INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
TRANSCRIPTION BY ANDY OSBORN
Paul Bostaph is a true professional and one of the best drummers on today’s metal music scene. Paul’s career started in the late eighties as a member of U.S thrashers Forbidden, and over the years, he has played with such bands as Testament, Systematic, and Slayer, for which he recorded four albums between 1993- 2003. In 2005 Paul joined legendary Bay Area band Exodus, and later in the same year, he made his recording debut with the band on SHOVEL HEADED KILL MACHINE. Exodus has now been on tour for over a year, and last December, the band returned to Helsinki. I met Paul on their tour bus before their show at Club Tavastia, and here are the results of our interesting discussion.
SHOVEL HEADED KILL MACHINE
You guys have been constantly on tour like …
Yeah, we started touring last year in October, so now it’s been over a year!
How are things working out with this ‘new’ Exodus lineup?
It’s going fine. We’re playing better as a band. When we first started a year ago we had never been on the road together, we hadn’t really played together. I went into the recording studio with two weeks of rehearsal and recorded a record with guys I barely knew. Rick Hunolt quit, so Lee Altus came and joined the band, but Lee didn’t have any time to work on the record. He just came in and laid down some lead tracks and went on tour with Heathen. So when we finally got together to do this tour for this record, we never played together as a band, so in a year, it’s become more of a band.
In the past, you have worked with many classic metal bands like Slayer and Testament. Now you’re a member of another legendary band, Exodus. How did you end up being in this band?
I got a call from the band’s manager, and after that, Mike talked to Gary. But, I’ve known Gary; we toured with Exodus when we were in Forbidden, and I just know the Bay area scene.
Wasn’t it strange to join a band that has members leaving all the time? I mean, three out of five members left within a year. How was that situation from your point of view?
I joined… Well, it’s funny if you look at it for what it is. Zetro (Steve Souza) quit, so Rob [Dukes] joined, and when I got a phone call, Tom [Hunting] was thinking about leaving, so I was like, ok, alright, I’ll listen to the demo, and the demo was great. They did a five-song demo with Rob, and it sounded great, it was really good music, and I liked it. So I joined, and after that, like a week later, Rick left. At that time, the point was to get the record done. Gary [Holt] could do all the guitar work on the record if he had to, and he did almost all of it except for Lee’s leads.
Rick Hunolt never recorded any guitar parts for the album?
Nope, it was all Gary; and then obviously, Lee’s solos. So, how weird was it to join a band that had 3/5 of its members leave? It wasn’t weird at all because it was just the second one to join after the second guy left. This is rock n’ roll. People quit bands and join bands. It’s not the first time or the last time, and I’m never surprised. It’s just the way it is.
Well, despite all the difficulties you had, you never lost your faith in this band?
No, I didn’t at all. Because primarily, if Rick was the main songwriter, I would go, “Wow, that changes everything,” but he wasn’t writing anything. Well, if you have your main songwriter intact and if somebody quits, the band can still go on. But when you lose songwriters, that’s when it matters and can damage the chemistry of the sound. But the sound was intact. All you need is a killer drummer, a killer singer, and a good songwriter.
How familiar are you with older Exodus albums?
I knew all their records except for “Impact Is Imminent” ‘laughs.’
Which claim do you prefer more; the new album is classic Exodus and a natural continuation where “Tempo of the Damned” left off, or do you think that new album is completely different from any other Exodus album?
I think that it’s way different than the other ones. If this album came out right after “Bonded by Blood,” it would have changed the band’s history. It’s so different because “Bonded..” was such a landmark record, such a great record that I watched the band the whole time, and I think this is a more, probably, the most brutal record the band has done since “Bonded by Blood.” I don’t think the other ones compare to this one because it’s so different. It’s got things on it that it’s different because I had my whole experience with Slayer, and I brought that into this record. I don’t think that you can compare other than the fact that we have a different singer. 3/5 of the band is different, so it’s a totally different band than before. It’s not the same chemistry.
I just spoke with Gary (Holt), and he said that there would be a new Exodus studio album coming out soon?
That’s the plan
That’s great news! But also, because everybody is nowadays releasing DVDs, I have to ask if you have plans to release one too?
The band has, but I think that the primary goal is to get back in the studio again and record another album. It’s been a busy year, and we toured throughout the world, so it’s just time to get home and write new stuff.
We just had to get back on the road again; you know what I mean? There still needs to be the next record needs to be recorded. This is the first record the whole current band will have done. I can’t think; I can’t think past the next goal when it comes to music. The next goal is to do a new record, now a DVD, because everything else does matter. Because if it sucks, what difference does it make?
You’ve been to Finland a couple of times. If I remember right, your first time here was in 1990 in Helsinki with Forbidden?
That was a tour we did with Death Angel.
Do you have any memories from that visit?
I remember it for; obviously, it was our first time in Finland, but the show was a lot crazier than I ever expected. The kids were constantly coming up on stage, and we had a great time. The crowd was so out of control; they were just crazy. It made us feel great. I have one memory in particular, when we were playing ‘Forbidden Evil,’ I was hitting the drums as hard as I could, and I hit one of the kick drums, and it felt like I hit a brick on the wall. And I go, ‘what the fuck,’ and this guy is getting up, my drum set was right where all the kids were jumping into. So, this guy just dove into my drum set, and when he got up, his belt got stuck on one of the tuning pegs on the front of the drum, so when he walked away, he was taking my bass drum with him. So, I had to finish the song with my bass drum two feet away from me. It was a crazy show. It was good.
Was that Forbidden’s first tour in Europe?
It was our second time in Europe but our first time in Finland. The first time was with Sacred Reich in 1989, and this tour was in 1990.
Two years later, you quit with Forbidden and joined Testament?
Well, at that time, I didn’t join Testament; I joined Slayer. I played with Testament for five weeks in the US because their drummer, Louie, left. You know how it goes with any band. Little things turn into big things, and you can either complain about them, or you could look at yourself in the mirror and go, what am I complaining about. You have to just listen to yourself sometimes. I wasn’t very happy with Forbidden at that time, so I decided to leave. I got a phone call from Slayer right after that. So I was already working with Slayer, and Testament asked me to fill in for them. They knew I had some time off from Slayer, so they asked me if I was willing to help them out…
In 1992 you released a live EP with Testament’
“Return To The Apocalyptic City.”
There are also a couple of studio tracks on that album. Do you play drums on those tracks?
If there were, then it was stuff that I had nothing to do with. They probably just added it later?
Speaking about Testament, you did a couple of gigs again with Testament last summer. How was that?
It was great. I had a lot of fun. I’ve toured with them three times. That was the third time, the first two times Alex [Skolnick] wasn’t there. I played with Alex and the rest of the band this time, so it was a real Testament to me. The first time Alex wasn’t there, but it was still fun. Then, the next time I was going to do a record with them, I went on tour with them. But that particular lineup I didn’t just didn’t have that thing for me; it didn’t feel like Testament like I knew them. This time around, Alex and Greg [Christian] were back, and it was Testament, and it sounded like Testament. The whole dynamic of the band changes if you put Alex and Greg back in there together; the way Greg plays bass guitar and Alex is just a phenomenal musician; he’s a musician’s musician. Playing with a guy like Alex, it’s an honor because he’s so good. He’s done more with his career than I would ever expect to do with mine. It just rounds it off, Chuck’s [Billy] is such a killer vocalist, and Eric [Peterson] writes really good stuff, and then you have Alex, you know what I mean, who’s like this virtuoso guitar god. You listen to a record and then listen to him live. It’s the same, it’s great. Then you put Greg in there, and he’s a real bass player, and all they need is a good drummer to sit behind them, and it’s easy to get a good drummer.
Paul on stage with Testament in 2004
Do you know who will play drums on the next Testament record?
It will be Nick Barker. He played with Dimmu Borgir before. Nick has been demoing with them, and he’s actually a good friend of mine, so he’s going to do their next record, and it will be phenomenal.
Because you know those guys personally, I have to ask if the original drummer Louie Clemente is participating in anything for the record?
I don’t know what he’s doing, but I know he’s not doing the record or the next tour.
What is the reason for that? I mean, he did such a good job with them on tour a few years ago…
I can’t speak for Louie; all I can do is have an opinion. My opinion is that Louie didn’t play drums for ten years after he left the band. If I stopped playing the drums for ten years, odds are I’m not going to be playing the way I’m playing now. Also, you have a life after that. If you don’t play drums for ten years, what are you going to do? You’re going to go out and have a life; you can’t just pick up and go, ‘Hey honey, I’m leaving to be a rock star again.’ It’s kinda hard to do. I would assume that he has his life, and maybe music isn’t as big a part of it as it was. You have to make a choice somewhere along the line.
SOUTH OF HEAVEN WITH SLAYER
So, about Slayer, you said that the guys called you up. Did you already know the guys before you joined?
No, we didn’t. I didn’t know them at all. They were looking for a drummer, and they were talking to all their friends because that’s how you’re going to look. Especially with a big band, you can’t have open auditions because everybody will show up, and you’ll have to weed through many people who aren’t any good at all. So, I guess they talked to people and asked who could do this. They auditioned a few guys, and Kerry King’s guitar tech was a good friend with John Tempesta. He was a good friend of mine and still is, and he told them to get Paul Bostaph. You know you have to check this guy out. They listened to the Forbidden records, but they didn’t see how I could fit into the Slayer style, playing the way I was. But, I can see that it was totally different, Dave’s [Lombardo] Slayer stuff was way over the top, and Forbidden stuff was more methodical and thought out. Anyways, they had a drummer, and I forgot his name, Dave’s drum teacher at the time. He was working out for them, but he would make the same mistakes in the same songs every time they would practice. So, either he wasn’t doing his homework, or he just forgot his parts. They would keep jamming with him for a while, but they would ask friends, and my name kept coming up, but they kept passing me over. Finally, they said, well, we’re still not happy with anybody, so we’ll try this guy out. So, I came in, and I nailed it. I played everything the best I could at the time; I can do it much better now. But, I came in and made one mistake.
Which song did you make a mistake?
‘Angel of Death’ where the big double bass part comes up at the end of the song, there’s a lead section that comes up before it. They wanted me to learn it from the live record, so I had to do what Dave did live. But on the live record, it was really hard to tell what the riff was doing; how many times it went before the break, so we played the song, and I was like, well, I can guess. So I didn’t know where the fuck I was at, so finally, I had to stop, and I was like, ‘sorry guys, I have no idea how long this lead section is’ because, on the live record, I couldn’t tell how many revolutions the guitar riff goes. They told me, well, it goes eight times. So we did that part of the song over again, and I got it perfect. I looked down and noticed we only went through the set. We just went through nine songs, each just one time; that was it. So, we played once through, and now that I was comfortable, I could play them again and get a little more into it.
I was on this six-foot high drum riser, which I’m not used to. I was looking down at these guys, and the next thing they were taking off their guitars, and it looked like I was getting thrown out the door, and I was like, oh well, I tried. So, I come down from this thing. They had their whole stadium setup inside this huge warehouse, you know, their “Seasons in the Abyss” stadium setup, and I thought I would be practicing in a room. I was walking down this gigantic ramp, and I was like, well, I’m going to be ushered to the airport any second. Tom [Araya] comes up to me with this huge smile on his face, and then Kerry and Jeff are down there, and I’m like, okay, what the hell is going on here? Evidently, they were happy with what I did.
Slayer in 1994
Drum-wise, what was the most challenging thing in Slayer?
Do you mean which is the most challenging Slayer song to play?
Not just a single song but overall, what was the most challenging thing about being Slayer? Also, how much do they tell you how to play the old songs ‘?
Well, they never asked me to do it. They never really asked me to do anything, really. I was a Slayer fan, and still am, so I respected and loved Dave’s drumming, but as a fan, if they got a new drummer and I bought a ticket to a show, I would expect to hear the stuff that Dave does, that’s what I would want. So, I went in, and every time I had to learn a new song, I would play them exactly how Dave played them, as best as I could. I would learn the licks. The hardest thing to do, I had to become a better drummer. I had to practice more. My hands had to become stronger, and my feet had to become stronger, and other than that, the hardest thing to do was to learn another drummer’s parts, Dave’s parts, as precisely as I possibly could. Then when I did that, I would kind of like change the parts because maybe I wouldn’t perform a part exactly as Dave would, and I would be happy with that. I would use the same kind of phrasing, so if you closed your eyes, you would never know. It would be the same time or the same rack-tom pattern or whatever, but I would change the pattern to something that I was a pattern, so it wouldn’t suck if you know what I mean. So that’s how I got my style, it kind of mixed between Dave and Dave is very fast with his feet, but I tend to use my feet a little more during fills than he does, or differently. I never really tried to analyze it. Because if I see something that I can change, I go well, this is a pretty cool fill, but I could do a little more; nobody ever complains that I do more. And I never heard any fans complain either. I mean, it’s metal, so it should be extreme.
How was it to play your first show with Slayer in front of demanding fans? Were you more nervous than usual?
I was as nervous as I’ve ever been for a gig. It was in front of my home crowd, in my home town. The first show was a learning experience. It was really hot, and I’ve never played. Slayer songs live before, so it was really intense, the most intense music I’ve ever played. I was worried about running out of gas, so I started conserving my energy. Halfway through the show, I felt great, and I was like, what the fuck am I doing? I have so much extra energy in the tank, so I better get on it, and from that point on, it changed my whole drumming style. From halfway through that gig, I told myself if I come off stage from exhaustion, then I’ve done my job. There was a lot of skepticism from critics because Dave was such a legend regarding drumming and Slayer, so there were fans who’. It was really funny because everybody missed Dave, they always did. But, I found that I became accepted by the fans quickly. The fans were really worried about how I played the old stuff; they were mostly worried about that. I would talk to people after the shows, and they would tell me the same thing: they were really worried and thought the band was over and wanted to see if I could do it. Since I could play the songs like Dave played them, or as close as I possibly could, fans were satisfied. Then we came out with “Divine Intervention,” and the intro to that is ‘Killing Fields’ and everybody thought, okay, here’s the new drummer he’s going to suck, and I still don’t understand why people get so excited about that drum fill, but that’s what people always say to me. ‘When I heard ‘Killing Fields,’ it was great!’ They were at ease because it was still intense. It was still Slayer.
So you were right away accepted by the fans?
I felt that I was embraced by the fans, yeah.
How about the album “Undisputed Attitude”? It was a very different Slayer release. That album included cover versions of classic hardcore punk songs and some punk-oriented Slayer originals. How much are you into HC and punk music overall?
I didn’t grow up listening to punk. I grew up listening to metal and hard rock, so that album was an education for me. But Slayer, some of their origins come from punk rock and metal, so it’s a fusion of both. Same with Exodus and Metallica, it’s kind of that thrash thing; it’s a mixture of punk and metal. But, that was more something they always talked about doing; doing an album of covers based on their influences. It started by jamming a bunch of classic rock tunes and trying to make them heavy. Jeff came in the first day and just walked out. He said no, this isn’t happening. It was mostly about where their style came from, and it came from punk rock. So, that was an education doing that record because I’ve never really heard of the bands, but I never really got into their records, and nobody around me ever listened to them. So, I was listening to these records and learning these songs, and Minor Threat is just an amazing band, and I’ve never heard of these guys. I wanted to do all their songs for the record; it almost became a Minor Threat cover record. But then we were like, and we can’t do this song, or this song, or this song because those all were Minor Threat songs, you know what I mean? We had to restrain ourselves.
In addition to “Undisputed Attitude,” you recorded three albums with Slayer. Would you say which one of them is your personal favorite and why?
I would have to say that my least favorite of those records is, I’ll go from number three to number one. My least favorite is “Divine Intervention.” I think it was a good album for drums, but it was an album that could have been mixed better. The guitars weren’t loud enough, and the way the session went, we were moved from one studio halfway through the drums tracks to another studio. We were in the studio with a guy who produced Tom Petty records. He’d never done metal. He was a great engineer, but he’s never done metal before, and halfway through, we got another producer, Toby Wright, to come in at the last second, so that record was never. It never had any consistency to it, although a lot of fans still like it. I would have to say my second favorite, and this is hard, because I like both records for different reasons. I would have to say that I like ‘God Hates Us All’ as my second favorite. It was probably some of the best work I had done with the band. The whole era that I was with the band was the most well-rounded album and mixed the best. My favorite record was “Diabolus in Musica” because it’s got I think the songs on that are you can use experimental for Slayer. It’s as experimental as Slayer got. I think that if we had, I don’t know if I had been more seasoned’..because I came right back into the band right after. You know, I was probably with the band for four months, but if we had never hit the road and instead we recorded “Diabolus in Musica.” I think it’s an amazing record.
There’s no doubt that “Diabolus in Musica” has some modern metal touch on it. I would even say that it has some elements from ‘nu-metal” Do you agree with that?
‘Love to Hate’ is one of those songs on there that you listen to, and people said it was kind of ‘nu-metal,’ but the funny thing about it is that it’s not.’ I would say that what that song was…? ‘State of Mind’! It has Kerry’s solo in it; it has that scratchy, kind of hip-hop scratch thing going on there. If you take that off the record, you know, I don’t hear any elements of ‘nu metal’ other than that. I heard some fans going. What is this? But you have to take those songs for what they are. They’re just good songs. ‘Desire’ is just an amazing song. The band never did it live, but maybe that album personified what Slayer fans want out of the bad; they want an in-your-face aggressive record. When we did “God Hates Us All,” we were on tour with Slipknot. And Slipknot at that time, they were so aggressive onstage. And when we got off tour, we were so fired up to rehearse because of their energy, not their style. Slayer can’t do a Slipknot record because they would lose all their fans, but watching Joey [Jordison] playing, it’s just mayhem what those guys created. And those guys are all metalheads. So, knowing that kind of energy existed out there and fueled the fire for the aggressive nature of “God Hates Us All.”
A question that many, many people must have asked, but I’ll ask it anyway. Why did you decide to quit in Slayer?
There were a lot of little reasons, most of them were mine. The band didn’t want me to leave, but I was unhappy with some things, and I decided to go. The funny thing is that fans want some of the clear-cut reasons. You know it must be one thing. But sometimes, it’s not one thing.
Is it like a marriage?
Exactly. At the time, I was not happy with some things, and I got tired of waking up feeling that way. No matter what you’re doing, you could be in the most successful bands in the world, but are you happy? I get along with those guys just great; they’re still friends of mine. If I had stayed, there were some elements of things that were happening that just really.’I could not stay around. It was better for me to not, but not necessarily good for them. But now, they’re back with Dave, and that’s Slayer.
Your last release with Slayer was a live DVD “War at the Warfield.” How do you like that DVD by yourself?
I haven’t seen it.
No, I haven’t. You have to understand that the taping of that; the Warfield show was two shows before my last show with the band. I haven’t watched it because you kind of go back with your scene for the fans. They see a show; for me, I see my second to last show with the band. I have it, but I needed to get some distance away from the situation and move on with my life. It’s like breaking up with a girlfriend.
So by that time, you knew that you were going to leave?
I had already told them that I was leaving. They knew.
Slayer was here in Helsinki some weeks ago, and Kerry told us that he went to see you guys [Exodus] in Dublin?
Yeah, we hung out and got wasted. [laughs]
The last question about Slayer, would you ever think about working with them again for anything in any circumstance?
So there are no personal problems between you guys?
Not on my end.
How do you like the new Slayer record ‘Christ Illusion’?
I haven’t heard it yet. Well, I’ve heard bits and pieces of it, but I need to listen to the whole thing. When I go home, I’m going to buy it.
LIFE AFTER SLAYER…
After Slayer, you cut your hair and joined in a ‘nu metal’ band called Systematic. Would you tell me some more about that period in your career?
I don’t know if it was a nu-metal band. Still, Systematic was a band that originally before they were called Systematic. Before I joined Slayer for “Diabolus in Musica,” I had formed the band that became Systematic with two of the members of that band; the singer the other guitar player. So, I actually introduced that band to Slayer’s manager to kind of help them get going. Yeah, they were managed by Rick Sales or by his company. But, yeah, when I left Slayer, I wasn’t going to stop playing drums, and I was friends with those guys, and I wasn’t in a band, and they needed a drummer, so I just decided to jam with them. So, if I was still in Slayer, I would have cut my hair anyway because I had it long for such a long time, and every time I looked in the mirror, I wanted to shave it off. If I was in Slayer, I would have shaved it off anyways and grown it out as I did now.
There were speculations that you were pretty fed up with the whole metal scene, and you wanted to have some distance. Is that true?
No, I wasn’t fed up. You have to understand what I was fed up with wasn’t metal, but the metal was my business. At the time, I loved all different kinds of music, so at the time, there was an opportunity for me to do something with a band that was very good. In terms of nu-metal, yeah, I guess you’re probably right. Eventually, I found out that it was very boring.
You also did some touring with Systematic?
I probably did about four months.
And you quit with this band in 2004?
I quit. I wasn’t having very much fun, and it’s not for me.
When you had short hair, and you played with Systematic, how many people recognized you?
Not many. Not many.
Were you looking SO different?
Well, it’s funny. I didn’t do too much different to myself. I just cut my hair and shaved my mustache off; that was it. I’d walk up to people who knew me, and they wouldn’t know who the hell I was! [laughs] I would, dude, what’s up? And they would just look at me like I’m crazy. Well, dude, it’s me!
I didn’t hear about you after Systematic went down in late 2004, and it seemed like you kind of disappeared in almost a year. What were you doing at that time?
Before I went on tour with Systematic in 2003, I played soccer, and I injured my knee badly. But I didn’t get surgery, and I went on the road with the band for four months. So, when I got home from the tour, I quit the band, and probably three weeks after I got home, I went in for surgery and repaired it. So for a year, I didn’t touch a drum set for almost a year, and then that’s when Testament gave me a call, and that’s what got me back in again. I had to recover; my knee was pretty jacked up.
How is your knee doing now?
It’s fine now, but I don’t play soccer anymore [laughs]. I played until I injured my knee, so up until 2003, I was a player.
It’s not a problem if that happens to a singer, but…
…but it’s a big problem if the drummer does!
Okay, I think we’re done. Thank you, Paul !!!
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