by David Necro
photos by Shy McGrath
A fiendish chat with Slayer co-founder and six-string assassin, Kerry King.
David Necro: You've been around almost 30 years. How do you keep things going that long?
Kerry King: It's fun, the stage is fun, that's why we keep coming out.
DN: How do you keep comin' up with all of these killer riffs and solos without hitting a brick wall and saying, "I'm running out of ideas."
KK: I think you just keep playing 'til you find something half-way interesting. There's certainly no formula for that. We've made enough riffs over the years to say, "alright, I think this ones cool and let's roll with this one." Then take songs out of that and embellish on it until we're happy with it.
DN: How do you keep things original without rehashing anything?
KK: That's hard to do. It's funny because I listen to a lot of the old shit before I make up the song list because I wanted to play something that I may not have played in a while. I'm like, "ah, that lead's kinda reminiscent of something I did 15 years later, and I didn't even notice. But, it's not all locked up in here. I gotta go back and hear it and go, "huh, yeah, I did play that there." It's weird, but I always try to come up with something I haven't seen anybody do or something I haven't heard anybody do, and see if I can make something out of it.
DN: In your lyrics, I've always said that it's not really trying to do anything other than holding up a mirror for society. It's not your fault that the world is an evil screwed-up place.
KK: Yeah, I like to bring ideas about things that I see that people might overlook. Just throw it out there so people can make an opinion if they're not paying attention. Which a lot of people aren't. But, I don't wanna be one of those people that's preaching and say, "this is how life is." I don't wanna do that. That's one thing I've always hated about Rage Against the Machine; they're very opinionated, and there is no alternative to their opinion. And that doesn't give kids anywhere to go.
DN: So just holding up a mirror to the world is more exciting.
KK: I mean realistically, a lot of people ask us about the song, "Jihad." I say, if that was a news piece on CNN, it would be perfectly fine. But since Slayer put it to music, it's bad. And that doesn't really make sense.
DN: But you're just telling people about what the state of the world is.
KK: The thing with us in our writing style is, if we don't condemn something, we're supposedly proponents of it. That's not necessarily the case. That's to say, "ok, this documentary about Mengele." We'll go with "Angel of Death;" it doesn't condemn him, is it promoting Mengele? No it's not, it's a history lesson.
DN: Is that a subject you're really into? History?
KK: The history thing is Jeff. He's big time into World War II. I mean he'll tell you about battles. Like individual battles, and you know, I don't have that. We all have our things we're into, and that's what alows Slayer to me maybe not so one dimensional. And people probably say "you guys are one dimensional." Jeff's got history, Tom's got his serial killers, and I got my 1 man war against religion (laughs)
DN: Speaking of religion, people brand you as Satanic.
KK: Myself, I'm an athiest. Jeff's an athiest as well. For me to sit around and say I'm a Satanist, when I don't believe in God, I would be the biggest hypocrite on the planet. People don't think about what they are. They'll say, "I don't believe in God, but yeah I'm a Satanist." I'm like, "well that doesn't make sense." People take the label because they think the label's cool without even thinking about what the label means. You have to think about what you're sayin' because a lot of people are watchin'.
DN: How has the business changed since you first started out?
KK: Record sales are different now because people don't go out and buy as much as they did. They can dowload it, they can get it from their friend, they can burn it off a friend. So, record sales will never be the same. And that's fine, as long as people still come to shows, that's how you know you're still relevant. So, that's cool by me. The travelling is easier, because once you pay your dues and do the van tours and the Camaro tours, you graduate to the bus and the hotel. So, lifestyle's ok. And we got better equipment so we sound better.
DN: What inspired you to play in a faster style? Was it bands like D.R.I., the Misfits, and all of those hardcore punk bands?
KK: I think D.R.I. was after us. But for me, it would have been more like Motorhead, Venom, stuff like that. Because I remember we were into D.R.I., we were already recording the second record. Then they put out 'Dealing With It, and we all fuckin' loved that record. We were all buddies with them back then too.
DN: And that inspried you to play in a faster style. Because that really came about with 'Reign in Blood.'
KK: Well, we already had the speed. It might have made us a little bit punkier. Because Jeff was into hardcore punk, and then knowing those guys (D.R.I.) so well. They were metal-punk, but they still were more of a punk band. Because they had political lyrics.
DN: In the 90s people said you were like with 'Diabolus in Musica' and albums like that, that you were inspired by nu-metal and stuff like that. I personally thought that was ridiculous. I didn't hear it. They said, "well I prefer their older stuff."
KK: Yeah, I was never into it. Yeah, I think "Love to Hate" can kinda be summed up like that. I think Jeff was experimenting more than I was. But it's funny, all our albums have been mostly me or mostly Jeff. I did most of 'Divine,' he did most of 'Diabolus,' and it had all the weird shit on. But, I didn't most of the last 3. It's just how we write. Jeff tried moody stuff, he's more experimental than I. I just like to go out and blast people in the face.
DN: What's a Slayer concert like to you?
KK: To me it's like controlled chaos. I mean we what we're doing, and we know what we're gonna play. I think the random chaotic part is what's gonna go on in the pit.
DN: I've always thought you guys were masters of feedback. How do you shape and mold that into something that can be considered comething other than noise? What inspired you, like jazz records or stuff like that?
KK: No, I was a big Metal kid. When we did Ozzfest in '04, and it was Sabbath, Priest, and Slayer, I'm like "I have to be a dickhead not to take that tour." You have to, with Halford just coming back. That was awesome for me. I was always into Metal, you know. And the 2 guitars; like Priest, like Maiden.
DN: But, I've seen concerts where you're just jamming at the end, and it's almost like a free jazz type of thing where everyone's just kinda playing their own thing, and it's all this feedback. You're shaping it and molding it. I'd say you're more successors of bands that did that, like the Stooges and MC5, than these so-called little skinny garage-band guys.
KK: We end one of the sections of the show like that. But on my side, I only hear me and Dave. And on Jeff's side he only hears himself and Dave. So, we're just going off on our own little tangents.
DN: Right, you do your own little things at the end. So, that's cool. What difference did Dave coming back make? Was it like back to where it was in the old days, or just was more of a progression?
KK: I think it was stepping back into the old fit. I think Dave plays with more abandon and it makes it sound more anxious. I think Paul is a really good drummer, and I think he's worked all his life to be that good. I think Dave's just got it. He;s just a natural.
DN: In your opinion, is he the best drummer around?
KK: Well, I dunno all the genres, but in what we do, I don't think there's anybody that can touch him.
DN: He's consistent, true?
KK: He's consistent, but he throws wrinkles into it. Like once he gets ocmfortable, he'll start a drum roll like 6 counts early, and you're going "where the Hell is this going?," and you're just waiting; "ok, it's great, here we go." And we're right where we're supposed to be. It makes me pay attention because I gotta see if he's actually early, or if he's just doing that early on purpose. So he makes me think, and pay attention to what the Hell is goin' on.
DN: How would you describe your audience? Is it the same as it was years ago?
KK: I think a lot of people are just into it.
DN: Is it more of a varied audience now, with like doctors and lawyers?
KK: Oh absolutely, man. You see an accountatn who just took off his coat, but he's still got his tie on. And he'll be sitting up in the balcony comehere. All types, all types. I mean we're lucky to jump generations, and you see kids in the front. I mean like 13 year old kids.
DN: That's really unique. You don't fall into that classic rock genre where it's just older people, and just standing there. You actually have young kids that are still going crazy.
KK: Yeah, I've noticed it since like 2000. Whether they got it from their older brothers, their dad; it could be a number of things. We've been around so long, parents could be passing it on to their kids. But definitely older siblings can.
DN: But, it's mostly working-class people, correct?
KK: Yeah, I think so.
DN: And they want something hard and gritty I would imagine. Becuase they want a release from their tough jobs.
KK: It looks like it from their reaction.
DN: How was performing on 'The Henry Rollins Show' on the IFC channel? Because that was a real hot performance, I thought.
KK: It was cool. But, it was so tough because we're in a room with no windows and one door, and they had a fogger in there. So, we're playing, and it's sucking all of the oxygen out of the room. So, we did "Cult," and "disciple." We had to do "Disciple" twice, and Tom couldn't finish it either time because there was no air in the room. We were dying in there man, with no oxygen. It was the strangest thing.
DN: What are things that people miss with the band and with your music.
KK: I think we've got a name and reputation, and I think people make opinions before they know what the songs are about. I like to play with things that I know are gonna tweak our detractors.
Kerry King on the Slayer albums (select discography)
1. Show No Mercy (1983)
I think it was a good starting point from kids that weren't really sue what direction they were headed in. A lot of people say, "well, so many bands sound like you." I say, "look at our first record man, we sound like Iron Maiden." But we don't anymore. So you get your product out, ehich was our first album, and then embellish upon it, and try to find your writing style. I think if you heard 'Christ Illusion,' you wouldn't say it sounds like Iron Maiden at all. You'd say, "that sounds like Slayer."
2. Haunting the Chapel (1984)
I think if there was an album written at that time, before 'Hell Awaits,' could have been one of our best records ever. Because those 3 songs on that EP are fuckin' insane. I love 'em. We've played "Captor," we've played "Chemical," we dabbled with "Haunting the Chapel" in Europe several years back.
3. Live Undead (1984)
You know what's funny? I probably haven't heard that in over 15 years. And a buddy of mine brought it over to my house. So I listened to it, and I'm like "wow, that was fun." There's so many stories about that. It is done live. It's not at a gig, because for some reason we couldn't do it at a gig. I can't remember what the problem was. So, we gave away 50 tickets, did it in the studio, and played live with people right in front of us.
4. Hell Awaits (1985)
I think that's the last album of ours...if you listen and you knew the time, you could hear where our influence came from. We were big time into Mercyful Fate on that record. And that's why there's 5,000 riffs in each song. They're all like 7-8 minutes long. That's not our style, it never has been. Except for right then.
5. Reign in Blood (1986)
In most people's opinion, the quintessential thrash album. When we made it up, it was just the next 10 songs. It think it was a culmination of Rick Rubin coming in a cleaning up our sound, and having 10 kick-ass very classic thrash songs to throw on there.
6. South of Heaven (1988)
South of Heaven of the 80s is probably my least favorite record. And that's an odd statement, because there's so many good songs on there that everyone likes. I'm not counting "South of Heaven," I'm not counting "Mandatory Suicide." But realistically, that's the only album we ever did with a cover song on it. Which again, is not our style. There's a song on there that I definitely would of either thrown out of re-recorded if I had to do it again. I think that's the one time when Tom tried to sing too much for me.
7. Seasons in the Abyss (1990)
Seasons I was happy with, because I realized what I didn't like about 'South of Heaven.' And I said to Tom, "I think we left something behind when you went out and just did all this singing. I think you could do that, but you gotta have the throat and the rasp." That was 'Reign in Blood.' I think for all times, you take those 2 albums ('Reign' and 'Seasons,') meld them together, and you move on from there.
8. Divine Intervention (1994)
That album is gonna be for me, not up to par with the rest because the production's so horrible. That one's gotta laundry list of problems with it. We had 3 or 4 different engineers, 3 or 4 different studios. Anything that could have went wrong, did. The record company would never tell us we're moving (to another studio.) So we think, here we are for 2 weeks, and the engineer says, and the engineer says, "well, this other guy's coming in tomorrow." And we're like, "Why's that? You gotta go outta town?" He's like, "no, that's all I'm doing." We were just picking up the pieces. It just was the weirdest recording. There's a lot of good shit on there. But, if I ever had the opportunity, I'd like to re-record some of that stuff, and let people know what it really sounds like.
9. Diabolus in Musica (1998)
That's probably my newer era of records I like the least. For me it's too experimental. There's too much funky stuff goin' on. It's like the one that strayed farthest from Slayer.
10. God Hates Us All (2001)
I think 'God Hates Us All' is Paul Bostaph's 'Reign in Blood.' I think that's his claim to fame. I think that's the best performance he's ever had and may ever have. I think it was us realizing what Slayer is, and saying, "we got a little aidetracked on this last record, but this one, I wanna beat people in the face." When I came up with that line, "God Hates Us All." I'm like, "that's it, that's the title!" It's a devastating phrase, and I love it. People will always relate to it. At the end of the shows, I just point (shows tattoo on arm) and they're going "God hates us all!" It just connects.
11. Christ Illusion (2006)
I think it's the best thing we've done since 'Reign in Blood.' It's a very complete record. Tons of riffs, tons of leads. Dave's back on it, and it gives it that Slayer anxious thing. Just because he's a part of it.
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