[L to R: Dave Lombardo, Jeff Hanneman, Tom Araya, Kerry King]
Here’s something we would have never guessed about Tom Araya: the Slayer vocalist/bassist, one of the most important extreme music icons ever, still gets nervous before shows despite the fact that his cantankerous crew of thrash-metal pioneers formed 25 years ago.
“If I didn’t get nervous,” explains Araya, “it wouldn’t mean anything. Music would just be something that I’m ‘doing.’ Seriously; it wouldn’t have that same excitement.”
Fair enough, especially since Slayer’s last LP, 2006’s Christ Illusion, was hailed as their strongest in years, suggesting the band’s as tight now as they were the last time they played with founding drummer Dave Lombardo. (That’d be the double live album Decade of Aggression in 1991.) self-titled had a lot more questions for Araya, though, including the one question that was on the lips of many metal purists last summer: who’s idea was it to co-headline a tour with Marilyn Manson? So we got him on the phone and found out the most devil-horns-in-the-air fact about the Slayer frontman–he has a farm and his own beef cattle.
[Photo by Kevin Estrada]
self-titled: Be honest with me: Were you a fan of Marilyn Manson before your tour together last summer, or were you at least familiar with his music?
Yeah, well, I’d heard of Manson. [Laughs] That’s about it, just those songs everyone’s heard on the radio. I guess he plays OK music.
Well, do you at least feel a kinship between the two of you since he faced the same morality police problems in the ’90s that you faced in the ’80s?
Nah. Let’s hear it for Manson, though, for diverting some of that shit from us.
I hear some echo in the background there. Do you have me on speakerphone so I sound like an asshole?
No. I’m actually in the bathroom. [Laughs]
All right, then; let’s talk about Christ Illusion. A lot of the lyrics are in direct response to the war in Iraq and how religion affects politics in this country. This record is one of your tightest, most focused efforts in a while. Was what’s going on in the world a major force behind that?
The lyrical content on this album is actually 75-percent [guitarist] Kerry [King], because he wrote the majority of the songs. [Guitarist] Jeff [Hanneman]’s contribution was four or five songs. Usually, Jeff and I will collaborate a lot, using a basic idea of his. No matter what, I try to find melodies in everything. In the past I haven’t been allowed to [help as much] as I have lately. With this record, I definitely put my foot down and said, “Let me do what I’ve been doing for the past 20 fucking years and we’ll get along just fine.” [Laughs] Kerry actually writes a lot of the songs that are anti-organized religion or anti-anything that can control you. And he writes really good songs. Most of the time at least–sometimes I just have to make it sound good. [Tom pauses while his kid whispers something.]
What did your son just say?
He said I should hold onto my wallet or else someone will take it. He’s a smart kid.
“Disciple” (live on the Henry Rollins Show)
So aside from seeing the potential for melodies, what song or songs of Kerry did you immediately gravitate towards lyrically?
“Cult” was pretty interesting, especially the part that’s like, “Religion is hate/Religion is fear/Religion is war,” because any religion is those things. The only religion that isn’t is Buddhism. Even pagans are to some extent.
Do you think one of the reasons people have been hard on Slayer’s lyrics is that you’re stating the obvious–things people don’t want to admit or think about?
Yeah. That’s why we wish people would stop and listen more. Don’t go talking out of your ass if you don’t know anything about it. A lot of people speak before they read, you know?
So what was it like working with Dave again after all these years?
Great. It felt like he’d never left. It was very easy to get back into the groove.
It sounds like you’re very relaxed these days.
Yeah, we’re just chill. We haven’t been ‘rock stars’ for a while now, not since I had my own personal wakeup call.
And what was that?
It was a DUI–a pretty bad one. It changed my life. If I was still behaving the way I used to 20 years ago, I’d be dead.
“Eyes of the Insane”
You’re one of the few metal acts that’s aged gracefully overall–without becoming a caricature of yourself. Got any advice for metal’s future veterans?
Well, one of the things that I’ve done is be more honest about my personal life as I get older, which helps people understand you better. Although it can get a little silly when people are amazed you shit or whatever. When people see me out shopping and ask what I’m doing there, I say, “What the fuck are you doing here?”
Since you don’t mind sharing personal things, tell us something we don’t already know about Tom Araya.
That’s a tough question. Well, I like taking care of the cattle on my ranch.
You actually milk them and everything?
No, they’re beef cattle. They’re actually like big dogs that don’t bark.
So you slaughter them? How metal! Don’t you ever feel bad when you look them in the eyes, knowing full well that they will be killed?
No because you can pick and choose who will be ‘set aside.’
You should pull a Kiss and do Slayer-endorsed beef.
[Laughs] I’ll give you credit for that if we do.