Gary Holt of Exodus
By Alun Thomas
Twelve years after their last studio album Force Of Habit, Exodus recently released their new recording Tempo Of The Damned to unanimous praise. A founding member of the Bay area thrash scene of the 1980s, Exodus defined the genre like few others, with their landmark 1985 masterpiece Bonded By Blood one of the most influential albums of the genres history, and their only studio effort with original vocalist, the late Paul Baloff.
After Baloff left the band in 1986 due to personal issues Exodus hired original Testament vocalist Steve De Souza, whose first album with the band was 1987s devastating Pleasures Of The Flesh. Sadly Exodus had been overtaken by peers such as Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax in the crucial two year period of inactivity, and despite another pair of classics, 1989s Fabulous Disaster and 1990s Impact Is Imminent, never reached the commercial heights of the big four, despite being as accomplished musically.
Exodus split in 1993 due to their dissatisfaction with their label, Capitol Records, only to reform in 1996, with the nucleus of the returning Baloff, as well as the guitar tandem of Gary Holt and Rick Hunolt.
This resulted in a live album Another Lesson In Violence, but sadly the band split again. It took a Chuck Billy benefit gig to reunite the band again, but tragedy hit in early 2002 when Baloff died of a stroke at the age of 41. The band continued on welcoming De Souza back and finally returned to the studio along with longtime drummer Tom Hunting and bassist Jack Gibson.
Tempo Of The Damned is vintage Exodus, sticking to the raw thrash sound they originated in the 80s, with new classics in the form of Scar Spangled Banner and War Is My Sheppard. With the album selling well and the band in huge demand for shows I caught up with guitarist Gary Holt shortly before the group was about to head to Europe on a short tour to get his thoughts on Exodus past and present.
The Zephyr: Why did the new album 'Tempo Of The Damned' come out in Europe in February but take until March the 23rd to be released in the States?
Gary Holt: "Well the album was always intended for an earlier release in Europe, but there were some problems at the distribution plant here in the U.S. with packaging which caused an additional delay. It sucked but there was nothing we could do about it."
TZ: Have you found the European market more receptive than the U.S.?
GH: "It's hard to say as we haven't done anything touring wise in the U.S. for years. We're working on a U.S. tour right now for late spring. I'm curious and anxious to see how it pans out. I'd be lying if I said Europe in terms of heavy metal isn't further along."
TZ: You have maintained your original sound on the new record. Was there any other alternative from the start?
GH: "No, no, no. We never had any intention of playing your typical jump the fuck up metal (laughs, imitates Korn like bass riff)."
TZ: How much of the material was written before the death of Paul Baloff?
GH: "Only 'Impaler' was written with Paul, which is nearly 20 years old (and been recorded several times by the band). 'Throwing Down' and 'Sealed With A Fist' were recorded with Wardance (Holt's short lived mid 90's project) in 1995 and Paul heard those. But all the other stuff came after his death."
TZ: Would you say this is the definitive version of 'Impaler'? One reviewer said it sounded out of place, too New Wave Of British Heavy Metal inspired, something I don't hear.
GH: Absolutely it's the best version. And yeah I read that, it's from Blabbermouth (metal website). That's the only person who thought it was out of place. That's Borijov (Krigin, longtime metal reviewer), he's a dickhead but I love him."
TZ: Any chance the videos you recorded for 'War Is My Sheppard' and 'Throwing Down' will appear on US TV?
GH: "I know the first one 'War Is My Sheppard' is supposed to air on Headbangers Ball in another week, maybe two. Nuclear Blast came to our show in San Francisco on March the eleventh and said three weeks (which at the time of writing was a week away)."
TZ: How has your deal with Nuclear Blast been? Are you satisfied with their promotion of the album?
GH: " Yes we're super happy. They're fans of the music, fans of the band and metal in general. They know what to do with metal and are the best at it right now."
TZ: When Exodus started in the early 80's who were the bands you were creating an extension of sound wise? Were you consciously taking metal to the next level from the likes of Maiden etc?
GH:" I wasn't really thinking about what I was doing. I was just a kid and that was kind of where I went you know? I was taking the influence of Maiden, Priest and Sabbath and throwing a bit of Motorhead into the mix as well as my love for old British hardcore punk, like Discharge, The Exploited, shit like that. I think we got the faster tempos from Motorhead who were taking it up a notch."
TZ: When you started was there one particular scene you had disdain for? What did you make of Motley Crue for example?
GH? "Oh absolutely. At the start it was like 'posers beware'. But I always liked Motley Crue."
TZ: Did it ever bother you not to make the 'big four' (Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer) and be considered second tier even though you were in the same league musically as those four?
GH: "At times, but I think the people that really know the scene, know that we belong on that list. If you're judging it all by sales then I think it's an accurate description because those four have sold more albums than any of the others. In my opinion the four that started this are us, Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth. i think Anthrax came later, they didnt really come into their own until their second and third albums and didn't contribute as much as us in the early days. 'Among The Living' I liked, but we were playing our stuff in 83 and 84, whereas they at the time were more of a straight ahead metal band rather than thrash. I don't consider Megadeth a thrash band but Dave Mustaine wrote a lot of the early Metallica material so you have to include him. He wrote some groundbreaking shit and made some great albums. He was intent on not doing a Metallica retread."
TZ: What were the so called musical differences that caused Baloff to leave in 1985?
GH: "That was just the politically correct way of putting it. Pauls life was in a shambles and it was obvious a change needed to be made."
TZ: Considering De Souza has sung on all but one of Exodus' studio albums would you agree he hasn't gotten a fair deal opposed to Baloff vocally? Would you consider him one of thrash's greatest frontmens? It appears he has been forgotten in the scheme of things.
GH: "Certainly he's ome of the greats. We've sold more albums with Steve but whenever you replace someone like Paul who's an underground legend it's an unenviable task, but Steve's done it twice, with Paul dying the second time. It hasn't been easy, But Steve's followed it up with the performance of his life.
He's really stepped it up a notch. He came back into the band after having a really good job where he was making more money than he ever has in Exodus.
All the money I've made I've given to the ex-wife and kid. The only time I ever bought a home was not through the band."
TZ: Did you feel pressured to abandon your traditional thrash style when Metallica dispensed with it in 1991? Why do you think other bands like Megadeth toned it down as time went on ?
GH: "Nah, we're operating on a different level. I'm glad I am. I'm never going to do that again (abandon thrash), in fact the next album will be even heavier. Someones got to do it. I'm more than happy to wave the thrash banner."
TZ: What led to the initial breakup in 1992? Was it due to the grunge scene and that other one time thrash bands began to disown the genre?
GH: "I got out of it because I was very disillusioned. The Capitol Records thing left a bitter taste in my mouth. But yeah if things had gone well I probably wouldn't have felt the need to get away from it."
TZ: Who's idea was it to write about the 1980 New Mexico prison riot on 'The Last Act Of Defiance' and what prompted it? That track caused me to research the event.
GH: "That was mine. Everyone's heard about the Attica riot but nothings ever approached that one. I read a book called 'The Hate Factory', a first hand account of the whole thing and I thought I've just got to make a song. I mean there's been riots with shanks and shit, but nothing with blowtorches and melting peoples faces all jumped up on dope and just butchering people. Imagine being the informant and child molester in your cell and this mob's got a cutting torch, cutting your bars open to get your ass out of there. They said people were parading about with heads on poles. Other people have told me the same thing, that they learned about the riot through the song. As long as I can educate the public (laughs)."
TZ: Who is the big AC/DC fan in the band (Exodus having covered 'Overdose' and 'Dirty Deeds)? Do you think De Souza could replace Brian Johnson being the Bon Scott soundalike he is?
GH: "We're all fans and smply they're the greatest hard rock band in the world. As for Steve we have in him a singer who works very well with his voice and I'm sure we'll cover more down the line. I'd like to do 'Evil Walks' from 'Those About To Rock' next."
TZ: Who delivers the rambling monolugue that preceeds Deranged'?
GH: "That is Tom Skid, a homeless psycho who lurked around Turk Street's ' Hyde Street Studio's' in San Francisco. We gave him a gallon of wine and let the tape roll.
I heard he died, got hit by a bus. It was probably after he wandered out of our studio after drinking a gallon of four dollar wine. Turk Street was a great studio but a really seedy area full of winos, crackheads and transvestities."
TZ: Were you influenced by backwood hillbilly films when writing 'Cajun Hell'? Tracks like this contain a sense of himour when so many oters are constantly serious.
GH: Sure, 'Deliverance' and 'Southern Comfort' were the catalysts. And while it is fine to be morbidly serious you have to have your tongue planted firmly in cheek from time to time."
TZ: You once aid that living in the past was for 'losers and assholes'. Don't you admit though that the spirit of the Bay Area thrash scene is something that can't be repeated, both musically and visually?
GH: Yeah it can't be repeated, but I don't live in it. I take things one day at a time and try not to worry about what happened yesterday. I think that things are about to get interesting again anyway in the Bay area. We'll just have to wait and see."