by Mike Baronas
It was shortly after drummer Dave Lombardo’s return to the Slayer fold that I packed myself in to a sold out gig at Lupo’s in Providence, Rhode Island. It was like homecoming. The entire audience was electric with anticipation. Roaring throughout the “Darkness Of Christ” intro, bodies exploded when the first few bars of “Disciple” were unleashed.
Upon regaining composure myself, I noticed someone holding up a huge sign at the back of the club which read, “Dave Saves”. Contemplating that statement for a few moments, a smile crossed my face. After spiraling out of control with three average releases since Lombardo’s departure, the boys were back at full strength and poised to retake Metal’s crown. “Slayer is going to be okay,” I concluded. “The maestro is back where he belongs.”
Speaking with the ‘Lord of the Skins’ a day after the release of Slayer’s latest, Christ Illusion, Lombardo was carefully forthcoming about his thoughts on the new album, his bandmates and his career.
GASPetc: From a fan’s standpoint, having you back in Slayer is extremely satisfying. Is it for you as well?
Dave Lombardo: Probably as much as it is for you guys, although I do miss the other groups I played in, for example Fantomas.
GASPetc: Are you still allowed to participate in any side projects such as Fantomas?
DL: I shouldn’t right now because I’m under contract.
GASPetc: Were you a fan of film scores prior to joining Fantomas?
DL: I always found them interesting. I wasn’t a fan of any particular one, but when I’d watch a movie, I would very much pay attention to the music. They were almost like these unknown artists and I found it very interesting.
GASPetc: So you could relate to the work you were doing then unlike some of your current bandmates?
DL: There’s a lot of people doing different kinds of music and this had never been done before. It’s been done maybe in a jazz or an avant-garde world, but never in a heavy, or hard rock world. And even in the avant-garde or jazz world it was never done that way. [Fantomas band leader/singer Mike] Patton is amazing. He’s a composer. It definitely drew me to it.
GASPetc: Who’s more difficult to work with - Mike Patton or Kerry King?
DL: That’s a hard question. It’s not politically correct...
GASPetc: I know, let me rephrase it: who is the bigger perfectionist?
DL: Patton, but it doesn’t mean that he’s difficult. I don’t think either of them are difficult. It has to be done a certain way and if you’re not performing it the way it’s supposed to be, you’re just not right for the gig. I think I’m difficult on myself because I want to perfect myself.
GASPetc: When a room full of perfectionists gets together it leads to great things.
DL: Yeah, and you can definitely hear it in the music. That’s the beauty of it. I cannot think of anybody that could make music like Fantomas or Slayer. There are a lot of copies, but they don’t deliver. It’s very half-assed or redundant.
GASPetc: Like many of the new bands out there?
DL: I find it’s how it used to be. Like after we came out and all these other bands started copying, it’s starting to sound like that right now.
GASPetc: It’s getting back to that again.
DL: It’s getting back to that point, so that means there’s going to be a change. I’m not going to say it’s going to be Slayer or Fantomas or any other band, it’s just gonna be something altogether new that nobody has ever heard of.
GASPetc: Are there any new bands out there that you do like?
DL: I always have to say this band because they just overwhelmed me. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, but they’re called The Locust. Gabe Serbian, the drummer, is just amazing. They remind me of an extreme D.R.I. – this is 10 times faster and more complex with the singer screaming. And it’s not screaming in a metal-sense. It’s totally different. It’s really bizarre.
GASPetc: Did your time apart cure the yearning you relayed to Metal Maniacs (August 1991 issue) years ago to “play with Robert Plant or some type of music like that?”
DL: Nope. One style of music cannot cure me. I’m always listening to different stuff and enjoying it as much, or maybe even more than Slayer or Fantomas, and going like, “Wow! I wish I were playing something like this.” I could never stop yearning for other music. I would get bored. This is the artist in me. I can’t stop that. I think if I do I will be consuming in my own self. It wouldn’t be healthy, especially for my mind and for my musical ability.
GASPetc: What were your first impressions upon hearing Paul Bostaph’s drumming on Divine Intervention?
DL: Man, you’re really putting me on the spot with these questions.
DL: I don’t want to talk bad about anybody.
GASPetc: I understand. Let me back up and tell you that I interviewed Paul back when G.A.S.P. was a print magazine (issue #6) and asked if the band had him compromise his style to sound like yours.
DL: For a band as original as Slayer was, the drumming was an integral part of the music. He did fine. He did good, although some of the stuff he did I wouldn’t do. Some of the stuff I would do, he didn’t do, but it was a good effort. Now, I enjoy some of the songs he recorded when we play live. It’s great. I feel like they’re my own in the sense that I play them my way. It’s similar, but there are certain places I wouldn’t put rolls where he did.
GASPetc: Aside from being an original member, what does Dave Lombardo bring to Slayer that nobody else can?
DL: Okay, in the music there’s this chaos, but it’s controlled chaos. I’ve said this before, but I think there’s a punk element to my playing and it makes it a little bit raw. When we play live, I don’t stick to the same rolls. I will elaborate those rolls which makes it more exciting and keeps the guitar players on their toes. For example, at the end of “Raining Blood” where it goes, “Da-dunt, da-dunt, da-dut, da-dunt,” I’ll extend that two more measures. So when they come in, instead of doing the beat, I’m still doing the drum part. That’s something new I came up with this tour, which was really cool.
Some places I’ll start a drum roll two bars earlier and the guys don’t know if I’m gonna come out right. I don’t do it for that reason, but it seems that’s what happens, and I think that brings more attention to what you’re doing. It makes the other musicians more attentive, and it’s all kind of raw and exciting. If you’re sounding exactly like the record, I think that can become a little bit boring.
GASPetc: And you have to keep it fresh for you after all these years.
DL: Yeah. Playing live is the best experimentation, because you are mentally psyched being onstage.
GASPetc: What was it exactly that drew you back to the band?
DL: It was almost like it was time. Everything kind of fell into place. I finished doing Fantomas and there was going to be a little hiatus, so I went ahead and took it. Not only is there money to be made, but I felt like it was time.
GASPetc: Would you view your return as a sort of rebirth for Slayer?
DL: It seems that way. In the way that the management is exploiting things. Doors that I never could image opening have been opened. When you get a chemistry together, things seem to go right. And for some reason or another, things are going right. And I feel, in a lot of ways, that it is like a rebirth of the band.
GASPetc: What are some of those opened doors you mentioned?
DL: Tour sponsors, endorsements from companies for the whole band, telephone company ringtones, and Viva La Bam, I mean, that was so cool! Ozzfest – I mean, I know they played it before, but this lineup was awesome – the original Judas Priest members, the original Black Sabbath and the original Slayer. That was amazing!
GASPetc: Where does Christ Illusion rank amongst the most gratifying work that you’ve done with Slayer?
DL: [long pause] Now I’m gonna really chose my words wisely because I know this is a critical question in a way. It’s like a matured Reign In Blood? That’s how I’d describe. Where it ranks? It ranks right there, because the fire was on that record. There was fire on all the records, but it started dimming when South Of Heaven came into the picture. And that’s me personally. Again, I was probably wanting something else.
GASPetc: Well, it was such an amazing departure.
DL: Yeah, it was like Reign In Blood was on 78 [rpm] and South Of Heaven was on 33 1/3 [rpm]. It was like, “Woah!” It was really weird [laughs].
But I think [Christ Illusion] really captures my drumming great.
GASPetc: I noticed a few new tricks too, like the blast beats on the song “Supremist”.
DL: Yes. “Nah, nah. I can do that too!” And I can hit harder. All these blast beat players play like they’re, I don’t know, holding eggs or something [laughs]. It’s like, “Oh, I gotta be careful.” Oh God. I’ll stop.
GASPetc: And I’m sure your being a caffeine addict helps.
DL: Yeah, and it hasn’t been too good on me I think because I’ve been diagnosed with hyper thyroid. You lose weight and your heart’s bouncing out of your chest. Something got triggered in me and now it feels like I’m constantly on caffeine. I’m on medication right now and I’m doing better, but they’re gonna get it fixed. I have to do all these tests today; an ultrasound, these echocardiograms on my heart, checking everything and making sure I’m okay.
GASPetc: Yikes! Good luck with that...
DL: That’s breaking news, I haven’t told anybody that. Its been affecting me for the past four months. So I went on tour, and when my wife saw me again she’s like, “David what’s wrong with you?” I lost a lot of weight. I’m down to 144 lbs. when I was weighing in at 168 lbs. It’s crazy.
GASPetc: Again, all the best with that.
DL: Oh yeah, it’ll be fine.
GASPetc: What sort of say do you have in Slayer’s songwriting process these days?
DL: You know what, I wish I had a little more say, but I don’t. But the say that I do have is in the structuring. Not the riffs, but how one part leads to another. Sometimes I wish I could go in there and say, “Okay, this is wrong,” but I can’t. It’s not my place. But the control I do have is, lets say, picking the drum roll or finding the right beat to where Jeff [Hanneman–guitar] would bring me a demo with a beat that’s standard double-bass and snare. I’ll give it more groove, more funk, and bring the soul out in the music. It’s very distinctive music so I need to find the groove in it.
I was listening to a live recording of South Of Heaven we did and I was like, “Man!” There’s just so much groove in that song. To my kids I was saying, “Listen to that! Listen to how groovy that is!” And it’s heavy. So, that’s what I bring.
GASPetc: Do your kids love the fact that Dad is in Slayer?
DL: Oh hell yeah! Yeah, it’s so cool [laughs]. They go to school and go:
“Dad, my teacher knows who you are.”
I go, “Really?”
“Yeah, he knows who you are and he’s been a fan for a long time.”
“Well what teacher’s this?”
Here's another, “This kid at school was wearing a Live Undead shirt Dad, and I told him that’s my Dad, and he told me I was a liar.”
And the stories go on.
GASPetc: That’s so cute. That’s too cool...
DL: Yeah, it’s awesome! There’s a whole generation who are the kids of the fathers that used to go to the shows that are listening to the music. Or the kids of the fathers that have heard about Slayer growing up and say, “Wow, you guys are still around. I can’t believe so many people like you guys still.” There’s a whole new resurgence.
GASPetc: Well, it’s because you guys have never waivered.
DL: I know, huh? We will totally be stamped as non-conformable.
GASPetc: With regards to new material, how creatively restraining is it for the band to try and live up to what many, including myself, consider the greatest metal album of all time in Reign In Blood released 20 years ago?
DL: You can never try to top something that you did. Just keep doing what your doing and not think about what you did. We threw a party for my daughter and rented some ponies they could ride in the front yard, and how do you top it? I think it would be a frustrating life if you have to always top yourself in everything. You just do what you do and do it right; don’t conform to any outside suggestions.
GASPetc: If you could step outside the band for a moment, is Reign In Blood one of, if not the, best metal album?
DL: Yes, because there were no computers involved and it was recorded by a bunch of kids. Literally, a bunch of kids. When I look back it’s like, “Dang! I was 20 years old.”
GASPetc: And hungry.
DL: Yeah! That never stopped either. You know what was so cool that we did? We did everything in our power to promote ourselves when we were first starting out. Check this out, we would go to high schools, jump the fence, and stick flyers in every single locker at the school. For our light show, we would bring our own lights because we were Slayer. We brought in our smoke and pyro and for our lights we would go and steal light bulbs from in front of houses – you know those colored lights – and go and make our own light show with those things. We were determined.
Me and Kerry would go to buildings and say, “Hey, we would like to rent your building for a show and throw a rock concert,” so we were our own promoters. We would go to arcades that would have a little room for bands and ask them if we could play. That’s how we were. That, sometimes, you don’t find in bands today. Automatically, they play a club and they think they’re famous. They get big heads and think they’re the shit. It takes a lot more than that. You have to pursue it and not wait to be catered. It was always me and Kerry and this friend and we had this big old megaphone, “See Slayer at this school, at this time,” and drive up and down the streets.
GASPetc: What, like The Blues Brothers??
DL: Yeah!! You know what, I saw that – exactly [laughs]! The guy who owned the Jeep had the megaphone built into it and he had all these lights and everything. I didn’t know if Kerry remembered it, so I brought it up to him, “Do you remember doing this,” and he said, “Yeah. Do you remember stealing light bulbs to make our light show,” and I said, “Yes!”
It was the summer of 10th grade when I got involved with this band. I look back and, it’s the cutest thing, I told my wife Theresa, who was my girlfriend at the time, “One day you’re never gonna have to work again.” She was working for Sears. She laid on her stomach on my bed and I was walking around getting a record or something, “Your never gonna have to work again.” And I’ve done that, and by playing drums of all things. The one thing my parents would say, “You’re never gonna amount to anything! All this is bullshit! KISS? What is this,” because I had KISS posters on my wall. And the day my Dad went to a show, he goes, “Dave, I didn’t know,” in his broken English because we were Cuban. “The lights, the people. Look at you!” It’s amazing how far a bunch of kids have gone.
GASPetc: What does Theresa think of your career after all these years?
DL: It definitely hard on the family. You don’t kiss your kids goodnight. You can’t hug your old lady. It’s rough, but all in all it’s fine.
GASPetc: How do you view the themes in Slayer’s music?
DL: I’ve leaned to understand it in a way that you’re listening to it like art or like a horror movie. I’ve grown to just kind of ignore it.
GASPetc: Yeah, I’ve always perceived you as the one member of the band that’s steered clear of the imagery and occultisms.
DL: Yeah, and I’ve learned to respect it. I don’t go there. I don’t play with it. I can never be like Kerry. I’m not like that.
GASPetc: What’s your favorite horror movie?
DL: The Exorcist. It has to be. I just watched it a while ago and it’s just so creepy. Today you can have all these special effects, but they didn’t have computers back then so it makes it that much more effective.
GASPetc: That’s Tom [Araya–vocals/bass]’s favorite too.
DL: Oh it is?
GASPetc: At least it was when I interviewed him back in `91.
DL: Another one I like, that freaked the shit outta me was Evil Dead. I saw it in a matinee with Theresa. We went and she was freaked out, “Don’t you take me to those movies again!” [laughs]
You know, another one I saw when I was really young, I was hanging out with my friends and we snuck into see Carrie. That one freaked me out. Literally, I got faint, “I don’t feel good, Ma!” I was playing it off as, “I think I ate some peanuts and they made my stomach bad,” cuz I didn’t want to tell her I was scared [laughs].
GASPetc: Finally, what do you love most about Slayer?
DL: Playing onstage. Ya know, when it’s a night where we’re tight, everyone hears everything, everything’s perfect, I’ll come offstage and go, “We’re fuckin bad, dude! We’re fucking bad-ass!!” And it’s not being conceited, but more like being overwhelmed at what you just did that you can’t believe it. “Damn, we did good tonight!”