Be forewarned and prepare yourselves citizens of the Grand Strand. The preeminent masters of punk-thrash metal, Slayer, are coming to town, and they’re bringing friends. On Friday, Feb. 26, Slayer will headline what is arguably the biggest heavy metal bill to ever hit the Myrtle Beach House of Blues. Slayer is currently touring North America in support of their 12th studio album, Repentless, along with special guests and fellow Nuclear Blast recording artists, Carcass and Testament. The Columbia Music Examiner was privileged to have an opportunity to spend some time talking with drummer Paul Bostaph in advance of the show about the new release, his return to the band, the death of Guitarist Jeff Hanneman, and the current North American Tour.
CME: Repentless is the band’s 12th studio album, but the first new release since 2009’s World Painted Blood, and your first album with the band since 2001’s God Hates Us All, I know you had already been back in the band for a while before you went back into the studio so you have been out on the road with the band over the last couple years, but how did it feel to back in the studio with Slayer?
Paul Bostaph: Being in the studio with the band, it’s not like it’s the same process every time, but I’ve recorded so many records with these guys now I know what the rhythm of recording with them is, but it’s different to the extent that I haven’t been with the band for quite a long time and they’ve had other great records that they’ve recorded before this one, in my absence, so it was interesting because…between all that time I recorded a record with Exodus and also Testament, so I was able to draw from all of those experiences and people I jammed with, on this record. It was an interesting process also because obviously we didn’t have Jeff (Hanneman) with us, and I would always feed off all three guys, Tom, Kerry, and Jeff, on what their reactions were and in the beginning I didn’t know how to read those reactions, and now that I’ve had all this experience I know how to read the reactions so I know where to take the music, and I know when I’m onto the right vibe with the track, the right energy, by their reactions. To a certain extent I was kind of missing Jeff in that standpoint, so it was strange to that effect, you know I can’t say it was business as usual, but a lot of it was the same, we were just missing a man.
CME: You touched on the loss of Jeff briefly. Slayer had been touring without Jeff for about two years, but Repentless is the band’s first release since his death. A lot people said Slayer was finished without him, was there a time when the band discussed hanging it up after his death, or did you always know you would keep going?
Bostaph: I think the experience would be different for every one of us, so I can only speak for myself. From my standpoint I knew, I believed anyway, that Jeff would want us to continue doing this. So until somebody told me, ‘Hey, we’re done,’ I treated as if…I always felt that Jeff was still with us. I never thought about hanging up. I thought about if I was a fan I would want the band to keep moving and I also felt that we owed Jeff and we owed ourselves, to keep going.
CME: you rejoined Slayer in 2013. How did it feel to be back with Slayer, and can you talk a little bit about the process that led to your return to the band?
Bostaph: Tom and I talked over the years so I always kept in touch with him. I’m friends with Kerry. I just think when things went down…during the Australian tour that we just reached out to each other and one thing led to another and here I am.
CME: I saw an interview with Kerry King recently where he said Repentless was your Reign in Blood, do you agree? Is this your best work with Slayer?
Bostaph: You know what’s funny about that is it’s the second time he said that. The last time he said it was I think God Hates Us All and I think his quote was that he really thought that was my Reign In Blood, so now he says this is my Reign In Blood, so I’m kinda hoping the next record he says that too. (Laughing) For Kerry to say that, is a very huge compliment, and I try to put everything I can into what I do.
CME: This is Slayer’s first time working with Terry Date as your producer. What did Terry bring to the table and how did that influence the sound of Repentless?
Bostaph: It’s funny, because Terry has done so many great records that I’ve listened to, that I own. Some records I didn’t even know he did, you know, in terms of there’s some records that I don’t own, that I was, ‘He did that too?’ His experience with all the different bands and great artists that he’s played with and the different sounds he’s gotten with those artists made me just go, ‘Man, I can’t wait to see what he does with us.’ Terry’s not a one-trick pony. I think he has a good sense of what the band is ahead of time, and I think he also doesn’t try to put his stamp on the music. He tries to make the session sound the best it can, and that’s important because I think the session for this record was a photograph in time, and I was excited about hearing what Terry would bring to the table with the drums, because he’s great with the drums, and obviously everything else. One of the things that I was mostly impressed with with Terry was you never felt like you’re in the room with ‘the producer.’ It was almost like we had another band member with us, and that was Terry. That felt really good, comfortable, it feels like you’ve got that other opinion there, you’ve got that other person that I could lean on and go, ‘Dude, what do you think of this?’ and whatever he says, you know, I was always on the same page with Terry and I loved working with the guy. It was great.
CME: This is Slayer’s first release on the Nuclear Blast label after two decades with American Recordings, how did that come about and how is the relationship working out so far?
Bostaph: I had just rejoined the band, I don’t know how it all came about with Nuclear Blast. Nuclear Blast, for anybody that doesn’t know, they’re an awesome label and unique in the perspective that from top to bottom they’re all heavy metal fans. They’re all fans of the music. Every one of them, even all the way up to the owner, and it’s amazing because it really shows in the passion for what they do. Some bands get put on a label, and it may be a great label, but there’s nobody there that’s working that record, that knows what to do with it. How to get it to the fans. How to make sure that it’s been heard in as many places as possible. The guys at Nuclear Blast guys are awesome.
CME: Slayer plays a lot of big arena shows and major festivals with tens of thousands of people in the audience. Obviously it must be awesome to play in front of huge crowds at a bigger venue, but what do you like about playing some of the smaller venues like the HoB, and what are the challenges that come with bringing a show of the scope that you guys do to a smaller venue? Do you have to scale down the stage show a lot, or is it pretty much what fans would see at a bigger show?
Bostaph: The only challenge really is from a standpoint of production. You know, how we can fit as much as we possibly can into the smaller spaces, so that people get to see a good show, not just the band playing, but from a production standpoint. Something maybe they haven’t seen before seeing the band previously. From the band’s perspective, in reality drums, and three amplifiers, and four guys, that fits on the stage very well so from a musical standpoint we’ll be fine. We approach it the same way we do a big stage. I love to play the smaller places because it’s more intimate, it’s tight, I think you can feel the excitement level a lot better because you can see people right in front of you. The bigger the stage the farther the audience is away from you and sometimes I think that excitement level with the fans seeing you play kind of gets lost in that big space. The smaller the space the more exciting it can be.
CME: When you look at the Big Four metal bands, Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax…all of you guys are still out there after nearly four decades. I can remember a time when critics said bands like Slayer wouldn’t stand the test of time, that thrash was just a fad. Obviously those critics were wrong. Why do you think the genre itself is still as alive and strong as it ever was after all this time?
Bostaph: Because one, it’s real, and two, the people that are playing this music are good at what they do. People said it was a fad and I think that the bands who originated it and the bands that are still doing it are just good at what they do and the bottom line is anybody can look at something, I’m sure people looked at the Rolling Stones and said they’re a fad too, maybe even the Grateful Dead, but guess what? All these bands are still doing what they’re doing. I think the bands believe in their sound and as long as you believe in your sound you’re still gonna go out and do it. I think that’s what keeps it around. I think because it’s a real sound and it comes from honesty and your gut, because you love it. You have passion for it. I don’t think you could be good at any style of music and have a long career if you’re just BS’ing people. It’s gotta be real. Anything good comes from a place where it’s honest, and I think that honesty has kept it around.
CME: Is there anything you’d like to add or say to the fans before you go?
Bostaph: I’d like to say thank you for supporting us on the new record, and we can’t wait to see you guys in Myrtle Beach.
Doors open for the show Friday at 7:00 p.m. EST. Show starts at 8:00 p.m EST.