Guitarist Gary Holt
Interview by Jerry Hamm, “The Metal Master”
Exodus has been thrashing as long as there has been the term “Thrash”. From there legendary underground 1982 demo, which is their only studio work that has Kirk Hammett on guitar, to their beyond classic debut BONDED BY BLOOD their only studio record with the late great Paul Baloff, and of course all the great years with Zetro behind the mic. Now, Rob Dukes has handled the vocals for the last 3 CD’s, including their latest, a rerecording of Bonded, titled LET THERE BE BLOOD. But the one constant in the band has always been guitarist and leader Gary Holt. Gary has hung in there, from members coming and going, tragic death, metal being in, out, than in, and never once has the band ever “sold out” to get their message out. All the bands in the “big 4” deserve to be there, but any true fan knows that Exodus has a place right along side Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax in the “big 5” of thrash. The talk I had with Gary was just that, a talk. He was totally cool, and had lots to say.
Well Gary I have been listening to the new album and it sounds great.
Right on, thanks.
Obviously it can be a touchy subject when you remake a classic, but I think you put a very cool spin on it.
Yeah we tried to capture the raw energy of it, not over polish it, yet still have it sound like a ton of bricks. I think we nailed it.
Now doing this is something you talked about doing even when Paul was alive correct?
Yeah we talked about it a long time ago. Paul even wanted to go in a redo some of the songs he wasn’t on. He’s like, “We should do Pleasures of the Flesh and Seeds Of Hate and Brain Dead too.”I think it all started when we worked on the live album, which was our first time with Andy as well, Mr. Sneap. It sounded so huge, even for, like, a one gig live record. Paul was like the bandwagon leader of doing that (rerecording Bonded By Blood); he would be like, “Oh we could make it so much heavier now!” We weren’t out to reinvent the wheel on this and we did not want to do like a disservice to the original. I love the original, that’s why I’m doing this.
Exactly, and it’s not like this is replacing Bonded by Blood.
Right, how could you?
I think you certainly achieved what you set out to do with this, as you said, you nailed it.
Well, there is always going to be purists that will be like, oh you can’t do that. But it’s funny, a lot of the people who say that are like, 19, and weren’t even around when the original came out. But I don’t look at it as a bad thing when people get defensive about it. That means they love the original, and they love it so much that they don’t think we should touch it. But I always tell them, “Look this doesn’t make your copy of Bonded By Blood burst into flames and disappear, it’s always going to be there.” I hope it’s always going to be there. This here is a companion record and homage record and it’s a tribute to the times.
Yes, this is defiantly a tribute to that era, and a tribute to Paul.
I love Bonded By Blood and will always listen to it. It’s like one of the only albums of ours I listen to because I am like, the king of once something is done I put it behind me. I’ll listen to Bonded and listen to Paul because there is, you know, a lifelong connection there.
I also recently watched Get Thrashed on DVD and I thought Exodus came of great on that.
They really did us justice and I got to give thanks to Rick and Rat Skates on that. I got to admit every time I hear those words the big four I get a little defensive. If you change the term to the most popular four, the biggest selling four fine. Even members of the big four will say Exodus deserves to stand along side those bands. Get Thrashed defiantly showed where Exodus stands among that pantheon of thrash bands.
Well I think real thrash fans all know about the importance of Exodus, but maybe the more casual fans need to know that there really aren’t many American thrash bands that in a sense predate Metallica.
Yeah you are certainty going to get people who are like “Oh Exodus I know them, that’s Kirk Hammett’s old band.” That’s ok I am more than happy to be known as Kirk’s old band you know, because I love Kirk.
Since we are talking about the old days what was it like when Kirk got plucked by Metallica? Did it set you back at all?
No, not really. Were we upset? No, we had a big party for Kirk. Exodus was Kirk’s band, not mine when I joined. Kirk taught me my first cords on guitar and 6 months later they asked me to join the band. He wrote most of the songs, but leading up to him joining Metallica I was writing more and more stuff. His like parting gift to me was, here the band is yours now. So the band got a little more crafted in my image, our image, we upped the violence level and just kind of went for it. So it worked out best for everyone, especially him (laughs). It worked out really well for Kirk.
Yeah, but it still got to be a bummer when the band is rolling and one of the members is like drafted by another band.
Well yeah, but when things really turned around is when we found Rick and his subsequent development into becoming one of the greatest guitarists in the world. We had a couple of other guitar players in who were good in their own right, but they just were not right you know. When we first found Rick we just loved his attitude. His first show we supported Loudness at a sold out show in San Francisco and he spent the whole show facing sideways to the crowd. He never played a real show before and his stage fright was overwhelming and then the guy goes on to becoming one of the most dynamic stage performers ever.
So, when Kirk left, what was the status of the songs that ended up being on Bonded By Blood?
At that point I was writing songs, but mainly just for me as it was still Kirk’s band at that time. It wasn’t like Kirk was saying “Oh I am not going to use your stuff.” It wasn’t like that at all. I had stuff like Strike Of The Beast and No Love in the can.
So it wasn’t like you had to start from scratch?
No, plus we continued to play the songs we had for a long time, its some classic stuff.
Yeah, and later on you redid Impaler and you just redid Hell’s Breath.
Yeah it actually proved to be a lot of fun to record the old stuff. For Let There Be Blood, Hell’s Breath was the one that was the most fun to do. We had a half of day’s studio time left and I said to Tom “Let’s do an old one.”
Has there been any talk of releasing the old demos, even though most of us have those in like tenth generation copies past down over the years?
Nah I don’t think so, I think I will let them continue to live on in the world of bootleg vinyl. For a while I didn’t even have copies of all my old records, but some fans on the messages boards hooked me up which was cool. I do have one of the original test pressings of Bonded By Blood, which is one of only two available in the world.
So not much chance of one of those showing up on EBay?
No, I have that one and the one for Pleasure’s as well.
I know lots of this has been covered over the years, but since the new CD is celebrating the old days, I got some more questions dealing with that era. One, I know you were unhappy with the delay with Bonded By Blood coming out.
Yeah, Exodus seems to have a long history of things that impede our progress, and that delay was certainly one of them.
Were you satisfied with the success of it at the time? I mean now, obviously it is a classic record that most everyone into thrash has, but were you happy with how the record was received back in 1985?
Yeah the reviews and that were outstanding so I have no complaints at all about that. It’s funny now how you mention its standing as like a thrash metal classic. Someone told me that a magazine recently had like a list of the top thrash albums of all time, and they had Bonded listed at like number 15. Are you f*cking kidding? I thought that was pretty ridiculous.
Anyone who knows the scene at all got to put that in the top 5 of all time, at least, and I am not just saying that because I am talking to you now. But to me that is one of the bummers about Exodus. People who are into the scene know the bands place in history, but the casual fan seems like they need to be educated a bit.
Yeah but I have no complaints I know what we accomplished then, and I am a strong believer that this band right now kicks the snot out of anybody. Are attitude from back then to now has not changed; we just want to club people.
Now I know after Bonded there are three demos for Pleasures Of The Flesh with Paul that were made, and are available out there in bootleg land. But then the change was made. I know this has been asked many times before, but is there a definitive answer as to why Paul left the band?
The definitive answer is that Paul at the time really didn’t have his sh*t together you know. It’s one of those things that maybe you can look back in hindsight and say “Oh maybe we made the wrong decision.” But you know we made some great stuff with Zetro too, so to say that would be doing a disservice to all the great things he did with the band. At that time Paul was living in our rehearsal space, we were coming up with new songs and he was having a real hard time with timing and stuff like that. I say this with all love, but when people ask me how I think Tempo Of The Damned would have turned out if Paul hadn’t died, I say we would still be doing vocal tracks. But I say that as a term of endearment. But it is one of those things you can look back and say, “Oh we made a mistake.” The thing that comes to mind most is that we kicked him out because he didn’t have his sh*t together, yet right up until the time he died 4/5 of the band, including myself, were a disaster. But, you live and learn and one of the best things I ever did was reconnect with him in the years leading up to his death, and of course which first led to the live album. Hey we made great stuff with Paul and we made great stuff with Zetro and they both have their deserved place in thrash metal history.
Well if someone in metal was ever the 100% real deal, god bad or otherwise, it was Paul Baloff. But as great as he was, I don’t imagine he was always easy to work with.
Well personality wise there was never a problem, we brought out the worst in each other(laughs), or as we would say, the best in each other. When I first met him I realized right away that this guy knew everything about metal, new bands I never heard of, who I view as hall of famers now. But he had never done this, had no sense of timing, but developed his own unique vocal style. When he was onstage he was the most genuine, honest person you’ve ever seen performing. When he said, “Kill A Poser”, he meant that sh*t and posers got nervous. That was the beauty of Paul; it wasn’t so much about talent as it was about honesty.
It’s like in the liner notes in the Live At Dynamo DVD where you talk about the shape Paul was in for that big stadium show. He was totally real and totally wasted, whether you wanted him that way or not, that’s what he was, and that went into what made him a one of a kind.
Yeah I mean he was nervous that day, even though Paul didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would be like that when it came to nerves. He hadn’t done a show in Europe since 1985, and now he is front of like 90,000 people. So I think he started drinking early that day not to be a f*ck up, but because he was looking a bit pale that day.
He had played some songs the night before at the Dynamo club, Testament was playing there and we got up with them and the response he got was amazing. I say it to this day that we were just his backing band on that day, the whole crowd just chanting Baloff Baloff. We just got hired to play the riffs; it was all about, you know, the Paul Baloff show.
So anyway, when Zetro comes in was there a change? I mean not that you guys ever changed what you were all about, but was there a different approach when he came into the band?
When one thing we realized the first time we rehearsed with Zetro was what it was like when the singer nails the timing. If there was any change at that time maybe the lyrics got a little more political and stuff, and a little less blood, gore and violence. Sometimes I wish we would have stayed with songs about killing people (laughs), its more fun. I think we got a little more musically ambitious because we all had become better players as time went on.
Like we touched on before, it seems Exodus is one of those bands that just when things seem to be rolling, something comes along, members coming and going, record company problems, whatever, that kind of derails you.
Yeah sure, we have always had our share of problems. I think the main difference between Exodus then, and Exodus now, is that now we still have tons of problems but I don’t let any of them derail me. Exodus has been a part of me for over half my life now, and I am not about to give up on it. Fortunately things seem to be really stable with the lineup, knock on wood, and everything seems to be good.
So what led to the hiatus of the band, between the end of the first Zetro era, and then coming back with the Another Lesson In Violence live album?
Well a couple of things, like the changing musical climate and coming off a real sour relationship with Capitol records. It just seemed like the business now sucked, it was too much a business and there was no fun in it. Plus my first daughter was born, so it was like a no brainer, should I spend time with my kid or be out doing something that was no fun at the time. Plus Zetro had become really hard to work with then, some ego issues, so I just decided I needed to get out of it for a while.
So after all that, what led to 4/5 of the Bonded lineup getting back together and playing and recording the live record?
Well for a short period of time Tom, Jack and I had another band called Wardance, and our singer just kind of went crazy and disappeared. So I would be at parties or whatever and friends would be like, “Oh you should get the band back together, get Baloff, call Paul and do it.” So I went to Rick’s house and we went out and had coffee and he seemed really into it The problem was Paul had no phone number and no one knew how to get a hold of him. Then out of the blue he calls and I am convinced he is calling me because I got everyone in the world trying to find him. But he wasn’t, he was just calling me out of the f*cking blue. So as soon as he called I go into this big thing about how we should do a live record and go on tour. But since he doesn’t know this is coming he is completely thrown for a loop. So he just goes yeah cool and we hang up the phone. Then about 5 minutes later he calls back and is like, “Are you serious?” So I had just sort of dumped this on him, because he didn’t see it coming. But by the second conversation he was fired up and really into it.
Yeah and the thing was, he had been in and out of a few bands, got a few demos out there and such, but for the most part no one really knew what he was up to, musically or otherwise.
Well it gives you an idea of the importance of Bonded By Blood. Here is a guy who is and should be considered a thrash metal legend and he has recorded one album. Its pretty f*cking unheard of. There are guys, who I won’t name, but have did there one album stint with bands and they are forgotten, but Paul was never that guy because Bonded was the record it was and is.
Was there talk of doing more with Paul after the live record?
Yeah there was talk of it right up until his death, but after the live record the climate was not the greatest, so the timing was not the best. But yeah we talked about it, but I was going through some personnel stuff at the time. But the band never really broke up or anything. Then we did the Titans thing, the benefit for Chuck Billy, and we rehearsed for 2 weeks and played each song like once, so we never got sh*t done.
So what was the process and whole time frame from this last show, to Paul’s death, and then the band returning with Zetro for Tempo Of The Damned?
Well when Paul passed it was not the wake up call you think it should be. When you factor in depression and loss with drug use, you have a recipe for disaster. Paul passed in February 2002, and I got clean in December 2002. Once I did that I got creative again and it was easy, it didn’t seem hard at all. Even now I am in the studio several hours a day, and even though we are not going in to record until June of next year I got 9 songs I am working on, 4 done, and Lee is working on stuff. So by the time when go in the studio next June we will have enough songs for like 3 albums.
At that point was it weird getting Zetro back in the band, with losing Paul so tragically, and then like having history sort of repeating itself with Zetro taking over again?
Well no it wasn’t really weird. How it started is we had two shows booked in Anaheim before Paul died. I was talking to Zetro, you know, just conversation and I mentioned those two shows. He said he was going to Disneyland that weekend with his family. So I said to him, “How would you like to ride Space Mountain during the day and come sing metal at night?” He was like, “Yeah sure,” so that’s exactly what he did. The cool thing about it is it opened up the set list again. We had tried to do some of the Zetro songs with Paul and he struggled. Then all of sudden we could brake out songs we haven’t played in ages like Cajun Hell and whatever. So it was cool at the time and we went from there. But it ended badly because Zetro really didn’t want to do this, and the rest of us did. We made a lot of concessions for him to do this and he left us stranded and it got ugly. But in the end I am happy to say we are now friends again.
Yeah, sorry, it seems like we are covering all the hard things, the comings and goings of members and such.
Well, that’s Exodus you know, like a soap opera, “Days Of Our Thrash Metal Lives!”
That’s a great title if you write a book some day.
I have thought about writing a book for a long time, I got stories to tell.
Yeah, got to get it on paper.
Well, keeping with that theme then, what led to Rick leaving the band?
Well similar to Zetro, kids and family. He wasn’t in a position to go gallivanting around the world. Plus he was dealing with his own problems, and even Tom too, it took him a while after I got clean to join the party. But primarily he wanted to be there for his kids and such and he really wasn’t there much for the writing or rehearsing of that record. He just finally realized he couldn’t give it the kind of effort he needed to.
Well it worked out good because it seems like Lee wanted to be in the band forever.
Yeah, he just had to wait a couple decades.
Well he fits in perfectly.
Yeah for sure.
Now it seems like you’re at another rebirth of the band. So how did it come about that you got Rob to join up?
Well with Rob he was my guitar tech on the Megadeth tour. It was one of those lucky events that the guy I had teching for me was doing such a poor job. I happened to be in Hollywood and had a friend who recommended Rob to me as a tech. If I would have been in any other city he would never have came into the picture. He wanted a chance, and I didn’t know what to expect, and didn’t expect much to be honest. But I gave him a chance and he ran with it. I’d like to say he made me look like some kind of genius, but he worked really hard, and continues to work hard and really did it himself.
With Shovel Head being so good it really reintroduced Exodus to the world and proved you are still vital today, and not some, like oldies act.
Well obviously with the rerecording of Bonded we don’t run from our back catalog, but at the same time it’s my worst nightmare to be considered just that, some back catalog band. We always play the classics, and they are a highlight of the show, but we always are adding the new stuff too.
With Atrocity, while nothing gets 100% praise, it seems like the response to it has been overwhelmingly positive.
Sure it’s gone over real well. The thing I like best is when you get a different school of thought with each record, some prefer this one or that one, it just means we are doing something a little bit different each time. Yeah it seems to have done well, but with Exodus it’s like we have to work 10 times as hard for half the recognition. But that’s ok I think that’s one of the things that drives this band to work that much harder.
For me, when a classic band puts out new material you want them to still sound like themselves, yet at the same time not sound dated. I think with your new material you are nailing it. You are still a metal band, still a thrash band, yet the stuff sounds current.
The funny thing is I don’t do anything different are far as writing songs then what I did 20 years ago. I start off with what I feel and a riff and go from there. If there is any real difference now I give the singer more room to sing. I think with some of the later Zetro era stuff I take some of the blame for trying to cram too many words into too short of a line.
I like the fact too that your newer stuff sounds great. I hate to use the word modern, but the sound quality and production is top notch.
Yeah I want it too sound crushing. I am certainly not one of those guys whose goal is to make a record that sounds like it was done in 1986.
So what happens next? Let There Be Blood is out, been touring with Kreator and what not. For the next record is Atrocity B still the plan?
Yeah absolutely, but with the tours we got coming up that just keeps getting pushed back. We hope to spend the summer recording. Its always fun to play the summer festivals, but we may have to pass on them to get this done. But before that we hope to do more extensive touring where we are playing the whole Bonded record.
So what else will be in the set list?
Well we will play an hour or so with a mix off stuff, then come back and give them what they want and play Bonded start to finish. You know I got to tip my hat to Slayer; I got the idea from them doing Reign In Blood live. I give all credit where credit is due.
Is there anything else you want to touch on before we wrap this up?
No I actually think you covered it all, covered a good cross section of everything.
Well thanks Gary for your time. Just letting you know Let There Be Blood sounds great, I will definitely be getting the word out about it. Good luck with everything and hope to talk to you again in the future.
Thank you I really appreciate it. Hope to talk again soon.
I, Jerry Hamm, aka Hammbone7, aka, “The Metal Master” would like to thank Hannah and everyone at Die Crawling Media, EvilG, Rick and all at Metal-Rules, and of course Gary Holt and Exodus for everything they did to get this interview together. Rock On.