Killing on Adrenaline
CoC chats with Gary Holt of Exodus
by: Jackie Smit
As anyone who has met with him will readily attest to, Gary Holt is a man who very, very rarely struggles for words, and you'd better believe that his no-nonsense attitude has been instrumental in keeping the Exodus battleship afloat during some rather trying times over the years. Yet straightforward as he may be, asked about the response to his band's latest opus, the frankly marvellous _Atrocity Exhibition... Exhibit A_, you can't help but chuckle at his humorously flippant answer: "You know, I've had people tell me that they've played the new record to people that haven't been into Exodus for years or didn't know us before and they would have bet their mother's eyes that they were listening to some young new band, and I fucking love that."

It's certainly hard to deny that the "new" incarnation of Exodus -- ushered in on 2005's _Shovel Headed Kill Machine_ -- have been anything but blisteringly effective, and it begs the question as to how a band who've been around for over two and a half decades still manages to retain so much of the energy and spark that appears to be lost on the majority of their erstwhile contemporaries.

Gary Holt: <laughs> Well, dude, the only place where this band gets their energy from is a perceived lack of respect. I have to carry a chip around on my shoulder to work at my optimum best, and as long as I feel like I have to prove myself, it keeps my hungry. And most of all, we all still enjoy doing this. We're not like some of the older bands that made a ton of money and are now just doing it for whatever reason. I'm still starved to get back to what all these bands and the old thrash scene used to have, you know. So we're completely fired up and just ready to kill everyone, man.

CoC: The first thing that came to mind when I heard _Shovel Headed Kill Machine_ and the new record, was a conversation that we had back when I interviewed you the last time and you mentioned names like Hypocrisy and Immortal as bands you were really into at the time. Did not having a lot of your old compatriots around, particularly on _Shovel Headed Kill Machine_, mean that you felt slightly more freedom to be able to let those influences come to the fore a little more than they had previously?

GH: Not really, because I've always been able to call the shots as I see fit. Everyone's opinion has always been welcomed as long as I agree with them. <laughs> But you know, it's always been a democracy to a certain extent, even though I've written about 95% of the material since day one. I think one of the big changes for this band was getting Rob [Dukes, vocals] on board, because writing with him in mind means that I get to really take things to much more brutal level. Likewise, Tom [Hunting, drums] being back on the new album has really reinvigorated the band, just because he's been a friend of mine since I was seventeen. That's nothing against Paul [Bostaph, drummer on _Shovel Headed Kill Machine], but Tom belongs behind the drum kit. His signature style is part of our sound as a band. Besides that, I just love finding new ways to punch people in the mouth, man.

CoC: I want to get to Tom's rejoining the band in a second, but having read a lot of reviews of _Shovel Headed Kill Machine_, it does seem that if a lot of people felt that the band was more or less over without Tom and Zetro [Souza, ex-vocalist], the record did a really good job of shutting them up. How did you feel about the response to that record?

GH: Well, going back to _Tempo..._ actually, I think that was a good album but it caught people by surprise in the sense that everyone thought we were a band past our prime going out and making another mediocre reunion album, which wasn't the case. Then _Shovel Headed Kill Machine_, in between all the drama and soap opera and the chaos, came out and people didn't expect it either. I felt like the record was about twice as aggressive and twice as angry, purely because I felt like I had to get those emotions out so that they weren't going to play such a big part in my day to day life. With the new album, we're a more stable unit, we've got Tom back in the band, we worked really hard in the studio, and I think it just crushes everything.

CoC: What were the circumstances surrounding Tom's return to Exodus?

GH: If you had to put it in one word: time. He just needed time to get to grips with his own personal issues. He had been struggling with things like anxiety attacks, and things like that, and also trying to split your time between that and a band that's on the road all the time and takes up all your time; it's pretty fucking impossible. But he got back on his feet, got healthy, started playing and just found a level of health and vitality where he was ready to come back to the band. He was living up in the mountains about an hour and a half from where I live, which is about three hours north of San Francisco, and when he called I just chucked my amp and my guitar into my van, drove up to see him and we just jammed and I knew right then and there that this dude is ready to fuck shit up.

CoC: How did you manage the situation with Paul? Was he always of the understanding that if Tom decided to come back, then he'd move on?

GH: Yeah, he knew that when and if the day came that Tom wanted to come back, then the job was waiting for him. He knew that it was the best thing for the band, and he's both a good friend of Tom's and a huge fan. He's really an amazing guy and he always lands on his feet, so he wasn't really blown out into the cold. He wanted to try some different things anyway, and as it turns out he's playing for Testament now and he's also reunited Forbidden for a couple of shows. So everything's worked out pretty well for everybody.

CoC: Having Tom back in the studio and having him be part of the writing process; do you feel like his presence affected in any way how the songs ended up sounding?

GH: Definitely. Other than during his time away from the band, he's the only drummer I've ever really played with in my life. I've got a buddy who I used to get drunk with and play blues songs, but he could barely play anyway, so that doesn't really count. Other than that, Tom is the first guy I ever played with, and I never played with another drummer until he had to leave the band for similar health reasons back in 1989. There's just this natural unspoken language between he and I over what needs to be done to a certain riff drum-wise, and it's just hard to put into words.

CoC: You used Andy Sneap once again for the recording of _The Atrocity Exhibition_ and I know that in the past you've had nothing but good things to say about him. What's been the secret to keeping this relationship as productive as it has been?

GH: You know, we all love the music and we're all very, very good friends. I mean, a guy like Andy works with so many different clients that I suppose he has to try and get along with everybody to a certain extent. You obviously don't want to repeat working with a band who you don't like personally. But us and Andy really love each other in a non-homosexual friendly way. <laughs> We have a lot of fun together and I think he has more fun with us than he does with a lot of other bands. He's actually said to us that working with Exodus is like walking into a cartoon, because when we're in the studio and we're by ourselves we're out of our minds and there's no logic or sense to anything we do. He's a fan of our music dating back to the old days, and he's almost like a sixth member of this band. So I just can't ever see the day when we'd want to part ways, and I think that if that day did come, then it would probably be because we've exhausted every avenue creatively and because the band needs something new. But I don't see that happening until I'm in my fucking seventies.

CoC: It's interesting what he's done with your music as well, because he seems to take a very different approach to each record. _Tempo of the Damned_ for example was really slick, whereas _Shovel Headed Kill Machine_ was a far rawer, organic album and _The Atrocity Exhibition_ is really bass-heavy and brutal. Typically I find that bands always go to a producer because they want a certain sound, but that doesn't seem to be the case here at all. Would you agree with that?

GH: I think you absolutely hit the nail on the head, man. With every album that we do, we never want it to sound exactly like the previous record. It doesn't mean that we're intentionally trying to sound different; we still go through the motions of plugging in our gear and finding our tone. But we just want to make shit work with the songs, and on this album, we purposefully wanted to make the guitar sound super crunchy and abrasive, with the big bottom-end on them. With _Shovel Headed Kill Machine_, it was more of a high-gain sound that we were after. With this one, we tried out different settings until we knew that we'd found something that was heavy as shit.

CoC: So for the benefit of the tech nerds, including myself, who'll be reading this: what was the guitar setup that you used on this album?

GH: Well, it was virtually the same setup as on _Shovel Headed Kill Machine_, just with different cabs. I used my Peavey XXX with 606 Tubes, and I used a Bernie Rico V that I didn't use on the last album. The only other change that I made was that I ran a little PreSonus parametric EQ in front of the amp, using the mixer to add that extra attack. But what it all comes down to are the riffs.

CoC: Exodus has never been a band to shy away from controversial topics, and on this album in particular you seem to be very pissed at the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. What made you decide to be so much more vocal about these things on _The Atrocity Exhibition_?

GH: Rob wrote the lyrics to "Children of a Worthless God" and I wrote the rest, and I think that in both our cases it just comes from whatever seems to be pissing us off at the time. To me it's like a therapy. The more anger I let out via the band, the happier I am. And I'm one of the happiest guys you'll ever meet; I'm the dude wearing a lamp shade at the party, you know, dancing at the bar. I'm not the guy sitting in the corner brooding and fucking writing dark poetry, and fucking hoping to die. I'm not that emo. My daughter is though. She's a little Fall Out Guy fan. <laughs> But you know, like the whole Iraq war thing, I wanted to write a song from my perspective and express the fact that I feel that the whole thing is a fucking huge sinkhole we're stuck in, but at the same time as far as I'm concerned, the whole liberal aspect viewpoint to be equally stupid. They go on about the human suffering and Saddam and this and that, and the truth of the matter is that before this whole thing blew up, I didn't give a shit. We should have never been there to begin with -- not to act as liberators, not for any reason. Call me an asshole for not caring and not wanting to save the world, but I honestly didn't think it was worth it.

CoC: It's almost like the big grey patch of objectivity in the debate over the Iraq war, or any other political topic for that matter, has gotten lost.

GH: For sure, man. And that's where I live -- that grey area. <laughs> I'll sit and watch Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, who's one of the biggest right-wing blowhards in the world, and I'll watch Keith Oberman on MSNBC, who's a major pansy left-wing liberal. I'm able to glean the truth from both sides.

CoC: So _...Exhibit B_ -- the next Exodus album -- is already in the works and I understand that there are now four songs that are more or less finished. Will there be an overarching concept linking the two records together?

GH: No, at least as these new songs are concerned they're not really linked in any way to the stuff on _...Exhibit A_. There might be one or two incidental things, but the two records definitely aren't part of a larger concept in any way, nor were they meant to be. The way it actually started out was that we just had too many great songs done to fit onto one disc. At the start we talked about putting out a double album, but the problem there is that it would have put all the additional production and packaging costs on us, and at the risk of sounding greedy you have a deal in place covering publishing and royalties and it doesn't change if you give the label a two-disc album instead of one. So, you're ultimately giving away two albums for the price of one basically, because we get paid the same for a single album as a double album. With _...Exhibit A_ we paired up all the songs that we felt had similar vibe and would create the most consistent experience, and on the new album we're going to use the songs that we left over, and we'll probably release them about a year apart.

CoC: What do you feel are potentially the biggest differences between the two?

GH: Well, it's hard to say at the moment because we haven't actually finished all the songs that will be on the next album. The ones we've done are all fast as shit, they're actually not very long apart from one which is eight minutes long. It's just about as heavy as anything we've ever done that's for sure.

CoC: We spoke earlier about Tom rejoining the band, but one of the other major changes in Exodus was the departure of Zetro [Steve Souza] back in 2004? Are you still in touch with him?

GH: Yeah, I see him once in a while and we're on friendly terms now. I hated his ass for a while, but I don't hate him now. He understands he fucked us over, leaving us stranded three days before a tour with no replacement. You know, that was one of the hardest tours I have ever done in my life, and it honestly shouldn't even have been booked. We had a situation where we had to pull the plug five songs into set and we had fans pissed off at us and hurling all sorts of shit at us -- and this was all because of scheduling issues that had arisen because we'd re-arranged the tour twice to fit in with Zetro's schedule, right before he left the band. So everything was fucking shoved together, and the promoter was losing his ass because of all the cancellations and rescheduling. So I still wouldn't be in a band with him again, but he is who is. He's a homebody. He doesn't like being on tour. But to be honest, I'm too happy with where the band is at moment to be mad at him anymore. The Dublin Death Patrol thing that he's doing right now is perfect for him.

CoC: Last question: next up for you is a tour with Goatwhore and Arsis through the US. What are your plans after that?

GH: We're working on Europe right now, hopefully something for early March, and then we're probably just going to keep going throughout the summer, doing tours and festivals.

(article submitted 19/11/2007)

3/14/2004 J Smit Exodus: Dancing With the Damned
12/8/2010 A El Naby 8.5 Exodus - Exhibit B: The Human Condition
11/4/2007 J Smit 8.5 Exodus - The Atrocity Exhibition... Exhibit A
9/19/2005 J Smit 9 Exodus - Shovel Headed Kill Machine
1/25/2004 J Smit 7 Exodus - Tempo of the Damned
8/12/1997 A Bromley 7 Exodus - Another Lesson in Violence
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