Slayer has been a steady rock for thrash metal since its formation. Band members have changed over the years, but they have never compromised their sound. It’s a rite of passage for every headbanging metalhead to earn their mosh pit bruises and get a Slayer patch. They’ve been around since the 80’s and still evolving. Their album “Repentless” started a domino effect of firsts for them. It was the first recording without Jeff Hanneman (who passed on tragically in May of 2013), a marked return to recording with drummer Paul Bostaph, Slayer’s first time collaborating with producer Terry Date, and their first release with Nuclear Blast Records.
Gary Holt has been pulling double duty as a guitarist between Exodus and Slayer since Jeff Hanneman got necrotizing fasciitis (a flesh-eating disease) from a spider bite in 2011. Jeff gave Gary his blessing to fill in for him on the tour, because they had been friends for a long time and he recognized Gary Holt’s ability to pull it off. Gary was only meant to be a touring guitarist while Jeff was sick, but Gary Holt became a full member of Slayer. Recording “Repentless” with them was a bittersweet experience for Gary. It was his first time contributing to one of their albums, but the opportunity was at a high cost.
Slayer is on tour right now with Carcass and Testament. Tomorrow’s show at the House of Blues in Boston is sold out. If you have tickets, this is your chance to check out Gary Holt’s brand new “blood guitar.” Using a Gary Holt Signature ESP guitar, artist Vincent Castiglia painted a custom-made design that Gary commissioned to be from his own blood. Vincent drew 18 viles of Holt’s blood while backstage at a Slayer show to get the source material for his functional art work. We had to ask Gary Holt about this and more.
LaPrade: “How do you keep up your speed and energy?”
Holt: “I wonder that myself, juggling two bands the best that I can. The tour scheduling is twice as vigorous as it was when I was 25. This is the only true job skill I have, so I’m going to run with it while I can.”
LaPrade: “How long do you plan on pulling double duty with Slayer and Exodus?”
Holt: “As long as I can. As long as my body holds out. The biggest issue is when there’s a double tour. That’s shredding for two sets. I have back problems too…but there are a lot worse problems one could have.”
LaPrade: “How do you carry on without Jeff Hanneman and what was it like to have his blessing to fill in while he was sick?”
Holt: “We were old friends. We knew each other from the infancy of thrash metal…It was only supposed to be a couple of months. Unfortunately it continued and ended in his tragic passing. I try to keep his spirit alive and give [the band] my own thing, too. I pay tribute in this way. As for Jeff giving me his blessing- it was epic, just knowing he was supportive. Here we are five years later. No one hoped for it. We all wanted him to get better. I was perfectly happy doing what I was doing before.”
LaPrade: “Tell us about this custom made bloody guitar? Is it something about the visual aesthetic that calls to you or more about the symbolism of the medium?”
Holt: “Brian Werner from the band Vital Remains introduced me to Vincent [Castiglia]. He creates amazing dark paintings using iron oxide from blood. He was totally into it and so was I. We ran ideas for artwork. I wanted a biblical version, not a Halloween version…Vincent took 18 vials of my blood. He originally wanted to take 36, but my wife said to stop at 18, because I had a show the next day. It turned out to be enough. It was a trial by error for both Vincent and I…I think he used something called gesso to adhere the blood to the guitar. He would lay it down before and it just wetted what was done. It needed more dimension and he found a way. The end result was a fully functional crushing work of art. It’s stunning.”
LaPrade: “It looks like the guitar has the roman numerals for ‘7 7 7.’ Is that a good luck number to you or any other particular reason?”
Holt: “It is a lucky number of sorts. My wife and I were married at an address with ‘777’ and there’s some numerology for the number 7. Some guy thought that he’d point out that those roman numerals don’t mean ‘666.’ It’s like, ‘Thanks for telling me.’ No, we didn’t want to go with ‘666’, because that would be so cliche. Vincent asked me if there were any numbers that would have meaning to me and we went with that. There’s also an inscription on the back that says “Lex Talionis” which is Latin [and refers to the law of retaliation] for ‘eye for an eye’. This brings up some meaning for Exodus, especially. It’s badass.”
LaPrade: “Will you be contributing more on the songwriting and lyrics for Slayer’s next album?”
Holt: “I hope so, but that’s a long ways away. We only just started the tour. There’s no shortage of music in my head.”
LaPrade: “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that you said in an interview with Metalinjection, that Kirk Hammett taught you how to play guitar. Joe Satriani was his teacher. Are you planning to keep this legacy going by taking on an apprentice or do you have anything to say about those guitarists?”
Holt: “Kirk Hammett and I were fast friends, immediately. I was his roadie. He showed me some chords. We’d get drunk and carry the equipment in, but not even tune it. I picked it up fast, because I’m a quick learner. Kirk put me on the path to where I am today.”
LaPrade: “Do you have any other upcoming projects?”
Holt: “I have a million ideas, but it’s all about time. My friends and I would talk about various projects, but we’re all in bands right now. I will when I have the time.”
LaPrade: “Do you have anything to say to your fans?”
Holt: “Thanks for your support. I’ve been fortunate that Slayer fans have overwhelmingly accepted me, except for maybe a total of four hecklers.
Holt: “In Milan, there was a guy in like the fourth row giving me shit during the show. He had nothing to say when I came up to him afterwards. He got real quiet when I was right there. I mean I’m not sure exactly what he was saying in Italian, but the body language and middle finger was obvious. He was only real brave from a distance. I personally don’t understand. Why pay money to go to the show if you don’t like it? Save your money.”
You would expect that due to Gary Holt’s jam-packed schedule, he’d be high-strung and rush us through the interview. On the contrary, Gary was chilled out and gave us relaxed responses. He’s truly a down-to-earth celebrity who considers himself to have just gotten lucky in his path. If you can’t make it to the Boston stop on the “Repentless World Tour,” the rest of the dates are available on the Slayer website.