A conversation with Kerry King
Interview by Adam McKibbin
For any metalhead who lost track of the maniacs in Slayer, last year's Christ Illusion provided a powerful reason to reunite. Rather than settle into a routine as a nostalgia act, the thrash icons sounded as furious and technically impressive as ever, buoyed by the return of original drummer Dave Lombardo (and, thus, the original lineup).
Having landed on a new label, Slayer have re-released Christ Illusion with a previously unreleased track ("The Final Six"), and a DVD featuring, among other things, a live performance of their 1988 classic "South of Heaven." The fresh product arrives just as Slayer has set out on a national co-headlining tour with Marilyn Manson.
You've never shied away from attacking organized religion in your songs—directly and unapologetically—and Christ Illusion cranks up the heat. But then we often arrive at a "Hail Satan" conclusion, which seems a little strange. Are you talking about the Christian devil?
Actually on "Cult" ["Beware the cult of purity / Infectious imbecility / I've made my choice / 666"] the line "666" was going to be "Atheist," to get that point across about how I really feel. But it doesn't make for a good song. Kids love screaming "666." [laughs]
Slayer has traveled the world and met fans from across the globe. What makes America so uniquely susceptible to organized religion?
Power. No free thinking; everywhere else in the world, people make their own opinions. There's religion everywhere, but you go anywhere else in the world and people say "You Americans are really fucking tweaked on your religion." Hey, not me! [laughs] I'm trying to clean that out.
And America is so vast that it's easy to be in one pocket and lose sight of how extremely different other pockets may be. Los Angeles, for instance, is probably a more atheistic city than Topeka.
Yeah, but as soon as you get 60-75 miles out of L.A., like where I live, it's like a mini-Bible Belt. Everybody's got their Not of This World stickers and Jesus Freak stickers. Where do these people come from? That's kind of where "Cult" came from, just observing all of that. When you get down to the bottom line, say I'm a Satanist and I'm going to paint 666 on my window or Satan Freak on my window, a bunch of Christians are going to key your car and rip your stickers off. That's how infatuated they are. That's what bothers me. But I can't go rip their stickers off because of the brotherhood—they'll fucking turn my ass in.
It does seem that the debate is opening up a little bit. There are some more prominent atheists in the public eye, even though politicians still have to bend over backwards to profess their faith.
And they're the ones who get busted stroking a hooker in the alley.
You guys keep putting out albums and we'll see some headway, maybe.
I think it's going to be the people who come after us. [laughs] The people who come carrying the torch in 50-60 years, maybe.
Bands like Green Day and Dixie Chicks have made big waves with relatively tame political statements. It must be harder for a band like Slayer to make waves, since waves are expected.
We're not a political band, either.
Right, but there are controversial elements to Christ Illusion.
But there wasn't a lot of outcry—except in Southern California they made you take down those bus benches displaying the cover art.
What really stings about that Fullerton bus bitch thing—it was either one person or one group that protested against it, and they had to get rid of all of them. The last I remembered, I lived in America. If I didn't want to look at something, if I didn't want to see something, look away. Don't watch. Don't listen. You have a choice. But they took our choice away by pulling the entire fucking thing. That's the world we live in.
Do you think we're moving forward or marching backward?
I think it's forward and backward at the same pace—the status quo, you know. There are changes that make our life better, all the electronic shit. But then you've got all the same political hatred and religious hatred that's been here since the dawn of time. I'm just riding it. [laughs]
Re-releases are a good occasion to look back, both at this album and the career behind it. Are there any songs where you think, "I really nailed that one"?
I can think of some "Goddamit, I wish I hadn't recorded that one." [laughs] There's one—every time I hear it, I'm like "Why the fuck did we ever play that song?" I used to hate it so much that I forgot the name of it. It's off South of Heaven, "Cleanse the Soul." I hate that song.
Is that unanimous?
I don't think Jeff likes that song, either. We were both stupid enough to okay it back then. "Hey, this rocks!"
Do you write songs immediately in reaction to things you see or experience?
What I do is, if I see a religious phrase, if I can flip-flop it, I'll jot it down. That's pretty much how I got the "God Hates Us All" lyric. I saw a billboard driving, it said something like "Remember, God loves all of us." I said, "No, he doesn't. He fucking hates my ass. I'm sitting in traffic." It instantly became "God hates us all" and I saved it until I had the right spot for it.
Then the concentrated songwriting sessions come later?
Yeah, and we usually do the music first. I'd say 95% of the time the songs are 95% done before we even consider writing lyrics to it. Then I'll lock myself in a room and think brutal thoughts and get to where I need to be. When I get the title or the line that gives me incentive to go in some direction, then I go from there.
Is that the process for everyone?
That's how Jeff does it, too. Tom, I imagine, the same way, because he writes to the songs.
A number of interviews with you start off by saying something like "I was really intimidated, but, wow, he's a nice guy." But really most of the guys in heavy bands are decent guys—the ratio is at least as good as it is for guys in poppy electronic bands.
Yeah, they've got the attitude for some reason.
Does the heavy music offer an exorcism or something?
Well, I'm just a normal fucking dude—the only thing that separates me from the kids watching me is that I found three dudes who liked the same thing I liked musically and we make each other better. I still go to the shows when I'm at home. I go to House of Blues—I probably could just walk in and not be on the guest list, like "Hey guys, I'm back." [laughs]
Is there anyone who would still make you geek out and revert to being a fanboy?
Yeah, up until recently. We were in Holland doing a festival and Heaven and Hell was on the bill with us—they were in front of us, actually, which just blew me away. Tony Iommi—it used to be that I couldn't fucking talk to the dude. This time, I'm in the dressing room by myself and he knocks on my door and I'm like "Tony, don't you fucking knock on my door—get your ass in here!" I understand the respect thing but, hey, do what you want!
Slayer fans are very loyal and after all the years and albums and tours and message boards and behind-the-scenes footage, some of them come to identify with you guys on a very personal level. What percentage of the real picture are they getting?
I'm sure there's a bunch of horseshit, but there's also access to so much information. In the midst of all that, there is the fucking thread that's totally out of the blue and just fucking wrong—but you read ninety percent of it and it's "How do they fucking know that?" It's flattering—and disturbing when you get a stalker kind of dude. But they're in touch with what they like; I didn't have access to that when I was a kid. I had to find magazines that were few and far between and go to shows and see for myself.
Yeah, how did you hunt down music?
I'd go to the Mom and Pop stores. I'd see something with a skull or fire and just roll the dice and hope it was good. That was being a metal kid back then. Maybe you'd get lucky and find an early Kerrang!
Slayer - Christ Illusion
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