Slayer's Kerry King: The Art Of Writing Songs That Nobody Else Can Write

artist: slayer date: 08/04/2006 category: interviews
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Slayer's Kerry King: The Art Of Writing Songs That Nobody Else Can Write
Since having first formed back in 1982 Slayer went on to lay the world to waste with their cocktail of metal and punk. Heavier, faster, brutal and certainly darker than the rest, Slayer set the benchmark for all the thrash metal bands that followed in their wake. This month sees the release of Christ Illusion, the band's new studio outing since 2001's God Hates Us All that reunites the classic line-up of Tom Araya (bass, vocals), Kerry King (guitars), Jeff Hanneman (guitars) and Dave Lombardo (drums) that last appeared together on 1990's Seasons In The Abyss. Under the watchful eye of executive producer Rick Rubin working closely with producer Josh Abraham, the album expands further upon the now familiar Slayer themes of God, religion, hate and war. At the tail end of the band's recent jaunt across the U.S as part of The Unholy Alliance Tour, Joe Matera caught up with Kerry King for this exclusive interview for Ultimate Guitar. Ultimate-Guitar: How did it feel to have the original line-up together again for Christ Illusion? Kerry King: It was cool, Dave has been playing with us for the better part of four years now so all the newness had gone but we're definitely playing well together. The good thing too is kids, who maybe didn't get to see us ever with Dave have that opportunity again now. What sort of process did it entail when it came to making the album? We just made stuff up and Jeff make's things up too a lot more these days. Since it is not quite like it was before as there is more distance between us now when we're home, Jeff is generally done with the song before we ever hear it. And I mean with the drums and everything. I'll make up a song like on a cassette player, the same way I used to 20 years ago, the same old shit really. Then I'll show it to Dave and go from there.
"The good thing is kids, who maybe didn't get to see us ever with Dave Lombardo, have that opportunity again now."
Did you flesh out the songs before going into the studio? They're as polished as they can be. All the lyrics aren't always done but musically they're pretty much machined. Slayer's lyrics have always used violent, gore imagery? I think it's just that when we make up songs we've got to make up songs that for one, is in Slayer's line of work. So generally that means writing songs that nobody else will write. But it's cool I always think that for some reason if I was a director rather than a musician, even though my last name is King, I'd be Stephen King. It is something that I'm into. Like I couldn't wait for The Omen to come out on 6-6-06 because I just wanted to see what they did to it with it and their more modern take on it. With all the censorship that is happening today, how important do you think it is for a band like Slayer to talk about the subjects that are deemed controversial and politically incorrect? I think it's real important for bands like us to exist because not everybody wants to hear the bubblegum pop garbage. There is an outlet for somebody playing intense music that will make you go out and see the show. Not only is there a release, but our shows are visuals too. It's a visual assault kind of thing so it is an interesting product if you want to call it that. How much of your personal philosophy directs Slayer? I don't really have a life philosophy my thing is just rebelling against pretty much organized religion. That is my main thing because personally I think it's a crutch for people that are too weak to get through life on their own. I'm the kind of guy that says if I don't see it, then it doesn't work. And nobody can show me God. What was the recording process like for the album? This is the first time that we never went to tape at all as it was all done on a computer. We always work on the drums first because if your drums aren't happening you can't get a quality song. So you have to get the drum sound and the drum performance. I play along with Dave on every take he does. I play along with him because he needs to know where he's at and where he's at in the song. If he's concentrating on getting the part right, I might do a head cue, you know to switch him from high hat to ride. So I'm not going for my performance, I'm just going for the drum performance. Then once that's done either I do rhythm guitar or bass whichever and then the vocals and leads are left for last.
"I always think that if I was a director rather than a musician, I'd be Stephen King."
You did all the rhythm tracks both yours and Jeff's, on this album? Yes, I did that on the last two records too. When I play Jeff's part I use his rig and his guitar so it sounds just like him. How do you go about approaching your guitar solos, are they pre-planned? I worked out about 80% of them out in advance. There is something Dime told me many years ago around the time of Divine Intervention, I think I told him I was planning all my leads and then putting a lot of volume to them and he said 'King, don't let go of what got you here, you have to just go in them and just wail on some of them'. So I always remembered that and have never forgotten it. So I'll always go in there and make sure I wing it on a couple of the songs. When it comes to guitar parts, how do you and Jeff decides who plays what and where? The funny thing is there is nothing like 'I need more leads than you' or 'I have to have the same amount of leads as you'. It's just if somebody is working on the leads that they know they're going to do and they've run out of leads to do then we'll work it out. Like Jeff came to me this time and said, 'where do I need to play leads on your song?' I said 'play here and here'. Then once we started winding them down, I picked the ones that I knew I wanted to do and gave Jeff the ones that needed a different touch to them so that he had some that he wanted to do so it's very fair. We don't say, 'I have to play this one'. If Jeff wants one, I just give it to him and if I want one of his, then that's mine. What was your main guitar sound for the album? It was a Marshall JCM 800, the same heads that I've been using forever and an old Boss 10-band Equalizer that I've also used forever too. Basically it's the same sound I'd imagine since at least Seasons In The Abyss, but just different levels of EQ and stuff. I used all B.C. Rich guitars. I used a couple of B.C.Rich Vs because I wanted to have different tunings and some guitars sound better tuned one way than another. Those guitars were married to that tuning for the entire record. I had a couple of Warlocks too and for the intro to The Final Six, which isn't on the album, I used a 10-string Bitch. Why wasn't that track included on final track listing of the album? Because Tom took off one weekend for vacation and he was going to come back Monday to sing it but that was when he got that gall bladder surgery. It's probably going to come out as part of a special Digipack for the holidays, like it will be added to the album as a bonus track.
"It's real important for bands like us to exist because not everybody wants to hear the bubblegum pop garbage."
Going back to guitars, what did Jeff use? Basically he uses the same heads as mine though he's got a different EQ parameter than I do but that is because he uses different guitars, which were mainly ESPs. You specifically favour neck-thru guitars, am I correct? Yes it's the only type of guitars I play in the studio and on the stage. Didn't you play ESP guitars for a short time at one stage? Yeah I started on B.C.Rich guitars but the owner then sold the company to a guy that couldn't make the quality I was accustomed to so I went to ESP. Then when the Rico family got it back [B.C.Rich] I went back to them. So how many B.C Richs do you own? I say 20 or less because for me it's not about the craftsmanship of the guitar. I'm a true believer in that it is the chunk of wood that makes or breaks the sound and some of them just don't sound as good as others. So if I have a guitar made and I play it on a tour and it's not one of my favourites, it'll usually end up in a Hard Rock caf? somewhere. I'm really proud of the job my painter does on my guitars though, as I like to show them off. I only have about eight with me out on the road right now but I'm playing like only five of them live. Slayer tends to run songs together so every time there is a break in the action, I'll switch guitars just to make sure I'm in tune. Have you ever had the misfortune of having any of your guitars break down live? Not with guitars, it's mostly with wireless packs and other radios. This is because in the buildings we play, sometimes the frequencies don't like a particularly building and when that happens I change to a hard wire. I don't have any problems going back to hard wire. But a lot of times guys will say 'I can't go back to hard wire as it just ties me down'. I'm like, well it's more important to sound good because the kids have spent money to hear a good performance and if my guitar wireless pack keeps cutting out, they're getting shit. How do you feel about Slayer being recently voted by MTV as one of the top 10 heavy metal bands of all time? I think that's awesome, I'm not a big fan of MTV and I think they suck but that's cool. Going back to the early days of Slayer, you actually played the very first- five - live shows Megadeth ever played with Dave Mustaine in 1984. What was that experience like for you? I thought it was inspiring that Dave thought I was good enough to play with him because at that point, I was quite a fan because I had seen him play with Metallica before he got booted from the band. And because he played B.C. Rich guitars too, that was how it all came together. Somebody at B.C. Rich said that Dave was wondering whether if I was interested in playing with him and I thought it was cool to get a chance to play with somebody whom, I thought was that good. I went out and did the shows and then it was time to go back to my band as we were working on the Hell Awaits album. I don't think Dave was too happy about that. (laughs) I could see myself, looking back now if I for reason had decided to stay with Megadeth, that I probably would have left after two or three years because number one, the guy isn't the nicest guy and number two, I think he would have tried to be too commercial and I don't care for that.
"Every time there is a break in the action, I'll switch guitars just to make sure I'm in tune."
Reign In Blood was really the first album that solidified Slayer's unique sound, obviously a major part of this is largely due to producer Rick Rubin? Absolutely, he took out all the reverb and everything and made it more where it hit you right between the eyes. Once we realized that we didn't need reverb, and our sound was a lot more threatening without it, we just kept it and it was done. Speaking of Rubin he's credited as executive producer on Christ Illusions, how much input did he have into the album? I never saw him in the studio. The only thing he did on this record was have suggestions at mix time. Though the fast and furious sound of Slayer has been constant throughout its career, South Of Heaven was a slight departure where you slowed the pace down, yet didn't sacrifice any of the heaviness inherent in Slayer's music. That was the only record we've ever done with an idea of what we wanted to do before we even wrote a note of it. We'd been playing fast and doing the gigs which were pretty much all fast playing too and because we were getting more popular we needed to number one, material to offset all the speed from Reign In Blood and number two, to keep people guessing. 2006 Joe Matera
More slayer interviews:
+ Slayer: Iconic Drummer Advises Young Musicians To 'Just Play' Interviews 09/10/2010
+ Slayer's Tom Araya: 'I'll Know When I Don't Wanna Do This Anymore' Hit The Lights 05/21/2010
+ Slayer: 'We Don't Over Think Things, We Just Go With It' Interviews 11/07/2009
+ Slayer's Kerry King: 'We've Never Tried To Be Anything We Weren't' Interviews 05/18/2007
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