Interview with Dave Lombardo of Slayer

Conducted on Sunday July 24th 2011

Interview and Photos by Mike Bax

Less than thirty minutes after sitting down with Chuck Billy from Testament, I was led into a second change room allocated the band at Heavy TO, in order to chat with Dave Lombardo of Slayer. Though a bit larger, this change room was similar to Testament’s and contained parallel treatments – a table, a few couches and chairs, a few plants, and some dimly lit lamps.

Lombardo, arguably the pioneer of the double bass kick-drum sound that has become a signature in thrash music for generations after Slayer, is nothing shy of a legend in this musical genre. He is a well-informed personality, and strikes me as the type that doesn’t take well to an unprepared fifteen-minute interview. As such, I had my battery of questions at the ready.

Lombardo walked away from Slayer in the eighties for about a year, and in nineties he left for a decade, until returning to the fold in late 2001. He has spent the past decade touring heavily, recording and embracing Slayer as a part of his lifetime legacy.

After a few minutes in the change room on my own, Lombardo quietly walked in behind me and gave me a bit of a startle when he said, “Hello, I’m Dave Lombrado” as I was tinkering with my camera settings for a low-light photo. I turned around, we shook hands, and sat down to chat for a bit.

Mike: I’m really glad you [Slayer] are a part of this inaugural Heavy T.O.

Dave: Yeah! I am too. I read in the itinerary - ‘festival’ - so I thought we were going to play that outdoor amphitheatre (Molson Amphitheatre) that we always play, but it wasn’t. This (Downsview Park) is a fair ground, isn’t it?

Mike: Yeah, and it’s vast, this is only a portion of it and it goes down into like a bucket. They could probably fit thirty or forty thousand people in here if they wanted to go that route.

Dave: Wow. That’d be cool.

Mike: It feels to me that there’s kind of a re-investment in the genre of thrash metal right now.

Dave: There is, thanks to Metallica and their high visibility and commercial appeal. They kind of crossed over into that and it’s good, it’s helping all of us. I think it’s amazing.

Mike: I watched the footage on that “Big Four” DVD (featuring Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax live together at the Sonisphere Festival). It’s thrilling as a consumer and a fan, but it’s got to be pretty special to you guys back stage as well.

Dave: It is. It’s amazing. I mean Lars and I have always gotten along. I never ever had any problems with Lars, and no, I’m not just kissing ass. After hanging out backstage, they come and visit us, we go on stage with him; I visit him behind his drum riser - its cool. And also seeing Trujillo (Robert Trujillo, ex-Ozzy Osbourne bassist and current bass player for Metallica), and having Gary on board, Gary Holt from Exodus, and the connection between Kirk Hammett (lead guitarist for Metallica who left Exodus to join Metallica in 1983) and Gary. They (Holt and Hammett) had not played together in thirty something years until the big four.

Mike: Is Gary playing today?

Dave: Yes, Gary’s playing today.

Mike: Can I ask how Jeff (Hanneman) is doing? (Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman recently contracted flesh eating disease from a spider bite)

Dave: Jeff’s doing well. He’s just taking it slow. It was a very bad operation and a very bad surgical procedure that they had to do with skin grafting. Give the guy some time. So after the last show (on Slayer’s current tour) we’re going to take it easy and hopefully, we’re crossing our fingers, that he does the big four at Yankee Stadium.

Mike: That’d be cool to see. I really hope everything works out for him.

Dave: I do too, because he’s an amazing songwriter and his songwriting is very a much a part of the Slayer sound.

Mike: Is he able to write right now?

Dave: I’m sure he is it’s just the performing part of it right now. I’m sure he could play a particular amount of time, like twenty or thirty minutes at a time. But to put out the exertion of a show, I don’t think so.

Mike: If you guys are looking at a time frame for new material, you’re looking at 2012 depending on his outcome?

Dave: Absolutely. I’m sure Kerry (King) and I will get together sooner, but I anticipate him (Hanneman) coming back after getting stronger.

Mike: Yeah. Having your longevity in this business if you count back on the album dates, you must have a pretty unique perspective on the music industry and your place in it. Do you think that if you were starting off as a band in your genre right now, do you think you’d achieve the level of success that you have achieved?

Dave: No, because time is the way it is. Life has its own grid. Things happened at that time like the way they were happening in San Francisco with Metallica, you know with Exodus too, and us too. It had to be something with the music that influenced us growing up, whether it was late sixties or seventies metal or hard rock. Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, all those bands that were a little heavier than the norm like Crosby, Stills and Nash, even Janis Joplin was a little heavy at the time.

Mike: All blues bands.

Dave: So I think maybe being influenced by that because kids today aren’t getting influenced by music like that. That was our soundtrack so what is going to influence them to create in the future is going to be totally different but that’s just evolution. But no, I don’t think it could’ve been done.

Mike: I think kids get steered back to you though because they’ll listening to something and people will be like, “You should really listen to Slayer or really listen to this Anthrax album because they pioneered that sound”.

Dave: Yeah, because we’re seeing that with the crowds. We’re seeing the fathers bringing the kids, you see generations. You see fathers with their sons or their daughters and everybody else in between. So it’s been cool, and you’re right. They (fans of thrash metal) do tend to revert and go back to the stuff that got everything that they listen to now started. I’m sure they hear the artists’ playing today their influences in the Big Four. It’s kind of cool.

Mike: There doesn’t seem to be any set schedule for the Big Four. You do one here and there, but do you think that’s something that’s going to continue on, or is Yankee Stadium going to wrap it up?

Dave: From what I see, and I really don’t know because I don’t see everything that goes on, all I know is that I get a phone call and it’s like, “Yeah, we’ve got a Big Four show coming up.” Okay great! That makes it exciting, I don’t where it comes from, whether it’s my manager, James, Lars, whoever in the band, or management itself. It’s pretty loose, but will it go on? I’m sure it will, but maybe to the intensity of a festival that’s going on for two or three days. It’s very special.

Mike: I’m looking at New York and thinking I should get on a plane and check it out. It’s a golden opportunity to see all four bands in one spot.

Dave: Yeah, it is, and the location is cool too. The next one that has to happen is San Francisco because that’s where it really all got started. That was the melting pot. New York’s Anthrax, but it was Metallica, it was Exodus, and it was Slayer. Of course, in the early days (Dave) Mustaine was playing with Metallica. We all know the whole story, but that’s going to be big.

Mike: Even as early as three years ago, people who have been following the genre would’ve been like, “There’s no way those four bands would play together”. The fact that it’s happening, and I take a look at all the photographs that were taken backstage with all the players hanging out and having fun, its looks pretty fucking good.

Dave: It puts away any doubts that these bands can’t get along, or any stories and all that shit, it puts it to rest. That’s the thing that gets to me, if we can’t all get on stage… the one time I had to get a tattoo done and that was the only time I was able to do it. It was a four and a half hour session; don’t get mad because I’m not up on stage doing the Big Four jam. Or if Slayer doesn’t make it, or Tom (Araya) doesn’t make it, it is what it is.

Mike: I think you guys have the perspective of time now too, where you guys can look back and say, “We all have these bands that are influential and are always going to be a signature of 1983. We should celebrate that”.

Dave: I think it’s a really cool thing to be a part of. I’m very proud to be a part of something this big.

Mike: Do you think there’s any chance that there might be more Fantomas material? (Fantomas is a hardcore group featuring Lombardo on drums, Buzz Osbourne of the Melvins on guitar and Mike Patton of Faith No More, Mr. Bungle and Tomahawk on vocals)

(Dave laughs)

Dave: Yes! I just spoke to Mike (Patton) and there will be new Fantomas material soon. He’s (Patton) got a new Tomahawk record to do, he’s got some other commitment, but I don’t know. We’re hoping to do some Fantomas shows, but only do “The Director’s Cut” album.

Mike: I would fly in for that. I love that album so much.

Dave: So do I! I hope we can get those shows together.

Mike: What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about Slayer?

Dave: That we live what we write about or that we’re anything like that. We have our own personal views on life or whatever, but we don’t belong to any kind of religious organization like Satanism or whatever. We’re just ordinary people that like to play music that has a darker twist.

Mike: Cool. I’m good; it was great to see you again and I can’t wait to see you play.

Dave: It’s going to be good; I’m playing a Ludwig drum set.

Mike: I have no musical skill whatsoever, but when you get four great musicians together, I’m always so fascinated to watch you play behind the pit. You’re so meticulous when you play, you can always see when you’re catching a breath or getting ready to go into that next song. It’s interesting to watch.

Dave: Last night was great; I heard it was really hot yesterday.

Mike: Yesterday was scorching.

Dave: The humidity isn’t that bad, yesterday was worse. We were in Pittsburg and it was worse. It seems that I work best in high temperatures. When it’s cold or any kind of spring or fall weather, air conditioned, I don’t run as efficient as I do when it’s hot. It’s like you’re loosened up and everything just runs better.

Mike: Would you ever teach?

Dave: I’ve tried; all I could do is talk to them about my experience. I feel that the way kids are taught today, they’re always taught music through notation. I taught myself by listening to music and watching other drummers play, trying to mimic that sound they were creating. Either copying it exact or making your own variation. Maybe I could teach that, I think I could teach more in a conversation setting than I could behind a drum set in a formal setting. I wouldn’t mind.

Mike: Thanks for your time and I can’t wait to see you again. Cheers.

Dave: Cheers!