come up with such melodic leads for this album?
Once again, we don´t over-think things. Ten percent of my leads are done in the studio and the rest I´ve done in my hotel room, working on it, working on it, working on it. Then I show up in the studio shouting “Quick, record it, I think I´ve got it!” It´s just spontaneous a lot of it.
So, there´s not some guitarist out there that you sort of admire and think “I want to do that thing myself, too”?
Not right now, no. In the past, Yngwie was an influence, Michael Schenker, guys like that. But right now there aren´t many guitar players that I listen to. I´m in a weird mood right now with music.
CHRIST ILLUSION was banned in India due to the album cover, a Mumbai-based Catholic secular forum being behind this. The reason was “Christ with a missing eye and amputated arms…”, kind of.
I take it as a good thing. I actually do. When I did hear about it I just thought “I´m the winner!” I like them. Bad publicity is always a good publicity. Even though it wasn´t fully intentional we knew somebody would get mad about this, so I´m glad somebody did.
Also they complained about this one song on CHRIST ILLUSION, “Skeleton Christ”, saying that the lyrics in it are an insult to Christianity. That song off your new album also made them pissed off somehow.
Do you overall think it´s always a good publicity for Slayer to get banned in countries?
I like it! Two reasons: it´s good publicity and it´s what we´re about. We´re the bad guys anyway. We always write about the bad things so it´s only fitting that we get banned in some place.
I guess you have pretty much used to this type of ´banning´ over the years, am I right?
Oh yeah, been going on for years. When REIGN IN BLOOD came out we got kicked out by our American label. (laughs) It´s been happening for years. I guess that´s nothing really new to us, ha-ha!
Have you received any ´ultimatums´ from some other religious groups because of this song called “Jihad” on CHRIST ILLUSION?
Actually, no. I think Tom was really worried when he read the lyrics after I finished it. He was like “We´re gonna get some shit about this in the States”. But nothing has surfaced. In the States, we´ve been getting in trouble for so long that all the people who monitor music and try to tell you what to think just looked at it and thought “That´s just Slayer being Slayer”. So they ignored it.
The “Eyes of Insane” video is pretty damn cool in my opinion as there´s this eye in the main role that reflects what can be seen in a war zone, seen from a soldier’s point of view. Where did the idea for that video come from?
Actually, it wasn´t our idea. When we initially came to the conclusion that we should do a video we were so busy touring that we couldn´t be in the video. So we contacted these people to do a video without us. This guy came up with the idea with the eye because of “Eyes of the insane” and we loved it. When I first saw it I thought it was pretty amazing.
BACK IN THE DAY… RECOLLECTIONS
How do you guys keep things interesting for yourselves after all these years? For example, Iron Maiden chose to perform their entire new album in its entirety live and of course I remember Slayer doing REIGN IN BLOOD in its entirety live some time ago. Anyway, has SLAYER ever considered doing something completely different?
The only thing we did was, like you mentioned, the REIGN IN BLOOD thing and we had the rain come down on us. That´s about the only thing really different that we came up with. I think I can speak for the other guys as well when I say that, believe it or not, we still enjoy playing these songs live. We play these songs over and over and over, but they´re good songs, intense songs! If it were melodic songs or some kind of boring “clap your hands” song, you´d be going crazy playing those every night. But our songs are just BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM, they´re intense. You can still feel the energy in it. Being on the road is something that I hate and the other guys kinda hate too, you gotta go to airports and customs and stuff like that. When you go on stage, you can release all that shit that you feel from touring. The music itself still makes it interesting. I don´t know how many times we´ve played “Angel of death” – and I´d like to know, it would be interesting – and it´s still fun to play.
Have ever considered like doing only songs off your couple of first two albums, SHOW NO MERCY and HELL AWAITS, wearing black eye-liners and all those old costumes that you used to have back in the day? That would be a quite radical thing to do from Slayer anyway, wouldn´t it?
The only thing we tossed around but haven´t seriously thought about was combining SOUTH and SEASONS, something like that. Not doing everything off those records, but combining them for a set. It was just something we tossed around, not really seriously considered.
Do you ever go back and listen to your old albums?
Once in a while, not a lot because we play them so often. Well, we play songs from them often. Sometimes I go back to certain songs that we don´t do live and listen to those because I haven´t heard them in so long.
Do you ever listen to anything that was influencing you around the time of SHOW NO MERCY/HELL AWAITS anymore?
I still go back and listen to Punk. It was only a week ago when Kerry and me were drinking in the back of the bus listening to Judas Priest. Yeah, we still go back and listen to that stuff.
Do you actually miss the ´80s?
Because of the big hair bands! I would like to say that Slayer destroyed those bands. We got rid of them!
Yeah, at least you got rid of most of them… ;o)
Yeah, they´re making a comeback now… or trying, ha-ha!
Which Slayer songs haven´t you played live for a long time, but you would start playing again (“Metalstorm/Face the Slayer”, “Crypts of Eternity”, “Read Between the Lies”, etc.)?
We´ve thought about “Crypts” and a few years ago we thought about the whole “Metalstorm/Face the Slayer” thing. We´re always thinking about these things as soon as a new tour starts. We always go back and go through the list, but we have so many fucking songs!
It´s the stone-hard fact, Slayer has done thousands of gigs during the three decades, but are there any special gigs that will remain in your memory for the rest of your life better than some other shows that you have done?
There are a few of them. The first time we played in Europe was good. I think it got cancelled twice, I know at least once, but when we finally got here I think the first show was in Belgium. I think we opened for UFO or something like that, that one I´ll never forget. Probably the first time we played England, they were still into spitting. You know, the punk thing that you spit at bands. So we got fucking spat at and I knew from being a punk that it was actually a compliment but it didn´t feel like a compliment! (laughs) So I remember that one, That was fucking nuts.
What year was that?
-85, something like that. We got fucking doused with spit. Tom was pissed but he just stood there and took it. Me and Kerry could move, but Tom was on the mike.
What can you still remember anything about your tour with Possessed and Venom back in the day? You did tour with them in the States quite a bit…
Umm… I just remember that I was pissed because Venom had a tour bus and we didn’t. (laughs)
How many gigs did you play with them all in all then?
I don´t think it was a lot. About 20 gigs maybe. I remember it was a fun tour and it got pretty crazy. I remember I used to always go on their tour bus and go “Wow! I want one of these!”
What about Possessed, what do you remember about them?
They were kinda quiet guys. Their music was a little bit too much like us. We tried to get them to run around and be crazy but they were just like “nah”, I remember that and that´s about it.
Can you guess what are reasons for all that why Slayer has survived thru these years as many Thrash Metal that were formed around the same time as Slayer, kind of vanished away from the picture in early 90’s, or at least lost a lot of success that they had gained for themselves in their early prime (Exodus split up, Death Angel split up, Destruction split up – and bands like Voivod, Testament, Anthrax and a few others, struggled and lost their success – and so on…)?
We just stuck to our guns and kept going. We still enjoy what we are doing and we persevered even when we lost Dave. We figured that we would keep playing and had to go through, what, three drummers? Then we finally got Paul for a while and then Paul quit. Still we just said, we´re gonna keep going, let´s get Lombardo back! I think that the three of us, me, Kerry and Tom, just wanted to keep going no matter what happened.
COLLECTING PIECES OF WWII
As many metal fans surely are aware of the fact, you have had years of interest to the Nazi period Germany and Nazi war medals that you have also been collecting for yourself. Anyway, can you tell what´s the most precious thing in your collection these days as far as all this stuff is concerned, like a ´true gem´ of Hanneman´s own ´war booty´?
Probably my “Knight´s Cross”. I got that from a friend of a friend, a guy that used to be a collector. Me and him used to talk about the medals and stuff like that and he said “I know this guy, recently divorced, he´s getting rid of all his stuff. He´s got a “Knight´s Cross” and his little brother is a Slayer -fan. So he needs to sell it for the money but he´d like to sell it to you because he knows you´d appreciate it”. When I got that I was “Yeah, I´ve got a Knight´s Cross!”
How much did you have to pay for it?
I think it was a thousand or something, not too bad. At that time I think they were going for over 2000 bucks in the States. I haven´t collected anything in a long time but when I got that I was just like “Yeah!”
How did you become interested in collection this stuff? When did it get started?
My dad was in World War II, on the American side obviously. He collected all these medals – off dead soldiers I imagine – and he had this big box that he threw it all in. Years later he came to me and said “I´ve got all this stuff, some of my medals and some German medals, do you want them?” He was getting rid of them because they were moving and he was cleaning out stuff that he didn´t want anymore. I obviously knew about history but I wasn´t really into it but once I started looking at all the medals I got into it.
What’s it like being an older guy in a young man’s sport and STILL coming out on top?
This is one of the things we´ve talked about, because we are some of the older guys. But we all think like kids. (laughs) You gotta remember, we came directly out of high school into Slayer. So we don´t really know anything else. We never had to grow up! (laughs)
The whole band was on the TV show hosted by Bam Margera. You guys visited to his house that was decorated and modified to some sort of a skateboard place – and later in that same evening, you began blasting at Bam´s backyard, and there´s a fierce moshpit there, too – with West Chester´s most crazy Slayer –fans. How was this experience for you all in all?
That whole experience was pretty weird, because just talking to those guys and hanging out with them was a big party. It was nothing but drinking, eating, barbequing and when we actually played we only played like three songs because it was freezing, it was colder than it is here. We just did the minimum because our fingers were numb. We were gonna play for a while but just couldn´t do it. It was a good time though.
How much are you in general interested in today´s metal scene? Do you still keep your eyes out there every now and then, what’s going on? Did you ever bother to check out any Death Metal bands like Morbid Angel, Immolation, Nile and so on?
I´m really not into Death Metal that much because were almost there. I don´t know what you wanna call it, I always say Speed Metal, but we are on the dark side and always sing about death so I guess you could call us Death Metal. When I´m doing Slayer I try to listen to other things or I get too wrapped up in this and burn out on it. I rather listen to other kinds of stuff like Type O Negative or something like that.
Ok Jeff, I think my time is up, so I wanna thank you for your time and wish you all the best for your tonight´s gig.
Thank you very much.
“Chemical Warfare…” shredding party offered by Kerry & Jeff
“Die by the fuckin´ sword…!!”
Jeff headbanging in Helsinki on 12th Nov ´06
A vintage concert ticket from 1985: Venom, Slayer and Oz