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Exodus: Taste The Rainbow. Exclusive Interview with Guitarist Gary Holt

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Monday, December 31, 2007 @ 10:16 PM

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For a stretch, it seemed their old ditty ďAnd Then There Were NoneĒ might turn out to be ironically prophetic for Bay Area thrash veterans Exodus. By 2005, guitarist/songwriter Gary Holt was all that was left of the bandís classic Bonded By Blood/Pleasures of the Flesh-era lineup.

Original vocalist Paul Baloff was dead, killed by a stroke in 2002 just months after a reunion show to benefit Testament frontman Chuck Billy planted the seeds for a full-blown reformation of Exodus, which had disbanded in 1993 after a tumultuous decade-long run that saw the band help spearhead the thrash metal movement and wither when grunge conquered all. Former vocalist Steve Souza, who was re-recruited when Exodus did officially regroup for 2004ís Tempo of the Damned, bailed on the eve of a tour. He was followed shortly thereafter by drummer Tom Hunting, who was suffering from panic attacks, and guitarist Rick Hunolt, who was dealing with a combination of family and substance abuse issues.

But through a series of savvy personnel moves, and his own relentless drive, Holt has been able to keep the Exodus machine running during their second go-round. Hastily recruited former guitar tech Rob Dukes turned out to be a formidable, if maniacal, frontman. Long-time friend and Bay Area thrash fixture Lee Altus made a perfect guitar partner for Holt, and ex-Forbidden/Slayer/etc., drummer Paul Bostaph helped smooth the transition when Hunting left.

It seemed that practice back in the day ó replacing guitarist Kirk Hammett with Hunolt after Hammett defected to Metallica in 1983 and luring Souza from Testament precursor Legacy when Baloff left in 1987 ó had indeed made perfect. The Holt/Dukes/Altus/Bostaph lineup, rounded out by bassist Jack Gibson, the lone holdover from Tempo, crafted 2005ís bruising Shovel-Headed Kill Machine and helped gain back most, if not all, of the momentum lost amid the shuffling.

This year, Exodus got a welcome boost when Hunting, his anxiety seemingly in check, returned to the drum throne as the band prepared to start work on their eighth studio album The Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit A, which was issued in October 2007. Highlighted by the monumental, 10-minute title track, with its cascading riffs and dizzying time changes, Atrocity is easily bandís most epic work. And with its rollercoaster mix of neck-snap thrashers like ďRiot Act,Ē ďBedlam 1-2-3Ē and ďIconoclasm;Ē the hulking, hook-laden ďAs It Was, As It Soon Shall BeĒ and vitriolic ďChildren of a Worthless God;Ē or the brooding ďFuneral HymnĒ and ďGarden of Bleeding;Ē itís perhaps the most well-rounded Exodus album as well.

Home from an incendiary and, quite literally, hair-raising tour of South America, Holt offered the following on Exodusí revolving door line-up, the relative joy of their current stability, bizarre road experiences and the blood-sport that is Uno.

KNAC.COM: Are you taking it easy for the holiday season, or do you have shows set up betwixt and between?

HOLT: We have nothing until the U.S. tour starts next year, January 20th in Bakersfield, Calif. Weíre taking the next few weeks off. We just got back 2-1/2 weeks ago from South America, and thatís the only thing weíre doing until then.

KNAC.COM: With the album having come out in early October, thatís really not much of a push right out of the gate.

HOLT: Typically, you would choose to be out on tour right about now, but Iím not concerned about it whatsover. The album has done really well, itís done better at this point then either of the last two and the buzz on the album is really good. And once we get out on tour, itís going to give it a later boost. Itís outsold the last one in its first week out by a third, so somethingís going right.

The video [a seizure-inducing clip for ďRiot ActĒ directed by Metalocalypse director Jon Schnepp] doesnít even debut until next Saturday (Dec. 8) and the videoís insane, people are going to shit their pants. So that should keep the buzz going a bit until we get on the road and really start working it.

KNAC.COM: I was reading your reports from the South American tour, and those stories about the piles of hair on the floor after the shows were over. Whatís was the deal with that?

HOLT: (Laughs) Man, I wish I knew. It was crazy. I didnít see it happening, I had no clue, none of us did, but as we were walking across the floor to the front exit after the show in Bogota, Colombia, the entire floor was covered with hair. Iím talking huge, giant chunks, not the tufts you pull our of your hair brush in the morning. Big-ass pieces. Every three feet thereís another. There was a thousand people there, so there was enough hair on the floor to start your own wig shop. Seriously.

How you could pull someone elseís hair out without having the place erupt in breakout fights, Iíll never know. Unless they were pulling out their own hair, which is even more fucked up. It was hair, there was no mistaking it, and it was everywhere.

KNAC.COM: Did the crowd seem any more insane than usual while you were playing?

HOLT: They were going fucking nuts, it was packed, but I didnít notice anything out of the ordinary. Then we played Santiago, Chile, and it was the same thing. It wasnít as noticeable right away. In Bogota, it was a white marble floor, and the dark hair all over it really stood out like a sore thumb. In Santiago, the floor was black and as we were walking out we were thinking there was no hair, but when you looked close, oh yeah, there it is. And I was just like ďThis is crazy, I donít know what the hell is going on.Ē

KNAC.COM: Makes worrying about your beer when the ďwall of deathĒ happens at shows here seem like nothing?

HOLT: My favorite thing is to watch people lose their hard-earned beer (laughs). I blew it with the hair, I should have bagged the shit up and sold it to Hair Club for Men or something.

KNAC.COM: Being around as long as you have, youíve probably seen just about everything on the road. If thatís not the most bizarre thing youíve seen, what is?

HOLT: As far as the after show aftermath, yeah, thatís the craziest thing. Iíve seen plenty of blood all over the floor over the years, but you can see that anywhere, but Iíve never seen a 1,100-seat venue covered in hair.

Iíve had a fan in Europe once give me a dead cat in a plastic bag as a gift. And that didnít go over well at all because Iím an animal lover. If heíd have brought me a dead person, I probably wouldnít have been so offended. Thatís the weirdest thing.

KNAC.COM: What would even possess anyone to even think someone would want something like that?

HOLT: I have no idea. He showed up and said ďhey, Iíve got something for youĒ and pulled out this plastic bag and thereís this dead cat. He said heíd got off the road, it looked like it had been hit by a car or something. And weíre like ďwhat the fuck, get the hell out of here.Ē Heís lucky he didnít end up in the bag himself.

KNAC.COM: You have the U.S. tour coming up in January, do you have the rest of 2008 pretty much mapped out?

HOLT: [as if to prove his point about being an animal lover, a small dog yelps in the background] Pretty much the plan is to do the states, then a run through Europe. Right now, weíll possibly just do a couple weeks there and then head over to Russia, which will be really cool, and then go back like a month later for the festival season, then do the states, then go back to Europe later in the year for a full-blown headlining tour.

KNAC.COM: So youíre obviously not taking it easy in your ďold age.Ē Sounds like youíre working about as hard as you ever have?

HOLT: We tour more and longer and with fewer days off then we ever did in our 20s. I think it has to do more with not lagging and keeping things moving forward. When we were younger we had the luxury of days off, but days off are expensive. They cost money. The more shows you do the less money you burn on the bus parked outside a fucking Wal-Mart and having the crew there doing nothing, except maybe drinking a lot.

KNAC.COM: What, no hotels?

HOLT: (Laughs) Hotels, what are those? Not in states. In South America we travel very well, and in Japan and Australia, but in the states, we pretty much just retreat to the inner sanctum that is the tour bus. Half the time when we do get rooms I end up sleeping on the bus anyway. Thereís just something about that bunk, itís like your own personal coffin and I tend to sleep better in it than I do in a strange bed.

KNAC.COM: Is the actual routine all that much different now than when you were coming up?

HOLT: Itís hard to say. Is it much different than when we were younger? No. Do I have more time to see things? No. When we were younger we spent more time just trying to get laid. Successfully, I might add (laughs). It didnít suck being part of a fairly popular band in the 80s. It was great, it was a good time.

Now, when weíre on the road, we just do our thing, and when itís done we may do a couple shots, watch a movie and play Uno. We play Uno for money, itís the most fun ever. When thereís a pot of money on the line, Uno takes on a whole new meaning. And when someoneís drawing cards trying to find their color and having shit for luck, we just get on them hard, talking shit to them. ďTaste the rainbow, motherfucker.Ē (Laughs)

I never win, though. Iíll be down to Uno, waiting for someone to pull that card and theyíll have me drawing all day. It pisses me off.

KNAC.COM: Iíve been interviewing bands for a long time, and I can honestly say this is the first time Iíve ever heard a tour story about Uno.

HOLT: Well, some people play poker, we play Uno. This all started because our tour manager, whoís done a bunch of tours with us, brought a set of Uno cards on tour. And weíre were like ďUno? For cash? Sure.Ē And itís a lot of fun because you can rub the shit in, and you canít do that playing poker. Poker, you either win or you lose, but you canít intentionally fuck the other guyís hand up.

With Uno, you know what the other guy doesnít have and you can really be a dick about it. Youíre just competing so hard and you just know the guyís got no blue cards and then you get that card where you can change the color and itís like ďdraw blue, bitch.Ē So thereís a serious level on oneupsmanship that can goes on, you can really like stick to the motherfucker.

KNAC.COM: Now that youíre back in the scene, so to speak, are there newer bands out there that have impressed you, or do you not really pay much attention to metal these days?

HOLT: I do pay attention, other than when Iím writing or recording. I donít listen to anything because I donít have time. Thereís albums out there that everyone tells me are amazing, and some of these bands are friends of mine, and I feel stupid having to admit I havenít heard it yet, like the new Machine Head album [The Blackening]. I heard one song on Sirius radio the other day, it was really, really killer. And it wasnít even off the album, it was a live version for Donnington. So Iíll have to pick that up.

But thereís some retro thrash stuff, like Fueled By Fire, that I think is good and stuff like Lamb of God and Dimmu Borgir, all that kind of shit. A little more extreme shit. Weíve played a few shows with some of them, and met them and become casual friends, like Willy (Adler) from Lamb of God is a super nice guy. They were on the Slayer tour in Dublin, Ireland, and he came by to see our show on their night off and he went and bought an Exodus hoodie. And the second time I saw him, months later, at the NAMM show in L.A. he was wearing it, which was pretty cool. Seeing him sporting the Exodus colors.

KNAC.COM: If you could do an Ozzfest or Sounds of the Underground summer tour, which mostly the newer bands, would you do it?

HOLT: Absolutely, weíd do it if the situation was right. Ozzfest isnít what it used to be, but we would love to do it if we were in the position to do one of the non-rotating second stage slots. Otherwise, I wouldnít make the financial commitment to do that when you only have the good spot maybe two out of every five days, and the other times youíre playing at 10:30 in the morning when thereís only a thousand people there. When youíre in the non-rotating slot, youíre playing to 10,000.

Sounds of the Underground, though, I think is a really hip, strong tour. Itís a little smaller, but itís plenty big enough. Iíd love to do that.

One thing Exodus has been about, is weíre not trying to go out there and appeal to only to old school fans, because they donít exist anymore. Our audience in the United States now is predominantly teenagers, which is a good thing because the old fans, theyíre married now, they have mortgages and kids and picket fences and their wives donít let them go out to shows anymore (laughs). We just did one of the best shows weíve ever done in Hollywood a few months ago and the entire audience was kids.

KNAC.COM: Now that heís done the new album and the South American tour, has Tom gotten back in the swing, is back to being the Tom of old?

HOLT: Absolutely. What it comes down to is it took Tom a long time to come to grips with what he was suffering from, which is anxiety. Sufferers of anxiety tend to look for medical reasons, and the big breakthrough for anybody whoís suffering from it is to understand that itís not. When youíre heart starts palpitating, youíre not having a heart attack, youíre suffering from an anxiety attack. And once you get to the point where you can fight through it because you know itís not some medical emergency. Heís doing great, heís been awesome and having him back is one of the great pleasures of doing this.

KNAC.COM: The old drummer from Opeth, Martin Lopez, had such a problem with panic attacks that he had to leave the band as well.

HOLT: It can be debilitating for sure, like the whole world is coming down upon you. And when youíre trying to do it and trying to get better and trying to do this, itís next to impossible. Which is why it was good for Tom to have a couple years away and concentrate on himself and not have to worry about four other guys.

KNAC.COM: Was it the plan all along to have Tom come back if and when he was ready?

HOLT: It was hoped for, and thatís nothing against Paul. Paul is still a great friend of mine and one of the best drummers in the world. Paul always understood that Tomís seat was there if and when he ever was in a position to reclaim it, and it just so happened that he was. And it also happened that Paul was going through a period in his life where I think he wanted a break to figure out what he wanted to do, whether it was Exodus or whatever. So it was good timing for everybody.

Paul had some time away and then when Nick Barker was having his visa issues, Testament was there with an offer for him when he was probably looking for a gig. Plus, heís reuniting Forbidden for a few gigs [although it doesnít look like Bostaph will actually be able to take part in the shows because of Testament commitments]. So itís good for everybody, including the fans.

KNAC.COM: Paul seems to have nine lives. He falls from one good gig into another.

HOLT: When youíre that good of a drummer, itís not hard to find work. And he was great during his time with us. But it is great having Tom back, heís been the backbone of this band for a lot of years. Heís an old school rock drummer who plays metal, he can do a lot of things these guys with their insane million-mile-an-hour feet canít do, they canít groove. Some of these guys, if you asked them to jump up onstage and jam ďLet There Be RockĒ theyíd be fucking lost because they canít play a straight beat. They canít play anything that isnít a blast beat.

KNAC.COM: With this album cycle, it must have been nice having one of your old mates come back instead of having to put the whole band back together again.

HOLT: Oh yeah. The entire band, Rob and Lee, were here for the whole process, and had been with the band for a couple years so it felt like everything was running smoothly for a change, there was no outside drama lurking the in background while youíre trying to write and record an album. Iím really good about blocking that shit out, but itís nice to not have to. And when all that other shit is going, it doesnít help to hear everybody giving their opinion about the band. Iím pretty thick skinned, I really donít give a fuck about what anybody thinks about me and this band, but it can be a distraction when people are questioning your integrity or your motives for keeping the band going.

It doesnít change the way I feel or deter me, because Iím pretty driven when I set my mind to something. But this is hardly a case of Gary Holt and four hired hands out their trying to cash in on the Exodus name. This is a band, and I think Exodus still has a lot to offer. I think our recent albums have proved that out.

KNAC.COM: Was there ever a time, especially going into Shovel-Headed where it was just one thing after another, when you thought ďscrew this, itís just not worth it?"

HOLT: No, because I had worked really, really hard getting everything ready for Shovel-Headed Kill Machine. And most of what went down, happened right when we were ready to record. Tomís anxiety issues had come back full-bore, and as far as Rick, not to sound harsh because I love the guy, but his involvement in Shovel-Headed was nil anyway. He didnít come to rehearsals, you couldnít get him there, he showed up rarely. And he quit the day we were going into the studio, but the day before he was still a member of the band even though he hadnít heard all the songs.

So a lot of the work had already been done and I wasnít going to let it go to waste. Paul and Lee came in and we really didnít miss a beat. Theyíre both real pros and it didnít really take that long to get things moving forward again.

KNAC.COM: Since Rickís been your partner in crime since way back when, if he wanted to come back, would there be a spot for him? Or is Lee the guy?

HOLT: Lee is the guy, absolutely. I would never be stupid enough to cast Lee aside. Heís the shit. And aside from having the last couple years together, Iíve known him since Kirk Hammett was still in this band. Itís not like Lee was some new entity. Iíve replaced one long-time close friend with another long-time close friend. So the chemistry was always going to be there. Rickís got his issues and I hope he can get over them. I cleaned up my act, and if I can, anyone can. I donít mean to sound preachy, because my life is far from perfect. But itís the truth. If he can get his shit together, Iíd love to play with the guy again, sure. But not in this band. Lee is the guy in this band.

KNAC.COM: Rob, on the other hand, he pretty much just got thrown to the lions after Steve bailed, right?

HOLT: He came in a complete rookie, even as a singer, but I saw something in him. I knew that he had the ability and I knew he absolutely could do this and I knew he would get better. And heís proven me to be a wise judge of talent (laughs). Heís the man. Heís just a monster, I donít think thereís another frontman out there like him.

Heís beyond insane. He gets to a point onstage where he cannot be controlled and there are times when I want to control him a little bit because heíll get so out of hand. But then thatís the reason I donít want to control him because thatís the beauty of it, heís absolutely a maniac in a world of singers who plan everything out.

Sometimes I try to tell Rob to stop stage diving because I donít want to be held liable if he breaks some kidís neck. But he did a stage dive during one of the shows we did in South America where he literally had to fistfight his way out of the crowd. He was punching people up side of the head, they were trying to tear him to pieces. He came out like half-minute later with half his clothes ripped off, they were trying to steal his shoes, and thatís the first time Iíve heard him say ďthat was a fucking mistake.Ē (laughs) But I love him, the guy is certifiable.

KNAC.COM: So this album was much more of a team effort?

HOLT: I still wrote most of the material, but the big difference was that everyone was involved for the whole process. I didnít write it all by myself and not ask for peopleís opinion. I might have written the whole song but that didnít mean people couldnít suggest what I might do differently. So there was a lot more give and take. And Lee wrote almost all of ďChildren of a Worthless God,Ē which is my favorite song on the album.

Heís also written the album opener in its entirety for Exhibit B, and itís one of the best out of the bunch, if not the best, of both records. Itís amazing. And heís got two or three more in the works. It just makes my job a lot easier. And itís also great to have everybody around, even if Iím writing most of the songs.

On Shovel-Headed, Lee came onboard near the end to do solos. Rick was nowhere to be found most days while the album was being written and rehearsed, so it was like being a one-guitar band writing for two. This time around I had people to bounce things off of, and that was a real big help.

KNAC.COM: With Lee becoming more involved in the songwriting, how does his style contrast with yours?

HOLT: The big difference between Lee and I is he is real analytical. When he writes stuff he puts the shit under the microscope for days (laughs). Iíll give him such a hard time. ďAre you done with that song yet?Ē ďNo Iím trying out version number 95 of this riff.Ē He will put it through its phases, me, Iím more of a by-the-seat-of-my-pants guy, if the riff feels good I donít try to fuck with it. But it works great for him, heíll think a riff through every tiny little variation. Me, Iím more caveman, I hit it over the head with the club and drag it around by its hair. He romances it.

KNAC.COM: The Atrocity Exhibition, does that relate in anyway to that book from J.G. Ballard, which is a fragmentary, almost random collection of thematic pieces, or did you just think it was a cool title?

HOLT: Title sounded cool, so we used the title. I donít think you could ever write a song about that book, because it is a little bit out there (laughs). Itís a book my girlfriend has, sheís got a signed copy, which is pretty cool, and it sits on the bookshelf and Iíve looked at it for years and just seeing the title on the binding of the book, I just fucking loved it. My actual experiences with the book, though, are just thumbing through it and going through pieces of it. It is odd.

KNAC.COM: No kidding. Even though you just copped the title, most of the songs do play into that whole of idea of atrocity?

HOLT: Yeah, exactly. Theyíre mostly about religion, war and politics, and the violence, anarchy and hate they breed. Add them all up and youíve got some pretty bad shit.

KNAC.COM: ďChildren of a Worthless GodĒ is a pretty direct slam on Islam. With all of the furor that erupted from political cartoons depicting Mohammed or that English woman in Sudan who named a teddy bear Mohammed, are you concerned about backlash?

HOLT: All I have to say is fuck them. What the fuck are they gonna do, put a fatwa out on my ass? They sit there and get all in an uproar when they get called a violent, hate-filled religion of intolerance, but if you name a teddy bear Mohammed, they scream for your fucking death. The only thing that woman was guilty of was spending time in Sudan trying to teach a bunch of ignorant children, to educate them to try so they have a better life than the idiots protesting in the streets. This lady is doing the ultimate good. Maybe sheís guilty of a bit of cultural ignorance, but theyíre calling for her to be executed. What the fuck is that?

KNAC.COM: Religionís always been popular fodder for metal, but in this case, say the wrong thing you literally could be taking your life in your hand.

HOLT: Yeah, metal has long been pissing on Christianity. But people are correct when they say that Islam is a radical extreme religion, because people are afraid to challenge it. But whatís to be afraid of? Someoneís gonna bomb me at one of my fucking gigs? Oh well, fuck it.

KNAC.COM: You mentioned you already stuff in the works for what I guess will be Exhibit B? Does it pretty much carry on the same themes?

HOLT: The only thing I can comment on now is the four songs weíve recorded, and they share nothing in common with Exhibit A. As far anger, aggression and violent nature, yeah, they do. But thatís Exodus. Theyíre not interconnected or intertwined with what we did on Exhibit A, even though we were putting those songs together at the same time. The other songs havenít been written, so half of the album will be entirely new. Itíll be interesting to see what comes out of what and whether we have anything musically or lyrically that connect the two batches of songs.

KNAC.COM: Couple final things, how was your Metalocalypse experience?

HOLT: It was so much fun. We live in a cartoon world anyway, and we got to partake in one. How cool is that? If youíre going to do something like Metalocalpyse, youíve got to be willing to get in there and get stupid (laughs). Youíve got to really be willing to make a total fool of yourself, and the more over the top you get, the more (co-creators) Tommy (Blacha) and Brendon (Small) like it.

Nobody played themselves, we all played a bunch of characters. We were everything from fans who get blown up outside a Duncan Hills coffee thing to baristas who work inside the cafe. Itís really funny. We had a good time.

KNAC.COM: And you have DVD available on your Web site (Double Live Dynamo), is that like a bootleg thing for the hardcore fans? And do you plan to do a full-blown DVD at some point?

HOLT: Eventually we may do a full live concert thing. This one we really did do for the fans. The Ď97 Dynamo footage is a pro-shot video, multiple cameras, multitrack recording and itís kind of like an homage to Paul (Baloff). And with the other show on there itís the first, last and only shows we did with him in Eindhoven, Holland. They are two of the most legendary shows weíve ever done.

Itís something we had the opportunity to put out, we put it out ourselves. Right now itís only available on our Web site, weíre about to secure distribution for it so it can be available in stores. Itís super cool. I canít wiping the smile off my face watching the Ď85 show just because we look like a bunch of 14 year old kids, but weíre so tight. Itís so cool.

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