Undisputed Attitude (American)
An interview with vocalist/bassist Tom Araya
by Scott Hefflon
I’ve been hearing for almost a decade that Slayer wanted to put out a punk record. Despite the obvious, why now?
It’s something both Kerry (King, guitarist) and Jeff (Hanneman, guitarist) have talked about for a long time. We were actually going to do a cover album of all classic metal songs, bands that we used to cover when we were starting out, but the songs weren’t really working. Then someone said we should do an all-punk record instead. This album has been done since the end of October 1995.
I went in to do all the vocals the week before Halloween, and by Halloween, it was all done. Then we couldn’t decide on a cover that fit the original title, Selected and Exhumed. We finally changed the name to Undisputed Attitude, and chose a cover.
How did you decide what songs from what era you would cover?
Kerry put a list together of his favorite punk songs, and Jeff did the same. They butted heads for a while and then came up with a list. They made a mixed tape for me, and I said alright. It brought back a lot of memories for me. Jeff used to make a lot of compilation tapes of punk music, and these were the favorites of the favorites. Personally, I enjoyed doing the Verbal Abuse songs the best. I think their style is the most similar to ours.
What happened to the Dead Kennedys tune?
We started working on one, but it didn’t work in our style. I couldn’t figure out a way to do the vocals.
Any other bands you had trouble covering?
One of the Minor Threat tunes gave me a bit, but “I Don’t Want to Hear It” was the coolest. I think the style works, but it’s the lyrics that mean so much in these days of PC punk.
When you picked your D.R.I. tune, I was kinda hoping you’d do one from Dealing with It.
Actually, Kerry picked “Violent Pacification” pretty specifically because it was on the EP before they got onto Metal Blade, and long before they did Crossover.
That was in ’86/’87 if I remember correctly; roughly about the time Reign in Blood was kicking everyone’s ass as to how aggressive you could make metal, D.R.I. was depressing people with how dull they made punk.
I think this album is almost comparable to that one. Another interesting story is the Verbal Abuse stuff. We ran into them on the road in, like, ’84, and we stole one of their tapes. We listened to it for the rest of the tour.
When Kerry was putting this album together, that’s the one band he really wanted to do. But he couldn’t find the tape that we had, it must have been an early demo or something. That’s also why we did so many Verbal Abuse songs; two songs are only about two-and-a-half minutes, and there are a lot of great songs.
Is the cover artwork going to be similar to the gruesome stuff you’re famous for?
This one’s similar to the live album. It’s a photo of a fan in a Slayer shirt up against the barricade, headbanging. Everyone’s giving him the finger. It’s this cool negative artwork.
No bleeding demons with mohawks and tattoos?
No. That didn’t really seem appropriate this time out. Instead, we wanted to show the demonically aggressive people that come to our shows.
One thing I’ve noticed; this album, released in 1996, is the fastest, most unrelenting album you’ve put out since Reign in Blood in 1986. Exactly one decade later, any thoughts on that?
I think if you look at each album as a whole, Reign in Blood had the highest intensity level from beginning to end. But there have been plenty of songs like… there are just to many to mention. There are a lot of songs that are at least as fast and aggressive as the Reign in Blood songs. But I agree this album is consistently faster than anything we’ve put out in a long time. I hadn’t really thought of it. I guess it just proves WE’VE STILL GOT IT!
Undisputed Attitude is a 14-song speedbag.
That’s actually what it is. Also, it’s bagging on all the other “punk” bands that are out there. That really is how we see Slayer – a hardcore punk band. It’s hardcore ’cause it’s aggressive, heavy, and grinding, but it’s punk because we’ve got our tongues in our cheeks and we don’t really care if people think we’re assholes. I think that’s really missing in punk these days.
This is really a “practice what you preach” sort of thing; You didn’t just tell people that their bands suck, you made an album that wiped their asses off the playing board.
That’s exactly it. I like that. The song that really did it for me was “I Hate You.” I’ve wanted to say those words for so long, not really to anyone in particular, but that song pretty much says it all. I think everyone should scream those words at the world in general every now and then. It felt so fuckin’ good.
There are a few Slayer originals on the album, right?
There are two songs, “Can’t Stand You” and “Ddamm (Drunk Drivers Against Mad Mothers),” which Jeff wrote 11 years ago for a punk side-project, Pap Smear, that he never really finished. When Kerry was putting this together, we thought it would be cool to pick a couple of songs from Jeff’s old band. Those songs really have what’s missing in punk songs today.
I remember, years ago, reading that Slayer were light to moderate users of pot. For recreational purposes only, of course. That always surprised me for a band that unleashes such hostility and evil energy. Has that changed over the years?
Believe it or not, Slayer is pretty much drug free, except for me. Jeff and Kerry don’t do any drugs, and both are only light social drinkers. I think I’m the only one in the band who is a smoker of the cannabis. I smoke ’em like cigarettes. The drummer, Jon Dette, is an occasional smoker as well. People find it really odd that we’ve been pretty much sober for over five years now, but that’s the truth.
And you don’t even do any self-righteous, preaching songs. Do you see Slayer as larger-than-life escapism, brutal realism, horror movie shock value, or what?
I see our music as entertainment, and occasionally educational, depending on how much you read into what we’re saying.
The songs are really no more shocking than a serial killer on the news, or the history lesson on a sick fuck like the Angel of Death.
That’s also why Slayer has never done solo projects, or worked with people on other records. The scope of Slayer is pretty much anything we can think of.
But you’ve done quite a few covers in your time. I got the Less Than Zero soundtrack for your cover of “In-a-gadda-da-vida.” It certainly wasn’t for that Glenn Danzig and the Electric Light Orchestra waste of time, or Poison’s stabbing to death of “I Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll all Nite.”
That was our first gold record. It was really surprising.
No shit. And you had to do a cover song to get it.
We also did part of an Exploited song in “Disorder” with Ice T for the Judgement Night Soundtrack. It was a medley of three songs picked by Ice T. It did really well. It had a bunch of really cool songs on it. We also did the Judas Priest song “Dissident Aggressor” on South of Heaven. That was always one of Kerry’s favorite songs.
Do you ever play those songs live?
We’ve done The Exploited song live, but I doubt “In-a-gadda-da-vida” will ever be a part of our live set. Life is too short.
You had a change of drummers, didn’t you?
Yeah. A week after we were finished recording Undisputed Attitude we started auditioning drummers. Paul (Bostaphe) recorded the album with us, but he’d decided that he didn’t want to play this style of music. He wanted to do other stuff.
Paul wasn’t the one who started some spacy, hippie-rock band called The Truth About Seafood in, like, Colorado, was he?
Yup. That’s the one. Our new drummer is Jon Dette. He used to be in Evil Dead (post-Agent Steele) and Testament.
Do you think Jon will pull off this tour and stay with the band for a while?
I’ve been rehearsing with him and things have been going fine. We played a show in Miami, and he did great. I was the one who wasn’t really prepared. We picked the songs that we thought we’d be doing on the tour, and Jon learned and got those down tight. There’s really no need to learn every song we’ve ever written; we’ll take it a step at a time.
You’ll do some of the cover songs on the tour, but the whole set won’t be covers, will it?
The tour supports the album, so obviously we’ll be doing a bunch of the songs from it, but it’s not like we’re going to be an all-cover band for the next year. I’d rather use the time getting material together for the next album.
Did doing this punk album influence your writing?
Oh yeah, it gave me a different perspective and a whole new angle on aggression. It’s given me a lot of ideas.
What about a Slayer Unplugged record?
Um, no. When you unplug Slayer, there is no sound. I’d do Slayer Unplugged on MTV and just have the four of us sitting on a couch, drinking beer, and watching TV. That’s Slayer unplugged.
Have you thought about doing any remixes?
We’ve thought about it, but haven’t really done anything with it. I really like Fear Factory, and Machine Head does some of that, too.
You toured with Machine Head last year, but you cancelled the show I drove 45 fuckin’ minutes to see.
Was that Fitchburg, Massachusetts? That was the time I got laryngitis. That was the first time in Slayer history that we’ve ever cancelled a show. I couldn’t even talk. It was really scary, it brought me down to reality, realizing I needed a booster shot, vitamins, and a lot of rest. You realize how many people are really depending on you.
Just to backtrack a bit, you do realize that both of the two mass-appeal soundtracks you were on asked you to do a cover?
Yeah. I don’t think we would have done an original for either of them.
You weren’t on that Tales From the Crypt’s Demon Knight thing, were you?
No. But it wouldn’t surprise me if some of our music was in there somewhere.
Like that scene with the spider in Gremlins 2.
Right. I was watching that movie and I was like, “Hey, that’s our riff.” I don’t think they gave us credit for it, but it’s hard to tell because the type is so small. I know we never got paid for it, even though they used the whole eight bar riff. We should have raised a stink. “How dare you use Slayer in your Disney piece of shit?” Then again, it was about Gremlins. OK, I take it back. Disney did something good, they put Slayer in one of their movies.
So you weren’t part of the Lion King or The Little Mermaid?
Not to my knowledge. Though I did want to remake that Michael Jackson song about saving the children.
I don’t know. At least we didn’t do that Hear ‘n’ Aid thing.
Oh, come on. You and your good buds from Ratt, Quiet Riot, Journey, and, uh, whoever else was in it…
Yeah, and where are they now?