Kerry King of Slayer Talks About Their New Album Repentless and the Death of Bandmate Jeff Hanneman During the Mayhem Festival at DTE Energy Theatre

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(Photo credit: Andrew Stuart)

Slayer has been a name synonymous with heavy metal for over 30 years now to where even people that don't listen or even like metal know a little something about them. The ubiquity and straight to the point nature of Slayer has continued to make them an important and relevant band till this day.

Two years ago in May of 2013, the band suffered the lost of guitarist Jeff Hanneman from liver failure after contracting necrotizing fasciitis in early 2011. Hanneman, who ones one of the band's chief songwriters, was one of the founding members of Slayer along with fellow guitarist Kerry King. Exodus guitarist Gary Holt stepped in when Hanneman first got sick and has continued to be a part of the band since Hanneman's passing, but Jeff's spirit still lives on.

During Slayer's stop in Clarkston, Michigan headlining the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, I was able to sit down with Kerry King and talk him about the new album Repentless along with the passing of Jeff Hanneman and the influence its had on the band.

The new album is called Repentless. What does that word mean to the band?
The funny thing is I didn't know it wasn't a word when I made it up. People do make up words, and when people make up words, you usually got to say "Hey, what does that mean?" When you hear "repentless", you know exactly what it means. It means I have no regrets. I don't look back at anything and have regrets. It's just a way of living life. I first started making it up about Slayer but I made the chorus first, and I didn't make this song up to be the title track. That's just how it panned out. So I started with the chorus and moving onto a verse, I can go any direction I want really, so that's why I decided to make it more pinpointed about Jeff and not just Slayer.

Going into this new album, what was the overall vibe/mood between everybody when you're just figuring out where to go with it?
I think when Jeff died before anybody thought he was going to, it was about making sure we still wanted to do it, making sure we're still having fun going out and playing live shows, and making sure it worked because that would just take the life out of us even though he wasn't playing with us. We did, we played, and then we went into the studio late last August and busted it out, plus a whole lot of leftover material hopefully for the next record.

When Jeff was fighting cancer, did he ever come to you and tell you any wishes for the band if he didn't make it through?
No, because nobody expected him to go that fast. I knew he was in some sort of hospital out by where he lived, but it wasn't a grim outlook. It wasn't a good outlook, but it wasn't like "Hey, you better go see him because he's not going to be here tomorrow". It was never anything like that.

It seems like every few days there a new quote that some metal website is posting up from you like they are hanging on your every word. Do you feel that is a sign of respect or that they know you speak your mind so they are just waiting for you to say something that may be controversial?
I think it's a double-edged sword for sure. There is people being very respectful and giving props to what I say, and then there is people taking the stupidest thing out of context and making it a headline, and we all know what fuckin' web site does that. That's just a slap in the face. Aren't we all supposed to be on the same side? Aren't we all supposed to better each other by talking to each other? It just lends me to believe some day I'm just going to shut my fuckin' mouth, then where you going to be?

With Jeff's passing, did the band's mortality come into question at all?
Not really. It was an unfortunate end to a great story, but as far as myself, I'm getting to the age where friends and relatives are dying. When you're young, you don't have to deal with that as much. It's definitely getting used to. I don't think anybody ever gets used to it. It's just a different time in my life. Before Jeff died, my long time guitar tech died a year before that, which was a total shocker. It's just tough. Its tough dealing with that, but I feel good. Am I more sore then when I was 20? Of course! I still feel very capable of doing what I'm doing and I'm having fun doing it. For me, its just business as usual, move forward.

From your advantage point, what direction do you think this new album went?
Forward! (laughs) As trivial as it is, me and Jeff, when asked about the Reign In Blood album, we always said "Hey man, that was just the next 10 songs". We didn't go out to write those 10 songs, that was just the next batch of songs we got finished. Repentless is just like that. There's 12 songs on this one. I didn't set out to achieve anything we had or hadn't done before. I think that's what keeps it organic and you don't set expectations, and maybe not fulfill them. I just like, here's my riff, I'm going to find some riffs that go with this, and we'll see where it goes.

How do you keep the ideas fresh?
I don't know man. I had a lot of time to work on this record. I worked on it for the better part of four years. That allows you to live with it a lot longer than you're used to. The tricky thing for me having so much material for this one was getting like riffs together, riffs that complement and accent each other. Getting them in the right songs. We definitely did that on the 12 that are on Repentless. For the ones waiting to be finished, I think they're like that but they just don't have lyrics or leads yet.

How much material do you have available?
I can remember if it's six or eight. I think we have eight recorded songs. Once we didn't finish them, I have them recorded somewhere and I haven't listened to them since. I took a big break. I want to go back and re-address them this year and keep moving forward, but I haven't. They're all done with drums, guitars, and bass, so if those songs don't change, they're just waiting for lyrics and ready to go on the next recording, which is awesome because we are never that far ahead!

Slayer has always been one of those bands that have been ubiquitous outside of the metal scene where even hip-hop heads love Slayer. How do you think that happened?
My thought is we were edgy and very street and that translates into any kind of genre. It translates to hip-hop. It translates to fuckin' N.W.A. It translates to all that stuff that's street as well. That's what makes that people in those genres like it.

Looking back, what was it like to play on Beastie Boys' License To Ill on "No Sleep Till Brooklyn"?
We were just in the same studio. They were doing License To Ill; we were doing Reign In Blood right down the hall from each other. Rick Rubin's doing both and Rick said, "I got this lead that needs doing, Are you interested?" He paid me something stupid like $200. When you're a 22 year old, I'm like "Fuck yeah! I'll take that $200!" I went in there and he said, "Just do this ridiculous metal lead because this is kind of a spoof of metal". I had no idea that record was going to sell fuckin' 18 billion copies or whatever the hell many it did. I went in there and did it. I always did stuff like that because I figured if you saw me or saw my name, you'd at least think of Slayer, and then they did a video. I'm like "Great!" I got my nails on and if you have any idea who the guy that wear nails is, you're going to fuckin' know about Slayer and maybe you'll go check them out. It didn't happen that way, but that was always my thought. I remember originally doing that video. They wanted me on stage and they wanted the gorilla knock me off. I said, "That ain't happening. No chance! You can do it the other way or nothing at all."

Jeff Hanneman was a founding member of Slayer with you, how do you move on artistically without him?
Its kind of business as usual because he was like an hour east of me and very much a recluse. Jeff never left his community. He was always just like that. In the 2000s, I think the last thing me and him collaborated on was stuff on God Hates Us All, like he wrote the music to "Disciple" and I wrote the lyrics, vice versa and stuff like that. From God Hates Us All on, by the time we got together, my songs would be done and his songs would be done. It wasn't unusual. We did use one of his on this record, in case you didn't know. "Piano Wire" was one of Jeff's songs. It was finished for the last record. It was kind of an after thought. So we had Paul [Bostaph] play drums to it and Tom [Araya] re-sang it, so there is a Jeff Hanneman offering on this record. And one of the extra ones that has no names and has no lyrics is one of Jeff's as well.

What are some of your best memories of the early days of Slayer?
This is a funny story. The first time we went to Europe, he wasn't our tour manager; he was like our tour coordinator. He's a friend of ours, just came out and just looked over us. We were in Amsterdam and Amsterdam is legendary for being able to smoke there since the dawn of time, at least for us anyway. It wasn't my thing, but I remember our tour coordinator, I can't remember if he smoked hash, he smoked something, and he's freaking out. We're in this office after we played a gig. He's sitting on the couch and just talking about how the mouth in his stomach is opening up and is trying to devourer him. Then, we lost him! We fuckin' lost him! I'm sitting there thinking to myself, "What the fuck am I going to tell his mom?" We were kids! We lost your son. He just went off and freaked out somewhere. As it turns out, he found a car that the back door was open, climbed in, and went to sleep. So, we pull up to the next show, and Doug, our tour coordinator, is laying there in the grass and we're all so excited to see him because we were like 20 year old kids and just trying to think about what we were going to say to his parents. It all worked out.

What do you want the Slayer legacy to be?
Fuckin' titanium! I want people to look back and say "Slayer did it right". That would mean the most to me. I go out of my way to make as many fans as I can feel welcome. Of course, there's a time when I'm late for an interview or photo session, or late for a plane, and I got to snub some people. I go out of my way not to do that. For all the people I have snubbed, hey man, it's just how it is. You can't sit there and explain to them why because you don't have time. If I do stop, and the one person gets his autograph, then there's 15 people around me, and it makes me later. It's just a snowball effect. That's one of the casualties of being who I am and who we are. I do what I can because without the fans, we're nothing. Every chance I get, I do what I can to make that better.

What sort of kid were you?
In junior high, I got the math award in the entire school, but I wasn't a bookworm. I was just good at math. I played a little bit of sports in my early teens. By 14, I was pretty done with it though. I enjoyed the shit out of my BMX. I would tear up my street in all sorts of way. That's about it. I started going to concerts when I was probably 16. In the early teens, I did sports. I did baseball mostly. Even though football is my sport, my parents wouldn't let me play for fear of broken bones which was probably a good idea looking back because I'm not a big guy, and I never messed up my hands. Nobody knew that I needed them! As a teenager, I could have really fucked myself up. They kept me out of that. Nothing out of the ordinary. I had a t-shirt that said "Future Rock Star"!

Do you remember what your first concert was?
That I paid for? I had two older sisters, so they took me to some and I would just go just to be there, whether I cared who it was or not. I know one of my sisters took me to Linda Ronstadt of all things and another time I went to Jackson Browne, but that was just to be a part of it. When I started getting my own, it would have been something like Van Halen's second record or Ted Nugent or even Foghat. I saw Foghat early on, something in that genre. I still have all my concert tickets from when I was a teenager through my early twenties. I still have them in a box somewhere. It's really fun to go through there and say "Ah fuck! I forgot I went to that show!" I saw Randy Rhodes last show New Year's Eve in Southern California. I was there for that. Nobody knew it was going to be that important, but once he died the next year, I was glad I got to see it.

Slayer's new album "Repentless" is due out September 11th on Nuclear Blast Records. For more information on Slayer and it pre-order the album, visit slayer.net.