On May 11, Robert Gray of Ultimate-Guitar.com conducted an interview with SLAYER bassist/vocalist Tom Araya. A few excerpts from the chat follow below.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: What originally led you to needing back surgery?
Araya: The intense pain I was in when I was in Australia (laughs).
Ultimate-Guitar.com: But what brought about that intense pain?
Araya: I apparently had compressed discs on my neck which caused bone spurs. The compressed discs were causing compression on my nerves that was affecting my left side, and basically that was it. I was in Australia, and that's when I... I mean it was severe pain. I had had a case of pain here and there, but this was non-stop. It got to a point where by the time I got to Japan, I hooked up with a doctor, and was able to make an appointment. As soon as I got home, I went and saw him. I had three discs that were compressed, and they removed them, and put a plate in. I'm fine now.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Was that incurred solely through headbanging then?
Araya: Yeah. They suggested that it probably wasn't a good idea (laughs).
Ultimate-Guitar.com: What did the surgery itself entail?
Araya: It entailed them cutting a small little hole in my throat, moving everything to one side, clearing out cartilage in between the discs, putting bone spacers in there, and putting the plate in. That's a two-to-two-and-a-half-hour procedure. Yeah, it was pretty serious. You could say I'm a true metalhead now, I guess (laughs).
Ultimate-Guitar.com: (Laughs) Definitely. Did your back surgery present any potential danger where your vocals are concerned?
Araya: No. That was a concern of mine, and rightly so. He said that it wouldn't affect my vocal cords, and wouldn't affect anything other than moving everything to one side, and having to put everything all back. That discomfort was the only thing I felt.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Have you had to undergo a lot of physiotherapy?
Araya: No. Basically, holding my head up was enough physical therapy (laughs).
Ultimate-Guitar.com: How did you spend your time while you recovered?
Araya: I just took it easy, and tried to make sure that I didn't strain my shoulder, or my back, the entire time. I went to see the doctor after two months, and then after three months. In that time frame, I was being very light; I wasn't doing any heavy lifting, wasn't playing the bass, and wasn't putting anything on my shoulder. I was just making sure that at three months, he would look at me and say "OK. You're fine. You can go ahead and start building up strength."
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Did that give you an opportunity to spend some more time with your family?
Araya: Oh, major time. I wish I wasn't healing, because it really didn't allow me to do much besides staying home to heal. But yeah, it gave me almost five months of time with my family — six months — which is very rare (laughs). It's like half a school semester.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: How will your back surgery affect your live performance?
Araya: I don't know, actually. We started rehearsing just last week. I don't seem to have issues with the bass being on my shoulder, but I plan to check into a strap that will support the weight of the bass on both shoulders. I'm gonna try to come up with a new type of strap.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Will your back surgery affect how often SLAYER performs at concerts?
Araya: It shouldn't. It shouldn't. Like I said, I just need to build up my strength again and get back to where I was. I don't think it'll affect how often we tour. I think time in itself is a factor; we're not playing as many shows in a row as we used to, which is normal. Now we may do three in a row, as opposed to four to five in a row.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: So you and the boys are being sensible?
Araya: Yeah. We're just being sensible. We've been doing that as time has progressed. We've gone from doing five in a row to "Hey, let's cut that down to four", and now we're at a point where we've said "Let's cut that down to three". Every now and then we'll do an occasional four. That's just being smart (laughs).
Ultimate-Guitar.com: At present, is SLAYER's plan to properly tour and promote "World Painted Blood"?
Araya: Yeah, that's about it. At this point, we're basically reintroducing the band again, and getting back out onto the live circuit. That's what we're gonna do. Yeah, we're focusing on our live performance, and getting this tour up and running, and doing what we said we were gonna do. Once the tour's over, I'm sure there'll be more. It ends in the first week of September, but I know more shows are gonna be added. Until then, we get together and start touring. I'm sure the conversation will bring up the subject of what we plan to do once this tour's over. At this moment, we haven't really discussed that.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: How do you look back on 1990's "Seasons in the Abyss"? It's been almost twenty years since the release of that album.
Araya: I know. I look back at it... when I look at my CD collection (laughs). I think "Seasons" is a really great record. On this new album, I think that Greg Fidelman was able to do what [Rick] Rubin did on our first three albums with him. He was able to capture that SLAYER magic and sound, because everybody's comparing it to that time (laughs). That's what I see — I see that Greg did a really great job of doing what Rubin did. Everybody's saying, "God, this record sounds like 'Seasons'," that time frame. My thought is Greg was able to do what Rick Rubin did, which was capture SLAYER — classic SLAYER, real SLAYER.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Would you deem "Seasons in the Abyss" a classic metal album nowadays?
Araya: I think "Seasons" is one of the many classic records — one of our many classic records (laughs).
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Do you have a preference between "Seasons in the Abyss" and "Reign in Blood"?
Araya: No. I think "Reign in Blood", "Seasons" and "World" are really good. With "Show No Mercy" — our first effort as an album — I think with not knowing what we were doing in the studio, and listening to other people rather than listening to ourselves, "Show No Mercy" was a really great record (laughs).
Ultimate-Guitar.com: A lot to choose from, obviously.
Araya: Yeah, it's a lot — yeah. In my opinion, the only difference between "Seasons" and "World" and all those albums in between is the fact that those producers captured SLAYER, but they weren't able to do what Rick Rubin and, obviously, Greg Fidelman did. To me, "Seasons" was a pinnacle album for us. When we recorded "Reign In Blood", though, we didn't realize how fast we were doing it (laughs). I think we have a lot of classic records.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Following on from "Reign in Blood" and "South of Heaven", would you say that "Seasons" was a rough mixture of the two?
Araya: Oh yeah, yeah. We were evolving and developing not only our songwriting, but our production, and how we wanted songs to sound and to be produced. Yeah, I think "Reign in Blood" and "South of Heaven" teamed together and did "Seasons". I have to agree with you. I think "Seasons" is a culmination of those two records; when we did "Seasons", we thought "This is it — right here". And it took us how many albums to get there (laughs)?
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Did you decide to become more vocally aggressive on "Seasons"? Compared to "South of Heaven"?
Araya: Yeah. "Seasons" was a little more aggressive sounding, because we listened to "South" and I had to agree that the vocals could've been a little more stronger. Then again though, like I said, this was a whole new thing to us — working with Rick Rubin, and working with Andy Wallace and them allowing us to do that. To me, it's all a learning experience. Looking back, I think that when we do "South of Heaven"'s songs live, my voice is really strong and aggressive. That's when you know "Wow — these songs sound really cool." It would've been great if we did them that way when we initially recorded them.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Are you looking forward to teaming up with MEGADETH again for "Canadian Carnage" and "American Carnage" in July and August 2010, respectively?
Araya: Yeah, yeah. It'll be good — it's something that the kids wanna see. To me, it's something the fans wanna see and something they've been hoping to see for a long time. It'll be good.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Do you get on with MEGADETH's Dave Mustaine? Press reports on the topic seem confusing.
Araya: He's a human being and I have to respect him for that, but that's about it.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Fair enough. I just wondered considering the press reports, because you hear a lot of things.
Araya: Yeah. He's a nice guy, but he has his personality and I have mine.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: That's fair enough. Obviously, you'll be fifty in 2011, Tom. Given the fact that you as well as SLAYER's other members are approaching that milestone, what do you feel the future holds for you and SLAYER?
Araya: (Laughs) I don't know. Fifty's a number. I don't think about my age — let's put it that way. I don't really think about how old I am; it's only when somebody brings it up that I have to sit there and think "How old am I?". It's not really on my mind, but I know that there has to come a time, and I'll know when - I'll know when it's time for me to... Last night, I watched this documentary with (Mike) Tyson; he did that one fight where he lost, and they asked him "What happened?". He just said that he wasn't into it anymore. He just didn't wanna do it anymore, and said that on national television. I sat there watching that, and thought "Wow." I'll know; I'll know when I wanna say "Hey, I don't wanna do this anymore", but right now I'm getting ready to do a tour (laughs).
Read the entire interview from Ultimate-Guitar.com .