Mike Exley Speaks To Gary Holt

No one was more amazed than me to hear from the US late last year that Exodus’ guitarist Gary Holt had started to take the proverbial scythe to the line up that had released the immense come back “Tempo Of The Damned” in the February; showing the door not only to Steve Souza, but also, later, to old friend Rick Hunolt and drummer Tom Hunting. Then, when news further reached these shores that his select bunch of new members - Paul Bostaph (d), Rob Dukes (v) and Lee Altus (g) - had helped immeasurably in the creation of a record as strong as “Shovel Headed Kill Machine” then turned out to be, you just knew that the man had had all the right buttons to press right from the off and had been proved right.

Back in the UK and Europe for the first time since the release of the said new chapter, Gary tells Mike Exley just how the switch came about and how he still has to pinch himself when this line up steps out on stage….., despite having a monster behind him to back it up.

Gary. Luck played a huge part in the change of personnel you instigated? You obviously now feel that you’ve been totally vindicated?

“Yeah, very much so. With Rick I didn’t, so much, have to give him an ultimatum - it was more down to just letting him get on with sorting out his life, his way. I realise that I’ve been very lucky with the new guys, but things have worked out very well mainly because people have been very mature about the way this band operates and how their lives operate within it. Rick opted to quit because his sons are more important to him than this; and that’s fine. I still find it amazing that I’m not up there playing with Rick, I love the guy to death but he’s a great father and that’s what's important. Lee was the perfect replacement - we have so much in common, a common musical background and beliefs, so that’s a really big plus for me and Exodus. Lee’s virtually a bigger Exodus fan than I am, for fucks sake!”

“Tom’s case is very similar, in a way. He has health issues he really needs to deal with and he doesn’t need Exodus there out on the road and stuff, getting in the way. We both went through that, because we live together, and I just hope he gets better because it’s tough on everyone.”

“Souza’s the only one that really wasn’t nice - there were issues there I really don’t want to go into; sometimes you just gotta move forward.”

How did you keep on pushing forward when times looked bleak?

“You just gotta do it, man! I kept writing songs; believing that after the tremendous success of “Tempo…”. there had to be more in this band. Paul Bostaph came in quite early on which, of course, helped immeasurably because Paul is a true professional, and I knew that there had to be more there. Paul tells it that I gave him his first real green light to do what he wanted with the songs - to take that insane double bass and just rip it up or whatever, but, hey, I’m not going to try and hold back a drummer of Paul’s calibre. No, I’ve got to tap into his enthusiasm, man! Paul gave me the confidence to expand on ideas like ‘Deathamphetamine’ and ‘44 Magnum Opus‘."

"Rob coming in was luck, sure, because here’s this guy who’s really nothing more in the beginning than a replacement guitar tech for some dude that can’t do the job (on the Megadeth tour in 2004), and suddenly he’s wanting to audition for the vocal position; but, Christ, sometimes luck comes calling and you’ve just gotta take it!”

Yes, reading the background to this, you had a very Spinal Tap couple of months with your singers during the period between Zetro and Rob; Steve Esquivel from Skinlab, John Miller from your old down time Exodus band Wardance. Both seemed stricken with bad luck?

“Steve certainly was. He came out to help us on tour and what happened was a real shame, but John was just a headache. Another guy again with a history of mental problems……… We were really disappointed because I don’t like having to cancel shows; in this case, in South America, but that’s the way some people’s minds work.”

“Rob’s was really the only position I had to really think about actually, and we had some other offers, some of them really horrible, but you learn, right? Rob had sung in bands in New York where he grew up, punk stuff…. And I must admit, I really only gave him a shot because we had gotten on so well on the tour. He blew me away, right there though, so you can’t legislate, can you? With Lee, no problems. Paul, that’s an honour for me, but Rob just walks in there and ‘BANG’, he does it and makes the job his, right there! Shit!”

Andy Sneap, who mixed SHKM, describes Rob as Paul Baloff (the band’s original singer who died in 2002 at the age of only 41) with a more modern edge? Do you see a similarity?

“Yes, to a certain degree and when we were tracking the new album I’d bait him to give me a bit more of that Baloff edge, you know, but he brings his own style to the songs as well. He’s a big personality - not like Zetro who would get kinda goofy on stage - but big chested! We’re doing songs about killing people. You gotta be bold; look like you want to do this stuff, man!”

When you sat down to craft the songs into the final tracks just prior to the studio, who were you writing for? Fans of “Tempo“, yourself, the new musicians you knew were coming in? Who?

“Myself, I guess. There were some ideas that I had already played around with at the house with Tom before his breakdown so as soon as Paul came on the scene, I was able to move those into the last phase but I don’t think there’s a huge amount of difference between this album and my head-space for “Tempo” because I wrote all the music for that too. The interpretations are different maybe; Paul is not Tom, Lee is not Rick, but at the end of the day, most of the lyrics are mine and all the music is mine. What I’m really looking forward to now, is being able to use this album as a springboard for the next one, where I can get really into stuff and hand a whole load of the responsibility over to Lee, Paul and Rob and get them to come up with stoking ideas. Lee is one of my favourite all time riff writers, so I don’t wanna have to write everything. Paul and Lee can’t stop thinking about the future, actually. You should hear our sound checks!”

Did you think about your standing on Nuclear Blast and how they might react to the line up changes?

“Well, not really. We got one more record for those guys and, man, it’s gonna be insane. I realistically cannot say what will happen but I know they’re gonna love it, because, like us, they’re people who believe in metal. We’ve got a few other ideas in the pipeline too. We’re looking at doing a DVD at some point; a chronological thing that details all of the old stuff as well as the latest side to this and I know they’re doing a special edition of “Tempo…” which should be out for the X-Fest dates around now; there’s still new chapters being written with Exodus, so I think we’ll be waiting ‘til this line up is bedded down before we go too far.”

Have you many ‘unreleased, bonus’ songs left in the closet? Some bands seem to have huge amounts of stuff record companies then want to exploit?

“No, not that many because we’ve never done that many, really. ‘Impaler’ made the “Tempo…” album and ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ got on to an album as well, but that’s why this album is so much better because it’s ten brand new songs with no skeletons; no Wardance numbers, no twenty-two year old songs? I read interviews where bands go into the studio talking about having 30 songs to choose from. Man, how do you write thirty quality songs like that? I don’t write like that - if stuff doesn’t make the grade, don’t even bother with making a song out of it - get on to the songs that are stoking. I produced this album, Andy mixed which was a little different - I definitely want him back producing next time - and that’s it, ten great punching songs!”

Do you think this line up is still, then, yet to really prove itself?

“I don’t know. I think they’ve pretty much done that already with the enthusiasm that they’ve shown. Maybe, on a long tour away from home? I don’t know. Everyone on this tour wants these guys to play stuff like ‘Toxic Waltz‘, and that’s why we specifically don’t play it. But everyone's pretty professional about it. These guys have their old songs they love, same as I do, but we want a break from some of the stupid songs - I know the fans love it and if it’s a particularly rowdy crowd you know they’ll go insane for it, but SHKM has tracks on it that can do that too like ‘Altered Boy’ and ‘Shudder To Think‘, so just not this time, sorry!”

“We’re going out very soon with five bands on these Christmas dates and I’m sure that’ll be good, we’re working our way back very nicely as far as the European market is concerned, so hopefully, when we come back next year, we can start to take the kind of steps forward that Exodus has made before because the material is certainly the best I’ve had the pleasure of playing on. It’s not 1989 anymore, but our crowd still seems to be young people who have very open minds, you know? Some of our older fans possibly don’t leave the house these days; they’re accountants with families, white picket fence, six kids, two dogs, ha-ha!”

“I love playing these smaller places - after the show here last time, I think there was a riot right after the show, right; but at the moment this band is only just starting to get into gear. Rob is still a little nervous; he'll still throw up right before a show. We all have that moment when we wonder just what’s going to happen when you go out on stage, but that’s positive because it keeps you on your toes. Rob is the newest member so he gets all the shit at the moment, but, hey, that’ll wear off.”

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