For all his band's purported fascinations with life's uglier aspects, Slayer frontman Tom Araya sure is a cheerful guy. Calling from a moving bus in rural Washington state, Araya laughs seemingly every couple of minutes. Surely, though, it's this sense of humor that's gotten him through almost three decades of leading one of the most notorious, most influential metal bands on the planet.
That's not an understatement. Nor should one take Araya's relative chipperness as a sign that he or his band has gone soft. The swift kick in the ass that is Slayer's latest album, World Painted Blood, should disavow doubters of any of those notions. Yes, the title echoes the band's seminal 1986 record Reign in Blood, and that's got to be on purpose — the new work is, as Araya points out repeatedly, classic Slayer.
The new songs explode with fierce, classic thrash energy, propelled by a youthful ferocity but composed with expert chops. Here's what Araya had to say about World Painted Blood and the band's current national outing on the Mayhem Festival tour.
New Times: Your new album was "executive produced" by Rick Rubin. What does that mean? How involved was he in the actual recording process?
Tom Araya: He oversees what we're doing, and he says "yea" or "nay." He mostly left this one up to Greg Fidelman, who's doing an amazing job as producer. We mostly worked everything out in the studio, and once we finished in the studio, we'd get a really good mix and send it to Rubin just so he could hear it, not really for an opinion.
How did you choose to work with Greg Fidelman as the actual producer of the record?
He kind of found us. He found out we were working on a record, and we said OK! [laughs] That's about how we usually end up with producers, because they're eager to work with us. And Rubin said, "Hey, this guy's great — work with him. He's awesome; he's well-organized and knows his shit." And he does. He knows how to get everything together and get what we want out of the band. He got classic Slayer out of us, and it sounds amazing.
You've said that usually, you start the recording with your songs already written, but this time you spent a lot of time on preproduction in the studio. Why the change?
We actually started recording in October of last year. Jeff [Hanneman, Slayer guitarist] had three songs. We recorded the three songs, and it kind of just fell together real quick. We were supposed to do a North American tour in January, but we didn't, because everybody felt really good in the studio with Greg. We figured, "All right, once we get our European tour out of the way, we'll come home and start recording."
Then when we got back to the studio, Jeff and Kerry both came in with a good four or five songs each and just started putting together new songs in the studio. It would be like, while we were working on the drums, Jeff went home and worked on new stuff while the rest of us were finishing up what was already started. It was the same with Kerry...
You've also said the writing process was more collaborative this time around.
It was, actually. Music-wise, it was, between the three of them [Hanneman, King, and drummer Dave Lombardo]. Then I got an input as far as guitar parts and stuff. But usually we all sit there and say, "Wow, that sounds great" or "We don't like it." We usually all agree to either like it or dislike it and then move on.
But this time, I had ideas that I kind of passed along to Jeff, and Jeff put them into the songs. We were all giving our two cents. I think it was the fact that we went into the studio less prepared, know what I mean? We needed to get into the studio right away, record right away, to get something done by the summer.
The new tracks kind of go back to your '80s feel, as you said, almost with a punk-rock energy. Where did this come from, now?
Our inner soul! That's about it! [laughs] We don't set out to say, "This record's gonna be like this; our songs are gonna be like that." We just kind of write songs, and that's about it. There are no plans; we just kind of do it, and then how it comes out is how it comes out.
What are your favorite tracks on the album?
I think there are two that are my favorites. But the overall record is really good, and whenever we do a record, that's what we strive for — that every song matters, not just one.
How do you feel about your tracks leaking? "Psychopathy Red" has been kicking around the internet for almost a year now.
That one was fine — we put it out on the internet. It was a giveaway song last year when we did a tour in Europe. People were buying tickets, and we said we would give them a little code so they could get the song and download it.
Why did you pick that specific song as the teaser track?
It's the most true to what we do as the band Slayer. It's going on 30 years now that we've been doing this. And that song is letting people know that, hey, we're still Slayer. Nothing's ever gonna change with us.
What new material are you playing on the Mayhem Festival tour dates?
We're only playing "Psychopathy Red." We were going to play more, but we changed our minds...
The last time you played in South Florida was at the same amphitheater in West Palm Beach, with Marilyn Manson. And now you are co-headlining the Mayhem Festival with them too. Are you all specifically friends?
This whole tour has been put together by Mayhem, so it's kind of like we were hired to do this show, and the offer was a great offer.
What's on Slayer's rider?
Beer. Chips and beer and a deli tray. Those things don't change.