There are metal legends and then there is Gary Holt. The founding member of thrash metal icons Exodus deserves a place among the big four (that's Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth for you newbs) in the hearts of metalheads and punks everywhere. The group's most legendary album, April 1985's Bonded By Blood, is also their first. We called Holt to talk about the LP's 30th anniversary, having Exodus mistaken for a Christian rock band, and joining Slayer's touring lineup.
Congrats on 30 years of Bonded by Blood!
It's a long time! It's one of those things...I never thought I'd still be around in 30 years. It's a lifetime ago. More than half my life.
It's a seminal record and it's your first. Bands aren't usually that great when writing their debut.
When we wrote it we were just kids writing the kind of music we wanted to hear. We took all the influences from our own personal heroes and ran with it. We didn't have any way of knowing that we were making an album that was going to stand the test of time. We were just out of control, youth gone wild, to quote Skid Row. We were just a bunch of kids, pretty much out of our mind, playing music that everyone thought was out of its mind at the time.
What were you listening to?
The whole new wave of British heavy metal: Venom, Diamond Head, Blitzkrieg, Angel Witch and of course Iron Maiden, [Judas] Priest and Motörhead and of course a lot of British hardcore punk like Discharge, GBH, Exploited and all that stuff.
“We were just a bunch of kids, out of our mind, playing music that everyone thought was out of its mind.”
What is it about Bonded by Blood that, as you said, made it stand the test of time?
The songs! It all starts with having good songs and I think they still hold up today. They don't sound or feel dated. We play them live and they still sound extremely current.
What do you consider the thrash metal canon?
Bonded by Blood, Reign in Blood, Slayer, obviously. Kill 'Em All, as well. I think all the original guys. I think what sets Bonded by Blood is that our seminal, landmark album was also our debut. Whereas Metallica, I always give the head nod to Master of Puppets, Slayer's Reigning Blood and Anthrax's Among the Living, you know, Megadeth's first is also a landmark debut, Killing Is My Business. Those songs were written years before we ever recorded them so you're going back to the very infancy of thrash metal, the birth of it all.
How old were you when you were writing these?
Young! It's on a song-by-song basis but some of them I was 19, 20 years old.
What do you know now that you wish you would've known in the beginning?
I don't really waste any time or thought on that kind of stuff. Obviously I know the business a lot better. The musical side, I think I've had some points, you know, the '90s, when you kind of lose track of why you started all this...then things come full circle and you're writing songs for the love of it again. You mostly learn the business end of things, when not to blow your money.
How does your writing process differ now than in the beginning?
It's exactly the same. I start with a riff. I might have some song titles that I like or lyrical ideas but it starts with the riff. Everybody nowadays sits at home and demos all this stuff on Pro Tools and I don't do that. I've only stepped up from the four-track tape recorder to riffs on my iPhone. I just record them so I don't forget them. I write exactly the same way I always have. It works for me.
What's the trick to being in a band for so long?
Not having any other discernible job skills. It's the only thing I know how to do. Ha! It's an achievement, certainly.
You refer to your last record, Blood In, Blood Out as a "milestone." Why?
At this stage of the game we don't know how many more records we have in us. I don't know how much longer we're going to be alive, you know? It's our tenth studio album so it's a nice, even round number.
It broke the Top 40—you must have confused some Christians.
It's definitely happened before.
Are you still playing with Slayer?
I am! Have been for the last four years. I've been incredibly busy.
How does that differ from your normal duties in Exodus?
In Exodus I do most of the heavy-lifting. Whereas Slayer, that would be carried by [bassist] Tom [Araya]. I just show up, have a couple of drinks, go out and shred, play the set and then relax. We have a good time. My job description is very simple: Just go out and rage. It's easy for me.
Do you write with them? Would you consider writing with them?
No, [guitarist] Kerry [King] wrote the whole new album. I just go out and play guitar. It's refreshing to not have to go out and do all the other stuff. I don't have to do the press and all that. I just show up, go straight into my dressing room and get ready to play the show and get off stage and relax. In the future, I've been around four years, down the road if we get to another album and Kerry asks me to contribute, I've got no shortage of riffs.
How do you balance being in both bands?
It's hard. There are times when Exodus has to get someone to fill in for me because I'm locked up with Slayer. We send out what I like to refer to as my "stunt double," whoever that may be! It's hard because I can't do it 12 months straight. I have a wife and children at home. I have to try to balance the three...family and two bands. It can be problematic but there are worse problems to have.