SlayerGetting the skinny on Slayer
By Naughty Mickie

Metal rockers Slayer formed in 1981. They were nominated for a Grammy in 2002 and in 2007 the won a Grammy for "Best Metal Performance" for the track, "Eyes of the Insane," from "Christ Illusion." The effort had been re-released by American Recordings in July of this year with new songs and a bonus DVD. As Slayer's wont to tackle tough issues, this effort attacks the US government about the war in Iraq. The band's current lineup is vocalist/bassist Tom Arraya, guitarists Jeff Hanneman  and Kerry King and drummer Dave Lombardo.

Arraya answers my call and his cheerful, easygoing attitude comes through as he begins telling that he and King had played together in a band called Quits.

"Me and Kerry were members in another band. It was a band that Kerry has joined and it was me and this other guitar player and he went ahead and got Kerry into the band because we got rid of the other guitar player and once Kerry came in the band it didn't last very long. We did a few shows and then he decided he wanted me out of the band, so said, 'Alright fine, pack up your shit and leave,' it was my house," Arraya laughs.

"And two years later I was in school and working at a hospital I got the bug to be a singer instead of playing and singing, just to sing in a band." Arraya goes on, "I went and tried out for two bands when I got the message from Kerry about playing, he had the guitar player and drummer and wanted me to play bass and sing if possible. He had the band he wanted to put together, so he gave me a list of songs I learned and they showed up the following weekend and we played them. It was awesome. He even told Jeff that he knew a bass player, which was me, and that's who he wanted to get a hold of once he had the drummer and they had the songs together."

Arraya was born in Chile, but grew up in Maywood and Huntington Park, California, so I asked him about his childhood.

"I started playing bass my first year of junior high," Arraya responds."My brother (Cisco) was in junior high and he was in school band. He took that tip from my older sister, Anna, who was in the high school band and learned how to play clarinet. My brother started learning how to play clarinet and in the process he realized, 'Wow, music, it doesn't matter what instrument you play. I'm going to play guitar.' I took that cue and said, 'Shit, if you're going to play guitar, then why don't I play bass?'" 

"You didn't play guitar first like most bass players?" I ask.

"I picked up the bass, but the only difference between a bass and a guitar is two strings," answers Arraya. "I started as a bass player, I'm pretty much a bass player. That's my forte, bass playing. I can pick up the guitar, I can play, I can learn licks, but I would really need some time before I would feel comfortable jamming or playing the guitar, thinking I could play leads."

Knowing there are seven kids in his family, I wonder how many are musical.

"It was our oldest sister initiated it and my brother Cisco followed. My younger brother John is also a great guitar player. He's an amazing guitar player and now he's playing bass for a band called Thine Eyes Bleed, it's a big metal band and they're really good," Arraya says.

"Did you sing as a kid?" I prod.

"No. You know how when you're a kid you sing the songs on the radio? You sing at home, but you don't sing in public." Arraya chuckles and says, "You get over that stage fright of singing in front of people. It took a while for me to overcome that, but you either do it or you don't. If I'm going to go out there and sing, whatever, I'm going to go out there and sing and if anybody has anything to say about my singing fuck you, I'm up here and you're down there. Shut up," he laughs again.

Arraya attended Valley College Tech School, which specializes in training x-ray technicians, respiratory technicians and other medical careers.

"I went in for respiratory (technician). My sister who was a nurse and worked in ER told me that that was a good earning job, so I went to school for that," Arraya says. "That helped support the band for the five years that I was working. It helped support my habit, which was my hobby. It helped pay for the first album we did, it helped pay for the second one we did."

His job also helped pay for gas and other band needs. But unfortunately he had to make the decision to quit so he could tour.

"Then we had an opportunity to tour and they wouldn't give me the time off, so I just told them I quit," states Arraya.

Home for Arraya is a ranch in Texas

"I have a ranch here. I have cattle. It's called a ranch because it's a lot of land," Arraya shares.

Having recently spent time at my friend Alberta's ranch in the desert, I tease him that like her, maybe his herd is only four cows.

"Yes," Arraya admits, "Mine is a total of nine-- a bull with four heifers and four babies."

He boasts about his black Angus herd, "it's skin and beef," but then says that the calves are sweet.

Arraya treasures his time with wife Sandra and children,  Tommy, 8, and Ariel, 11.

Arraya bubbles, "They make me go out and jump on the trampoline. It's everybody, not just the two of them, the three of them get me on the trampoline. They keep me active. I play basketball with them. We're getting a pool put in soon, so we'll be very active in swimming."

He also likes scary movies, but doesn't really have any hobbies of his own away from music.

"I just like to come home and get away from all that, admire the animals and spend time with my family. I'll pick up a guitar, a six-string, and I have songbooks and I'll sing songs," says Arraya.

I ask him if his children are musical too.

Slayer"They're starting to be. I try to not push it on them, but now they pick up little six-strings that they have and they do a little air jam with the guitar and sing to their favorite songs. They'll hold a microphone and sing and dance. Apparently while I was gone, they were doing little shows for my wife. She would sit on the grass and they would get up on the porch and do a song together or dance." Arraya goes on, "I'm hoping that they do follow if only just for fun. It was all about fun for me. When the band started doing music it was all about fun, even when I wasn't in a band. When Kerry called up it was because I wanted to be in a band and have fun. It's about having fun and if your fun starts making you a lot of money- awesome. That's the best part."

I steer Arraya back to the band by asking how they write.

"Kerry and Jeff usually come up with the music," Arraya begins. "Lyrically it's between the three of us. Sometimes Jeff will have an idea that he'll throw my way or both of them will come up with something that they've already got complete they tell me, 'See the words to the song I just wrote.' Kerry does that a lot. He'll make sure that all of his songs are pretty much done before he hands them to me.

"Jeff, if he has something complete, if not we'll share ideas. I'll ask him what he thinks and he'll finish it. Me and Jeff work that way, we collaborate on stuff. Kerry likes to present his songs complete and that's pretty much how they stay. It's the more
experimental songs, the songs that have a little soul." Arraya laughs, "You can tell the difference."

So where does Arraya find his inspiration?

"It really depends," Arraya says. "TV, a news article, a magazine article, a newspaper article, a movie, a scene in a movie, a title in a movie, a title of a book, a phrase. or even something in a phrase that was a standout. You write that little phrase down because it makes you think of so much.

Sometimes Slayer's song lyrics seem to have some twisted humor or is it something else?

"It's 'I read this today and now I'm sharing this with you, what do you think?' or 'I saw this in a movie, it was a really gory picture, I hope you like it,'" Arraya states. "So you describe what you see in the movie, the descriptions you make are amazing and they go great with this story. You just become very visual, you try to make sure that the words you're saying, that they can actually see what you're saying.

"I like to choose words and play with words and try to paint the picture as vivid as possible," continues Arraya. "It's fun because with me, English is my first language although it's not my native language, so a lot of the time I'll write something down and then I'll go to the dictionary and look up each word and see how it sits well with what I've written. To see if that word's really what I'm looking for, I'll start looking for other words that I want to use to best describe what I want to describe."

"Do you use a Thesaurus and other reference books?" I ask.

"I take full advantage of all that stuff- everything," states Arrays. "Because even a rhyming dictionary, I remember going through a rhyming dictionary thinking it's kind of ridiculous, but there's certain words, they sound similar and when they sound similar it makes them all that. And then you discover this new word and you're like, 'Woah, it sounds so close to this, but it means something completely different.' It adds to it. It's almost like a game of teaching myself English and make sure I'm expressing what I want to express."

Next we discuss the scene and Slayer's staying power.

"Unlike trendy music, I think rock will always be there. There's things they try to add to it that become trendy, but they don't last very long. It's only the cream of the crop that hangs around and they can make it and they can stay together forever. In our case, I'm thinking what our staying power is, I guess it's our integrity, it's staying true to what we create that comes naturally for us. We haven't deliberately done anything to purposely make a change. If we do change, it's something that's come naturally, it's not something we've forced upon ourselves because it's the in thing like, 'We're writing a song like this because our manager wants us to sell records,'" Arraya laughs. "We'll sell records but we won't sell our souls.

"In a sense, we're not going to sell out to that, we're going to do what we do and make  the people come to us and after 25 years they've come to us. As far as our longevity, I think a lot of it has to do with that we don't release an album every year, we allow time between albums for kids to discover the band, new kids. So when we have a new album out, there's a whole crop of kids saying 'They've got a new record out?'" Arraya chuckles. "They've just discovered the band and we're releasing a new album and they go out and buy the album and they go back and buy the old albums. Five years later it's the same process and we've come out with a new album and we've got a whole new crop of kids that have gone to their friends and said, 'This is really heavy' and the kid looks at them and says, 'You want to hear something really heavy?' And then they put on Slayer or whatever they consider heavier than what they were listening to and the kid goes, 'Woah.' So then they investigate, they find out about the band and they find out the band is coming out with a new album.

"I think the fact that we've been around as long as we have and money has nothing to do with the gap between albums. We have a lot of new kids discover the band every time we come out with a new one, at least that's my philosophy. I think it's working and I think it worked for Def Leppard," laughs Arraya. "Every seven years they have a couple of new fans."

The formula's been working, so why bother reuniting?

"We're all original members." Arraya explains, ""Paul (Bostaph, drummer) was the only other member in the band ever, as far as Jon Dette (drummer) who was on one tour. But Paul has been with the band for a good 10 years, which is half the band's life. Paul would be considered the other member, but after recording the album, he did the tour for the album, but decided he didn't want to continue. So our manager took it upon himself to call Dave up and say, 'Listen Dave, the band needs a drummer, I wonder if you could fill in while they look for one?' Dave happily obliged and in the process of sitting in, he got word that we were doing an album and he said, 'OK, I'll do the album with ya.' So we stopped looking for a drummer and he just came back on board. I worked out. We toured for a good three years before we recorded with him, we did a lot of live shows and did a lot of performing and it was kind of those things, like he never left, that's how it felt. It felt right."

I try to give Arraya a hard question-- what is his favorite cut on "Christ Illusion"?

"No it's not (a hard question), I'm a little biased. I would go with 'Eyes (of the Insane)' because it's a Grammy Award-winning song." Arraya releases a small chuckle,  "And I'm very proud to say that. I'm very proud to say that's it's a Grammy Award-winning song that I wrote." Arraya bursts out laughing and then, "But I think on this album, it would have to be the song, 'Jihad,' because of where it takes you. It's just intensity and at the very end it leaves you like whew and then you're like, 'Wow' and you have to take a deep breath. Every time I do that song live it does that to me. I have to walk away and take a deep breath and just chill, the song leaves me with a very intense feeling, like waaaah! rage at it's upmost."

"But so many of your songs are strong," I counter.

"Yeah, but this one because of how it starts and for the subject matter," Arraya replies. "It's a song of question if anything, it's a song that's questioning something. It's revealing what we see and you need to figure out what the question is that we're asking. And then you find your own answer to the question. It's about feeling and listening. If you really feel what you're listening to, you don't have to work as hard."

Slayer is well-known for their fans, who are tougher than the band's music.

Slayer"The idea behind us is we demand your attention as far as listening to us, it's one of the reasons we make our sets so intense. We purposely make them rollercoaster rides that take you to the end. It's like that rollercoaster ride that takes you wah-wah-wah to the very top and then you're off! And then it's over. They want more, but it's like, 'No, we'll get you next time'" Arraya emits an evil laugh. "That's what we want. We want to go there, we want to pound your face for 70 minutes. We're going to pound you with sensory overload, lights and sound and you're not only hearing it, but you're feeling the music and I think that's the best part of what we do.

" Anybody can understand the music and when they're feeling it, they're going nuts. It's like a bunch of little shaman out there and they're just going nuts because they're into the beat and the groove of the music. They start bringing their own realities into the whole thing. That's when we know it's an awesome show, because the crowd is so into what they're doing they don't even know that we're there, they're so into it. That's what you want, you want it to be them. It's always them. It's all about them having a good time and if we can make a good time and share with everybody that's here and they're going, 'That Slayer is fucking crazy.'" Arraya sums it up, "We demand your attention. I'm not going to cheerleader you, you know what to do."

Slayer doesn't have any concrete plans after their current tour aside from taking a break and then getting together later to discuss the future. They're not even working on any new material.

"It's all about being a sponge, seeing things and ideas and just kind of like, 'Oh,' and then those ideas run through your head and they never really leave," Arraya explains. "Then one day you sit down and you just jot something down and as you go back to it and look at it, you see if it will bring back what it is you thought about it or what was on your mind when you wrote that down. I just hope I don't forget them before I take them to pen.What I also like when I read things or read a paper, if there's something in there that's really interesting, I'll cut it out and save it."

Arraya is a big reader. He reads a lot of news magazines and when we spoke he had just finished "The Secret" and "Severed," which is about the Black Dahlia murder: "It's the one book that they feel is the definitive book on who really murdered her. It's just a really good book."

He was reading a  murder theory book about Pope John Paul.

"It's about the Pope, Pope John Paul I who was only a pope for 30 days," Arraya relates. "The author himself sticks to the claim that he thinks he was murdered and sticks to his case. It was pretty interesting to read his case and how he presented it and to know that with all that information, Pope John Paul II didn't change anything that that pope wanted to change, he left things the way they were. It's disappointing to think that this pope was going to change the church, he was going to make the church a poor church and the Vatican Inc. didn't agree with it. I've been picking up my reading habits. I've been trying to get my brain back into really focusing on being creative and taking tips and advice from folks I read."

Arraya likes finding unusual uses of words, such as "a confetti of blood," using decorations to describe a shooting. He finds American English very fun because there are many ways to say things.

Before we part, Arraya has a word for Slayer's fans.
"We're very grateful for our fan base because they're the ones that make the numbers, they're the ones that have kept us alive for the past 25 years," Arraya says. "We've been very fortunate in our success."

See where Slayer's been and find out if they'll be near you before they take their tour break at!/slayer   

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