Gary Holt On Life After Slayer & Making A Triumphant Return To Exodus On The Ferocious Persona Non Grata Album

Guitar World – By Jon Wiederhorn – Aug 13, 2022

Gary Holt: “I had one job in Slayer and one job only. Go out, play killer, bang your head and play a little bit of a guitar hero role. I wear a lot more hats in Exodus”.

During the last part of Gary Holt’s tenure as Slayer’s second guitarist, he sometimes felt like he was neglecting his main band, Exodus.

As honored as he was to be in Slayer, a group he had loved since their first album, 1983’s Show No Mercy, he wished he had more time to spend with Exodus, the group he had played with since high school and for which he assumed the primary songwriter role after Kirk Hammett left in 1983 to join Metallica.

While Holt wrote and played on all of Exodus’ 2014 studio album Blood In, Blood Out, he couldn’t completely dedicate himself to the group. He missed shows that coincided with Slayer gigs (Heathen’s Kragen Lum filled in on those tours).

And, if Holt hadn’t been in Slayer for nearly nine years, Exodus likely would have released another album between Blood In, Blood Out and their new release, Persona Non Grata.

There’s no question that Holt was a major asset to Slayer when they needed someone to fill in for the late Jeff Hanneman. But some fans and former members of Exodus argue that his years with Slayer jeopardized his main band.

“Slayer was great. They treated me like family from day one,” says Holt from his home in Northern California. “But, yeah, every day there were moments when I missed doing Exodus. The saving grace was that I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and then it would be all Exodus, all the time.

“Plus, I had the support of all my guys. And they had my support to do shows without me and tour regularly. But they’re my brothers and I couldn’t wait to be back. Two months after the Slayer tour ended, I was back on tour with Exodus. I barely even took a break.”

Holt’s hunger to return to Exodus shines through the jagged riff shards and crushing rhythms of Persona Non Grata. Rarely has he sounded as joyously entrenched in the band’s visceral mix of aggressive thrash, old-school metal, and deft, fluid leads. In Slayer, he was a hired hand.

In Exodus, his hands define every palm-muted chug, crystalline arpeggio, and tactical rhythm shift. With the exception of Slipping into Madness, which was written by second guitarist Lee Altus, Holt wrote the framework for every song on Persona Non Grata.

“I was so stoked to be doing another Exodus record,” Holt says. “I had no intention of doing anything that wasn’t 100 percent killer. We worked really hard on this album and I think it shows. There’s not one track I’m not totally happy with.”

Unlike the many bands halted in their tracks by the Covid epidemic, Exodus used their time in lockdown to tighten riffs, maximize dynamics and nail the solos. Holt was especially obsessive with his leads.

“When it’s time for me to do solos, I sometimes feel super-pressured, and like I’m running out of time because I’m doing so much,” he says from past album experience.

“I’m writing the music, finishing lyrics. I’m there for the drum tracking and then I’m laying down my guitars. I’m there to help Jack [Gibson] work on the bass, I’m working with [Steve] Zetro [Souza] on vocals. So when it comes time for me to do my leads, I feel like I haven’t had any time to work anything out, so I just improvise. This time I had the extra time to really work on my shit so I was super happy with all the solos.”

From a musical perspective, Holt has plenty of reasons to be thrilled with Persona Non Grata, an unrelenting barrage of fire, fury, shock and awe coupled with burrowing guitar earworms.

Holt is even happier that Exodus overcame some harrowing health scares and personal issues some of the members faced between the time Persona Non Grata was finished and the day it came out.

In an in-depth conversation, he discussed the creative process for Persona Non Grata, the one advantage of the Covid lockdown, drummer Tom Hunting’s battle with stomach cancer, his own struggle with alcohol, and how the new album marks a new beginning.

Exodus released Blood In, Blood Out in 2014, which was more than seven years ago. Did you write much of Persona Non Grata between then and the end of the Slayer tour?

“I’m always writing riffs, but I don’t get serious about it until it starts getting close to the time to start working on the next album. Toward the end of the Slayer run, I got more into writing mode. And then when Slayer ended their tour and [drummer] Tom [Hunting] and I got together in July 2020 things started taking shape.”

Did you and Tom work on songs on the fly or did you bring pre-written material into the writing sessions?

“Before we got together, I sent Tom a bunch of recordings of me riffing out on the voice recorder on my iPhone. Some of the songs were pretty much done, some were nearly done, and some were just riff ideas. Then, there were others I thought were done but they ended up completely different. Those kinds of changes happen when you start jamming. So, for a long time it was Tom and me and a half stack and a drum kit in a room just like the way we used to do it back in the day.”

About four months before that show you posted on social media that you were giving up alcohol. Why did you decide to quit and has it been a battle to stay on the wagon?

“Here’s the deal. I’m the most positive, upbeat kitten-loving dude you’ll ever find. If you listen to Exodus, it sounds like I need therapy. But the music is my therapy. At first, that’s how I dealt with all the madness of the world. The only thing we had any control over was our creativity. We couldn’t control how bad Covid was or when we could go back on tour or even go to a restaurant. But we could control Exodus and that’s the way I coped at first.”

My wife helped me realize I needed to stop drinking ’cause I was getting depressed, bitter and angry, and that wasn’t me.

Then what happened? “During the summer, I started coping with alcohol and I saw a potential problem coming. I didn’t drink every day, but when I did, I’d get depressed. Before that, I was always a happy drunk. I’d been drinking since I was 16, and in the ’80s we were all way out of control. But in my later years, I chilled out a lot. I never drank much at home. I didn’t even drink that much on tour.

“But during Covid, there I was at home sitting outside in a dark place drinking 12 10-percent alcohol beers – strong shit – and just pounding them. Eventually, my wife helped me realize I needed to stop ’cause I was getting depressed, bitter and angry, and that wasn’t me. And now I’ve never felt better.”

Read entire article here about the creative process for Persona Non Grata & his time with Slayer

PS Gary is my awesome Son-In-Law married to my daughter, Lisa.

Posted by Teri Perticone

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