Fighting The Force of Bad Habits: An Interview with GARY HOLT of EXODUS - March 2004
After a hefty gap of 12 years since their last studio album, Exodus has arisen, from both the hardship of death and a drug induced fog of complacency, much like the Phoenix rising from the ashes to begin its new life. Their new release, 'Tempo of The Damned', has already received worldwide critical acclaim, and as for the members of the band—they're having a damn good time.
"We've been through the ringer—death and drugs," said guitarist Gary Holt in a barefaced, but fun, conversation with Sass. "We're a walking, talking VH-1 'Behind The Music' episode."
But the band's recording hiatus didn't hinder the making of 'Tempo of The Damned'.
"We're all enjoying it this time around. It was easy; I think, just the general excitement level was quite high on this one. We had a really good time just busting each other's chops."
"I love ['Tempo of The Damned'], I think it's the best album we've ever done. I mean, I'm well aware that every musician says that about every album," he chuckles, "It's not very beneficial to state publicly that it's not as good as the last one. But I really think it's super and it's been getting some really flattering reviews."
It wasn't until after the death of original front man, Paul Baloff, that the remaining members of Exodus found themselves re-evaluating their own lives. And that wake-up call ascended into their music as well.
"Before Paul died, it's like four-fifths of the band, everybody but our bass player Jack [Gibson], myself included, were just fucked up on speed. And we were just milking shows and playing the same old songs and never rehearsing—not even making it in for sound check—just kind of blowing in and winging it. We didn't really get serious until after Paul died. And it still took some time. I mean, the drugs were a large contributing factor to his death and we were just going nowhere fast. Had he not died I don't know if we'd ever gotten our shit together."
"It's like—Paul's gone, he's dead. Maybe I'm not going to be next to die but certainly a large part of me is dead inside. I looked at it as this is my best and last chance to fucking make another real go at this. I'm not 25-years old anymore, you know? I'm too fucking old to be sitting around tweaking with a bunch of other tweakers. I've got better things to do than that. Plus, it had been going on for so long it wasn't even fun anymore. It becomes a high-octane version of coffee. It got to the point where you just need it to get out of bed."
The return of vocalist Steve "Zetro" Souza was a slow and cautious one.
"It started when we asked him if he wanted to do a couple shows with us because we had two nights booked down in Anaheim, California; they were booked before Paul's death. I was on the phone with Steve and I told him about the shows and he said, 'Well, I'm [going to be] in Anaheim that weekend, I'm taking the family to Disney Land.' And I asked him if when he was done putting the kids on Space Mountain if he wanted to come sing some metal. So he said sure and we had a lot of fun. And the real beauty about it was that we could play a lot more songs than we could with Paul. Because Paul had already had two minor strokes before the one that killed him and it was really difficult to introduce anything new into the set—by new, I mean material that Paul didn't know. So we were able to pull out songs we hadn't played in years. And it went from there, and we did another show and another one."
"We ended up going over to Europe in December [of] 2002 to do a short tour over there and when we came back Zet left because myself, Rich, and Tom were still pretty fucked up. But I used that time away from home over there to get myself clean and the main difference was when I came home I didn't go back to it. And we had a long talk about a month after I got back and he realized I wasn't bullshitting when I said I was done with it. And we've been working great ever since. I'm a lot easier to work with now, trust me."
"You get cranky when you're coming down," Holt laughs.
One can hardly blame Souza for his prudence while trying to balance out his dual careers.
"He has a really good job, and three kids and a wife," explains Holt, "He didn't want to put all his faith in three principal members of a band who are so mired in their own problems."
"He's a carpenter. They get paid better than us head bangers do on a daily basis. But Steve has a totally understanding boss that lets him take whatever time off he needs to do this. And when he's on the road we're in the fortunate position that we make enough money that he doesn't have to take a temporary pay cut. And when he goes home he doesn't have to pound the pavement looking for another job. He's union but he doesn't even have to go to the union hall to look for another job, he just calls his boss up at home and… welcome back."
"The other thing is when he left in 2002 he was working for a different company then that was not understanding. And his boss was on his back and he was worried that he wouldn't find another really good company to work with. And he ended up getting laid off anyway and it turned out to be a blessing because he found a much better place."
"Me myself, this is my fucking job, it's all I know how to do. I'm willing to make those sacrifices so I don't have to get up at four in the morning," he laughs.
Currently on tour in Europe, Exodus will be returning back to America in July and then will continue performing more shows.
When asked what his favorite song is on 'Tempo of The Damned', Holt replied: "At this moment, "Shroud of Urine". I love the melody, I love the solos, it's just fun to play and it's one of my favorites lyrically that I wrote. It changes on a day-to-day basis but [this one] has been a pretty steady favorite now for about the last month. I haven't listened to the album in about two months, I'm just going by how much fun it is to play."
The Exodus guys also had some fun filming the video for the song "War Is My Shepherd".
"We shot that on the USS Hornet, a retired World War II aircraft carrier so it's super cool, it's a floating museum. And having people in the right places we rented an aircraft carrier for a day all to ourselves for $750-bucks. You can't fucking rent some cars for that much," Holt chuckles. "And we got to use the flight deck lift, you know that lifts the planes up to the deck. We looked like fucking Judas Priest or something."
As for future albums, it won't be a fraction of the wait for the next Exodus album.
"I'm going to keep doing this as long as I'm enjoying myself and right now I'm having a lot of fun. Our goal right now is to be back in the studio by November. We've already got a lot of ideas and riffs floating around."
For Holt, the creative process isn't always a conscious one.
"I've been writing a lot of riffs right now and haven't picked up a guitar to write one of them yet. It's like they're just coming to me. You know…" – he pauses for effect – "...divine intervention giving me riff dictation, I don't know," he chuckles again.
"Sometimes the best shit comes that way though. Usually it just gets stuck in my head until I'm trying to get it out of there and the only way to do that is pick up the guitar and make it happen."
When you ask Holt whom he listens to, he'll rattle off a whole slew of metal bands in basically the same genre as Exodus… but then he'll throw you a curve ball.
"As far as non-metal—I've worshipped the ground Prince walks on forever. He's a musical genius; he's the best ever. I've seen him live numerous times."
So how would Holt then react if Prince called him up one day for a collaboration?
"I'd quit this band in a second," he laughs. "Everything would come to a screeching half. I'd piss myself."
Until then, the future, once again, looks bright for Exodus; a fact that's thrilling Exodus fans but seems to have the band members just as psyched up as well.
"We're not taking anything for granted this time. We're enjoying the moment."
You can visit the Official Exodus Website at ExodusAttack.com
Interview by Melanie "Sass" Falina