Bravewords.com recently caught up with legendary Slayer vocalist/bassist Tom Araya. Here is how the chat proceeded –
BraveWords: I must start this conversation off on a note of condolences as we at BraveWords were hit hard with the loss of Jeff Hannemann.
Araya: “Yeah, it was kind of a surprise. Definitely a shock to me. That was a phone call that I wasn’t expecting. At that particular moment in time, the phone calls that I was getting were that he was in recovery and he was hoping to go home soon. So I was taken aback by the phone call that I got.”
BraveWords – We were all shocked. We all expected that he would return to the band and when news broke that he had passed away, we were all pretty much dumbfounded. It wasn’t supposed to end this way. It put me to tears.
Araya: “Exactly, this wasn’t supposed to happen. That was a correct statement. It wasn’t supposed to happen. We just never realize the extent of his health. Especially with his vices and excess of his drinking. Nobody knew the extent of the damage that he had done to himself. It wasn’t until after the fact. Just like anything else, they have to go in and find out what the cause of what went on. The extent of his cirrhosis of the liver was pretty bad.”
BraveWords – It had to be mentally destroying him that he couldn’t be out on the road with you guys and he couldn’t play at the level that he was used to. Slayer has four main pieces and it was kinda like the circle was broken with him on the sidelines. I don’t think any one of us could even imagine what was going through his head. Could you? ‘I want to be out there, what the fuck?!’
Araya: “Well you can, because you’re doing it right now. You understand it completely. It would be the same with me, not being able to be out there. Sitting and watching it all, literally running away from you. You’re stuck in one spot and it’s moving ahead of you, you can’t seem to catch up to it. I’m most positive that that was a big thing on his mind. There were times when he wouldn’t communicate and I would reach out to him and ask, ‘Dude, what’s going on? Do you want to be a part of this? We want you to come to rehearsals; we want to see how you are doing. We want you to start jamming. Are you practicing at home? You need to be out here,’ kind of thing. We made sure that he was well aware that we wanted him to be part of it and try to give him opportunities for him to come out, rehearse and work on new material. At the time, we were floating around ideas of putting out a new album. Sometimes he would make rehearsals. He let it be known that he was a little upset that we decided to move forward.”
BraveWords – It obviously put you in a difficult position to leave one of your bandmates behind. But what else could you do? You’ve built up this massive brand called Slayer and you need to keep the ball rolling.
Araya: “With the initial news about him and his spider bite and his flesh-eating disease, we were caught in a hard place because we couldn’t communicate with him. He was out when I got word about what happened to him. When I got the call, he was in the hospital and they we’re trying to save his life. I remember the call as plain as day. It was my manager (Rick Sales) and he said, ‘Tom are you sitting down?’ I’m like, ‘No.’ He goes ‘Jeff is in the hospital.’ I’m thinking that something really major had happened. Of course this was major, but I thought it was some kind of accident or a random act of violence that put him out. Rick said, ‘He’s got a flesh eating virus.’ And I went, ‘What?!’ ‘They are trying to save his arm.’ I’m like, ‘Fuck, which arm?’ He said, ‘I think they’re going to have to put him in induced coma.’ I’m like, ‘Shit.’ ‘They’re trying to get control of it but you can literally watch it as it’s eating his flesh.’ It was pretty serious, and I’m like, ‘Damn, we have to play Australia in like a month.’ My manager said, ‘I know, you and Kerry need to talk and decide what it is you want to do, how you want to proceed with this.’ Then I thought to myself, ‘This isn’t something that’s gonna sort itself overnight. This is going to be a process.’ And we had an entire year lined out with four or five different tours, and it started with Australia. We had to make some really tough decisions.
There was a lot at risk, a lot that was hanging over our heads. We had to make a decision, and what really bugs me the most about having to make such a decision, was that we couldn’t communicate with Jeff. He was out. He was just out for the count, he just wasn’t going to be available for a few months. He was just out of it. They were going to keep him out of it until they could get some control over his arm and the bacteria and all of that stuff. That was hard. It’s a lot easier to make a decision when you can talk to the person and reason with him and say, ‘Hey, we know what’s going on.’ But we couldn’t communicate with him at all. That was a tough decision for me. And I put myself in that position: ‘How would I feel if they went and continued on without me?’ I’d be pissed. I’d be mad. But you’d also understand that if they didn’t do it, it would kill everything that we built. It would stop right there.”
BraveWords – There aren’t too many higher entities in the metal world than Slayer, but at the end of the day it’s is still the music business and you can’t stop or people will start to forget about you. For the benefit of the band’s reputation you obviously made the correct decision.
Araya: “Yeah, that’s where we were at. If we don’t do this, and we lay off the entire year, nobody’s going to want to do business with us. There was too much money involved, too much business involved. It just wouldn’t have been good. And that’s where I was, because I’ve been in that position. I’ve been in the hospital, and lucky for me I was able to recover and we can still continue to do what we were doing. It was just delayed a couple of months and I was able to come back. But with this, there was no telling when he would come back. And then as it turned out, even when he was out of the hospital, and we were trying to encourage him to play, to rehearse and to try and build up his arm strength and his abilities again… we always left it up to him. ‘How do you feel? Do you feel well enough to hit the road?’ And he was always, ‘No, no, I need some time.’ So we were always waiting for him to say, ‘Yeah, I want to do it now.’ It was always left up to him; we never made a decision for him. We never said, ‘No we don’t think you’re ready.’ But he was always opting not to do it. Like what you said, when your ability to perform is not at 100% and you’re kicking your own ass about it, you are going to be your own worst critic. And he kept saying he wasn’t ready, he wasn’t ready. So that was a hard decision. And Kerry is like, ‘We gotta do something.’ And I go, ‘Man, I can’t even begin to think of who I would want to sit in for Jeff. I don’t want anybody to sit in for Jeff; that’s just not right.’ And Kerry said, ‘Well, we gotta do something.’ And I said, ‘Yeah I know we gotta to do something, but that is where my head is at. I can’t think straight.’
So we communicated and he got back to me and said, ‘I’ve been thinking, I’ve got a couple of names and people have suggested some names.’ He read off the names, and I didn’t know any of them. I knew the bands that they were in, but I didn’t know any of the people that he was naming. And then he mentioned Gary (Holt). I sat there and thought for a moment and said to myself, ‘Yeah that sounds good. I can deal with Gary. Gary is a friend. I know Gary; we’re cut from the same cloth. Gary’s actually a good friend, he and Jeff got along really well. I thought that Jeff would really like that. To me he was a familiar face. I didn’t want any fucking stranger, if you know what I mean. When Gary came in and sat with us, I said to myself, ‘Wow this is so cool. Okay great.’ And now he’s become somewhat of a permanent fixture (laughs).”
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