By: Sean Claes
Sean Claes: This year marks the 20th anniversary of Reign In Blood. Have you listened to it lately?
Tom Araya: All the time.
Claes: It stands up to the test of time.
Araya: A lot of our albums do. Show No Mercy… Hell Awaits… still stand the test of time for me.
Claes: Do you look back on the last 25 years and think ‘I did that?’
Araya: I don’t question the records that we’ve done; I question how many. Eleven albums, two DVDs, and all of the things we’ve accomplished… and I’m like fuck. I never would have told you 25 years ago that this band would be around for 25 years.
Claes: How’d you start out playing music?
Araya: I’d been playing in a band that played top 40 covers and stuff like that. Kerry [King] had become a member of that band at one point. We’d play weekend parties. I’d been sight-reading and playing bass since I was 14. I was playing in bands from the time I was 15 or 16 and when Kerry called me up to join Slayer I had just turned 20.
Claes: For some reason I can’t imagine you singing the top hits of the late 1970s.
Araya: Well, 1979 was when Van Halen’s first album came out, so the band I was in was playing ‘Ain’t Talking About Love’, ‘Running With The Devil’, and we were learning songs like that. Then Kerry called me up and he was talking about [Judas] Priest, [Iron] Maiden, Black Sabbath, U.F.O., and Boston. That was the music I was into. Even though I played the other stuff, I preferred the heavier stuff.
Claes: This is the first time since 1990 that you’ve recorded with all original members. How has the experience gone?
Araya: Good. [Dave Lombardo] (drums) has been playing live with us for three years. We would work on the new material, then go out and do a tour… come back and work on the material… and go out again. In three years time, we’ve had a lot of time to listen and play that material.
The drum tracks were recorded in less than one week. The guitar tracks were recorded the next week. My vocal tracks were recorded in a week as well. We recorded pretty quickly, in three weeks time. We’re very familiar with the material. What’s been taking the most time is comping… putting the best in everything.
Claes: Is there a favorite song for the new album at this point?
Araya: All of the songs are good, but there are two standouts, in my opinion. One is called ‘Jihad’ and one is called ‘Eyes Of The Insane’.
Claes: What is ‘Eyes Of The Insane’ about?
Araya: I was walking through the airport and I looked down and saw the issue of Texas Monthly with a soldier’s helmet on it. I picked up the magazine and thumbed through it and saw the article “Casualties of War” and I realized… I’m buying the magazine.
I read the article on the plane. We had just started doing pre-production for the new album, which is we had three days rehearsal with the producer (Josh Abraham) coming in and listening to us play the music live. I dropped off my stuff to the hotel, did that, and then I made it back, read the article again. It was a very profound article. I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote the song down.
Something was telling me I had to write it, so it just came out. It is a sincere topic. It’s one that the military doesn’t want you to know. They sweep it under the rug, but it’s a story that needs to be told.
Claes: When getting ready to play live, how do you figure out your set list?
Araya: We will have about forty songs that we rehearse. Then we make three lists. There are the songs we like, the songs the kids want to hear, and the songs that we like, but don’t play live too often.
Sometimes the songs we like and the songs the kids want to hear cross each other out so that’s definitely a list of songs there. Then there are songs like ‘Silent Scream’. It was a song we hadn’t played live in a long time and we finally brought it back out and it’s a great song we fucking love to play it.
Of course, we have to pay attention to where we are playing. We try to make a different set list if there’s a chance that we’ll have some of the same people for both shows. If it’s a venue an hour or so away, we’ll have a different set list.
Claes: Do you still get the same excitement playing live?
Araya: Oh, yeah. Someone asked me what we do to prepare for a show. We all do different things. Kerry and Jeff start warming up about an hour before the show so they will be limber enough to play the set. I pace the entire time saying to myself “Don’t fuck up, don’t fuck up, don’t fuck up.” That feeling of nervousness lasts until I walk on stage hit that first chord.
The minute I start singing that feeling goes away and I just concentrate on... not fucking up. If Kerry or Jeff fucks up, they can cover it. If I fuck up, everyone knows. If Dave fucks up, everyone knows because it changes the entire structure of the song.
Claes: When you have a couple thousand fans screaming the lyrics and you are the one that messes up…
Araya: Yeah, they’re all like...”You fucked up!” and I’m like “I know I did, but I’m up here and you’re down there. I’m making it up as I go along! It’s a whole new song, didn’t you hear it? Didn’t you check on MySpace?”
Claes: Speaking on MySpace, are you into that at all?
Araya: There is a Slayer MySpace. We were told about it a while ago. [Marketing folks] have people putting it all together for us. If there’s anything that comes up that we should know about, they will bring it to our attention.
Claes: I saw on Kerry King’s site (kerryking.com) that there was a person on MySpace pretending to be him.
Araya: There are people that do that. My brother John said he found someone on there pretending to be Jeff. He knows that Jeff doesn’t do stuff like that. Of anyone, Jeff would not be the one with a MySpace.
I don’t have one either because it’s not my thing. I’ll be involved in it with the band and fans typing questions. In all honesty if I were to try and get tomaraya.com, it wouldn’t be surprised if someone bought it up (ironically, tomaraya.com when keyed in bounces to San Antonio Slayer Tribute band Dead Skin Mask who playrf Austin’s The Backroom on 6/6/06).
Claes: You’ve had fans do some outrageous things in tribute to Slayer. We all know about Mike Meyer getting Slayer carved into his arm for the inlay of Divine Intervention.
Araya: Well, he was a fan, but he also got paid for that. It wasn’t like he did it because he was such a huge Slayer fan. He was like “I’m a huge Slayer fan… how much will you pay me to do that?” I always make sure that people know he was compensated for that. It was done out of that pretense. He did it because he was paid.
Claes: Thine Eyes Bleed opened your recent Unholy Alliance tour. That’s your brother John’s band.
Araya: I told my manager I wanted them to open up the tour. They are really good. They do really good in Texas.
They’ve been around for a few years. He recently joined the band under their second album. He was a guitar tech that worked with us for about 15 years. He’s also worked with Garbage, Ministry, and his pinnacle was being Lou Reed’s guitar tech.
Araya: That’s my phone ring: ‘South of Heaven’ it’s a ring tone I made.
Claes: One last quick question, the one everyone probably asks, but since this year we had “6-6-06” which was dubbed the International Day of Slayer… I’ll ask again. Is Slayer a Satanic band or just a band that is in the genre and folks assume…
Araya: We brought that on ourselves. When we released Show No Merc y(1983) all of the songs were like ‘Black Magic’ and ‘Evil Has No Boundaries’. Then there’s the imagery that’s been associated with the band.
We’re not going to shy away from it. That’s what the band was about when we started and the minute you start to turn your back on it, like anything else, the music will turn its back on you. We labeled ourselves and it just stuck.
We’re not going to change the kind of music we play and if we change our image we will lose our integrity. We haven’t turned our backs on ourselves and or fans. [END]