The Interviews: Kerry King of Slayer, 09/29/03

“Don’t hold back, Kerry. Tell us how you REALLY feel.” (Photo courtesy of American Recordings)

So, on the “journalism career highlights” list, yes, interviewing Slayer guitarist Kerry King would be pretty high up there.

The opportunity presented itself when a music magazine called No Cover were looking for writers. I suggested a few feature ideas for them at the time, and one of them synced up perfectly with their plans, as they were doing a co-promotion deal with the Jagermeister Music Tour, which Slayer were about to headline, so Slayer were getting the cover of the next No Cover, as it were. Kerry was the member of the band available for press at the time, and he was pretty easygoing, so we spent a while on the phone. We talked about a bunch of different topics, as they had the tour happening, had just released their “War At The Warfield” DVD, and were also finishing up work on their “Soundtrack To The Apocalypse” box set around that time. We talked about all of those for the feature we did for the magazine (which I will try to make a scan of soon, hopefully with No Cover’s blessing, or at least their benign indifference; thanks go out to No Cover, by the way, for making this possible in the first place…), but I had a whole lot of Slayer left over when I’d fulfilled my word count obligation to the magazine, and it was pretty solid, fun stuff, so it went to my old web site as one of the first features of our 2003 relaunch. (Yes, My Big, Black Cock had a pretty spectacular Fall of 2003, with Slayer, Andrew W.K., Devin Townsend, Cathedral and several others doing interviews with my other staffers at the time and I.) For your perusal now, once again, I present Kerry King and I touching on what it’s like to be in Slayer, his influences, the band’s creative process, touring, and yeah, we kinda spent a minute making fun of Metallica, too. (I have wondered, over the years, whether or not he caught any shit for that from Metallica when they had the meetings to put together the Big Four tour.)

SC: You’ve set the bar pretty high for yourselves, and you’ve obviously given your fans reason to expect a lot. Do you guys feel any of the pressure that comes along with being a standard bearer like you are?

King: I don’t know. I think it’s really simple…it starts with us, and we’re fans first. I remember, before Slayer was anybody, I’d go check out Judas Priest back in the early days, and if they put out a record that I didn’t think was up to snuff, I didn’t just hate that record, I was just pissed off with them until they gave me a reason to like ’em again. For one, I don’t wanna be like that, and for two, I don’t think we ever have become that, so it just helps the relationship between the band and the fans. I think they appreciate what we’ve done over the years.

SC: You mentioned Priest…who are some of the bands (particularly ones that aren’t always mentioned like Sabbath, Venom, etc.) that kicked your ass on the road to becoming the band you are today?

King: Well, it’s obviously them. It’s obviously Iron Maiden. It’s obviously Deep Purple…shit, who else was back then? Rainbow. I mean, Ritchie Blackmore was a fucking nut when he played guitar. The other thing that helped Slayer become Slayer was West Coast punk..Jeff was really into it.

SC: Have there been any recent bands that’ve totally kicked your ass when you heard them, in the way that you imagine your stuff kicks your fans’ asses?

King: There’s two bands that I’ve really paid attention to lately that are new bands I really like. One’s Chimaira. I think they are DEFINITELY carrying the torch of what we did, after all this passed time, and the other band I like’s Killswitch Engage.

SC: What do you think of the other bands on the tour, Hatebreed and Arch Enemy?

King: We’ve toured with Hatebreed before. I mean, if they’re doing their own show, they’ve got some SICK people in their crowd…they’ve always been notorious for having crazy fans. I think Hatebreed fans that are just into Hatebreed are even a bit crazier. The only thing I know about Arch Enemy is that they just put out their new record, with the girl singing on it. I’ve seen their video, and I know they’ve got a buzz, so I’m kind of glad they’re on the bill, because I wanted somebody in the 3rd spot that wasn’t just a filler band. I definitely wanted a strong third band. I’ve yet to see them live, but I’m hoping they’re it.

SC: What do you listen to when you’re not in the mood to listen to metal/punk/hardcore/other heavy music?

King: It’s not very often. *laughter* Man, I don’t know. That’s a tough one. Van Halen…the first couple of records of that, but that’s still hard rock, I guess. I’m just a guitarhead, you know?

SC: Have you heard Tori Amos’ cover of “Raining Blood”?

King: Yeah. We had to hear it to approve it.

SC: what did you think of it?

King: Well, you know…it’s what she does. I don’t really have any opinion of that kind of music. It’s not something I’m into. Did I like it? No. But that really doesn’t matter. It’s some different artist’s perception of what your music is, and that’s how she delivered it. So…not into it, but she was.

SC: Your music’s gotta be pretty brutal to play, from a physical standpoint. How do you keep your energy up for tours, after all these years?

King: Well, we haven’t done a gig in, shit…well, no, we did a couple in Europe over the summer…we haven’t toured reasonably for like 8 months, man and I’m a fat pig! I gotta get on the exercise bike and get ready for the Jager tour! *laughter* As far as energy goes, it doesn’t matter. The intro hits, the lights go out, and you’re Superman.

SC: Where does the Warfield show (from the “War At The Warfield” DVD) rank for you, among the shows you’ve done?

King: It’s probably in the upper ten percent. It’s kind of a tough question. No crazy things went on there that I’m not proud of, so…

SC: What was the best ever?

King: There’s one that’s always going to have a spot in my memory banks, and that’s the first time we played Donington in England. I think that was ’92. First time we’d ever played Donington, and I think it was Paul Bostaph’s…probably second or third or fourth show with us, and it just rocked. We fired on all cylinders that day, and it was awesome.

SC: Do you prefer bigger, arena-to-stadium-sized gigs, or smaller club-to-theatre sized ones?

King: It’s always fun to do clubs, but I wouldn’t want to do it for an entire tour, just because some of them are just so idiotic, the way they’re set up. There’s just no room for anything. That’s kind of what makes it cool, for fan feedback…they’re right in your face. I think my favorite would be between theatres and small arenas. You get the best of both worlds. You’ve got the crazies who are reasonably close to you in front, and you’ve got the ambience of a big show.

SC: In the press kit (I didn’t actually catch it on the DVD) it says that you guys dedicated “God Send Death” to Osama bin Laden. How have current events since 9/11 affected you in day-to-day life?

King: In the beginning, you know, it was…I certainly was never the most patriotic bastard in the world, but that was a big wake-up call. As far as life since then, I don’t dwell on it too much, because shit happens all over the world. Just because we got a couple towers bombed by fuckin’ airplanes…people all over the world have to deal with shit like that.

SC: Onto your fans…we’ve heard about and seen the people who cut your logo into their bodies, and the story about the guy in Minnesota who jumped from the balcony was pretty cool, but have you come across any fans who’ve done things that are too sick to mention in most interviews?

King: Not really. I mean, it’s Slayer you’re talking about, so there’s really no taboo or anything. One of the weirdest things that’s happened to me was in Spain. We were signing after the show, just chilling with fans that wanted autographs, and this dude insisted I use his pen. I’m like “No, man. I’ve got my own pen, whatever.” It turned out that the guy was handing me a scalpel. He wanted me to carve “Slayer” into his arm. I’m like “Dude, I ain’t gonna scar you up, man. I’ll sign anything you got.”

SC: What’s the Slayer groupie scene like?

King: What are those? *laughter*

SC: Oh. OK. *laughs* I dunno, the last couple of tours, it seems like you’ve had more and more girls in the audience, and you guys mentioned that on the DVD…

King: Eh…maybe. What I’ve noticed is that the fan base is definitely rejuvenating itself to like young kids. That’s one thing I’ve noticed a lot. We play on stage, and the front row’s full of like 16, 15, or younger kids, and I’m like “Damn! What are you doing here?” *laughs*

SC: How’s the new album coming along?

King: Dave and I are working on stuff. We’ve been working on like six songs, just him and I. I think Jeff’s got three of his own, so it’s inching up there.

SC: Have you settled on a title yet?

King: We don’t even have titles for songs yet. Basically, we’re putting music down right now, but we’re not far from shifting gears. I want to get another song or two done, and then I’m going to be switching over to lyrics, you know…they start flowing out.

SC: You said you’re not quite up to lyrics yet. Has Jeff mentioned anything about his lyrics?

King: Actually, Jeff just surfaced recently, I hadn’t talked to him for about a month. We were just doing our own thing. I’m working on stuff, he’s working on stuff. He hurt his finger or something, so he’s been out of commission for a while.

SC: Since we’re talking about new material, and an archive of older material…what’s your position on people who download music from the ‘net, and the RIAA’s approach to dealing with them?

King: I don’t know much about it. I think my manager or somebody made a comment about what’s going on recently, and I was like “Really?”, but I wasn’t even paying attention, because I was working on the box set or something that day, so I don’t know much about it.

SC: You guys have varied your sound a bit over the years without losing any of the power behind what you do, like a lot of your contemporaries have. What’s your secret been?

King: I think it’s taking who we are from day one, and not having to change to meet whatever’s popular in any given few years’ span.

SC: Speaking of “contemporaries”, what’d you think of the new Metallica record?

King: I could only stomach it twice. Twice was just so I made sure that I didn’t miss anything.

SC: You made it one more time than I did.

King: *laughs* I mean, there’s some good ideas on there. I’m GLAD they made an attempt..

SC: Yeah, they tried.

King: To me, you can’t jump out of genre for ten years or whatever and just pick it back up. They didn’t live it. They were somewhere else. We, as well as some of the other bands just continued to live it. That’s why there won’t be any dropoff. Where, to me, it’s a BIG TIME dropoff with them.

SC: I literally made it once, beginning to end, and I was like “That’s it”.

King: You were waiting for that one that was gonna grab you, and it never did.

SC: Nope. There was one that was close (“Sweet Amber”, if you’re curious. -Editor), but not quite.

King: I like a part here and there, but they’re too long…

SC: And that snare…

King: …and the snare’s RIDICULOUS, and the lyrics are redundant, they just…make you wanna go puke.

SC: A lot of what people love about your music is the feeling of direct, sincere anger that you convey with it. Do you see yourselves as angry people, or just everyday guys who get the aggression of everyday life out through your music?

King: We’re pretty fuckin’ easygoing guys, but I can get pissed off quick, too. I think it’s probably venting, more than anything.

SC: What goes through your head when you’re writing or playing out one of your solos?

King: Oh. *laughs* Keeping time…*more laughs* Keeping up.

SC: *laughs* Cool. How did you come up with some of the things you do to a guitar in those solos, when you first started?

King: In the early days, I was a BIG TIME whammy whore, tremolo bar whore, because it’s so easy. You just grab that thing and play ten leads and they’ll all be similar, but at the same time they’ll all be distinctively different. I wanted to relax on that, because it gets repetitive, and it becomes like a fix, you know, like “Hey, I gotta play a lead. Gimme that bar”, so I went out of my way to try to make up…say I’ve got eleven leads, make up seven or eight, and then leave three just to go for it.

SC: In the beginning, you guys took up satanic imagery and the associated trappings because it was something powerful that you could use to offend and scare people. The visual aspects of it have toned themself down a bit over the years, but a contempt for and rebellion against the “God” concept (paramount to what a lot of people consider modern Satanic thought) was obviously very strong on your last record. Is it still as important to you as a band to offend and scare the kind of people you were trying to scare with things like that when you started out?

King: I don’t think it’s so much that, as it is an awakening, for me and for people listening to our music. We kind of put things in perspective, as I like to say. I’ll say something like “Are you going to church because you believe in God, or are you going because society tells you that it’s the right thing to do?”

SC: What do you think of the others that’ve gone the shock route, like Marilyn Manson or Eminem?

King: Well, I mean, that’s Manson. He’s good at what he does. I don’t think he has or will ever do a record that’s as angry as “Antichrist Superstar” was. There’s some really cool stuff on there.

SC: Finally, do you ever wake up in the morning, think “Whoa. I’m in Slayer.” to yourself, and pump your fist in the air or anything?

King: Not really. I don’t know any other way to be.

SC: I guess it’s always different when it’s you.

King: Yeah. It’s been a part of my life for more than half my life now. People ask me, “What would you do if you weren’t in Slayer?”, and I’m like “I have no idea.” *laughter*