For almost 30 years, Kerry King has been a member of Slayer, a band that transcended its thrash-metal beginnings and became one of the most respected rock groups in the world. Sharing guitar duties with Jeff Hanneman, King helped develop the hyper-speed tremolo-picking style, blistering guitar solos, and intimidating tightness that are Slayer trademarks. The burly, tattooed King, with his shaved head and his signature B.C. Rich KKV guitar, is a menacing figure well known for giving terse, frank interviews, and he has publicly feuded with more than a few contemporaries. The week Slayer’s latest album, World Painted Blood, was released, he spoke to The A.V. Club about the making of the album, the band’s relationship with its fans (and non-relationship with producer Rick Rubin), and what he thinks of his own achievements.
The A.V. Club: Do you feel that World Painted Blood is a return to Slayer’s “classic” period, or a progression from Christ Illusion?
Kerry King: I just think it’s funny that people always try to analyze it, and don’t just dig it for what it is. When people say it’s a return to the ’80s, I say, “Well, what was Christ Illusion? What was God Hates Us All?” I know the ’90s were weird, but this decade, we’ve been really solid. I think this record’s really cool; it’s got more variety than anything we’ve done in quite some time. And before you ask the question, it wasn’t planned that way. That’s just how it came out.
AVC: What did producer Greg Fidelman bring to the mix?
KK: Greg was cool, man. I hope he does every record for us until we’re done, if he has time and we have time. He’s more like a fifth member of the band, and he’s really in tune with what we were trying to do as far back as the late ’80s.
AVC: So he was really hands-on?
KK: Yeah, he was there every fuckin’ day for us. He was the last one to leave every day, and that’s inspiring. It earns you respect. It’s cool.
AVC: How are things between you and Rick Rubin? There was a lot of tension around the time of Christ Illusion because he decided to produce Metallica instead.
KK: I haven’t seen the dude in years. People’s perception is that because he’s the executive producer on our records, that we see him—I haven’t seen that dude in fuckin’ years. Essentially, at the end of the day, that title means “I own the record label.” He’s got final say over the mix, and that’s that.
AVC: When Christ Illusion came out, and “Jihad” was the first single, you commented about how it was the “Angel Of Death” controversy all over again. Did that factor into the decision to make “Psychopathy Red,” about Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, the first single from World Painted Blood?
KK: No. That was the only song that was done. [Laughs.]
AVC: This was the first album in which you were still working on material when you went into the studio. Did that change things much?
KK: Not really. That was kind of a weird, different thing, but it’s only because we put ourselves in that position. We’d already confirmed the Mayhem tour, which was last summer, and we had to have our record either done, or done and out, or else we’d have had no time to finish it.
AVC: Did it feel rushed to you?
KK: It was definitely rushed, but I don’t feel it was detrimental to the record overall. Everything just happened to work—it was one of those magical recording sessions.
AVC: Some of your leads on World Painted Blood are phenomenal, and you’re playing with Jeff in ways that sound really new. Did you deliberately alter your playing style at all, or did it just evolve this way?
KK: I think it’s just the way it came about, but seeing as we recorded it in such a short fashion, that lent itself to making a more diverse-sounding record. We were self-conscious, I guess, of all the songs sounding different; when you write an album over a long period of time, you don’t have the problem of worrying about things sounding similar to one another. Here, I wrote all my material in like six weeks. So there was a very big chance that songs could end up sounding too similar. We didn’t want that at all, so we worked together and made up approaches and riffs that we’d never even tried before. When we were in the studio, I would sometimes have a riff that I wasn’t really sure about, so I’d just go in there and mess around with it, see what kind of reaction I got. Like, the main “Americon” riff, I took it in there, and every time, people were all, “What’s that?” Finally, Dave [Lombardo] got up, ran and played some drums for it, and I thought “Well, fuck, I guess we’re gonna use it.”
AVC: Groups as established as Slayer get pressure from some critics to keep moving forward, and from some fans to keep sounding the same. Does any of that motivate you one way or another?
KK: I think first and foremost, we were fans before we were Slayer, and that carries over into today. I think if we like it, then our fans are going to like it, because in a way, we’re just an extension of them. We’re just four dudes who make each other better. I think that’s the main difference between us and most bands. There’s a lot of guitar players out there in bands that are never going to make it; they might be better than us, but number one, they weren’t in the right place at the right time, and number two, they never find people that make them better, or share the same ideas. It’s really a crapshoot.
AVC: Do you pay much attention to critics at all?
KK: Not really. I was reading one article about the new album, and the guy was asking if it was a burden to be in Slayer. And then you have guys talking about how great the album is, and how much they love it, and then they still give you 8 out of 10 because they expect more out of us. That blows me away.
AVC: Is it annoying to have every record you put out described in terms of a comeback?
KK: It just makes me wonder, “What did you think of our last two?” [Laughs.]
AVC: How’s the tour going?
KK: It’s going great. We’re back on the road a week from tomorrow.
AVC: How’s Tom Araya’s voice? You had to cancel a show because he was having problems.
KK: Yeah, it happens. I think historically, we’ve only had to cancel about three or four shows, so it’s not something that happens all the time. But unfortunately for Adelaide, Australia, their show was the one that got pulled. [Since this interview, Slayer cancelled the Canadian leg of its current tour so Araya could be treated for a back injury. —ed.]
AVC: Do you still enjoy touring?
KK: Oh, there’s nothing better than the stage. The worst thing about touring is the travel. I don’t care how many business-class or first-class seats you got, travel fuckin’ wears you out. But we still love playing live.
AVC: Have you developed different standards for what constitutes a good show than you had when you were starting out?
KK: I don’t think so. Maybe one difference is that now we can afford to do cooler things. We’ll do some fire, some pyro from time to time. It’s an expensive thing, so when you’re at an earlier point in your career, you weigh the options and say “I don’t want to spend all my money on a couple of big bangs.” But this year, when we did the Mayhem tour, we split the cost of the pyro guy with Marilyn Manson as a way to get our feet wet with it.
AVC: On that topic, has technology overall been a good thing for the band over the years?
KK: Well, it’s definitely made recording easier. Of course, you still go through and record every one of your parts, but with ProTools, it makes it so much easier than it was 10 years ago. It seems like every time we go into the studio, there’s a new thing to make it easier. Much as I hate recording, I have to say, it’s so much easier than it was when we started out.
AVC: Do you stay on top of that stuff yourself?
KK: That’s the engineer’s job. We pay him to know all that stuff so we don’t have to.
AVC: After 25-plus years, what keeps you artistically interested?
KK: I don’t know if it’s just me personally, but I’m still a fan. I have tons of friends in the heavy-metal music world, and just going to see them inspires me. If I’m ever feeling uninspired, all I have to do is go see Exodus or Arch Enemy, and think “Oh yeah, that’s what we’re doing this for.” We’re definitely a generation-jumper as far as fans are concerned; there’s no rhyme or reason to it, but it’s pretty cool.
AVC: Is the metal scene better today than when you started?
KK: Yeah, because when we came through the first time, we were part of the creation of what we’re doing now. And now that we’ve laid all this groundwork, I think it’s a lot easier for bands. Especially with the Internet… I remember in the old days, when we were promoting a show, we’d be out taping flyers to high-school lockers. Now you just announce the show online, and it’s a full house.
AVC: Do you often give much thought to your legacy, or about what Slayer has meant to the metal scene?
KK: Not really. I don’t reflect much, unless I’m talking to the media. I have more of a “Forward, march!” kind of attitude.
AVC: Is there anything you feel like you still have left to accomplish, anything you haven’t done that you still want to do as an artist?
KK: Not to sound like an asshole, but no. The only thing that’s really different now from the late ’80s and early ’90s is that you used to judge yourself by gold records and stuff like that. Sure, we had gold records—I don’t think there’ll ever be a time when we get them again, just because of the way that music is sold and traded now, but I’ve played some of the biggest shows in the world, and headlined most of them. And it seems like every album, we end up visiting a new country, which is cool. As far as goals, I honestly can’t think of any.
AVC: There have been a lot of rumors that you’re planning to do World Painted Blood and two more, then call it quits. Is there anything to that?
KK: I think that’s a case of journalists taking the ball and running a little too far with it. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not 25 anymore, but I’d also be the first to tell you that I’m having a damn fucking good time. Of course, a lot of it depends on our recording schedule; I think a lot of this started to come around because it took us five years to do Christ Illusion after God Hates Us All. But what people are missing is that during that period, we had the War At The Warfield and Still Reigning videos, and we had a box set, and an EP. And every one of those products, even though it’s not a new album, that put us to work and had us out on tour. But we took five years between records, and I know Tom and I both said “Well, if we take five years between each record, we might only have one or two left in us.” But these last ones, we did in only three years, and I think if we keep on a more frequent release schedule… We’ll see. When it’s done, it’s done. It ain’t gonna be like Kiss. Our last tour is gonna be our last fuckin’ tour.