Photo by Susan Moss.
What’s the trick to getting the evil sound in the intro riffs of songs like “Numb,” “Collateral Damage,” “Wrapped in the Arms of Rage,” and “BTK”?
Holt: It’s just octaves and shit like that. I haven’t listened to it for a while. I tend to not listen to my own records when they’re done. I’m not the guy who sits there and blasts the record in the car over and over. If we’re about to play something from the record out on the road, I’ll pull it out if I need a reference, but I don’t sit there patting myself on the back and thinking, “This album’s so killer.” I’ve heard it lots of times and I do think it’s really good, and now I’ll go back to listen to some UFO records.
The solos on songs like “BTK” have sections with harmonized parts weaving in and out. How do you decide which parts to harmonize?
Holt: A lot of times, it’s planned as a harmony section from the get-go, and we just figure out the run and how to play it in harmony. The little harmonies and subtle layers usually happen near the end of the recording process, when we listen to see if spots could use a little thickening or some textures.
Gary, how did you reconnect with Kirk Hammett?
Holt: I did so many shows over the past couple of years with Kirk while I was playing with Slayer. We’ve shared the stage with Metallica several times and we totally reconnected on, like, a 1981 level. When we get together we’re still like kids, just talking about the old days. If anyone stands there listening to these stories, they piss their pants at what criminals we used to be. It went from there to like, “You should do a solo on the record.” Kirk recently said he thought about it for like 60 seconds and was like, “Fuck yeah.” I think for Kirk it was kind of like going home, coming full circle and playing a solo for the first time on an Exodus record. This is the second recorded Exodus moment for Kirk, after the first “Whipping Queen” demo. He got to come back to where he started for a little bit.
Tell us about his solo on “Salt the Wound.”
Holt: He came down to our studio at the Goat Ranch and whipped out a bunch of takes, and we picked the best one. It’s totally killer. Kirk does the F# solo and I do the second solo in C#. I just rip off [Michael] Schenker as hard as I can on that one.
Did you offer suggestions on what you wanted from Kirk?
Altus: Nah, come on—he’s coming back to the old band that he started! Kirk’s got his own style. Some people like it, and some people don’t and talk shit about it. But if you’re big, people just want to bring you down. And now, with social media, everybody’s got an opinion. I like Kirk. He’s not one of those guitar-hero shredder guys, but one thing I give him credit for is that he created his own style. There are a lot of players who came out from those guitar institutes or whatever, and technically they’re awesome—don’t get me wrong—but they have no soul. They all sound the same. I don’t know if it’s Tony MacAlpine or Yngwie. With Kirk, love him or not, the first note you hear, you know it’s him. A lot of young guitar players think it’s all about how you play technically, or arpeggios or whatever, but the hardest thing is to achieve your own style. Obviously, you start with your influences, but you put all that together and make a jambalaya, and hopefully come out with your own style. The more distinct your style is, the harder it is to achieve that. Two notes in, you know it’s Eddie Van Halen. Two notes in, you know it’s Kirk Hammett. That’s big.
What are your main guitars?
Holt: After many years of absence, I’ve just rejoined the ESP family. Right now they’re sending me mockups of my new signature model, which will be available at three price points. I opted to go with the Les Paul [-style] body this time. I’ve been playing Vs for a long time and wanted to switch. The new guitars are super badass. They’re 24 3/4" scale and have a Floyd Rose, red multi-ply binding, and red EMGs. The higher-price-point one is black with a red metallic swirl—it almost looks like lava. Then I have a gloss-red guitar with just black binding, and I think that’s the baddest-looking one. And then we have a simple starter-level one.
Altus: I’m mainly playing ESPs, too. I’ve been with them since the late ’80s. I’ve always been happy with them, so I never switched. Over the years I’ve used everything from Vs to King Vs. Lately I’ve been sticking with King Vs. I like the way they feel and play.
What about amps?
Holt: I used the Kemper Profiler on everything on the new album. It’s the first time I’ve recorded with it, though I’ve had one for a while. When I got mine they didn’t even have the rack models yet. I’ve got profiles of my modded Marshalls and Engls all in there. I just plugged it in and let it rip.
Altus: When we started, I remember having Marshalls we would modify, and it was like, “How many distortion boxes can we plug in to get any kind of tone out of it?” Now you basically have a computer chip that does that. When we go somewhere like South America or do a fly-in show, no matter how much you tell them exactly what you want, you know you’re not going to get it. And even if you do, you don’t know what kind of shape it’s in—the tubes could be shot. This eliminates that. You always bring your tone with you.