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Interview conducted by Aaron Rhodes of Shuttlecock Magazine.
Legendary California thrash metal band Slayer released their last album Repentless in 2015. It was their first album since guitarist and founding member Jeff Hanneman died in 2013 and also the first since drummer Paul Bostaph rejoined the band. The band is currently making its way across North America with Lamb Of God and Behemoth. Before the tour began, I talked on the phone with Bostaph about the tour that stops in Bonner Springs, KS, as well as how the band’s dynamic has shifted in recent years, and what songwriting is like right now.
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What separates this tour from other recent runs?
Obviously there’s the lineup changes. But I think we’re going to have some special things production-wise we’re gonna do on this tour that’ll be different than what we’ve done from some of our most recent tours.
So there should be some lighting and stage setup changes?
Yeah, we’re gonna be doing fire on this one. We did it during Mayhem [Festival] but I think we’ve got more experience with it now. I know they’re doing some special things with it, but basically I’m on the edge of my seat just like you guys, so it should be good.
As far as the setlist, have things been shifting lately?
We’ve been doing a lot of shifting in the setlist. The last European tour we changed the setlist a lot, and we do change the setlist when we’re in the United States because between the shows it’s a five hour drive so we’ll change it. We’ll pull out some stuff for this one. We’ve played around with a lot of stuff during soundchecks in Europe and some stuff even surprised us. We’ll see. There’s been some stuff thrown around. We’re gonna have a production day and the set will be fashioned around that and as the tour goes on we’ll see what we wanna play at that point.
Since you and Dave Lombardo have gone back and forth drumming over the years, are there any songs he recorded that you enjoy playing the most on tour?
I can’t say that there’s one that I don’t enjoy playing that Dave recorded. That’s the Slayer fan in me talking. When I wasn’t there Dave was the drummer and as someone who loves that music, why wouldn’t I enjoy it? For me, there’s no distinction of “I played this song, so I’m gonna enjoy this more than that.” I really hate to be general about it, but all of them. There’s so many great songs. There’s not really one that I don’t look forward to playing.
Jeff Hanneman’s passing obviously had an impact on the band’s dynamic, but other than that, what do you think changed most between when you left and when you returned?
I couldn’t really say what’s changed most. There’s the simple fact that I wasn’t there anymore, so now it’s a different combination of individuals, and I think the chemistry changed more when I was gone. When you take one person out and put another person in, then that’s a new chemistry of people. I’ve never really had to analyze that question until now.
What was your first reaction when you heard some of the songs that Kerry [King] and the band had been working on for Repentless?
There were a lot of songs that I liked. But there were also a lot of songs being worked on at the time that Kerry kinda put aside that weren’t quite jiving. Usually what happens with any song over the years is, I’ve learned to be non-judgmental in terms of if I like something or don’t like something. Usually I’ll start playing it and it kinda develops. Sometimes it’s not completed, it’s just the bones of an idea and it gets thrown into the mix and we start jamming it and trying to craft it. It starts becoming something and that’s when it gets really interesting and you get a chance to listen to it and step back.
Basically, for me, an idea can stay in the mix until you get in the recording studio and if you’re recording it, if it’s just not happening, then you step away from it. I think I agree with a sentiment I read in an interview with I forget who, a long time ago: Until an album’s done, it’s not done. So there were a lot of [songs] I really liked, and some weren’t ready yet, so we just started jamming them, and there were some arrangement things that got changed, so I’m always expecting something to change. I try not to fall in love with something immediately because it may not be the finished idea.
How would you describe where Slayer is at right now in terms of songwriting?
Right now, songwriting is the same it’s been since we recorded Repentless. Kerry’s been writing and Tom’s [Araya] been throwing in and Gary’s [Holt] with us now. So I can’t speak for everybody else, but the best thing I can say is, with a guy as talented as Gary, I can’t see why we wouldn’t wanna do some stuff with him, because it can only make it better. Maybe a little different, in terms of having somebody new writing, but the talent is there. I think we’ve been together long enough and we all get along and we all respect each other — and respect each other’s abilities. I’m hoping we can get into a room and put our heads together and hammer some really heavy stuff out.