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Nostalgia Trip. Peter Atkinson's Exclusive Chat with Slayer's Kerry King

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Saturday, September 18, 2010 @ 12:08 AM

"When it comes for us having to up the ante, I don't think there's any more ante to up."

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Since guitarist Kerry King is the third member of Slayer I've interviewed in a little more than a year - before him it was drummer David Lombardo, prior the release of the band's latest album World Painted Blood, and bassist/frontman Tom Araya this spring after he recovered from spinal surgery that essentially shut the band down after Blood was issued - you'd think there wouldn't be a whole lot of new ground to cover.

But Slayer is nothing if not newsworthy. In just the last few months, with Araya fully recovered, the band took part in a series of much-awaited shows featuring the thrash metal "Big Four" - along with Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax - in Europe, completed the long-delayed American Carnage Tour of North America with Megadeth and Testament - during which they performed 1990's Seasons In The Abyss in its entirety - and readied to reunite with 1991 Clash of the Titans tour mates Megadeth and Anthrax for the Jagermeister Tour of the states. They also reissued their concert videos - War At The Warfield, Still Reigning and the long-out-of-print Live Intrusion - as a DVD set and re-released their Def American/American Recordings albums on vinyl as a box set. And looking ahead, Slayer will mark their 30th anniversary in 2011.

During a spate of brief interviews on a day off between the American Carnage and Jagermeister tours, King offered the following on all of the above and a few other things.

KNAC.COM: I guess you have two or three weeks off, any big plans for the break?

KING: I've got a reptile show in Anaheim that I'm going to be a vendor at, so I'm basically getting ready for that this week, and then next week I'll be calming down from that and the week after that we go back on tour. So that's my vacation (laughs).

KNAC.COM: You breed snakes, right? Is that what you will be vending at the reptile show?

KING: Yeah, mostly carpet pythons. I've been breeding them for years. Every now and again, when I have time, I'll set up at one of these shows. Some people like cars, I like snakes.

KNAC.COM: Lombardo's going to be doing a couple shows with his band Philm during the break, will you be doing anything musical, or do you just pack your guitars away when you get home?

KING: Actually today I'm going to do what I call "putting on a show" in my bedroom (laughs). Once we're ready and we've been touring and all the muscles are used to the regimen, I don't like letting them decay to where you gotta start all over again to get into tour shape. I've been off for five days and I can already start to feel it, so I'll definitely be putting on a show in my house.

KNAC.COM: What exactly does that entail?

KING: I run through a whole set, I'll headbang and do all the moves I usually do onstage. Just keep it all loose.

KNAC.COM: Given his neck surgery, how has Tom been holding up with the busy tour schedule you've had and will have?

KING: He's done fine, so far. He's not headbanging. He can't. I've been telling him once he gets comfortable in his new skin he's gonna outlast all of us, because we're beating ourselves up every day.

KNAC.COM: Because Tom can't be as much of the focal point as he used to be, do you and Jeff [Hanneman, guitarist] feel the need to compensate, do a little bit extra onstage to make up the difference?

KING: I think we've always done the same show, more or less. We're not the kind of band that runs around on ramps or has a lot of fancy stage moves or does any of that stuff. We focus on playing as hard as we can and being as tight as we can. I don't think there's any more that we can do, but I am conscious that he [Tom] can't, so maybe I do try to make a little bit more of a spectacle of myself, without being retarded. When it comes for us having to up the ante, I don't think there's any more ante to up (laughs). You know what I mean?

KNAC.COM: Maybe it's time to bust out lasers or something?

KING: Probably not (laughs), because Metallica just did that and we don't want any comparisons, "Oh, there just doing that because they saw Metallica doing it."

KNAC.COM: I guess that would lead to the obvious next question, what did you think of the shows you did with them and The Big Four?

KING: They were exceptional, it was awesome. The funny thing about it is we go over there thinking it's going to be all of us together on one stage and there were some shows where Megadeth and Anthrax were on different stages than us and Metallica, which kind of defeats the purpose of calling them "Big Four" shows. But the ones where it was Anthrax, Megadeth, us and Metallica, they were great.

KNAC.COM: I asked Joey Belladonna from Anthrax about the possibility of American shows and he said all the bands were into the idea, is that your take?

KING: It's hard to say because there are so many logistical things that have to happen. It's hard enough just getting two bands together, never mind four bands that are used to headlining individually. So just making all the shit happen will be hard. But when the Carnage Tour came through San Fran a week or so ago, we saw Lars [Ulrich] and James [Hetfield, from Metallica]. The bands are definitely getting along and as far as I'm aware everyone is completely into the idea.

KNAC.COM: All the reports I saw from the Big Four shows made them seem like a big old love fest.

KING: I don't know if I'd quite call it that (laughs). But despite all the shit that's gone back and forth between people, between the different bands over the years, especially in the press, it's funny what happens when you get everyone together in one place. I think everyone wanted to get along, so it was cool.

KNAC.COM: How about the Carnage shows, did they end up being worth the wait?

KING: Definitely. The shows were great. I hung out with Testament a lot, Chuck Billy and [Alex] Skolnick and [two-time Slayer drummer Paul] Bostaph. Eric [Peterson] didn't hang out that much and Greg [Christian] was like a ghost, we hardly ever saw him. The after shows were usually the Testament/Slayer party. Megadeth, they're a different world. Usually they were gone by the time we were off the stage.

KNAC.COM: Do you enjoy doing the Seasons set? When I talked to Tom a few months ago he wasn't too enthusiastic about the whole memory lane thing.

KING: Yeah, it's definitely fun to play. We've been playing a lot of those songs in our set for years anyway. The only problem I have is we only have an hour and 10 minutes onstage and that takes 45 minutes [to play the whole album]. We squeeze 15-16 tunes into an hour and 10 minutes, so we definitely have to blaze through things. If anything else, that just makes it more intense. The set runs pretty well, I haven't heard any complaints (laughs).

KNAC.COM: That's probably a good thing since you get to trot it out again for this Jagermeister/Clash of the Titans reunion tour.

KING: No doubt. I've always had a good time on the Jagermeister tours. This is our third one with those guys. I'm really good friends with all of those guys and it's always cool to hook up with old friends on tour. So combine that the fact that we're reconnecting with Megadeth and Anthrax, and it should be good.

KNAC.COM: Do you have good memories of the first Clash tour?

KING: That was like all of our top of the world moment. You know? Because right after that Dave left our band and our parade of drummers began (laughs). Anthrax did the same thing, they couldn't keep a singer, they got rid of Joey and had [John] Bush for a while, then Joey came back for a while and then they just had so many question marks. And it wasn't much longer after that that Megadeth lost most of their people and started the musical rollercoaster that is their band to this day, although these days they're actually pretty solid.

That was definitely a high point and now it seems like we're at that high point again - so hopefully everything's not going to go to hell after this tour too (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Given the bad blood/feuds/wars of words what have you that happened between the bands after that, was the tour itself that contentious?

KING: It definitely got some shit stirred up, probably because it was so competitive. You've got three bands at the top of their game, at the top of metal, all thinking they're the big dog, so there's going to be some tension.

KNAC.COM: Do you expect that this time around?

KING: I think we're past that now, at least I know we are (laughs). I don't think we have anything left to prove.

KNAC.COM: You've done some Reign In Blood shows, now you're doing these Seasons shows, are you worried about getting trapped in a cycle of nostalgia and being asked to do South Of Heaven tours or Hell Awaits tours, etc.?

KING: I don't know. The way we sound now is so different from some of our old stuff. Seasons and Reign are a lot like we sound today, so it's more of a natural thing. I couldn't see us doing South. I would like to do the new album, actually. A lot of bands do their old albums, hardly anyone does their new ones. I think that would be cool.

KNAC.COM: I assume you'll be doing more touring after the Jagermeister shows, have you guys actually talked about doing that?

KING: I've mentioned it when the Seasons thing came up. I would have rather done the new album, but with Megadeth doing Rust In Peace it made sense for us to do Seasons because it was totally a chunk in time, which is historical for us. Once we get done doing that, if we're still wanted to come through again maybe I can talk the guys into doing the new one.

The bands that I've seen do new albums, it's kind of for themselves, it's a self-indulgent kind of thing and their new albums really weren't that good. I think ours stands up. There's really not been any bad press about it, everything we've seen has been good.

KNAC.COM: With the time off you had while Tom was recuperating, were you able to start working on any new material?

KING: I had every intention of doing that but then it turned into a seven-month party (laughs) so I didn't get much done.

KNAC.COM: Are you guys thinking of doing the next album like you did the last one, putting the material together in the studio and doing it more spontaneously?

KING: That's not how I would like to go about it. It came out good and everything, but that's not my first choice. I don't mind having some stuff left to the imagination, but not the whole thing. I'm definitely happy with it, as far as being on the spot. That could be good or bad, for us it was good that time, but if you come in with nothing and what you start working on isn't happening then you're pretty much fucked.

KNAC.COM: To get back to the nostalgia theme, you've got most of your catalog coming out on vinyl, were people clamoring for Slayer albums on vinyl?

KING: I don't know about that, but I think it's good to have them available for the people who want them, and I'm sure some people do. It seems like vinyl's kind of popular, if you go to the record stores that are still around they all have vinyl. So it'll be cool to have ours there too. I think it's a good idea.

KNAC.COM: I had an old promo videocassette of Live Intrusion, when did that come out, like 1995 or something?

KING: Yeah. This is the first time it's been out on DVD. I brought that up like eight years ago and it's taken this long to get it out, so you see how people listen to me (laughs).

KNAC.COM: If memory serves, that's the one where the guy slashes the Slayer logo into his arms?

KING: Yup, that's the one. We got a lot of mileage out of that.

KNAC.COM: Since next year is the band's 30th anniversary, do you have anything special in the works?

KING: We have no plans yet, but that doesn't mean something won't happen. It seems like everything we've done over the past few years has been special for one reason or another: the Reign shows with the blood showers were pretty cool, touring with Manson a couple times was fun, the Big Four shows, the tour we've got coming up. So it's getting harder and harder to top what we've already done. Maybe we'll think of something.

KNAC.COM: Since you mentioned some of the high points, what would you say have been some of the lowest points of your long career?

KING: Changing drummers five-six times wasn't much fun. Probably the worst was waiting for Tom to get healed from surgery. We've got the new album set, we're already to go and everyone's fired up to have Slayer tour the globe and then we're sitting there with our thumbs up our asses for six-seven months. But you gotta do what you gotta do, and Tom had to get himself fixed up so he could keep doing this. So now we're making up for that.

KNAC.COM: Well that's about it, enjoy the rest of your "vacation."

King. I always do (laughs).

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