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Interviews Exodus

Interview with drummer Tom Hunting

Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

Date online: July 13, 2012


Interview and live pictures by Terhi Pihlaja

Thanks to Silke Yli-Sirniö of Tough Enough Promotion for setting up this interview with Tom Hunting (Exodus), Niklas Nuppola of Finnish Metal Events for the passes and MetalMike for the transcription.

Frisco thrashers Exodus have quite a reputation as a hard-touring band. The band did Thrash-fest (part 2.) last winter together with Sepultura, Heathen, Destruction and Mortal Sin, only concentrating on playing songs off of their first three albums. During the same year, one of the the band's most important characters, guitarist Gary Holt, had temporarily taken Jeff Hanneman's place in Slayer due to Jeff contracting necrotizing fasciitis, caused by a spider's bite.

Exodus arrived at Tuska festival (in Helsinki, Finland) on Friday, June 29th without Gary Holt. Rick Hunolt was filling in for Gary and proved to be in his element on stage, shredding his 6-stringer like tomorrow would never come. Again, Exodus' main emphasis was on their older material, which seemed to excite the crown at Tuska. Then again, classics are always destined to be classics. How can one go wrong with such songs as "Bonded by Blood", "Strike of the Beast", "The Toxic Waltz", "A Lesson in Violence" and so on?

I got a chance to hook up with Exodus drummer Tom Hunting backstage at Tuska, about two hours after the band's performance, to talk about the band's current activities, as well as digging up some blasts from the past.

Luxi: There were some internet sites reporting that Exodus was supposed to play here at Tuska festival (Finland) last year. Maybe you have some better recollection about this?

Tom: We've had a pretty extensive summer tour last summer... umm... no, wait; we didn't tour Europe last summer, did we? It was the summer before that and it's a blur.

Luxi: (laughs) OK, no problem about that! How did you feel playing at Tuska festival just an hour ago or so, by the way?

Tom: It was a good show, I had a good time. We flew in from Sardinia yesterday. We are flying back there tomorrow; we are playing a festival in Sardinia tomorrow. We kind of made a little vacation in Sardinia in the middle of the tour. We all brought out the ladies from home and they are there partying in the Sardinian sun! But this isn't bad. This is good (weather) for Helsinki.

Luxi: Yeah, it is. It is a bit windy weather right now, but it is getting better. Now, one of the most important characters from Exodus, Gary Holt, is touring with Slayer. How do you feel about that?

Tom: I'm fine with it. I mean, I think it is good for him, it is good for Slayer, you know, Jeff (Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman) needs the time off. I don't understand the dynamic within that band but this was a good opportunity for Rick (former Exodus guitarist Rick Hunolt) to come back out. Rick's been away for many years and this is good and healthy for him. We're OK with it. It's kind of an incestual relationship going on between these bands, people coming in and out...

Luxi: But does it feel kind of weird that Gary is not with you?

Tom: We played with him at Graspop (Belgium's Graspop Metal Meeting, June 22-24, 2012) seven days ago and it was awesome, it was fun.

Luxi: Oh yeah, you had this three guitar attack there...

Tom: Three guitar attack, yeah, it was cool, like .38 Special or Lynyrd Skynyrd or something, Exodus style.

Luxi: Have you ever done anything like that before, perhaps having like three bassists or even three drummers on the stage at the same time?

Tom: Nah, we've never done three drummers but we've had two bassists... we played a show on February 4th in Oakland, the Baloff (former Exodus singer Paul Baloff, who passed away in 2002) Memorial show, we had Gary, Lee (Lee Altus, current Exodus guitarist), Rick and Kirk Hammet (former Exodus, current Metallica guitarist) and we had Jack (Jack Gibson, current Exodus bassist) and our old bass player Jeff Andrews. Anyone who'd ever played with Baloff stepped in. It was fun, it was a special night, it was really good.

Luxi: Still talking about Gary a bit, he is still doing the North American leg of the tour with Slayer...

Tom: Yeah.

Luxi: ...and he's currently on the European tour with them. What about after that, is he able to contribute to the songwriting for the next Exodus record?

Tom: That's kind of already started; he's writing riffs for the next Exodus album. We'll get together and it is not a hard process, we've been at this for a while now. It will be interesting to sit down and play together again and get ready for the next recording process.

Luxi: So, in the other words, you haven't been demoing any raw mix tracks yet or anything for your next album?

Tom: We usually don't do any pre-production; we just write it and record it.

Luxi: So, not recording any demos or anything?

Tom: No demos.

Luxi: Wow! Has Gary's absence from Exodus somehow prevented you from working with new material then? As everybody knows already that Gary is kind of the riff-master of Exodus, so...

Tom: Well, Lee's been writing riffs, too. This summer tour came up and all these festivals wanted us to play. I don't think his absence hasn't interrupted the writing process as much as touring does. We have to tour. When the music calls, you have to go. We love it, so we're doing it (laughs). I think, after this summer everything's going to settle down, we'll have some time to jam. His tour ends a little bit after our does, his tour with Slayer, and then we'll all assemble in the Bay Area and write some new, heavy shit.

Luxi: And after Gary is done with his Slayer duties is that what you will be doing: sitting down and concentrating on doing your next album?

Tom: Yup.

Luxi: Will it be a Nuclear Blast release, too?

Tom: Yeah.

Luxi: That's cool. Will the next Exodus album be out sometimes next year perhaps?

Tom: Hmm, I'm not really going to set a date on it or a time frame because it is more important that it be good than out by a certain date. I don't give a shit when it comes out as long as it is good.

Luxi: When you are aging, it's just natural that touring gets tougher and tougher the older you get. Playing gigs is a very physical thing. This brings me to ask, how's Exodus doing these days on tours?

Tom: Physically?

Luxi: Yeah.

Tom: Physically, it is a drain, but I don't know, I feel better now than I did in my thirties because I'm drug free, I don't do drugs anymore. Everything's clearer, timing-wise I'm a much better drummer than I used to be. But sure, time catches up with everybody. This won't go on forever, but it will go on for a little bit longer, we'll see how it goes. If it all ended tomorrow, I'm OK with it, I can happily move on to the next phase of my life. But this will go on for a while.

Luxi: What about the rest of the guys? Are they exercising, working out or stretching before going on stage?

Tom: We all have our little rituals, I like to do a lot of stretching, and Rob works out in the morning a little bit. Once you get on the road and into a groove that becomes your workout so I don't push it too hard and try to do a thousand push-ups before every show or anything. The hour or hour and a half on stage is enough of a workout for me so I'm cool with that (laughs).

Luxi: I'm sure you've noticed it that many older bands have done some special shows for their fans by playing some of their most classic and better known albums from start to finish – like Slayer did with Reign in Blood. Has Exodus done something similar, like performing Bonded by Blood in its entirety?

Tom: We've done that many times.

Luxi: Really?

Tom: Yeah, I'm sick of it already (laughs)

Luxi: Even in Europe?

Tom: Yeah, Europe, too. We did Thrash-fest last winter; we went out with Sepultura and Heathen and we did only material from the first three records. We've done Bonded by Blood - only tours in '97 and '98, we came out and played it at Hellfest, the time before this last time we played Hellfest. When you're a band that has so much material to choose from you fight about this all the time. Well, we don't fight, but there's always a discussion about what we're going to play today. Everyone wants to hear something and there's fucking ten albums of stuff and you're trying to support a new album as well. This tour we picked material Rick would be comfortable with; we wanted to play stuff from his era in the band so we leaned a little bit more towards the classic stuff. I myself want to inject more new material in there but our "new" album is two and half years old so even that new material is kind of old. If it was up to me, I'd change the whole set list around all the time but I'm one of five and it's a democracy so we have to vote about these things.

Luxi: Is it always easy for you guys to put together the set list?

Tom: It's not always easy. You're coming from five different dynamics that have different reasons for wanting different songs. If it was up to Lee we would play Bonded by Blood every day...

Luxi: That wouldn't be that bad, I guess...

Tom: ...beginning to end, it wouldn't be that bad but it would be fucking boring for me because I've been playing it for thirty years already.

Luxi: Makes it sound like you prefer playing new stuff after playing "Piranha" or "Strike of the Beast" like 798 times...

Tom: Yeah, I like playing some of the newer stuff. It is more satisfying for me to play the new stuff and if people like the newer stuff. I think the new catalog stacks up well with the old one; you can still tell it is the same band it is just heavier, faster and with a more modern production.

Luxi: Exodus has been in the frontline of the Thrash Metal genre for four decades already, minus the period when the band split up for the first time of course. But the fact is Exodus has influenced thousands and thousands of young musicians who have formed – or about to form, their own ‘exoduses'. What would your advice be to all of these young musicians so that they could survive in this hard music business a bit longer than just getting a couple of demos (or albums if they are lucky) out before they decide to call it quits, kind of realizing how tough it actually is to survive in the music business?

Tom: Yeah, learn a trade, learn to weld or do electrical work so you have a backup plan (laughs). Seriously, if you're able to play music and it is your life and you make a living at it, it's a gift and I, myself, I humble myself to that gift. If you think you're the shit and you're God's gift to Rock music, whatever gives you that gift is going to take it away. That's my personal opinion but it is a gift and I humble myself to it and anyone who doesn't should be slapped (laughs).

Luxi: Do you think it is hard for new bands to survive in the business these days because there's now this downloading thing, there's tons of more bands out there nowadays than, say, 20 years ago and there are always some people in this tough biz who are just trying to earn a quick buck into their own pockets only, at the cost of bands?

Tom: Yeah, I think it is hard, we're in a climate where people don't buy really records they download them for free which makes all the bands, including ourselves, more slaves to touring because that's how we're going to make money; touring and playing live. But this music is best delivered live anyway. It's a give and take. People download your record so you're not going to sell as many but more people will hear it which means more may come out to see you live and buy the merchandise or whatever. We're in a special position because we're an older band and we've been around for a while so our position is different because of that history. A lot of the younger fans are curious about the history, but, yeah, it's tough out there (laughs).

Luxi: Well, good luck to these new bands!

Tom: Yeah, I wish them the best of luck.

Luxi: Let's talk a little about the past. I know you formed the band with Kirk Hammett...

Tom: Yeah, I'm the only original gangster left.

Luxi: (laughs)

Tom: But I've been in and out of the band three times so I'm also the newest member.

Luxi: Yeah, I guess you could say so too. In any case, it was you and Kirk Hammett who actually formed Exodus in the early 80's, the first lineup also having Jeff Andrews on bass while you did the vocals. Both Gary (Holt) and Paul (Baloff) joined the band a bit later to complete the line-up. How did you meet Kirk Hammett and Jeff Andrews when you first started putting Exodus together? Was Kirk someone you knew from the neighborhood?

Tom: I got kicked out of one high school and I went to the next nearest high school I could go to and that is where I formulated my relationship with Kirk. We started jamming at his house and actually, before I got kicked out of Richmond High, I knew Kirk and we would jam in the Richmond High band room. It was a formative time for all of us because school was just the place we'd meet and figure out our day. We knew it would have something to do with jamming because we weren't interesting in school. The work wasn't hard but we just wanted to jam. It was a different time because nowadays, when I have a kid it's "you're going to fucking school!"

Luxi: (laughs) What about Jeff Andrews then; how did you meet him?

Tom: Jeff Andrews is actually jamming again. He took some time off and he's picked up the bass again. Looking back on this band's history I think parting with Jeff was a mistake. He was a good bass player and a good friend and he rocked! This band's been based on a lot of mistakes...

Luxi: Do you still occasionally talk to Kirk or Jeff?

Tom: Actually, yeah, I talk to both of them. Before February 4th I hadn't seen or talked to Kirk in a long time but we talk regularly, we text. It turned out to be a pretty good career move for him and I'm happy for him. It was really fun jamming with him on February 4th in Oakland; it was a really special night. There was something in the air that was amazing.

Luxi: What bands influenced you back then? Like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet and stuff like that perhaps?

Tom: Southern Rock for sure, like Blackfoot, and I listened to a lot of classic Rock back then. Back then we were teenagers so anything we could get that was heavy and melodic, you know, UFO, Angel Witch, Mercyful Fate, even Venom. And from the Punk scene T.S.O.L., Discharge, Exploited - all of that was in our cassette, not CD players, all the time. That was a special time and it‘ll never happen again, I don't think. We're in a different age where people point and click and it is instant gratification and they're on the next thing. There's no anticipation, you know, no "AC/DC is in the studio, they're making this album and it is going to be called Back in Black." You know, I waited in line to buy Back in Black in 1980. Waiting in line to buy an album, that time is over, it is never going to happen again, until the next phase of music delivery happens. What are they going to do, plant a chip in our heads? "Download this app directly into your brain!"

Luxi: You can never tell.

Tom: Right, you can never tell. I feel fortunate to have grown up in that era because music made a bigger impression and it "stuck." Now it is too instant. Point, click, on to the next thing whether you like it or not.

Luxi: When you weren't in Exodus, you for example had this project type of a band called IR8 with Jason Newsted and Devin Townsend. How was it to play with those super talented musicians?

Tom: That was great, man! That was fun. It wasn't anything serious it was drunken music. We'd go to Jason Newsted's house and barbecue and drink beer and create songs in, like, three days. Who knows, if we'd had five days it might have been something really special. It wasn't meant to diffuse anything Metallica was doing at the time but I think they got a little upset with him for jamming with other people but Jason likes to jam. He's got a lot of interests. It was fun, we had a good time.

Luxi: Did you play any shows in the area?

Tom: No, never.

Luxi: So, it was just a band for jamming and basically having a good time together?

Tom: Yeah, it was just a weekend barbecue at Jason Newsted's house.

Luxi: Are you still in touch with those guys?

Tom: I actually haven't seen Jason in a while. I call him once in a while. We crossed paths in the Atlanta (Georgia) airport a few months back when we were on our way to South America. It was good to see him, he's doing good, he's doing lots of art, playing a little bit of music again, doing really well. He's one of those guys who takes his life in fifteen year intervals. Metallica was something he did for that phase of his life. I learned a lot from him about having a good outlook on life. He was ready to move on with the next phase of his life, he's doing that and that's awesome.

Luxi: Have you thought about doing projects like that again?

Tom: With Jason? If he called me, I'd be there in a minute, for sure.

Luxi: What about Devin Townsend?

Tom: Devin? Yeah, I'd jam with him again in a minute, too. I'd don't know if I could keep up with him creatively because he's, like, phew! He's way out there. He's an amazing musician, singer, composer and his mind never stops creating, I don't think.

Luxi: As is already known, Exodus is part of the Nuclear Blast family these days, just like so many other Thrash Metal veterans that started out back in the day. Testament, Death Angel, Overkill, Anthrax, Forbidden, Heathen and so on, they are all on Nuclear Blast nowadays. Do you see this as a good or bad thing that such a big label pretty much dominates the market for Metal music?

Tom: They've always treated us pretty well. When we recorded Tempo of the Damned in 2002 or 2003, we didn't even have a label, we put the whole recording budget on a friend's credit card. We knew we had something good but half the band was still a bit drug dependent when we recorded the album. I was trying to embrace sobriety but we knew we had some good music and we worked long and hard on it. We knew we'd find a label was interested and that would love it and they did, they picked it up and embraced it. They took a chance. We weren't the most reliable prospect but they took a chance on us and it worked out. They let us do our own thing and they're always anxious to hear what the new stuff is going to sound like. I have no complaints.

Luxi: For the last question I would like to know what memories you have from these two Exodus demos (on 1 CD) - and sorry, mine is a bootleg, which I just had to get from eBay. I'm curious to know what kind of memories do you have of those recording sessions?

Tom: I remember on the 82 demo I had a piece of shit drum kit with a twenty inch bass drum and an eighteen inch bass drum, two of the same size tom-toms and I don't even know what kind of floor tom. It was a four-track and it was all live. It was the first time we'd been even slightly professionally recorded. We were excited teenagers and we were like "let's get in there and do this!"

Luxi: It was Kirk on this first demo, playing guitar?

Tom: Yes, on these three songs ("Whipping Queen", "Death and Domination" and "Warlords" that are).

Luxi: Were there any riffs of Kirk's that were used for this other so-called Turk Street demo that you recorded in 1984?

Tom: On the Bonded songs?

Luxi: Yeah.

Tom: No, all that was created after Kirk left.

Luxi: Those recording sessions were supposed to be released by this little label, Torrid Records...

Tom: Yeah, you know these guys took a chance on us, too. A good friend of ours at the time, Sam Chris, was doing a lot of tape trading because that was how this music was getting delivered. That took a lot of work. People had to make a cassette tape, dupe it and stick it in the mail. There was a little network going on and these two guys, Todd and Ken (Torrid Records founders), took a chance and started a label and wanted us to be their first band. We were just kids and I can't thank them enough for taking the chance. That was the first time we were in a real studio.

Luxi: I am wondering if you can tell if this is a bootleg or the real thing (showing the Bonded by Blood CD to Tom, with Torrid Records' logo on it)?

Tom: All the information is valid, the thanks list is the same but this shit's been reprinted and bootlegged and re-released so many times I couldn't tell you what is original and what isn't.

Luxi: And you had no idea at all at that time that this lil' thing was meant to become one of Thrash Metal's most appreciated classic albums of all times...

Tom: I'm proud of it. I'm tired of it and I'm proud of it at the same time, ha-ha!!

Luxi: I think that does it and I want to thank you for talking with me.

Tom: No problem. Thank you.

Other information about Exodus on this site
Review: Bonded by Blood
Review: The Atrocity Exhibition... Exhibit A
Review: Tempo of the Damned
Review: Shovel Headed Kill Machine
Review: Pleasures Of the Flesh
Review: Exhibit B: The Human Condition
Review: Exhibit B: The Human Condition
Review: Blood In, Blood Out
Interview with vocalist Steve "Zetro" Souza on April 9, 2016 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)
Video: The Toxic Waltz
Video: Downfall




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