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Exclusive! Interview With Slayer Vocalist/ Bassist Tom Araya

By Brian Davis, Contributor
Tuesday, January 4, 2005 @ 3:24 PM

Raining Blood: Legendary Vocal

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The mood was somber and reflective as I was walking around Seattle’s The Premier venue on Friday, Dec. 10th. With the devastating tragedy of Dimebag’s death just two days in our wake, the surreal sensation of shock and disbelief still permeated the air. But there was also an unspoken comfort between the fans… the metal community is rare in its bond of strength and unity, and at such a tragic time it was good to be amongst friends you’ve never met. That night and the days that have since followed prove the bond we have with each other and those that inspire us, and there is an unquestionable certainty that “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott will NEVER be forgotten. RIP, Dime, and take your rightful place among the thrones of the mighty -- you changed countless lives with your passion, and the memories still remain.

With all the sadness, there was still an overwhelming air of energy and adrenalized anticipation amongst all present, and loud as ever you could still hear the most frequently spoken chant in all of music: “Slayer! Slayer! Slayer!” The venue packed in to its full, sold-out capacity while the first band was still on stage, a sure sign that our passion for music remains strong as ever. Stepping onto Slayer’s tour bus, there was a certain festive air due in whole to the sweet, lingering aroma of large amounts of smoked Holly. As I walked to the back of the bus wondering at the rap that was coming out of the speakers, I found Tom nursing hot tea in between some ugly coughs. Having been plagued with throat problems throughout the tour, it seemed that the problem had only been worsened by the onset of a nasty cold. I also got the distinct impression that Tom had an allergy to some kind of weed; maybe it was the Holly. At any rate, despite obviously feeling like hell, Tom was his usual joking, conversational self and later went on to perform a phenomenal set completely void of any signs that the man was even sick. My hat’s off to Tom for pushing forward and giving the crowd a show to remember on a night when we needed it most.

KNAC.COM: Let’s start with a little bit of your past. You were born in Chile.
ARAYA: Yeah.

KNAC.COM: How old were you when you came over?
ARAYA: I was about 5 years old.

KNAC.COM: I know there are rumors on the Internet that it was due to political unrest, which is not true.
ARAYA: No. Actually, it was like ‘66 when we came over to the States, so that was way before any of that shit started; that happened in ‘71 and we were already in the Unites States by that time.

KNAC.COM: Do you ever go back there?
ARAYA: Yeah, yeah -- we went back there around the time right after that happened, like 2 or 3 years later. We flew out to go as a family, and it wasn’t bad. It was under a kind of dictatorship, I guess, but I didn’t witness anything stupid going on. Everybody obeyed the laws, and that’s about it. They have police; they’ve got riot police just like they do here. And at shows in areas outside the US sometimes the kids get crazy outside the venue, so different countries use different types of… force [laughs] to discipline people. You know, different countries do different things. I saw some of it but its like, “Okay, that’s how they do stuff here. I don’t want to get involved and be in the middle of something I know no business of.” [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: What got you started playing music?
ARAYA: Actually, my older brother was teaching himself how to play guitar and I figured I’d learn how to play bass to accompany him. That was the reasoning behind learning to play bass, and then after that it was more like it was neat to play songs together -- for me to play bass and for him to play guitar. We would just be learning to play Beatles songs and Rolling Stones songs of that time -- of the ‘60s. That’s kinda what inspired me to play.

KNAC.COM: Early music influences… the Beatles, obviously…
ARAYA: Oh yeah, any of the ‘60s music. Whatever had been on the radio in the ‘60s; I mean we were always listening to the radio.

KNAC.COM: How old were you?
ARAYA: Let’s see… I had to be at least 8 or 9; I was listening to everything on the radio. You name it, I heard every song.

KNAC.COM: So it was a musical obsession.
ARAYA: Yeah, the latter part of the ‘60s was my thing. After that I didn’t listen to music as much because ‘70s music just wasn’t… I remember all the songs, but it wasn’t because I was into them, you know what I mean? [Laughs] They just kinda stuck.

KNAC.COM: You did respiratory therapy for a while. Was that a passion you had, or was that more like a job to get you where you were going?
ARAYA: No, my older sister suggested it; she said she had friends who were respiratory therapists, and it was an easy course. And my dad was like, “You either do that or you work.” So I chose to go to school. I went to school for about 2 years on a technical course, and I learned a lot. I learned about air mixture ratios and all the stuff; I learned how to draw blood. I was learning how to intubate people, where you put tubes in their throat. I did that, and in the meantime I was also jamming with the band.

KNAC.COM: Was there any point where you even weighed the two options?
ARAYA: Oh yeah, our first tour in Europe they wouldn’t give me the time off from work. They said that if I was gone for a month or more they would fire me, even though I was on a need basis where they’d call me up and say, “We need you to come in today.” They’d call me at 5:00 in the morning and wake my ass up, “Someone’s not coming in, we need you to come in to work.” When they said they’d fire me I was like, “Well, I guess I’m fired.” Just got my stuff out of my locker and that was about it.

KNAC.COM: And no looking back, obviously.
ARAYA: No, no -- just went ahead and did it, you know. I just said, “I don’t know where this is gonna go, but this is what I want.”

KNAC.COM: You’re also a family man… you’ve got the wife, the kids, the dog…
ARAYA: [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: With all those things, with the image that Slayer has, I think that surprises a lot of fans. Do you think that’s just a misconception -- they read too much into the music to assume that normal guys are behind it?
ARAYA: Yeah, yeah I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions towards the band. The biggest one is that we’re Satan worshippers, but next to that just the fact that we’re normal. Because of time, we’ve learned that there are some things that you really have to maintain, like a normal home life; and that’s a plus.

KNAC.COM: As far as writing lyrics, when did you start contributing?
ARAYA: I didn’t really do much until after Reign In Blood. Usually the songs don’t come with anything other than “This is what we want you to sing” and I have to take it and figure out what sounds good when I’m singing those words in that part. I remember one time when we were working on “Bloodline,” Jeff had an idea for the chorus, but it was more of a cadence. He didn’t really have a melody over it, he just says, “I want the words to be like this in this part.” I’m like, “Okay, how?” and he says, “I don’t know, but this is how I want the words to fit in this part.” So I came up with that high and low end melody kind of thing. So they have an idea of what they want to hear, but I have to sit there and do it. That’s usually how we work stuff out.

KNAC.COM: Do you have any ideas for the new album?
ARAYA: No, I have to really focus, especially when I’m writing because I wanna be good at it. [Laughs] And I wanna be sure I’m using the words the way I want to use them, because to me there’s a lot to it. They’ll fit the phrase that you’re putting them in, but they’re also to paint a picture. I have a bunch of stuff written that we haven’t used, but I haven’t sat down and really focused on what to put toward the album.

KNAC.COM: And that’ll all come after the end of the tour.
ARAYA: Yeah, I’ve started listening to the stuff -- that’s all I do is just listen to it, try to learn it, and in the process of doing that it’s like subconsciously things start clicking. Eventually certain things will come to you.

KNAC.COM: Jeff has his thing with war, and you have a kind of fascination with serial killers. What is it that intrigues you about them?
ARAYA: Just how we could do something like that to each other. Why? I’m trying to see where these guys are coming from so maybe I’ll understand. It’s always kind of intrigued me… Why? I read a book recently by a psychiatrist who was able to interview a few serial killers and she had a thesis on how you could figure these people out. And she thinks that there are things that could tell you whether someone has the potential to do that.

KNAC.COM: Early warning signs.
ARAYA: Yeah, early warning signs. As to what to do about it, she said she didn’t know, but there were tests that she was doing. She wrote a whole thesis about it, and it was really interesting. They have some really interesting traits, things to pick up on. But it’s just, “Why?” You have to ask that with a lot of stuff. Like the suicide bombers. Now they’re calling them homicide bombers, which I think is kinda cool, because that’s exactly what they are.

KNAC.COM: It’s more than just a suicide.
ARAYA: Right, it’s more than just committing suicide -- they’re out to kill people. They’re homicide bombers. But it’s just fucked up -- people do some fucked up shit.

KNAC.COM: Like what’s just happened to Dimebag…
ARAYA: Yeah, that’s FUCKED! Why?? Why? I mean, it… it was pretty brutal to walk up to someone and just point blank… and not just once but several times. It’s like, “What the fuck was that about?!? What the fuck’s your problem?!? ”

KNAC.COM: How does a person come to that?
ARAYA: Yeah, how do you get there? What happened? What happened in that one little span of time to make you do what you did?

KNAC.COM: Yeah, it’s definitely beyond me. There are a lot of crazy things in this world.
ARAYA: Yeah. I can’t say that it’s… like I would consider this area on the bus safe, or the backstage area safe, but not as safe as we thought.

KNAC.COM: It’ll make you rethink that.
ARAYA: Oh hell yeah, it makes you rethink a LOT. It makes me rethink some kid standing there wanting an autograph… now its like, “Uh…”

KNAC.COM: What’s in those pockets?
ARAYA: Yeah. “I don’t have a metal detector on me, and uh…”

KNAC.COM: And that’s a terrible shame, too. It’s your art and you’re here contributing this positive thing…
ARAYA: We shouldn’t be afraid of that.

KNAC.COM: Somehow people twist it and just fuck it up for everybody.
ARAYA: That shit [with Dime] the other night was just… it’s just fucked up. That’s one thing that goes through your mind -- it’s like, “Fuck, how safe are we?”

KNAC.COM: It could’ve been you… it could’ve been anybody.
ARAYA: Yeah, it could have been anybody. I mean that’s never… that’s never happened. Nobody’s ever been shot on stage.

KNAC.COM: And to be some totally positive guy, not malicious, just a carefree guy.
ARAYA: Yeah, he just made sure they were good hosts and threw a good party. That’s why it’s like… That’s the most confusing part. It’s just fucked up, you know?

KNAC.COM: Alright, something I didn’t know: you were on Alice In Chains’ “Iron Gland”?
ARAYA: Yeah, I just screamed on it. Jerry asked me to come in and scream, “I am Iron Gland!” and that was it. [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: You guys have done some TV appearances lately: Monster Garage, Viva La Bam…Is that something you guys enjoyed?
ARAYA: Eh, it’s TV. It’s like anything else, when you’re trying to film….it’s filmed live as it’s happening, but it’s done in stages. But it’s filmed live -- I have to give them credit for that. [On Monster Garage] we played the song over -- we played it like three or four times. And these cars were just like BOOM! They were like rock ‘em sock ‘em cars, so they would hit and this fist would slide on top of the car and hit a balloon. So they were just plowing into each other while we were playing Disciple. We did it like three times in a row, but that was it. I guess we could have just kept playing it over and over and over but we figured three is enough. [Laughs] And then they put it all together.

KNAC.COM: Cut the best scenes out.
ARAYA: Yeah. Jesse’s a cool guy… we met Jesse [James] back in like 1990. He’s a really nice guy, and he has fun doing his show! [Laughs] And the [Viva La] Bam of course was MTV. We did like three songs and they chopped the three songs up into one.

KNAC.COM: All that playing for that.
ARAYA: They didn’t really even use a lot of what they filmed. They’d just film and see what kind of story they could get out of that. And we were only on for like 4 minutes.

KNAC.COM: [Laughs] And they hyped the hell out of that!
ARAYA: Yeah, they hyped the hell out of it and we were only on the screen for about 4 minutes.

KNAC.COM: Typical.
ARAYA: Yeah, 4 minutes. And the rest of it… I mean that’s a 26-minute episode, so there’s 22 minutes of all this other stuff. And they said they were gonna at least play one song, but they chopped it all up. So we’re like… eh, you know? I mean the family was nice; they seemed to be pretty down to earth. But the MTV people were as usual.

KNAC.COM: What’s your favorite Slayer song?
ARAYA: Oh wow… I guess it would have to be either “Seasons in the Abyss” or “Deadskin Mask.” Those two would have to be at the top of the list, and then the whole Reign In Blood album. But I like the majority of the songs -- actually all of them. The one song that perhaps we could have done without or changed some is “Cleanse the Soul.”

KNAC.COM: Kerry said the same thing.
ARAYA: It’s just that now when I listen to it I think, “If we would have just changed something about that song…” We probably could have done it better.

KNAC.COM: Was there ever a time when you thought the Slayer machine might lose momentum and fade out?
ARAYA: That’s not something I really concern myself about. It’s just not something I really think about -- I just kind of take it day by day. A lot of the things that have been going on with the band… I’m surprised when people notice me. That surprises me. And it’s been happening a lot more lately than in the past. I mean I don’t go around the streets advertising…

KNAC.COM: “Hey, I’m Tom from Slayer!”
ARAYA: [Laughs] Yeah, so when people come up to me it catches me off guard a lot. They’re like, “Hey, aren’t you…” and I’ll look around to see who else is around and I’m like, “Uh, maybe?” [Laughs] “You look like Tom Araya.” “Yeah, I get told that all the time. He’s in some metal band, right? I’ve never really heard of them.” And they’re like, “Yeah, you really look like their singer.” And then they just walk away. [Laughs] But then there’s the ones that just look at you and they’re like, “Don’t lie to me, I know who you are.” [Laughs] And there are those that just can’t believe you’re there. I could be in a department store or a supermarket and they’ll be like, “What are you doing here???” “Uh, this is a store. You know, when you need things you go here to buy them?” [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: [Laughs] Alright, last one here: do you prefer touring or recording?
ARAYA: Uh… uh….

KNAC.COM: Neither? [Laughs]
ARAYA: [Laughs] Not right now. I feel like shit. I caught a cold again; it’s full blown now. I’m just ready to go home for a break. We did like 12 shows, then we did the entire Ozzfest with the first half completely booked; then we did the second half with a couple days off here and there. I was home for about a week, then we flew to Europe; we were out in Europe for about 5-6 weeks, then we came home for 6 days and started this tour. [My family] were out riding with me in Texas -- we had four shows in Texas, so I got a bus for the four shows and we hung out for four days. That was a lot of fun.

KNAC.COM: I was gonna say, you gotta have some of that fun in there when you’re touring that much.
ARAYA: Yeah, that makes it fun. Without it I would have problems working. [Laughs] That’s the one thing I miss when I’m out on the road is hanging out with my kids. All we do is hang out; we just sit there and watch movies together, we’ll go outside and ride the 4-wheeler, or we’ll ride the bikes up and down the road. We just bought a new house, so my wife’s been doing all the moving and other stuff, so I would like to go home and just sit and enjoy all that for a couple months before I gotta start playing again.

KNAC.COM: You’re getting to go home for the holidays, right?
ARAYA: Yeah, I go home for the holidays until they want to start recording, which I assume is going to be soon because I think Dave [Lombardo]’s got things that he’s gotta do.

KNAC.COM: And you’re done with a lot of the songs anyway.
ARAYA: Yeah, we’ve got like 12 songs, so there’s quite a few down. It’s just a question of sitting down and applying yourself, you know what I mean? [Laughs] You know, it’s like nothing ever creates itself. I just need to apply myself, otherwise I just… hang out. [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: I know what you mean. Alright, thanks for your time and enjoy the holidays.
ARAYA: Cool. By the way, I didn’t put that in! [Referring to the rap that’s been playing over the speakers throughout the interview] Dave found it on the bus! [Laughs]

(Be sure to click on images to enlarge!)

(Photos by Sefany Jones/ KNAC.COM, 12/17/04 in Los Angeles, CA)

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