|Christ, you guys have been doing this for 20 years now, and the one thing you guys have done above all else is remain Slayer. Not once did you try and ride the wave of what was popular to increase sales or numbers of fans.
Jeff Hanneman: Yea. We pretty much stuck to what we like and what we like is what we have been doing for these 20 years. Trends come and go. A while back there was the grunge thing and now there is the mix of hip-hop and metal. And it’s not like we don’t ever get into those bands, but that doesn’t mean we have to sound like them. And that is the difference in the way we think. It’s like, I like that stuff, but when we play, we want it to sound like us. And it is still the music we like to play and we like to listen to when we play.
And when you guys got together 20 years or so ago and started playing, did you see Slayer still selling out venues two decades later?
JH: Oh, hell no. Because when we got together, three of us, Kerry Dave, and me we still in high school at the time. I think that was like in 1981. And we graduated in ’82 but we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. We were playing copies and stuff like that. So we were just kind of living it day by day. We didn’t care. When we came out with our first single, which was on a Metal Blade compilation, we thought, “wow, this is great!” Then we put out our album and thought the same thing, “Wow, this is great.” Then suddenly we started getting a little response back. Mostly from Europe at first. Then we got some response from San Francisco, but we were dead in the water in Los Angeles. Nobody liked us in LA. And we were just riding the wave as far as it would take us, you know? We were kids, we didn’t think about the future. We were drinking beers, playing on stage …
Just like now,
JH: (Laughing hard) Yea, just like now. Twenty years later and still doing the same fucking thing. What, did I graduate yesterday? Yea, about this time yesterday. Yea, we fucking got lucky in that respect. We didn’t worry about it or think about it and here we are 20 years later still doing it.
You mentioned Europe being supportive first of Slayer. Doesn’t surprise me at all that those in Europe and especially England took to your style of metal and have stuck with you.
JH: Yea, it’s not hard to figure out. Things are very trendy in the states because of MTV and influences like that. In the states, bands come and go, but in Europe, the fans will stick by you forever. I mean, they still like, mostly in the continent of Europe, the band Man-O-War is still huge! I mean, they never really made it at all in the states, and we toured with them twice in Europe and they are huge. Fans in Europe are just completely loyal, and Slayer fans are fucking loyal to the end.
Yea, doesn’t matter where you play, you are going to sell out.
JH: And it’s a mixed crowd. IN the back, and sometimes in the front, but you get guys there our age and even older and then you get a bunch of kids, too. And it’s like, “Wow, it’s kinda cool. We are reaching out and corrupting new kids. YEA!”
Which leaves more beer for you guys, because they can’t drink.
JH: Yea, definitely. "Hey you, come back stage, you can’t drink beer."
The cool thing about having this die-hard fan base is it gives you the freedom to do what Slayer wants to do because you know you are going to sell records and tickets. And it’s cool when new fans come on board, but Slayer can remain Slayer and please everyone.
JH: That’s exactly it. We don’t have to worry about anything. We just play the music we like and hopefully the kids will like it, and for 20 years, it has worked. It’s been pretty easy.
And how did you go about the new record, God Hates Us All. It just seems the more mature the band gets, the more mature the music got. But this record, and could be just me not listening to Slayer as much as I used to, but it brought back more of the roots of Slayer.
JH: If you kinda look at our albums, the only thing that we really do that has any kind of pattern to it is one will be kinda slow and melodic and then the next one will be super heavy again. And then we go back to slow again. Diablos has that slow, kinda weird vocal thing going on. And on this one, Tom is screaming again. So, whenever we write stuff, it is whatever the mood we are in at the time. We don’t plan our album and think about it ahead of time. It’s just like Kerry will come up with a riff or I will and we will just go from there. It’s just whatever moment we are in at that time is what the record will sound like. We never talk about it. Never. It’s never; “The next album has to be…” It just has been melodic to heavy too melodic. That’s just they way it happens.
Could be you play the melodic so long on the tour, you just want to get fucking heavy. Then on that tour, you are so heavy for so long, you want to get melodic.
JH: Yea, exactly.
Over the whole career of Slayer, the ups and down and everything that happened in between, Slayer has always been listed as one of the top metal bands with Pantera, Metallica and Slayer. How do you perceive that or the band see themselves as really icons of metal and influences on most of today’s metal music?
JH: To tell you the truth, we really don’t think about that shit. We have been told that shit, but we really don’t sit around and think about that shit. Like, when we are sitting around chatting on the bus, it’s about sports, or “ Did you see that slut,” or “Where’s the alcohol.” We never sit around and say; “DO you know how many bands we influenced?” Who cares? It’s flattering when people tell us, but then it’s like, next, what else do you want to talk about. We don’t get into that.
You mentioned listening to some of the new metal, but do you find your taste changing over the years, or do you still have your core music you have been listening to for a while.
JH: For me, there is nothing really new that I am really into. Probably Slipknot is the newest band that I like. I don’t like all of their songs, but I like a few of their songs. But what I like about them is they are so fucking intense. But there is not a whole lot of new bands that I really like because no one is really doing anything different. I am just waiting for this new band to just gonna make me think, “Wow, why didn’t I think of that. That is really great.” But I listen to a lot of old stuff. Anything that is like dark. It doesn’t necessarily have to be fast, but dark. Like Type O Negative, Nine Inch Nails, stuff like that. As long as there is a dark edge to it. But wow, aside from Slipknot, I really can’t think of anything new. I hear a lot of the new stuff, but I am waiting for something new, the next thing. But when the next thing comes out, we will still be Slayer.
So, the next big thing isn’t going to influence you.
JH: Nah, nah.
The one thing I have noticed both when seeing you guys backstage during Reinventing the Steel and even now, is the band is very mellow. Just our front, Kerry was asking about the bars on his cell phone. And then you guys hit the stage and its like, the raw power comes out. When does the transformation happen? Do you have to prepare or is it just walking out on stage that does it?
JH: It’s exactly that. It’s an intensity that hits. As soon as you walk on stage, there is an electricity or whatever you want to call it, that hits you. Because we can be in moods where we really don’t feel like playing. I mean, we play constantly or almost every night. There are nights where you are a little bit sick, a little bit hung over, tired, in a bad mood, whatever, but you are just like, “Fuck, I really don’t want to play tonight.” Then you get on stage, and it’s like, wham, its like a switch goes on. It’s been like this since the beginning but we have been better at it and that’s playing live is a good way to focus your aggressions to whatever you are pissed off about. Especially when you are on tour, there are a lot of things. You are living with these guys for months, you have to get up when you don’t want to, have to do this, or do that…
This lousy interview with me…
JH: (Laughing) Yea, exactly. See, now I will be thinking about you when I am up there on stage. “Goddamn, I had to do that fucking interview!” But you can just channel it all out, and then as soon as you get off stage, it’s like, “Wow, let’s have fun.”
You just mentioned being on the bus with these guys and I am sure there are the ups and downs, but when it’s all said and done, these have to be three of your best friends.
JH: I always say, we are like brothers. It’s like family. It’s a dude you can trust, a dude you can hang out with and a dude you can party with. But it’s also like family in that you have arguments with them. But we know now what buttons not to push. Don’t do this, don’t do this, and there are certain unwritten rules that are on the bus that we followed and that is how we survived this long. I mean, we had our problems with Dave for a while, but now he is back and we are getting along like we did in the beginning. For the other three of us, I don’t know how we survived this long. There were a few times we tried to kill each other, but nothing major. But, yea, this is like our home when we are traveling. But we have the stage to take our aggressions out every night. So instead of punching Kerry or whatever, I will fucking let it go onstage.
So, we can tell how pissed you are by how many strings you break a night?
A couple years ago, you guys toured on Ozzfest, and although it was cool to see Slayer at the show, it wasn’t something I expected from Slayer. Most Ozzfest bands are newer and don’t have the loyal following Slayer has. So, I am sure it brought new fans in…
JH: That was the idea. That was basically why we did it. That was our manager’s idea, because we were not really into it. And he was like, “Yea, but this is a good way to reach out to people who wouldn’t normally listen to you.” And we actually had a great time. I mean, the environment wasn’t Slayer, because it was always daylight. We didn’t have lights and smoke, and it’s just weird playing this kind of music in the daylight. But the whole festival atmosphere is fun because there are barbecues going on everywhere and we would just run around having fun. Because we would go on early, so we could start drinking earlier. But the basic idea was to reach out to people who wouldn’t normally come see us. And I think it worked, because we see a lot of new faces in the crowds nowadays. So, it was fun, like I said.
It’s kind of funny. I talk with you and Zakk Wylde and guys from the ‘80s metal days, and they talk about partying. Today’s bands party, but for whatever reason, don’t like to talk about it. Maybe because image means more now. But it seems, as much as the music has changed, so has the image.
JH: What I have seen mostly, is the new bands do all the same stuff, but they won’t talk about it. It’s like, fuck, I don’t get it. Maybe it’s the political correctness of it. I don’t know. But we have toured with a bunch of young bands coming up and they go out and drink with us all the time. We get them fucked up and leave them on the floor. But then I will see an interview with them, and when they are asked what they do offstage, its like, their answer is, “Well, we may have a beer.”
Or, "We are writing."
JH: I am sure you have read interviews before, we don’t write on the road. There is too much fun shit to do aside from that. I mean, this is why I wanted to be in a band. You get to be a kid for the rest of your life.
One day, when you are 90 years old, sitting in a nursing home, rocking in your chair telling the story of your band, even though I am sure you have forgotten more than you remembered, but what is the most important thing to you about being in this band. I mean, shit, when it is all said and done, tens of millions of people will have heard your music.
JH: Well, I have already thought about it. But when everything is said and done, the thing that I always think about is we took this kind of music and made it happen. It has lasted. When we first started, still in high school, we didn’t know what we were doing; we were just playing around. But I always have this image in mind of when I was a kid and listening to records, and I had Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and all that stuff, and I remember sitting at my turntable and skip over to all the heavy songs. And if ballads came on, it was, skip it, skip it, skip it. And I always thought, “Why doesn’t a band just play all heavy songs?” So that was always turning in my mind. And when we started writing our own stuff, that’s kind of what we stuck to. Because I was into punk rock and Kerry was into Maiden, and we just infused the two together. That is something that I think we accomplished. We put out a band that was all heavy. No bullshit, no fringes, no whatever. Everything you hear is just heavy, heavy, heavy. Even if you take our mellowest song and stick it on the radio, it just stands out. It’s still dark, it’s still aggressive and even if it’s the slowest song we have, it’s till fast, compared to a lot of what else you hear on the radio. That’s one of the things I have started to look back on and go, “Wow. That’s something I wanted to fucking do as a kid.”
Then Jeff and I started talking about cell phones and all the cool shit they are going to be able to do with them. We are both waiting for the day we can have video cell phones, with the built in web cam. Jeff, so he can have a bunch of women talking naked to him on the phone, and me, so I can steal Jeff’s phone next time he is in town.