It's impossible to talk about thrash and speed metal without giving Exodus
their due. The San Francisco group is responsible for some of the most thrilling material the subgenre has ever given us. From their certified classic debut, "Bonded By Blood
," all the way to their more recent albums, Exodus
have been one of the most consistent bands playing heavy music. Lead by songwriter-guitarist Gary Holt
, the band has entered their 4th decade together armed with one of their most accomplished works yet.
"The Atrocity Exhibition...Exhibit B: The Human Condition
" finds Exodus
in fighting form. Not only are the songs relentless in their attack, the guitar solos, courtesy of Holt
and partner-in-crime Lee Altus
, rank among some of the most exciting of their career. Vocalist Rob Dukes
delivers a winning performance that proves he's one of the better frontmen in the business right now. Most of the guys in Exodus
are in their 40s now, but you wouldn't be able to tell listening to the new album. If anything, they seem to be getting heavier as they get deeper into their discography.
's Carlos Ramirez
recently had the chance to talk shop with Holt
. As you'll read below, the thrash axeman really opened up for the piece. Not only does he tell us about his musical heroes during his high school years, he also talks about some of the more surprising things you'd find in his CD collectionMy Chemical Romance anyone?
UG: Which guitarists had an impact on you during your teen years?
Oh man, I was definitely a huge Richie Blackmore fan! I would say especially his playing on the Rising' album. I was lucky enough to see them live, and he was always killer. I also loved Angus Young during that time. I saw Ted Nugent live 7-8 times in those days. He's the guy that inspired me to play guitar in the first place. He was just larger than life back then. Oh, Frank Marino from Mahogany Rush was amazing too!
I also loved the German guys Uli Jon Roth, Michael Schenker, and Matthias Jabs. All of these guitarists had a big impact on my playing when I first started playing.
I have read that you were a big Thin Lizzy guy too.
Totally man! I love Gary Moore and all of the guitarists they've had through the years. I just think they deserve more credit. They brought in that twin-guitar stuff into hard rock. Those twin melodies were so fu--ing good! People need to realize Thin Lizzy created that style.
Were you the kind of player that would sit in front of his stereo speakers and tried to learn solos off of records?
"When we were all-original songs, I'd say Kirk and I had things split pretty evenly."
Absolutely - but just to the best of my abilities back then (laughter). When I first started playing guitar, I would try and get the closest I could to what the solos actually were. Exodus, in the early days, played all covers. So I definitely sat in front of my record player and tried to figure stuff out.
I had the pleasure of seeing Rainbow on their last tour. They played a smaller room than I had seen them in the past, and I made the mistake of getting seats right next to the stage.
Don't get me wrong they were amazing. But being that close, I got to see Richie Blackmore's fingers, and I realized all of the stuff that I thought I knew how to play was all wrong (laughter). It was worth seeing him up close though.
At this point, everyone knows that Kirk Hammett was in an early version of Exodus. Were you guys splitting the soloing and songwriting 50/50 at that point?
Like I mentioned earlier, Exodus started out playing cover tunes. I also joined the band 6 months after I started playing guitar, so I couldn't do everything I wanted right away. But when we started writing our own material, we were already a confident club band. Our days of just playing backyard parties were past us. So when we were all-original songs, I'd say Kirk and I had things split pretty evenly.
I imagine your gear wasn't all that great in the early days.
Are you kidding me? I used a Hondo strat for many years. You can see it on the back of Bonded by Blood.' I knew all of the tricks to keep that thing in tune. I used to take out the tremolo bar and replace it with this longer one. I had seen Uli Jon Roth playing a whammy bar that looked like that, so I had to have one. Besides, I needed it for all of those dive bombs (laughter).
During Exodus' earlier days, the whole shred guitar thing was huge. Did you ever follow any of that stuff, and did you think that scene got a bit out of hand?
I definitely followed that stuff. Marty Friedman, Jason Becker, Tony MacAlpine, and those shred guys are so good! But yes, it did get out of hand after awhile. We grew up with Danny Gill, who is a shred monster. He went on to teach at GIT. I recently saw something online with him, where he teaches you how to play along with stuff.
But you what's interesting? I think the best shred guy was actually Uli Jon Roth. I don't think anyone can rip like that dude. Oh, there were also bands like Racer X back then. I guess you would call them speed metal, or whatever. I love Paul Gilbert! He's kinda nuts (laughter). He's not some bookish guy. I love listening to him play.
When it comes to album quality, Exodus is one of the most consistent bands in the metal scene. When you look back at your catalog, how do you feel about it?
There's only one album that I'm not all that fond of. I'm talking about Force of Habit.' It has some great stuff on it, but it suffers from quality control and some filler moments. But I'm never my own biggest fan when it comes to Exodus. I'm just really hard on myself. I guess that helps fuel me trying to make what we do in Exodus get better with each album. It motivates me.
What are your thoughts on the Impact Is Imminent' album?
I really like it. I still think the title track is one of our best songs. The main riff in that track is the best thing I've ever written. It just crushes!
How much have you changed your guitar rig throughout the years?
I still own my 86/87 JCM 800s. After my kids and family, they are the most precious things in my life (laughter). I think they are the best sounding Marshalls to this day. I used a Peavey XXX head on the Tempo of the Damned' and Shovel Head Kill Machine' albums, but that was it. I then found what I've been using since. It's an Engl Savage 120.
How did you come across that head?
"When we started writing our own material, we were already a confident club band."
They had originally sent me a Powerball. Everybody uses those so you know they are good. But when I heard the Savage 120, I didn't like the Powerball as much. The Savage also lights up really cool. That's important for me on tour (laughter). No, but it's a really killer head. I am very happy with it.
What kind of guitars did you use on the The Atrocity Exhibition...Exhibit B: The Human Condition' sessions?
I mostly used my Schecter Hellraisers. I love the way they sound. But I also used a custom Stratocaster from Gutierrez Guitars. I used that on a few parts where I wanted a different sound for specific parts of the record.
I'm not familiar with that guitar company.
He actually builds them at his home. You can check out people talking about his guitars on Rig-Talk.
Your producer, Andy Sneap, always gets a distinct guitar tone on the albums he's worked on with you guys. How close if your live tone to what we hear on the new album?
Very close actually. We experimented with some cabinet stuff, but we basically use the same stuff we have at band practice. I remember the first time Andy heard my guitar tone in the recording studio, all of those years ago, like it was yesterday. I played something through my set up, and it crushed him (laughter). He actually said, That's the single best Marshall head I've ever heard! But the problem was it had a buzz that would have gotten in the way when we tracked.
So we took it to a repair shop in downtown San Francisco. We rushed the guy to fix it, and when we stepped out of the place, we realized our car had been towed. So just picture us hauling the Marshall in a taxi cab, and going to the impounding lot to get our car back (laughter). The worst part of it is that when we finally got back to the studio, we realized that the amp still made an annoying noise!
Do you walk into the studio with your solos already written, or do you improvise as you track everything?
Me writing solos at home hell no! My work load these days is too busy. Between Exodus, and my family commitments, I just don't have that much time to prepare solos at home. When I finally do get to the solo tracking in the studio, I sometimes hit a homerun. But often I have to put in a lot of work till its right.
In terms of the rhythm guitars, do you track them all yourself, or does Lee Altus, your partner, handle some of them too.
We track our own songs. Meaning, whatever songs we write on our own, we just record the rhythms for those since we are so familiar with them anyway. Lee is an amazing rhythm player!
Which songs on the new album were the toughest to nail down?
There is a song called Good Riddance that is on the new album, and it's really fast. I remember Tom (Hunting, drums) said that it was too fast, when we were writing it. I ignored him, but when it came time to record it, I realized how crazy it was. It has all of these sped-up triplets and stuff. We ended up slowing some of the tempos down, but yeah, that one is crazy.
I read that you have 2 kids. Are they into metal?
My younger kid is 12 years old, so it's all about Jonas Brothers right now (laughter). My 17 year old daughter is into emo. She likes some of the Exodus stuff. She also has a Warlock guitar.
Hey, Warlock guitars are metal!
"My all-time favorite song is Everything But The Girl's "Missing." That's an amazing song!"
Oh, definitely! But she's more into the emo thing. Although, she sometimes yells at me and says, Dad, I'm into SCREAMO, not EMO! She puts me into my place (laughter). Like there's some huge difference!
I guess it's like the old days when people would correct you if you called a thrash band speed metal or whatever.
Is there anything in your music collection that would surprise most Exodus fan?
My all-time favorite song is Everything But The Girl's Missing. That's an amazing song! I have an extensive Prince collection. I love his music so much. I was really into Madonna before she became Madge, and started adopting all of those kids (laughter). Lee (Altus, guitars) is a big Abba fan.
Oh, you know which album I really loved recently? My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade.' That's such a great album.
There were some definite Brian May/Queen moments on that album.
So much dude yeah! I also hear some Cheap Trick and Pink Floyd on those songs.
I think a lot of people will be surprised by that! Thanks for your time today.
It was pleasure. I'm glad I could be of service.
Interview by Carlos Ramirez