Music Interviews

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interview by Harold O.
published in Thrash Metal (U.S.)

Exodus/Thrash Metal

cover photo of Exodus
© Harald O./Artist Publications
cover photo of Faith No More
© Mark Leialoha/Artist Publications

Armed with a brutal, face-shredding new LP, a pounding new drummer and a major new record deal, long-time San Francisco Bay Area thrashers Exodus are set to make a major impact on the ever-expanding thrash scene as they enter a new decade.

Thrash Metal recently talked to guitarist Gary Holt at San Francisco's Alpha-Omega Studios, where he was busy finishing the final mixes of the new Exo-Epic, Impact Is Imminent. The new LP was produced by Gary and fellow guitarist Rick Hunolt, and is the fastest, heaviest stuff they've done since their classic debut album.

Having known Gary for years as a photographer and drinking partner, I felt totally comfortable interviewing him. Gary is a very outgoing, likeable person who has incredible conviction in himself and his band. He is by far the most versatile, accomplished guitarist in thrash today, rivaled only by Testament's Alex Skolnick. From his tasty classical pieces to complex techno-Egyptian riffs, Gary's playing incorporates many styles.

Gary gave me a track-by-track rundown of the new LP: "The title track and the first song on the album is 'Impact Is Imminent.' It's an anti-drunk-driving song that basically talks about how totally stupid it is to die behind the wheel when there's no need to. The second song is called 'AWOL,' and it's an anti-traitor song, hypothetically based on the Ollie North, Contra Affairs and all this bullshit goin' on. The third song is 'Lunatic Parade,' which is about the story of our lives on the road, the lunatic parade that it is. The fourth song is 'Within the Walls of Chaos,' which is quite an epic. It's about the whole horror of life inside the ghettos with the crack epidemic and all the gang warfare going on. The fifth song is 'Objection Overruled,' which is a very tongue-in-cheek slag on all the silly courtroom drama shows, all the schlock-artist soap opera junk that's flooding TV right now—People's Court, Divorce Court, The Judge, You the Jury... all this bullshit. It's totally stupid, you know? It's one big plague that was spawned by none other than Perry Mason's crappy show.

Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich, Gary Hold c Jay Janini/Artist Publications

(l-r) Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich of Metallica & Gary Holt of Edodus
photo © Jay Janini/Artist Publications

"Side two opens with 'Heads They Win, Tails You Lose,' which is about the hazards of gambling addiction. It's basically a no-win situation. Next is 'Only Death Decides,' which is my personal favorite. It's about the Day of Retribution, a hypothetical story about someone who has cheated, abused and hurt people all their lives. Then when they die, they aren't happy with discovering they ain't going to heaven, they're going to hell. It's about Judgment Day. Only death decides where you go. Next is 'Changing of the Guard,' which is about the whole Romanian dictatorship upheaval with the execution of Nicolai Ceausescu, the Berlin Wall going down, all the political reform going on in the Eastern Bloc. The final song is called 'Thrash Under Pressure,' which is about being proud of being a thrash band when it's becoming so uncool to call yourself thrash. You know, just continuing to be a thrash band under pressure to change and go more mainstream. That's why our new album is by far the most thrash album we've ever done. There's not even anything like 'Metal Command' on this album. It's a total thrash album!! It stings!!"

Having recently completed the MTV Headbangers Ball tour with Anthrax and Helloween, I asked Gary if the tour helped their career at all. "It helped a lot!" he assured. "We played in front of a lot of people, and we kicked a lot of people's asses. We didn't just go up and ride on Anthrax's coattails. It doesn't matter how good the headliner is, Exodus never goes over as just an opening band! When we were opening, more often we were called 'the band impossible to follow up!'"

Drummer Tom Hunting—who started Exodus with Kirk Hammett (now of Metallica)—recently left the band to become a session/studio musician after getting his fill of touring. Anthrax's drum roadie, Johnny Tempesta, has taken over drum duties, and is a worthy successor to Hunting. Johnny makes his debut on the new record, and has already proved himself at some recent local gigs, where he impressed the fuck out of me!!

"We've known him since we toured with him on the Among the Living tour and the Headbangers Ball tour," Greg explained. So we knew Johnny personally and knew him as a massive drummer just waiting for a good enough gig to give up his job with Charlie. He made good money doing that and wasn't going to go and join just any band."

The Exo-dudes were recently nominated for best metal album by local music mag BAM. Tesla won the Bammie, which is as unfair as Jethro Tull winning over Metallica at the Grammys. I wondered what Gary thought. "It was an honor to be nominated, but no one could expect anybody but Tesla to win. Everybody else (Testament, Faith No More and the Sea Hags) is in this up 'n' coming record sales-type league, and then you have Tesla who just went double platinum. I don't consider them a heavy metal band and don't think they belonged in that category. The nomination was cool because we've always gotten overlooked for tons of stuff, you know? We get no respect! (laughs)

Going back, you probably know that Exodus, along with Metallica, forged what has become known as The Bay Area Sound. I asked Gary if he felt the band didn't get enough credit for being one of the thrash/power metal originators. "Yeah," he copped to it. "Sometimes I get pissed off if I hear us overlooked when somebody's talking about bands who influenced the whole genre. Other bands who get credit were doing covers while we were playing Bonded by Blood material. I feel when people hear our albums and see us live, they see something genuine and know where we belong."

Exodus & King Diamond c Randy Bachman/Artist Publications

Exodus & King Diamond
The Stone, San Francisco

photo © Randy Bachman/Artist Publications

Exodus recently played a wild show with Testament, Death Angel and 11 other local bands at The Stone in San Francisco. "That was just an opportunity for us to get totally ripped and jam," Gary explains. "We played all cover songs [e.g., Blackfoot's 'Good Morning,' Ted Nugent's 'Free for All," and AC/DC's 'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap'] except for a drunken version of 'Brain Dead.'"

Jokingly, I suggested they should record these nuggets. "We recorded the Blackfoot and Nugent tunes for the B-side of our European single. 'Dirty Deeds' won't make it to vinyl, but we'll be playing it live. Joan Jet can beat herself!" (laughs) Joan Jett, of course, recorded "Dirty Deeds" for her last album, before Exodus had a chance to put out their version.

The [San Francisco] Bay Area has become the undisputed thrash capital of the world, with Testament, Death Angel, Forbidden and Vio-lence all spearheading the Second Wave of San Francisco Thrash Metal (SWOSFTM). I asked Gary how he felt the local scene has changed through the years. "There's not nearly as much of a thriving club band scene. All the good shows are usually bands coming in from out of town, or the bigger local bands. It's getting better, but it's not what it was like when we were starting out."

I wondered if he missed the old underground scene. "Oh, hell, yeah! I thrived on the violence that went on at the time. Now, I'm a little more peaceful but back then I lived for it! It was the fuel of our lives."

And what about the future? "We're going out with our own production, staging and lighting, for the first time headlining theaters, probably near the end of July. It looks like Suicidal Tendencies will be supporting Exodus on the road in the summer tour, copping rays! After the U.S., we'll be doing the world, including Australia, Japan and the Iron Curtain countries, for the first time. Impact is imminent. That's it. When you see it coming, it's too late!"


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