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Face The Heat: An Exclusive Interview With SLAYER Drummer PAUL BOSTAPH

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Friday, February 5, 2016 @ 2:03 PM

"Every time we hit the chorus they hit us with those big flames. If you don't feel alive when you feel that kind of heat pressing against your skin, you're never gonna feel alive.”

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Promo And Studio Photos By Andrew Stuart, Live Photo By Peter Atkinson

The third time probably didn't quite seem like the charm at the time when drummer Paul Bostaph re-upped again with SLAYER in 2013. As he was making his way back into the fold after 12 years away, taking the place of departed original drummer Dave Lombardo, as he had in 1992 – and beating out Jon Dette, who took over for Bostaph for a stretch in 1996-97 before he returned – founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman died of liver failure, leaving the band’s future somewhat murky even though he had not performed with SLAYER in two years after contracting necrotizing fasciitis in his right arm.

Though the band went right to work, taking care of tour commitments through the end of 2013, where things stood after that was anyone's guess. Despite protests from the internet soapbox of “No Hanneman, No SLAYER,” the remaining original members, bassist/frontman Tom Araya and guitarist Kerry King, obviously opted to continue, with Hanneman’s live fill-in Gary Holt of EXODUS staying on and Bostaph – a veteran of four albums with the band, as well as stints with EXODUS, TESTAMENT and FORBIDDEN - holding down the drum throne.

The band kept touring, and Bostaph and King were soon hard at work on material for a new album that the guitarist already had been fleshing out with Lombardo. The resulting Repentless was issued on Sept. 11 to as much trepidation as anticipation, given the absence of Hanneman, save for one song, who had penned nearly all of the band’s “classics”. Though reviews were decidedly mixed, fans obviously thought “half of SLAYER” – to quote Araya - was better than none, and the album cracked the Top 10 in nearly two-dozen countries.

The band previewed its release with a summer run across the states headlining the much-maligned Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival. Though SLAYER and main support KING DIAMOND put on spectacular – and, in SLAYER’s case, downright explosive — performances, the tour was mired in controversy over the quality and quantity of its lineup before it even started, and predictably drew theater-sized crowds at most of the “sheds” it played.

Starting Feb. 19, SLAYER will begin another U.S. run, this time in more suitably modest venues and headlining a metalhead’s wet dream of a tour with TESTAMENT and CARCASS. As the band readied to, well, get ready for the tour, Bostaph spoke on the phone about his return to SLAYER during such a tumultuous time, how the band is settled into a “new normal” without Hanneman, touring in Europe after the Paris terrorist attacks and his Beavis-like glee at all the pyro going off around him during the Mayhem Fest.

KNAC.COM: Are you at home right now, or relaxing on the beach somewhere?

BOSTAPH: (Laughs) I'm at home. We've already started rehearsals, we started those last week, and we have a video shoot, we're going to do two videos this coming week. So we're already back to it. Vacation is over.

KNAC.COM: Are the videos going to be anything along the lines of “Repentless”. I was just rewatching that one, it's a bloodbath.

BOSTAPH: That was pretty awesome. They filmed that over two days and the first day is when they filmed all that stuff. We showed up the second day. Nobody told us what they were filming the first day and I would have wanted to see it. It was done at an abandoned jail up in L.A. They walked us through where they did all the scenes and, man, there was fake blood everywhere. It would have been cool to see them doing that. We're doing the two videos with the same producer, so we'll see what happens. I don't know what to expect from these, but they're gonna be really good.

KNAC.COM: You mentioned that vacation was over, are you looking forward to getting back at it?

BOSTAPH: Yeah. We had something like six weeks off before Kerry and I started rehearsing last week. We had a pretty healthy break, so it will be nice to get back out there and play live again. It's also nice to be home, but we're looking forward to going back to work.

KNAC.COM: What was the experience like in Europe last fall? The terrorist attacks in Paris happened during the middle of your tour, it must have been pretty tense the rest of the time you were there?

BOSTAPH: Yeah, it was a strange time to be there, no doubt. The attacks in Paris, needless to say, were very shocking for everybody. For me personally, and the people who were on the road with us, it hit really close to home. Everybody who was touring, it hit close to home. In the middle of it, all you're doing is thinking, “OK, I don't know what's going to happen tonight.”

We played in Belgium right before they put their highest level of security on and basically shut down Brussels because they thought another attack was going to happen. When we were going through, we knew that some of the terrorists had been from there, and to see the level of security there, it was like “Wow.” That was when you feel like you're walking into the teeth of a lion.

Honestly, did I want to get back home at the end? Heck yes I did. We got to the end, and I was like “I'm done, let's go home.” I want to be home, see my family, see my fiancee and just chill for a second.

KNAC.COM: Did all that affect the shows, or was it pretty much business as usual when you played?

BOSTAPH: The promoters took extra precautions, and individual cities took precautions as well. In terms of us, it was business as usual, in terms of “we've got to play a show tonight.” But everybody had their eyes peeled and were maybe more so on guard than usual.

At times, when these things happen, people don't know what to do. You don't know what's going to come next, if anything at all. It's times like those where you have to realize that you've gotta do what you do, you can't run and hide, even if you might be a little scared, This is the world we live in.

You get in this mode of repetition when you're on the road, you're playing the songs every night and though it's always special, it's repetitive. For me, personally, after what happened in Paris it made it more special to go on stage every night because it was like somebody was trying to take something away from me and I wasn't going to let them do it. And I think we all felt that way. We didn't want to back down. And the experience in Europe was really good. The response to the new record was amazing.

KNAC.COM: To backtrack a little bit more, to last summer, the Mayhem Festival got a lot of bad publicity and there was quite a bit of finger-pointing and blame-gaming about the quality of the bill, etc. Did that put a damper on things for you guys as the headline act?

BOSTAPH: The bad publicity, the statements that were made, I thought were silly. It got really personal, and that was disappointing. But most of the stuff going on around the tour was beyond our control, all we could really do is go out and play and make the best of it.

I know SLAYER's a very extreme band and I think if you were 20 years old it would be extreme for you as well. So, hey, I'm not 20 anymore but you know what? I can still bring it. We all can. So every night, not like we had something to prove, because we do what we do, we went out there like we did have something to prove. And the live show, we had a lot of fun with it.

Any time you can have that big a production, how can you not have fun? We don't get to have that kind of production very often. That was my first entire tour with fire and I loved it. It was awesome.

KNAC.COM: I was near the soundboard, and could feel the heat out there, I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be in the middle of it all.

BOSTAPH: For the first three shows, I was a little sore, so I put a little Tiger Balm on part of one my arms one night. I was fine with the heat, but they hit me with those flames at that show and I'm playing and I'm thinking “my forearm's pretty damn hot, hotter than normal.” Well, Tiger Balm is a petroleum product, with oil in it, so you probably shouldn't have it on your skin when you're getting hit by flames like that. So needless to say, I didn't do that anymore.

It was extremely hot, and that made it fun. For the first song, “Repentless”, when we came out with it, every time we hit the chorus they hit us with those big flames. If you don't feel alive when you feel that kind of heat pressing against your skin, you're never gonna feel alive.

KNAC.COM: The desktop background on my laptop at home is a photo I took at the show I saw where the wall of flames are erupting and Gary is turned around to it with his arms raised up like he's about to bow to the fire god.

BOSTAPH: (Laughs) Every boy loves fire, right? I think we all thought it was pretty cool. There were some moments on the tour where it looked like the drums got engulfed in flames. It was awesome, I'd love to do it again.

KNAC.COM: Since this tour is theaters and ballrooms there won't be any fire, but will you guys be using projections or LCD screens like you did on Mayhem? Some of those were as cool as the fire.

BOSTAPH: I don't know what the plan is as far as the production. That's usually something Kerry and Tom talk about. This time, because it's on a smaller scale, I don't think we're going to see the gigantic stuff like on Mayhem. But I don't know. We always have something special, something different going. I know there's going to be some new twists, I guess when I arrive in Chicago for the first preproduction day I'm going to find out.

KNAC.COM: You've been back with the band for about three years, do things feel “normal” such as the new normal is with SLAYER now that Jeff is gone?

BOSTAPH: Yeah, I guess. It feels like we're definitely a unit now, it feels like we're a band. But for me, it did when I came back as well. The thing about it was we didn't have Jeff, I was just coming back when he passed. It's been the four of us – me, Gary, Tom and Kerry - since I started playing shows again with SLAYER.

I remember Jeff every day I'm in this band. It's one of those things where I'm never going to forget Jeff and he's still with us, in my opinion he is. And we pay homage to him every night by playing his songs, they're still a big part of the set list and always will be. Without Jeff this band wouldn't still be around.

Does it feel normal? Yeah, it feels normal to the extent that this is the way it's supposed to be, this is the way Jeff wanted it. He had a say in Gary coming on board and in bringing me back into the band. Knowing we have his blessing is a big deal.

Gary was with these guys in the beginning, when thrash metal started. EXODUS is an amazing, heavy band and they were there in the beginning and so was Gary, so when I look over and see Gary on that side of the stage, to me it makes sense. I know Gary. I trust it and I trust him.

KNAC.COM: And you'd played with him before in EXODUS.

BOSTAPH: Yeah, and that's a big thing too, and it's working. If there's anyone in the world who gets the term “heavy” it's Gary. It's working, we're having a lot of fun and it's flowing. That's a good thing.

KNAC.COM: Now that Repentless has been out for a while and you've had some time to look back, what are your thoughts on it? You've got to be pretty happy with the reception, but are you pleased with the results?

BOSTAPH: The reception has really amazed me, only because every time I'm done with a record, and before people hear it, I never know. I hear it and I like it, but I can't predict what people think. There's that moment when it comes out, you're excited, but it's a point of vulnerability. Like, “Are you going to like my baby or aren't you?”

I'm drifting farther away from the moment when we recorded this album and those sessions happened and the feelings that I had during those sessions. They are all recorded on that record, that's it. But I was listening to it last night to kind of get familiar with some of the stuff we're going to be doing and I was thinking “this came out really good.” Terry Date did a fantastic job with the production on it.

Hindsight is 20/20 when you have the opportunity to listen back to what you've done and, like there are with every album, there were some things that I heard where I was like, “Man, I should have done that a little differently.” But overall I'm really happy with what we did.

KNAC.COM: Kerry had already been working on a lot of the material with Dave before you came aboard and reworked it with you, how big a difference was there from how the material was then to what is heard on the album?

BOSTAPH: I didn't listen to everything he worked on with Dave because when you listen to what another drummer did sometimes it's hard to unlearn something you like. So it's better not to. So Kerry and I started from scratch. I don't know what it originally sounded like, he showed me everything from scratch. I'm sure it was a more difficult way of doing things, especially for him, it was almost like he hit the reset button and said “Hey dude, do what you do with this.”

I'm sure that the basics of the songs are the same because the ABCs of what it is Kerry writes, he knows what he wants. But it's not like he controls every little thing that you do, as a matter of fact it's really just the skeleton of the thing to convey the idea of what he wants, the vision. If you've got an idea of what you want it's better to convey it and that's what Kerry does, and it makes it easier to get the ball rolling fast. Dave and I have different styles, I think that's obvious, he knows it, I know it, the world knows it. No two drummers have the same style, that's all there is to it. So everybody is going to have a different approach. I'm confident the things that I do, he didn't and vice versa. And for better or worse? That's not for me to say.

KNAC.COM: We were talking earlier about things being “normal” with the band now, at least on stage. Did it feel the same way in the studio?

BOSTAPH: The process was pretty much the same, but the dynamic obviously was different. The biggest thing about Jeff's absence was it was a constant reminder that our friend was gone. I missed his not being there to give his opinion or bring his creativity, which has been a huge part of this band.

Except for “Piano Wire”, the songs on the album were all Kerry's. He really worked his ass off, which he always does. Without him shouldering the load there wouldn't have been a new new album, and I give him a lot of credit for that. I think he did a great job.

There were a lot of people who, not a lot of people, it's hard to make a blanket statement like that, there were some people out there who thought we should just hang it up. A lot of people didn't think we should. The bottom line is we didn't and I'm proud of what we did. It's a good record. It's a SLAYER record and I think you can see by the response a lot of people feel the same way.

KNAC.COM: The album did well, the band's stayed really busy and the tours keep putting asses in the seats, so the speak, so the decision not to hang it up seems to have been proven the right one?

BOSTAPH: Yeah, I mean this when I say this but I don't think it's what Jeff would have wanted. The bottom line, I don't think that's what he wanted at heart. That's not what Kerry or Tom wanted, and I believe the band should keep going even as a fan. Jeff's passing was a big loss, but SLAYER has faced plenty of obstacles [such as Araya's spinal surgery] over years and kept it going. This is not a band that gives up easy.

KNAC.COM: Is the plan going forward sort of tour by tour, or is it open-ended?

BOSTAPH: I came back for the long haul, and that's how I'm looking at. We have plans for the rest of the year. I don't know if everything's locking into our schedule yet, things are being thrown at us all the time. We have stuff that we're going to be doing this year and they're just putting it all together. We'll be out there.

KNAC.COM: You've had the BLACK GATES project kicking around for quite a while, I'd imagine that's on the backburner with SLAYER being so busy, but do you expect anything to ever see the light of day from that project?

BOSTAPH: It's something that's still on the backburner, but man it's been a long time since we've done anything. I still talk to the guys. I really haven't had any time to put any energy into that. It's there, I don't know if we're going to get around to it or not. I'm friends with the guys so every once in a while we'll get together and we talk about maybe doing something if we have to time, so we'll see.

It's a very cool project and I like the music. There's a lot of stuff that we've written that people haven't had a chance to hear. If we get around to it we'll record it so people can get a chance to give it a thumbs up or give it a thumbs down.

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