The Weekly Interview: Slayer guitarist Kerry King

The king: Kerry King (third from left) will be shredding with Slayer at the Joint on Friday.
Jason Harris

Is there a difference performing in Las Vegas now from when you first started? It used to be. It was weird because it’s such a touristy place; you never knew what kind of crowd you were going to get, if any. But that kind of changed over the years. I think more people call Vegas home, so there’s a more consistent turnout.

How do you keep a song like “Chemical Warfare” that you’ve been playing almost every night for 30 years fresh? Luckily we keep it fresh because it’s still fun to play. This being the first headline tour in the United States in quite a while, I got three or four songs we haven’t played in four to 10 years. We’ve got a history, we’ve got a catalog, so there’s always tons of stuff we can play.

What can fans expect from this tour? We’re going forward, and to all the fans that’s good, because they don’t want us to be anything but familiar. I found that out years ago. Why does Iron Maiden sell out stadiums? Because they’re Iron Maiden. That’s why people like them. They know what they’re good at. They continue to do it. And they don’t try to be anything they’re not.

What’s the strategy moving ahead without guitarist Jeff Hanneman? [Hanneman died May 13 of liver failure.] Well, there’s still stuff we gotta work out about that, because moving forward there’s gonna be records, there’s gonna be merch, there’s gonna be live shows and we gotta figure out essentially what everybody thinks is fair moving forward.

Talk a little about losing Jeff. Jeff was in bad shape for a long time. Did anybody think he was going to die? Absolutely not. Even with the worst prognosis, you didn’t think it was going to be that quick, and it just kind of was. I was definitely in shock. We knew at some point that gap was going to have to be filled, so to speak, but nobody expected it to be when it was. That was quick.

I just plan on writing songs as I always have. I’m sitting on 13, 14 [new songs] right now. We’re ready to go. We just gotta quit touring so we could go in and get a record done. Me and Jeff were the main songwriters, and I’m just moving on and doing it all by myself.

What should fans know about the new songs? The friends I’ve played them for are pretty stoked about them. It’s just an extension of what people love about Slayer. I’m not trying to fool anybody and say, “This is what I was really trying to do all these years.” No, it’s gonna be the same stuff.

It’s been said that you’ve been looking through Jeff’s recordings. Have you found anything that you’re going to use? Most of the stuff we already picked through in the ’80s. We did have a song left over from the last record that needs some reworking, but it wasn’t a complete song. It wasn’t on the record for a reason. It wasn’t the quality of the rest of World Painted Blood. It’s good stuff; it just wasn’t finished. So I’m gonna work on that when time permits. Other than that, everything that was given to us, we pretty much cherry-picked. We go back there and pick through again, I’m not sure that does anybody any good other than the fact that yeah, we used Jeff Hanneman’s stuff. I don’t want people to hear something and say, “Maybe they shouldn’t have put that out.” If anybody is gonna say anything about what we put out I want them to say, “Wow. That’s Jeff’s last song. That’s awesome.”

Who’s your favorite live act now? [WWE wrestler] Chris Jericho’s band Fozzy. It’s just fun to go watch them, because it’s like the ultimate party.

What advice would you give to a young band right now? I have no idea where to start on that one ... because when we started out, computers didn’t exist. When we had shows we would make our own fliers and jump fences at high schools and stick them in kids’ lockers, because we figured those would be the people coming to see us. But now you can make a song, and it’s worldwide in five minutes.

But how do you make money off of it? I don’t know, man. I don’t know. I’m so detached from having to worry about that.

Is there anything else you want to say to your fans? There’s only one high point to Jeff not being with us for three years: Gary [Holt] got to be. And when the time came it wasn’t complete culture shock with some new guy trying to take over for someone who just passed away. I mean, I would hate to be in that position, but luckily Gary’s been with us since 2011, so the fans were used to him. I think it was easier. And there are pictures at Jeff’s memorial that showed Gary holding Jeff from when we first met, like, 25 years ago and there’s some after Gary was playing in Slayer for Jeff of them two together. It’s kind of cool. I mean, if you can find any kind of silver lining it’s cool that Jeff was on board with Gary taking his spot, and moving forward it makes things easier, I guess.

The other thing as far as new material on this record, like I said, I’ve got plenty, whether we get to Jeff’s or not. Gary’s not writing anything on this record. I don’t think fans would be ready for that. What I’d like him to do is play some leads to just take some of the heat off of me. And then three years down the line, we do another record, [and] if Gary’s with us, I would be more than happy for Gary to write some tunes.

Slayer With Gojira. October 25, 7:30 p.m., $36-$41. The Joint, 693-5222.

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