Interview with Gary Holt of Exodus
Undeniably a true pioneer of thrash metal, when speaking to guitarist and founding member of Exodus Gary Holt, we spoke at length about the band’s legacy, their impromptu tour with a couple of other thrash heavyweights, and the process of making their nas
Why do you think thrash metal gets meaner as the bands get more tenure?
We’re like that cranky old guy yelling at the kids to get off their lawn, you know, like that mean old neighbor.
The two Garys (Holt and ex-member Hunolt) have been a staple of the thrash metal sound forever. How has it been since Lee Altus (Heathen) inception in ’05? I’ve noticed it’s taken a very nasty turn, you know? It must be fun playing off of him and the solos are especially ridiculous.
Yeah, for the better, I think. It’s been awesome nonetheless. There’s some good shit, you know? Lee just really stepped up and hit it out of the park on this one. When we went into this, by the time I had done writing and in the studio doing everybody’s tracks and stuff, I got to my solos and I was drawing blanks, you know? I hadn’t given the solos a second thought just because I had got so much other shit to do but I worked at it and I’m completely happy with what I got.
How did the impromptu tour with Megadeth and Testament go?
It was awesome. We didn’t even plan on touring in that period but Dave’s people reached out and we weren’t doing anything, so we said let’s go do it, you know? A chance to go out on tour with a couple of very good old friends and kind of a thrash fan’s wet dream…it was great. All of the shows sold out for the most part and they did an excellent job of getting all the bodies in before we went on which was great. They were a lot of fun and the set times lined up when they had a lot of bodies in the building with very, very few exceptions. I’m talking like, two shows. I think people understood the importance of the whole bill as a whole. If we were some new band out on our new debut album that probably wouldn’t have happened.
How many of those shows did you watch after you guys played?
I watched quite a few early on but occasionally, you get a situation where there’s not many dressing rooms or the bus is a couple blocks away and we get off and then we want to go do some drinking and then the next thing you know, the drinking continues and we’re still on the bus drinking, but yeah, I got to watch them all quite a few times.
Rob Dukes has come into his own as a very nice fit in between Steve and Paul.
Yeah, I think so. He has his own juice thrown in there I think he, fits the bill perfectly and you couldn’t find a better guy. As a front man, he’s just so awesome and he gets in his own world up there and he’s just, he’s a mad man, but offstage, he’s a teddy bear. He’s a Star Wars geek.
You guys have a very rich history going back to early days of the Bay Area. What material do you see getting the best response when you guys play live?
It’s really hard to say because obviously stuff like “Strike of the Beast” or “Toxic Waltz” always do really great. But the new stuff goes over like gangbusters, so we try to mix the set up just a little bit with the old and quite a little bit of the new to kind of make everybody happy.
Is it tough these days to write a set list?
Oh, it gets harder with every album because there are more songs. The next go around is only going to be that much more difficult, trying to keep the old schoolers happy and at the same time, please the people who are dying to hear the new stuff in our songs as well and we’re dying to go out and play the new songs.
“Toxic Waltz”, how many times can you play it, you know what I mean?
Yeah, but when the pit is really snapping off, it’s still a lot of fun. I’ve seen some pretty remarkable pits to that song over the years and it keeps it fresh for sure.
Where do you guys prefer to play most?
You know, that’s a hard question to answer. The States are home, grab a cell phone and call home without incurring a million dollars in charges and the crowds are really rowdy. But Europe it’s spectacular. Japan’s awesome. But the craziest fans are South America, though. If we play something like “Toxic Walt” down there, it’s like a bomb goes off, pretty nuts. We call them the “Vacation legs” of the tour. It’s always fun but, you know, it’s a lot of hard work. When you go to South America, you have a day off, you play, you have a day off, you’re in these real exotic locales and the crowds are just huge and they’re completely out of their minds, so that’s always great.
Do you ever get a chance to take your family on tour at all or do they come visit you anytime?
No, I would never take my kids out around the back of the show, that’s just crazy. No, they haven’t. I mean, my youngest is only twelve, you know? She’s into the Jonas Brothers. My oldest is seventeen. I’d like her to see me play live. She’s a little emo girl, but she’s dying to go to a show but it’s never lining up, you know.
Are they aware of dad’s relevance in the music scene at all?
The oldest is. The youngest is not and she just knows what I do but my oldest child is certainly aware of what her dad does and that people who like her father’s band are pretty nuts.
This album you worked with Andy Sneap who gets you guys dialed into a certain crushing vibe. What was it like to work with him again? Talk about this album compared to “Exhibit A”?
I like your description. The main difference between this album and the last album as far as the way we recorded it. We did the drums in a studio in Oakland and then we packed all the equipment up and went up about an hour and a half north of San Francisco to rent a vacation house up in the woods. We just built a studio and we lived in it and we recorded there for three weeks and that was like the best environment. You’re not commuting to and from the studio every day. The price of renting the house was probably a little less than getting Andy and the band a hotel for three weeks…it was kind of like summer camp for thrash metal, you know? Just the best vibe, and working with Andy is always awesome just because he’s such a good friend of ours. So it’s never seemed like work, we’re always having a good time and joking around and trying to prank each other and shit like that. It’s just the perfect working relationship for us. We see eye to eye and he knows what this band needs and we know how to go about getting it, you know, we’ve worked together so many times by now and you know, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, you know?
Oh no, not at all. We give him something to work with in the first place. We’re not amateurs and we don’t walk in without any clue as to what we’re going for. We know what’s a good tone. We’ll make some little adjustments here and there but it’s usually pretty quick, we’re pretty fast with the process from plugging in to actually tracking guitars. It’s not like we’re sitting there for three days, churning out every sound in the world. We want it just to have this kind of raw energy and you lose a little bit of that when you start trying to make the productions bigger.
I’ve noticed that you did some production work with Warbringer. Is that something that interests you that you’d like to do some more of that in the future or is that something that like a, you kind of wanted to dip your toe in the water and see what was up with it?
I’ve always had a hand in producing the Exodus records, so it’s something I certainly know how to do and I liked doing that, so I really enjoyed working in the studio, which I rarely have the time to do. And Warbringer calls me up, we tracked the whole album in eleven days, so it wasn’t much time needed anyway. And I just happened to have some time and said “Hell yeah, let’s do it”. They’re good friends of mine and they’re a cool band.
How much has changed between how an Exodus song gets written?
You know, nothing. I write a song exactly the same as I did then. Obviously, the songs are different. But, you know, I sit down with a guitar and I start playing. I just start ripping out and see what happens. You know, I don’t sit at home with some Pro Tools wig and multi track everything. I have – I have a digital recorder but I only use it because my old four-track cassette broke. And I only use it so I don’t forget stuff, The worst thing ever is – as a guitar player, is just to write a really spectacular riff and you come back to it twenty-four hours later and you never play it the same way again. This is close, but this is not how I played it. it’s a nightmare, I hate that. I’ve got riffs on record that, you know, that’s a great riff. You haven’t sure heard it before I forgot it. It was really good but we never got it back to where it was. So I just use it to like, you know, record ideas, you know, just, you know, just let it run and just play, but, you know, so I mean, the process for me is the same as it was in 1985.
What keeps Exodus ticking?
Unfinished business. We have something to prove about even after all these years, you know? And so we’re driven and we’re hungry. We’re out to prove that we’re the reigning kings of this shit, you know? We’re one of the two bands who invented it. And we just want to prove to people that we can still do it better. Our goal with every album is simple. It’s just to make the best album we can make at that particular time from whatever particular headspace we’re in. And obviously, you want to improve with every album and I think this album kind of just hit the nail on the head for what was required of us at this particular time and juncture in our career.
How does Exodus fit in the modern metal world?
I think we fit smack dab right in the middle of it all. We’re a band that helped create a genre but we’re also not a band who’s solely living on that past, you know? We’re making relevant, vital records now, and we made them then as well and it’s a total compliment when other younger bands give out props for what you’ve managed to do over the years. That always feels good.
Any new bands that you can recommend?
Holy Grail is my new favorite band in the world. They’re so fucking good. They took the whole wave of British heavy metal thing and they just really applied it and put a new spin on it. It’s so killer and their shit is great and it’s just awesome.
What, what are some of your outside interests besides music?
Oh God. I just hang out. Take care of the animals…I have a veritable zoo here. Cats, dogs, my rat just died, two snakes and a lizard. Spend time with the girlfriend and the kids when I have them and pretty much lay low. I live three hours north of San Francisco and we’re in a quiet college town, away from the insanity of San Francisco and shit.
Has the San Francisco scene changed a lot?
Well, there’s not the scene like there was when we started. Once there were twenty million bands. Not necessarily thrash bands, but the metal scene was the best in the country. It was just phenomenal. You could go to a different club every night of the week, never go to the same club twice and never see the same band twice. It was just really awesome. Now, there’s just not that many places to play. I don’t go out much anyway. I’m kind of a homebody when I’m home. I’m driving to San Francisco tomorrow to go see Cannibal Corpse, for a night out for my birthday. Sometimes going out to shows… I just was part of thirty of them, I don’t really want to go and get my ears blasted again, you know? But I’m always happy when I’m doing it. Sometimes I have to force my girlfriend out of the house, and then I get there and I have two beers, see some old friends and it’s always a good time.
Check out the latest record by Exodus EXHBIT B: THE HUMAN CONDITION available on Nuclear Blast Records now.