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Slayer’s Tom Araya on Jeff Hanneman’s Legacy, Upcoming Album + More

Slayer's Tom Araya
Ethan Miller, Getty Images

We were recently fortunate enough to speak with legendary Slayer frontman Tom Araya. During our talk with singer-bassist, he opened up wide about late Slayer guitarist and creative force Jeff Hanneman, his mindset with creating new material without Hanneman and how he would like Jeff to be remembered.

From this interview, we were able to break the news that Slayer had two full songs featuring Hanneman, which may be featured on Slayer’s next album, and that the ‘Big 4′ legends would be combing through Jeff Hanneman’s audio archives to potentially feature more of his material. Araya also took us through the moment he learned that his bandmate of three decades had passed away. Here, in the remainder of our exclusive interview with Tom Araya, we delve further into the mind of one of metal’s greatest frontmen for a truly honest and unique conversation.

How is writing coming along for the next album?

As far as songwriting goes, I can honestly say that — this is the part that really eats us — it’s the hardest for me because me and Jeff collaborated on material. We’ve collaborated on stuff openly. He would give everybody his music, he would have everything prepared. Like I said, the song that we received recently was guitars, bass and drums. It’s a structured song. That’s what he would do. He’d hand everyone a disc of however many songs he had. Until he was happy with them, nobody would get anything.

On average we’d get maybe get six songs complete. Then I’d listen to them over and over and over and over, and if I had ideas, I’d start working on ideas. But, it wasn’t written towards any particular song, it was just an idea I’d put together. Then whenever I get a chance, we’d get together and talk. I’d ask him do you have any ideas for any of this stuff? He would either have ideas or he wouldn’t or he’d have a title or whatever. He would let me know. Then I would see if any of my ideas connected with his ideas, maybe I was able to work my ideas together with his. That’s how we would work, with me and Jeff.

As far as Kerry [King, guitar] writing material, Kerry has been working on quite a few songs for the past year and a half. I guess almost two years now, he’s been working on ideas for a while now. Usually, Kerry does his own stuff. He was working with Dave [Lombardo, ex-drums], but after Paul [Bostaph, drums] hooked up with us, he went back and started re-working those ideas with Paul. But he doesn’t present any of his ideas to anybody, he just kind of… they’re his songs. So, as far as me being a part of that, I don’t know. That’s basically Kerry’s, at this point, call, as far as if he wants me to apply myself to any of the stuff, but Kerry’s been working on ideas and putting songs together. He actually completed two songs that I put vocals to, songs that are complete from the sessions they’ve been doing for the past year and a half or so.

Yeah, so there’s two songs complete. Whether we go back in the studio and re-work what we’ve done with those and try to re-vamp them or whatever, I don’t know. But there are two songs that are complete. He’s still working out ideas for other songs. Once this fall tour is over, I’m sure we’ll figure out where we stand as a band, as far as new music and a new album. I’ll know more once we start touring and me and Kerry can communicate what’s going on with everything.

When are you hoping to get into the studio? Will Gary or Paul be a part of that process?

Paul is definitely a part of the process because he’s back in the band. Gary, I don’t know. I know Kerry has said some things in interviews and spoken to different people and brought up Gary’s name on a few occasions. Like I said, on this tour, me and Kerry have a lot of communicating and talking to do just to see where everything stands as far as me and him moving forward. If anything does happen, it definitely will start after this fall tour. If we start working on studio time and putting studio time in, it’ll definitely occur after the fall tour. It might start at the end of December and lead into the New Year for a few months. Like I said, for sure if something does happen, it’ll start probably in December. December on.

A lot of people saw Jeff as the heart of Slayer. Gary, filling in for him, has been doing a fantastic job, but after Jeff died, was it difficult to decide on moving forward without him?

Man, that’s something that’s a swirly mess that’s running through my head, you know? That’s where I’m at. I mean, it’s a constant… it’s just something that’s always on my mind. I myself am at a crossroads. I myself don’t even know what I’m going to do. That’s where I’m at, that’s me. I guess people really don’t understand that Jeff played a major role in this band. They don’t really understand that. It’s kind of hard for most people to figure that out that Jeff was like 90 or 95-percent of the band, musically. Because he wrote music and lyrics. He wrote everything, he helped in every aspect of songwriting.

Even songs that Kerry had put together, Jeff had some hand in those. He was a big part of the band. We have to really, really, really put something together that is just beyond awesome. We have a big hole to fill. We’re up for a heavy-duty task. The question is, how much time and energy do we want to put into the effort of putting something out that’s extraordinary? That’s basically where we’re at. At least that’s where I’m at. I want to make sure if we are going to do something, it has to be beyond extraordinary. It has to be something that just f—ing… everyone goes, “F—! WOAH!” [Laughs]

Like I said, I’ll have to sit down and me and Kerry will have to communicate. Jeff was a big part of this. He stayed out of the limelight, he stayed in the background. That’s what people don’t seem to understand; he stayed in the background deliberately. He didn’t want to be at the forefront of anything, but he was a big part of this band musically and creatively.

If you could dictate history, how would you like Jeff to be remembered?

Wow. You know, I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that have met him, by the off chance that they just met him, and he was a very normal human being. He could laugh, he could make you laugh. He could make you cry. He could be an ass — that’s Jeff. That was his personality and he was very blunt, a very blunt and honest person. His attitude was, “Oh, well.” [Laughs] That was him, but people are going to remember him for his music, man, and the great songs he wrote. I think that was a very big thing in his life. He worked his ass off. He had a job. He had the money to buy a guitar, he bought the guitar, then he quit his job. [Laughs] That says everything right there.

When he and Kerry met, I think he was working at one of those Telemarking places. Earning money, bought his guitar, then he quit. That was his goal in life, he obviously wanted to buy that guitar, he bought the guitar then he quit then he started jamming out songs. Then, by chance, Kerry and him met up. That right there is him in a nutshell. He knew what he wanted to do and he did it. That was kind of like, self taught. He knew he wanted it and he set out and did it. Didn’t waste any time. [Laughs]

Slayer Announce Fall 2013 North American Tour

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