James Brown might have been the hardest working man in show business, but Exodus guitarist Gary Holt is surely the hardest-working guitarist. In addition to the band he’s been in since 1981, he’s also Slayer’s guitarist, a position which sadly became permanent in 2013 when Jeff Hanneman died. With Exodus on the road with Testament for the Dark Roots of Thrash 2 tour in support of Blood In, Blood Out, Holt also just finished work on Slayer’s forthcoming album. He spoke to us about whether there’s a thrash renaissance happening right now, what the tour’s been like, and “blowing out” his wrist soloing on the Slayer album. You’ll also be able to catch Exodus this coming Saturday at the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival.
How’s the tour going so far?
It’s been awesome. The crowds have been awesome, they’re getting their money’s worth for sure. For the most part, the weather’s been like, really nice which for a bunch of boys from California that’s always a plus and it’s been really good!
Excellent. And you’ve never toured with Testament before?
No, and we’ve done dates together – no, actually, no. We have once, it was Megadeth and Testament actually – that was several years ago. This is the second time.
I mean it’s just like the lineup was announced and it was just like “Wow, this is kind of like a perfect storm of great American thrash bands.”
Yeah, I’d agree, you know. The crowds are definitely super excited and we’re all excited to play these shows. We go out and play an hour set and pretty much bang it out start to finish.
What kind of people are you noticing coming out? I’m sure there’s a lot of old school thrash fans, are you seeing younger kids out too?
Oh yeah, tons of kids it’s kind of crazy. It’s been that way for a long time now. You see a lot of the old school people, faces you recognize from 1985, but there’s a whole new generation of kids, 17 year old kids flocking out to see this stuff. It’s pretty awesome, it’s humbling.
Yeah you know I kind of almost feel like there’s a little bit of a thrash resurgence really, due to Blood In, Blood Out and Testament’s albums and renewed interest in Anthrax. Are you noticing that as well?
Well, I’d noticed it a long time ago. I mean, I remember when we did Tempo of the Damned people would talk about this thrash metal renaissance and I’d always tell them, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it, I just played Colorado Springs in front of 18 people.’ (laughs) But you know, over the subsequent albums it’s just gotten more and more noticeable, you know, all the kids. It’s just picking up steam. I mean, thrash metal is still vibrant and alive and people always embrace it.
Zetro’s back again, which is pretty cool. Given the fallout that you guys had the second time he left the band, were you hesitant at all to bring him back?
Yeah, there was a lot of discussion that had to be had. It wasn’t like a given, and he actually auditioned. We gave him one of the new tracks, something he’d never heard – because we knew he’d sing any of his stuff great and we also knew that he’s got a really good memory and he would sing any of the Rob stuff really well because he’d come in prepared, he always does. So we gave him something new and he had like, hours to learn it and he killed it. It’s just been totally awesome and the crowd really loves seeing him back there and he’s been great to have around.
A week or two ago, one of the tracks with Rob singing from the new album on it surfaced. How much did he sing initially on the new album before being replaced?
Oh, almost the whole thing. I mean it’s like, you know, people are like “Wow it’s leaked!” and I listened to it and actually put on headphones and it’s obvious someone, whoever it is, took Rob’s rough track with no bass and just like, raw stereo two tracks of drums bounced down for tracking purposes and edited it with the album so it’s pretty noticeable. But you know, it is what it is. My attitude was, “Hey, it’s out there, enjoy.”
Yeah, I mean I guess if you’re a fan you’ll have two versions to listen to.
Sure. So, the band is now being managed by Breaking Bands, right?
So you’re on tour with Testament. How much does Chuck Billy talk to you about management stuff? How does that work out?
When we’re on tour out here right now, you know, we don’t really talk much about that stuff – we just hang out. If something needs to be done, Maria [Ferrero] will shoot me an email and I’ll usually drag my feet, kicking and screaming not wanting to do it. (laughs) I don’t wanna do it, I’m tired. But you know, it’s a good working relationship.
Excellent. You’re going to be playing the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival this weekend which Metal Insider is sponsoring and we’re super psyched about the whole thing. Have you played it before?
Oh yeah, I’ve played it at least two or three times over the years. It’s always awesome; it’s always a great show so I’m looking forward to it.
Do you have any good memories of previous times you’ve played?
You know, I’m trying to think when was the last time I played it? It wasn’t that long ago, really. I think maybe year before last with Anthrax, We teamed up on that. It’s always good, the crowd goes nuts, it’s a great place to play – we always love playing there.
I guess I’ll ask you a question or two about Slayer – little band, has an album coming out as well.
How do you do it? You’re in your band, Exodus, which is continuing to put out quality albums and tour. All of a sudden you’re in Slayer as well. How do you differentiate the two and separate the time?
It isn’t always easy,.occasionally due to my Slayer commitments, Exodus has to – Kragen Lum will come out and fill in for me, I call him my stunt double. Timing wise, it’s not easy at all. It certainly can wear you out. Especially like the last tour when I did double duty for four weeks. You know, at 50 years old and I’m playing two sets of thrash metal a night. You know, it can be rough on the body but there’s worse problems a guy can have, you know, I’m not gonna complain ‘cause there’s guys out there roofing houses in the middle of summer, you know? So I just shut up, stop bitching. (laughs)
Yeah, you are in two of the biggest metal bands around.
Yeah, it’s not really a problem, it just takes some scheduling to do, you know?
Was there any point where you had any hesitation to record and keep touring with Slauer following Jeff’s death and Dave Lombardo’s departure?
No, well by the time of Jeff’s tragic passing I’d already been doing it for a while. We all hoped, no one more so than myself that Jeff would be recovering, reclaiming his throne. It started as just helping some friends out, I had no idea that almost five years later or whatever – four years plus, that I’d still be here and Jeff wouldn’t. You know the band wants to continue and I just try to make Jeff proud.
Absolutely. Did you really damage your wrist shredding so hard?
Well it wasn’t the shredding so hard, I did something. It’s something you can do sitting and playing at home. I twisted a tendon or pinched a nerve or something. I just kept motoring through it ‘cause I was feeling in the groove and I woke up the next day and I couldn’t even move my hand. I was glad I got them done when I did because there would have been a delay.
That’s pretty awesome. I guess you can’t really say too much about the album yet, ‘cause it’s not necessarily…
Nope, mum’s the word. It’s killer. That’s all.