Revolver teamed with Exodus for an exclusive vinyl variant of their new album, Persona Non Grata, which sold out immediately. Head over to the store now to see our remaining selection of Exodus offerings and extremely limited vinyl.
It takes a couple of tries for Revolver to reach Gary Holt by phone. "I'm sorry," the Exodus leader apologizes when he finally picks up, "I've got some people out here chopping down some massive trees on my property. A few months ago, I had a huge oak that looked totally healthy fall and destroy part of my deck, so I'm removing the 'threats' now. The pine tree that they just took down would have cut the house in half if it fell, so I'm glad to see it gone!"
Like so many of us during the pandemic, Holt has had more time than he'd like to oversee home improvements over the past year and a half. As much as he loves living up in the woods of Meadow Vista, California, he'd really rather be out on the road promoting Persona Non Grata, the first new Exodus album since 2014's Blood In, Blood Out.
Recorded last year at the Lake Almanor home studio of Exodus drummer Tom Hunting, the album is one of the most powerful and fiery statements of the legendary Bay Area thrash band's career, thanks to searing tracks like "The Fires of Division," "Slipping Into Madness" and the lead single "The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)".
"As heavy as this album is," says Holt, "the thing I'm most proud of is the hooks. With the exception of two longer tracks and one that's just a little acoustic interlude, everything on the album has monumental choruses and hooks, and the songs are shorter and more concise. And if you listen to Tom's playing on this record, it's fucking phenomenal; he just put down the performance of a lifetime!"
Unfortunately, the release of Persona Non Grata — which is now officially due to drop November 19 via Nuclear Blast — has been pushed back several times due to various factors, including the current pressing plant backlog and Hunting's battle with squamous cell carcinoma of the stomach, which resulted in him undergoing a full gastrectomy in July. Still, whether he's talking about the new album, Hunting's illness or his own newfound sobriety, Holt seems pretty upbeat these days.
THE NEW RECORD TOTALLY SMOKES. IT MUST BE FRUSTRATING TO HAVE TO SIT ON IT FOR SO LONG.
GARY HOLT Yeah, we're pretty proud of it. It's vicious! And the waiting sucks, but the pandemic was actually a huge benefit to us, as far as making the album. We got off tour and flew home the morning of March 12th, 2020 — and that was the evening that they set the flight restrictions. We did a full run through Europe with only two cancellations; if the tour had started two weeks later, it would have been a full-on disaster!
We already planned on doing an album that summer, but we got to do it uninterrupted because we had nothing else to do. There weren't any show offers coming in where we'd be like, "That's good, man — we've got to take it!" So we were able to put our heads down and just work on the album, completely focused with nothing in the way, and that was just amazing. We were way up in the mountains, up at Tom's place, and it started with just him and I working on songs up there. The initial writing process was super old-school, just me and a half-stack and Tom, two guys in a room.
And because we recorded up at Tom's, the evenings were all about music. When we were done tracking for the day, we'd barbecue and have beers; acoustic guitars were all over the place and we just like, wrote. It was totally awesome. It was like, instead of Deep Purple or Queen recording in Lake Geneva, we recorded at Lake Almanor. [Laughs] Tom had the perfect place for it. We just did everything there; the drums were set up the whole time, so if at any point in the recording Tom decided, "I could play that part better," he could get behind the kit on a song and do it.
HOW MUCH OF THE ALBUM'S MATERIAL WAS WRITTEN DURING YOUR TIME UP AT TOM'S, AND HOW MANY OF THE SONGS HAD ACTUALLY BEEN SITTING AROUND A WHILE?
It was kinda like a little of both. I've got like a thousand riffs recorded on my iPhone; I just throw my phone in front of my amp whenever I have something worth recording. Most of the time, I've got some stuff worked out completely, some stuff worked out a little bit, and then some stuff I'm just kind of stuck on — and then overnight it'll just click, you know, and I'll figure out where it needs to go.
Like "The Fires of Division" — it's one of my favorite songs on the whole record. It was kind giving me fits, and I wasn't feeling it. And then I just woke up one day at Tom's, and I got it; I transposed the key for most of it and added a bunch of new parts. And actually, while tracking the scratch guitar track I wrote the whole ending section — the harmony section and the outro and all that — on the fly. I was just like, "Keep going! Don't stop!" [Laughs] That's about as organic as you can get; it was made up literally on the spot, but that just kind of made it seamless and natural, because it flowed from what I was doing. Parts of "Clickbait" were like that as well, too; that's another one where I had a lot done, but it wasn't all the way done. And the second solo section and the bridge after it were all improvised on the spot.
I LOVE THAT A LITTLE ACOUSTIC INTERLUDE OF "COSA DEL PANTANO" THAT LEADS INTO "LUNATIC-LIAR-LORD." WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?
I wanted to do a little acoustic segue number, and I wrote like a hundred different ones! That was one great thing about recording up in the mountains — I fell back in love with the acoustic guitar, which was something I played constantly when I was younger, but I barely pick it up now. Some of the ones I wrote were like, "Well, that's really great, but it's really Jimmy Page-like!" The one we used, Tom called it "Swamp Thing," because it sounded kind of bayou-ish. So I translated it to "Cosa Del Pantano," which is just Spanish for swamp thing, you know? It sounds better. [Laughs]
HOW'S TOM DOING AFTER HIS GASTRECTOMY?
Tom's doing really, really well. He still has the remainder of his chemo to go, and he's adjusting to life without a stomach, which is remarkable enough that you can even live without one. Basically, he has an entire different relationship with food now; the days of like sitting down and eating a cowboy ribeye are gone, and you have to make sure you're getting a certain amount of calories and eating the right kinds of foods and all that. But, you know, he's learning, he's adjusting, he's going out and doing things, and he's itching to get back behind his kit. Unfortunately, where he lives is right up in the heart of what's been one of the biggest wildfires in California history, so he's waiting to get the all-clear so he can go back to his house and play some drums for the first time since the surgery. [Former Exodus drummer] John Tempesta's going to do our next couple of shows with us, but Tom is hoping to be back by our tour this fall.
I SAW ON YOUR INSTAGRAM THAT YOU RECENTLY PASSED THE TWO-MONTHS SOBER MARK. CONGRATULATIONS!
Thanks! I feel fucking great. It's actually been quite easy; I mean, I'm not saying that I'm anything special, but it hasn't been hard for me. I'd been seeing signs for a while that it was time to do this — before the pandemic, usually if I would drink at home, it'd be like because we're having a big barbecue, or I'm having like two or three beers while watching the fucking 49ers game. But now I'm living here in the hills, and it's really beautiful and the weather's really nice, and my wife would be at work and I'd get all kinds of shit done; so then I'd sit to have a beer, and the next thing you know I'm on number twelve…
When we were making the album, during one of our first nights with everybody there, Tom goes to me, "Man, your beer-drinking level is impressive." [Laughs] I'd drink eight or nine of these really strong double IPAs, the 10% alcohol beers, and I wouldn't even appear drunk. But it was just getting to the point where I was just drinking way too much, by myself, being kind of a dickhead around my wife, and sometimes it led to depression — I guess it's because my whole livelihood been taken away from me, and I didn't know how much I would miss it until it was gone.
So basically, my wife said, "It's time," and I agreed. I am smoking a little bit of weed again though now, and that's all right. [Laughs] I have found that one of the things that prevents me from being triggered and helps me deal with stress is the taste of beer — it's not even the alcohol in it — and there's some really good non-alcoholic beers out there now. Like, they had a benefit show for Tom in Sacramento, and I felt a little bit overwhelmed walking into this tiny club; but I grabbed a non-alcoholic Heineken and drank it, and it was like, "Okay, I got this!"
DO YOU THINK YOU'LL BE ABLE TO MAINTAIN YOUR SOBRIETY ONCE YOU GO BACK ON THE ROAD?
Yeah. I'm kind of stubborn in my own belief of not fucking shit up, you know? And since I've already publicly stated it, I'd look at it as a total abject failure now if I had another fucking beer. [Laughs] But you know, I'm fine about it. I've been partying since high school, and the party isn't over — just the alcohol part. And we're talking some serious drug abuse, too. I quit all that, and I quit smoking, and quitting drinking was a lot easier for me than quitting meth or cigarettes!
There is part of me that might be a little nervous about getting back on the road, not about slipping and drinking again, but just, "How am I going to deal with other people when they're wasted?" [Laughs] Because someone's really ripped — your best friend, a complete stranger, it doesn't matter — they're always annoying. But, you know, three-fifths of us are alcohol-free now, and Tom's not drinking right now because alcohol absorption is completely different when you don't have a stomach. And when I came out publicly about not drinking, I received a lot of support from a lot of guys in bands that I didn't even know were sober. So there will definitely be people that I can hang out with.
AND AT THIS POINT, IT'S STILL FULL SPEED AHEAD FOR THE "BAY STRIKES BACK" TOUR THIS FALL WITH TESTAMENT AND DEATH ANGEL?
Yeah. I mean, it's gonna be interesting to see what happens with COVID and the Delta variant and everything, but I fucking hope so. I need to do this, I need to get out on tour, and I think people need it. I'm not saying "everybody needs Exodus" — but I know our fans would love to see it, and it would make everyone forget about all the bullshit for a little bit.