INTERVIEW WITH SLAYER DRUMMER PAUL BOSTAPH
When it comes to thrash metal bands, it goes without saying that Slayer is as loud and aggressive as it gets. Slayer fans are also among the most extreme breed of die-hard followers, upping the irons for over three decades. The legions of Slaytanic fans stuck with the band responsible for such feel good songs as ‘Raining Blood’, ‘Angel of Death’, and ‘War Ensemble’ through changes and the tragic death of guitarist and co-founder Jeff Hanneman in 2013. Drummer Paul Bostaph is also somewhat of a metal phenomenon in his own right, having manned the kit for Slayer over the course of three time periods, twice replacing original drummer Dave Lombardo. “As a drummer, this is a dream gig. You really get to play balls out,” says Bostaph. “What has always appealed to me about metal music was the drive. The first time I heard Iron Maiden ‘Killers’ changed my life in terms of metal. With thrash metal, you can pretty much go up on stage in your street clothes and play a gig. You are the same person on stage as you are off stage. I like the honesty of the music. That’s what drew me to it.”
Bostaph spoke to EU Jacksonville from a European tour stop just hours before Slayer would take the stage at Poppodium 013 in Tilburg, Netherlands. The tour, he says, is, “excellent”. Stating that the Dutch fans just as extreme as those stateside. “The only difference is geographical,” he says. “Slayer fans are Slayer fans, no matter where you get.”
Maybe not. In an interesting, albeit somewhat disturbing display of fan loyalty, a Ukranian zoo in the village of Demidiv has erected a statue of Slayer singer Tom Araya before a pedestal inscribed with the band’s pentagram logo and a verse from ‘Dead Skin Mask’. As far as sculptures go, it’s an incredible likeness with Araya’s flowing black mane peppered with gray. “The guy was just a fan and he decided to do that. There is no major significance other than the fact that he decided to make a statue of Tom and it looks really cool,” Bostaph says. “As far as I know there wasn’t any deeper meaning behind it.” It seems a peculiar homage to Slayer in a family-friendly atmosphere like a zoo but Bostaph doesn’t see it that way. “Tom is a family-friendly guy,” he says.
Bostaph has moved on and back into the Slayer fold three times, with his most recent return coinciding with the recording of Slayer’s 11th studio album, Repentless. After playing with Exodus from 1985-1992, he was recommended as a possible replacement for Lombardo by Kerry King’s guitar tech. Bostaph recorded four albums with Slayer before quitting the band in 1996 to concentrate on his solo efforts. He was replaced by Jon Dette but rejoined the band in 1997.
Following the release of God Hates Us All in 2001, Bostaph left Slayer again, citing a chronic elbow injury that hindered his ability to play but later revealed he needed to move on creatively. He went on to join Systemic from 2003-04 and rejoined Exodus from 2005-07 and later Testament from 2007-2011. Lombardo returned to Slayer as full-time drummer until 2013 when the band announced that Bostaph had again replaced Lombardo for the second time. “There wasn’t really an approach to each era other than maybe what I learned in life every time after the first time I came in. I didn’t know these guys when I first came in. I had a lot to prove and there was a lot of naysayers, and understandably so,” says Bostaph. “The second time coming back was a little easier because I’d been here before and the guys wanted me back. I came in and we had to work on a record immediately. And this time, the same thing. I’m more experienced as a musician and we’re all more mature when we were prior to the last time. That’s just what happens. When you get older, you get more wisdom.”
While Bostaph fell back into an easy rhythm with his bandmates, the challenge of picking up where Lombardo left off proved tricky. Already recognized for his earlier feats as a drummer, Lombardo’s skills had progressed and Bostaph had to tap into that energy and put his own mark on it. “The first time, I had to completely change my style in terms of not thinking the way I think to thinking the way someone else thinks the best I could, the way Dave (Lombardo) would think behind the drum set and learning as much as I can from that. This time around, I already had that experience under my belt and we were playing a lot of the songs I had already worked on so it was really just getting my feet wet again with that sound,” says Bostaph.
“That being said, there was new material that Dave had recorded with the band and he didn’t sit still as an artist. He moved forward as well and his approach to his style changed also so I couldn’t approach it the way I did in 1992. I had to kind of wrap my head around the evolution of someone else. That wasn’t necessarily easy because over time, any musician if you have the drive to get better, you’re going to and obviously Dave has that drive. I could see it and hear it in his style so I had to relearn a lot of stuff.”
The onset of social media proved to be the most intense test of his mettle. There was no Facebook or Twitter in the early years and the chorus of public opinion was deafening. Inevitably, Bostaph says that pressure forced him to get out of his own way and remember why he was there in the first place. “There were so many opinions that were out there rolling around. It created more awareness on my behalf that I had more to prove this time around,” he says. “But I love what I do. The guys have always been friends of mine and playing in other bands made me realize that there was something really special here. It wasn’t just the music. It was everything. It was never a situation where I didn’t get along with everybody. We have a good time doing what we’re doing and we’re lucky enough to get to play some super heavy music.”
Slayer play the St. Augustine Amphitheater July 21 with special guests Lamb of God and Behemoth. Check the website for tickets (www.staugamphitheatre.com).