Gary Holt 2

Almost one year ago to the day, I was to interview Gary Holt from Exodus. They were in town during a head line tour and I was set to sit down before the show and interview the man behind some of the most brutal thrash metal songs to ever come out of the San Francisco Thrash scene of the 80’s. Fate however would intervene and Gary was busy getting his first ever tattoo, so Tom Hunting their drummer graciously stepped in and gave a great interview. A year later, a new album being released (Today May 18th), Exhibit B: The Human Condition, and once again I am set to interview Mr. Holt. Over the next 30 minutes we talked about their new album, their longevity, the ‘Big Four’, Master Of Puppets being the best album ever written period. And the possibility of Exodus’ next album centering around unicorns and butterflies (read on, I’m not lying!!!). From Obama to liner notes, from tattoos to the old Bay Area music scene, from Paul Baloff to Venom… Here you have Gary Holt standing on the backs of giants in his own words…

AWAY TEAM: This is Jim Keller with away-team.com talking with Mr. Gary Holt from Exodus! How are you sir?

GARY HOLT: I’m doing good, how are you?

AWAY TEAM: Doing very well, very well thank you for taking time for the interview.

GARY HOLT: Ah no problem, you know I hate to say it I almost forgot! (laughs) No, actually, all I did was uh run like 2 minutes away to the corner store and just walked in the door like ‘oh shit!’ but uh you know I wouldn’t have been gone long.

AWAY TEAM: Not a problem at all, actually this is my second shot at an interview with you, on your last tour you came through Raleigh, North Carolina and I was set up to do an interview and you were getting your first ever tattoo so Tom Hunting (drummer) stepped in.

GARY HOLT: Oh yeah I remember that! Yep I was I was uh indisposed. Heh heh.

AWAY TEAM: So what took you so long to finally decide to get a tattoo or what was the impetus for it?

GARY HOLT: Ah you know it’s one of those things... Lee (Altus guitarist) calls it a midlife crisis. I just look at it like this, I’ve always wanted one and I never had the right artist and never knew what I wanted. And if I’d done a tattoo you know 20 years ago, I’d probably be like most of my friends and have a lot of really bad tattoos. I have two of ‘em now and they’re both like world class art so…

AWAY TEAM: Very nice, very nice. Yeah I was just watching your new DVD Shovelheaded Tour Machine and saw the footage of you actually getting the tattoo on there, I’m like, ‘that’s where he was’!

GARY HOLT: That’s where I was. Ha ha ha. Exactly!

AWAY TEAM: Congratulations on the release of your 13th album, by my count, Exhibit B: The Human Condition which comes out in 11 days on Nuclear Blast (the interview was on May 7th, 2010).

GARY HOLT: Yeah well it just came out today in Europe actually so…

AWAY TEAM: Oh did it really?

GARY HOLT: Yeah everybody’s pretty excited. They get it first, you know, it’s one of those things that kinda sucks, that that my countrymen have to wait longer.

AWAY TEAM: (laughs) Speaking of your countrymen, I saw that you guys are doing two CD release shows and you just added a third in Chico, California which you claimed is your adopted town.

GARY HOLT: Yeah I’ve been here for shit like 3 years now; it’s my first time playing my adopted home town!

AWAY TEAM: Very cool. How’d you end up in Chico?

GARY HOLT: I don’t know, they got a theater here and we just wanted to do an additional show before San Francisco and L.A. You know like a warm up show and then my manager called back and said how’d you like to play Chico? I said sure. I wanted to play here for awhile you know. It’s a small town, its a little college town you know so…

AWAY TEAM: Yeah I actually lived there for 3 years myself.

GARY HOLT: Ah really?

AWAY TEAM: Yeah back in the in the late 90’s.

GARY HOLT: Oh I love it up here it’s peaceful, its quiet you know. I go to the Bay Area and my stress level just rises.

AWAY TEAM: Laughs. Understand that completely I do.

GARY HOLT: Yeah yeah I like it up here though fucking gorgeous day right now out here.

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AWAY TEAM: Yes, it’s very nice up there. So again Exhibit B uh came out today in Europe, its coming out next week in the States and you kinda took a little break between Exhibit A and when you guys said you were going to release Exhibit B to rerecord Bonded by Blood which I think, from all accounts that I’ve read and my listening to it and my review of it, was an exceptional album. A great ‘redoing’ of a classic album. Are you still the primary music and lyric writer or now that you have Rob Dukes (vocalist) and some other new members is there a more collaborative effort or method to the song writing for the new album?

GARY HOLT: I still write most of the stuff. Lee and Rob the two of them wrote two of the songs on the new album. I wrote all the rest but you know like the Let There Be Blood thing it wasn’t even like we took a break through there, we just had a break between tours so it’s not like we stopped doing anything to do that. We were just home for a little bit and we recorded that thing in definitely less time than the original. I’ve got 27 years of rehearsal on those songs you know! I don’t need a whole lot of time to practice them (laughs).

AWAY TEAM: Right! And how did you think the reception was for Let There Be Blood (title of the rerecording of Bonded By Blood)?

GARY HOLT: You know it was mixed. I think it came out great! Some people are just uber defensive about touching a classic. It was never meant nor could it replace the original. Bonded by Blood’s always gonna be our magnum opus. We just wanted to give ‘em like the sonicupdate and pay homage to the guys who made the original and pay tribute to Paul (Baloff, former singer for Exodus who passed away in 2002) more than anything!

AWAY TEAM: Your lyrics over the years have varied from political, social, anti-religion, to just straight up pissed off at the world. Now that you’re sitting here at 40 something and what 28, 30 years in the industry, how do you keep the fire stoked to continue to write such aggressive songs lyrically and musically?

GARY HOLT: Well you know you get older, sometimes you just get angrier! (laughs) You know I think as a band we’ve become that angry old man that lives next door to all the kids and hollers at ‘em to stay off his lawn’ you know? And the baseball comes over the fence, and you’re never going to see it again. ‘I’ve got it now!’ you know, fucking Old Man Smithers next door. There’s never any shortage of things to piss one off in this world we live in, so as long as that keeps going I have plenty of motivation. I mean if we ever encountered true peace and paradise on this planet I don’t know what would become of Exodus! You know?

AWAY TEAM: Yeah good point, good point. But I think that’s true for a lot of music, specifically in the rock or metal genres, and I guess rap to an extent too. Is if there wasn’t anything to be pissed off about… I mean you can’t really write metal songs about peace and happiness and rainbows and unicorns right? It doesn’t really work!

GARY HOLT: No! No, I don’t think it’d work if you’re writing about butterflies you know. I’m an animal lover, obviously I’d never do it, but I guess we’d have to write songs about pulling their wings off you know? You know writing about the beautiful patterns on their wings just wouldn’t really work for an Exodus song.

AWAY TEAM: As I said, you’re very vocal about your political views and not just in your lyrics. You endorsed Barack Obama in 2008. How do you think he’s done so far?

GARY HOLT: I think he’s done great! We get a lot of conservatives that just… The guy inherited the worst mess this country’s been in a long time and they immediately blame it on him. Or aim level heavy criticism at him when he can’t fix it immediately. It’s gonna take a lot longer than one or two years to fix this mess we’re in. We’re a band of that divergent political beliefs you know Jack (Gibson, bassist) and Lee are died in the wool conservatives, and I’m a liberal who also happens to harbor some the most extreme views on crime and punishment of anybody in the band. So I swing from both sides of the plate, one minute I’m very liberal in my political views and then, on other things, I believe in an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth more than most people I know.

AWAY TEAM: Between 1994 and 2004 you guys had done a few small tours, you released a live album but, you didn’t release any new albums or new music. Creatively how do you keep your sanity without the benefit of a full time band during that period? I mean was that ten years of kinda waiting around trying to get something going or were you just you know shut off alone in the wilderness and recharging or what?

GARY HOLT: Well a little bit of both I’d say. You know I’d left the band after Force Of Habit just because I just wasn’t enjoying this anymore. And it’d become like a job, one I didn’t like! I was kinda soured on things and then I chose to stay home and be a Soccer Dad, which was the best thing I could’ve done at that time. Obviously after awhile you start missing it and I got back together with Paul for the live album and touring which was like one of the best I ever could have done. But as time went by I guess the drug problems concerning everybody in the band, with the exception of Jack Gibson, just became too much of a controlling part of what was going on with the band. We were no longer musicians who dabbled in drugs, we were drug addicts who dabbled in music! That just kills your creative drive. It’s hard to create anything when you’re just trying to get high all the time. But once I got clean and conquered that that demon it’s like all of a sudden the rest just came flying back!

AWAY TEAM: Good! You just finished up a tour with Testament and Megadeth

GARY HOLT: Yes.

AWAY TEAM: How’d that tour go for you?

GARY HOLT: It was awesome! I mean it sold out almost every night! We were out touring with a couple of very good old friends. It was a tour we had no intention of doing just because we hadn’t planned on touring at that time. But if an opportunity like that comes up, well, we could sit at home or we can go out and do this. Well that’s a no brainer you know we decided to go out and do the tour!

AWAY TEAM: I just read that you were saying that you guys feel you should be on the bill for Sonisphere with the Big Four (Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth) and make it the Big Five because you guys were there at the beginning also…

GARY HOLT: You know, I don’t really care. We had an offer to play one of them but you know the offer was shit so we said fuck it! I don’t dwell on this Big Four, Big Five, Big Ten, Twelve whatever shit you know, people bring it up all the time and I think we deserve credit where credit’s due, But I understand that the Big Four thing is predicated on record sales. I mean people could say, ‘Well, the Big Four just made the most quality material..’ Well you know all of us have made our great albums and our not so great albums.

AWAY TEAM: Absolutely…

GARY HOLT: So it’s no different. It’s no different for any one of us but I just concentrate on the here and now, and I don’t try to worry about that shit. It’s like I don’t waste a second of thought during the day about some Big Four Vs Big Five thing. That never occurs unless someone brings it up. I don’t look at the Big Four thing you know with them playing these Sonisphere shows and say, ‘Man, I should be on that!’ It just it never crosses my mind. I just got too much other shit to do anyway. I don’t have enough time in the day for what I already have to concentrate on let alone worry about public perception or something like that. I know where this band was when thrash metal started and that’s enough for me and we get plenty of younger bands that pay homage to Exodus and talk about what an influence this band had on them and that’s really what it’s all about. That’s what makes you feel good, is when people give you credit for having some small part in the shaping of their own bands.

AWAY TEAM: Right. Well let me ask you then, why do you think it is that you guys didn’t get bigger, or have the popularity, or notoriety of the ‘Big Four’ or the other bands? Because like you already said, you guys put out your masterpieces and your albums. And you guys today are doing what I consider harder more brutal music than you did back when you started. You guys, to me, have gotten better, you’re tighter, you’re more cohesive, and you’re more straightforward now. I love Bonded by Blood, and Fabulous Disaster, and Impact is Imminent. But the stuff you’re doing today it’s just that the older stuff pales in comparison to it in musicianship and the writing etcetera. So why do you think it is that you guys didn’t reach that next level like the rest of them did?

GARY HOLT: You know, well, obviously Metallica went on to become the biggest metal band of all time. And deservedly so you know! I mean, I still consider Master of Puppets the greatest metal album ever made! I don’t even say the greatest ‘thrash album’, you know it’s just the perfect record. I think some bands have better breaks. We’ve always had a lack of those but I don’t complain about my career. I still make a living doing what I love doing all these years later. And I don’t have to work or anything. It’s sometimes a little bit of feast or famine, but I’m fortunate that I can do what I love and be my own boss and not have to worry about all that shit.

AWAY TEAM: Right, right. After so many years of touring how do you get yourself pumped up for a show night after night? How do you continue to go out there and give these brutal shows that you guys are doing? Your shows are just nonstop from beginning to end. There’s not a lot of pause in between the songs to catch your breath, and you know Rob will throw out his views on various things and quips here and there, but for the most part you end a song and you dive right into the next one. And you guys give 90 minutes to two hours of just an incredible show. And after doing it for like I said, what, 30 years now… how do you how do you keep that intensity on stage?

GARY HOLT: Well you just… for starters, you have to have to take care of yourself better. I can’t… I don’t drink the way I used to. I drink every day on tour I just don’t drink to excess you know? I try to avoid drinking to a hangover cuz you wake up at my age and you feel like total crap. You know it takes you another day and a half to get over that now. And another big part of that is just desire. You want to go out and give your best and we have a chip on our shoulders! We feel we have something to prove, and we don’t ever want to look slow. The most important part is the fans! When they’re really giving it… giving you the energy… that you’re asking of them, it’s kind of impossible to do anything but give it back.

AWAY TEAM: So what are your fondest memories of the old days in the Bay Area music scene?

GARY HOLT: Oh god! Just getting in Paul Baloff’s old…what did he have? He had some little like Datsun B10 I think, or one of those little miniature wagons, and just piling into that thing and going to a different show every night. Cuz back then you could go to a different club every single night of the week and never see the same band twice. And that’s all we did. We were just kids… we tracked, rehearsed, and then hopped in that thing… we’d stop by the liquor store, buy a half gallon of the cheapest vodka possible and Collins mix, you know the cheapest mixer we could find… and we’d just go out and just have a good time. Those days were awesome!

AWAY TEAM: Very cool. So what drew you to play music originally and specifically thrash when you began?

GARY HOLT: Well I started playing music just because this was what I’d wanted to do. Until I finally got an opportunity to start learning to play guitar seeing all your heroes playing live, as an impressionable kid… that’s what you wanted to do. So I was playing thrash. That’s just the kind of music we wanted to hear you know? We weren’t doing anything we thought that was ever going to be relevant. We just we wanted to play thrash/faster music. We wanted to take the music of our youth, our heroes, from Venom to Mercyful Fate, to Diamond Head, and Sweet Savage, and obviously Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath… and we just wanted to incorporate our love for the things like Discharge and stuff, and obviously Motorhead and shit like that, and just push the boundaries. I mean basically all we did was stand on the backs of giants and just add our own twist to it!

AWAY TEAM: What is the one thing left for you to do that you’ve always wanted to?

GARY HOLT: I don’t really know, I mean at this stage in my career it’d be kinda fun to just go to more places. It’s like I’ve been fortunate to travel the world, so now I really look forward to those opportunities when I get to go someplace where I haven’t been in all these years. Granted if someone wanted to bestow upon me several million dollars that wouldn’t be bad either, but that’s not gonna happen! I mean if it all ended today, I’d feel like I had a perfectly fine career.

AWAY TEAM: Very cool. You recently produced Warbringer's album Walking in the Nightmares. How was it sitting on the other side of the board? Did the experience…

GARY HOLT: Well I sit on the other side of the board for every album we do anyway, whether it’s sitting there with Andy (Sneap, producer) brainstorming and working on the record or whatever. I’ve been there for every minute of every record. It’s rare if I’d even leave the studio or leave anything up to someone else during tracking anyway. So it wasn’t a big switch. They asked me to do it and I happened to have a little break and we tracked the whole thing in eleven days. They came in prepared and ready to go and the album came out fucking fantastic!

AWAY TEAM: With major record labels still struggling to cope in the new era of digital entertainment and your storied short lived time with Century Media, how important is a label today and how is Nuclear Blast treating you guys?

GARY HOLT: Well Nuclear Blast has been amazing to us! They’re fans first, and label second. They understand the music here and they really work very hard. The record industry as a whole is a dying horse. Downloads and mp3 players and all that shit, is killing it. I can’t see this whole thing surviving for another ten years. Which is a shame because as a kid, to me, my favorite thing as someone who loved heavy metal and hard rock was bringing that vinyl home for that first time and putting that fucking record on and pouring over the lyrics, and the thanks list, and everything about it. You wanted to know what they played, and where they recorded it, and that was part of the experience of a new album. Now it’s a digital file, you’ll be lucky if there’s even artwork included in this shit in ten years!

AWAY TEAM: Yeah, what’s next for you guys? What with the album coming out I assume there’s tours coming up. Are you doing European festivals? You hitting the States headlining again or what do you guys have on the books?

GARY HOLT: Well we’re going to go to Europe, just a few days after the LA, San Francisco, and Chico shows. We’ll be over there for… the first show’s June 18th in Finland, last show’s July 10th I think in Slovenia. Then we come back and hang out for the rest of the month of July, and then we’re off in the States in August headlining.

AWAY TEAM: Nice! I look forward to seeing you guys back over here in the South!

GARY HOLT: Yeah, well, I’m not sure of the exact routing you know. It would be the first leg, so there will be some areas missed, but we definitely promise we will be back to catch all those on the next round.

AWAY TEAM: Very cool very cool. Well I wish you much luck and success with the new album again, Exhibit B! I’ve been…

GARY HOLT: Well thank you…

AWAY TEAM: I’ve been listening to it for about a week now and I’ve said this to a lot of people over the last five years now, since Tempo of the Dammed came out, you guys seem to me to have hit this new level. And every successive album that comes out you guys are killing it! And every record is better than the last one. I’ve been following you guys since Fabulous Disaster came out. That was my first exposure to you and have bought every album since and I’m very happy for you guys and wish you much continued success and hopefully you get to take the message out to more and more people.

GARY HOLT: Well right on! Thank you very much!

AWAY TEAM: Thanks again, I appreciate it Gary. Good luck buddy!

GARY HOLT: Ok. Bye bye!

Exodus' Exhibit B: The Human Condition is out TODAY (May 18th) and you can pick it up by clicking right here.