For all his band's purported fascinations with life's uglier aspects, Slayer frontman Tom Araya sure is a cheerful guy. Calling from a moving bus in rural Washington state, Araya laughs seemingly every couple of minutes. Surely, though, it's this laissez-faire sense of humor that's gotten him through almost three decades of leading one of the most notorious, most influential metal bands on the planet.
That's not an understatement. Nor should one take Araya's relatively chipperness as a sign that he or his band has gone soft. The swift kick in the ass that is Slayer's latest album, World Painted Blood, should disavow doubters of any of those notions. Yes, the title echoes the band's seminal 1986 record Reign in Blood, and that's got to be on purpose -- the new work is, as Araya points out repeatedly, classic Slayer.
The band's collaborative, off-the-cuff songwriting and recording process this time around has clearly been a revitalizing force. The songs explode with fierce, classic thrash energy, propelled by a youthful ferocity but composed with expert chops. And although Araya and company are carefully shielding most of the material from the public before its release, just check out the song "Psychopathy Red," which has been circulating for the last year or so on the Internet. Then re-hinge your jaw and wait for the rest. After the jump, read what Araya had to say about World Painted Blood and the band's current national outing on the Mayhem Festival tour.
New Times: Your new album was "executive produced" by Rick Rubin. What does that mean? How involved was he in the actual recording process?
Tom Araya: He oversees what we're doing and he says "Yeah" or "Nay." He mostly left this one up to Greg Fidelman, who's doing an amazing job as producer. We mostly worked everything out in the studio, and once we finished in the studio, we'd get a really good mix and send it to Rubin just so he could hear it, not really for an opinion.
How did you choose to work with Glen Fidelman as the actual producer of the record?
He kind of found us. He found out we were working on a record, and we said okay! [Laughs.] That's about how we usually end up with producers, because they're eager to work with us. And Rubin said, "Hey, this guy's great, work with him. He's awesome, he's well-organized and knows his shit." And he does. He knows how to get everything together and get what we want out of the band. He got classic Slayer out of us, and it sounds amazing.
You've said that usually, you start the recording with your songs already written, but this time you spent a lot of time on pre-production in the studio. Why the change?
We actually started recording in October of last year -- Jeff [Hanneman, Slayer guitarist] had three songs. We recorded the three songs, and it kind of just fell together real quick. We were supposed to do a North American tour in January, but we didn't, because everybody felt really good in the studio with Greg. We figured, "Alright, once we get our European tour out of the way, we'll come home and start recording."
Then when we got back to the studio, Jeff and Kerry [King, Slayer guitarist] both came in with a good four or five songs each, and just started putting together new songs in the studio. It would be like, while we were working on the drums, Jeff went home and worked on new stuff, while the rest of us were finishing up what was already started. It was the same with Kerry. When he was done with his parts, he would head home and work on new material, then come back and play it to Dave [Lombardo, Slayer drummer]. A lot of the songs, we learned them and put them together in the studio, as opposed to rehearsing them first after coming in.
You've also said the writing process was more collaborative this time around.
It was, actually. Music-wise, it was, between the three of them [Hanneman, King, and Lombardo]. Then I got an input as far as guitar parts and stuff. But usually we all sit there and say, "Wow, that sounds great," or "We don't like it." We usually all agree to either like it or dislike it, and then move on.
But this time I had ideas that I kind of passed along to Jeff, and Jeff put them into the songs. We were all giving our two cents. I think it was the fact that we went into the studio less prepared, know what I mean? We needed to get into the studio right away, record right away, to get something done by the summer.
So when did you finally finish all these sessions?
We finished right before we took off for the five shows we did in Canada with Megadeth, a week before that. Then we spent a week rehearsing. Now we're out here with Manson on the Mayhem tour.
The new tracks kind of go back to your '80s feel, as you said, almost with a punk rock energy. Where did this come from, now?
Our inner soul! That's about it! [Laughs.] We don't set out to say, "This record's gonna be like this, our songs are gonna be like that." We just kind of write songs, and that's about it. There are no plans; we just kind of do it, and then how it comes out is how it comes out. We just take it day by day.
How do you decide when it's time for a new album?
We don't! [Laughs.] On this one, Jeff happened to have three songs he was playing for everybody, and our manager said, "Shit, why don't we go ahead and record an album if these songs are coming this quick." So it's usually [our management] going, "Are you guys ready to record an album?" That's basically been our recording career!
What are your favorite tracks on the album?
Kerry's written some really good ones. I'm more biased, I lean towards Jeff! [Laughs.] Jeff's got some really great writing skills, at least music-wise. He's got some really great songs on this one. They're songs that are slightly different from what we've done, but they're still Slayer, know what I mean? They've got melody, they have huge dynamics in the songs. The songs take you on a roller coaster ride, which is really great.
But the overall record is really good, and whenever we do a record, that's what we strive for -- that every song matters, not just one.
How do you feel about your tracks leaking? "Psychopathy Red" has been kicking around the Internet for almost a year now.
That one was fine -- we put it out on the Internet. It was a giveaway song last year when we did a tour in Europe. People were buying tickets and we said we would give them a little code so they could get the song and download it.
Why did you pick that specific song as the teaser track?
It's the most true to what we do as the band Slayer. It's going on 30 years now that we've been doing this. And that song is letting people know that, hey, we're still Slayer. Nothing's ever gonna change with us.
What new material are you playing on the Mayhem Festival tour dates?
We're only playing "Psychopathy Red." We were going to play more but we changed our minds. It's the song that's out on the Internet, so it's the one we want to play. We have really great songs that we don't want to expose just yet.
The last time you played in South Florida was at the same amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, with Marilyn Manson. And now you are co-headlining the Mayhem Festival with them too. Are you all specifically friends?
That was the last time we really toured the states. We've mostly been doing shows in Europe and Canada, and recording this album. And this whole tour has been put together by Mayhem, so it's kind of like we were hired to do this show, and the offer was a great offer.
This time we made sure things were taken care of, as far as the business of dressing rooms and stupid politics.... There was an organization between us and the tour that could make sure that everything was gonna take care of and not gonna get fucked with! [Laughs.]
What got fucked with last time you toured here?
On the last tour, there was an issue between crews -- there was an issue with [Marilyn Manson's] crew. I'm talking about the people who run all the other things like production, not the band itself. But there were two camps -- a Manson camp and a Slayer camp running that show. This time it's even all the way across the board, and contracts were signed!
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What's on Slayer's rider?
Beer. Chips and beer and a deli tray. Those things don't change.
Slayer, at the Mayhem Festival, with Marilyn Manson, Killswitch Engage, Bullet For My Valentine, and others. Wednesday, August 12. Cruzan Amphtiheatre, 601-7 Sansbury's Way, West Palm Beach. Doors open at 2:15 p.m. Tickets cost $9 to $62. Livenation.com