EXODUS's GARY HOLT: 'I Just Love Riffs'

September 27, 2023

In a new interview with STL Tones, EXODUS guitarist Gary Holt was asked how he manages to stay creative after more than four decades of writing and playing music. He said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "I just love riffs. I mean, I love, love riffs. I love writing them. I write them in my sleep. I write them when I'm walking through a grocery store. Inspiration can hit anywhere, and I'm constantly searching for a new way, within my band's parameters and my own style, of stringing notes together and chords. And I love it — I love the process. And when you find you're on to something that's truly killer, but then the magical combination, like maybe you have four different versions of a riff and then you find the right way to put them together and it just brings a smile to your face and you know you've got something, that's what it's all about to me. I just love riffs. I'll write them when I'm old and laying in my deathbed. I'll probably write a riff right with my last breath."

Regarding his songwriting process, Gary said: "My writing process is just jamming. It starts with the guitar and you just play. And I don't sit there and play haphazardly. I'll have an idea of what I'm trying to achieve and no way at all of knowing how I'm going to. But if I want something that's super savage and riffy and pentatonic, I'll work around that framework until something cool happens. And sometimes it happens immediately. Sometimes a song will happen and be done in an hour. Sometimes, like the new one I'm working on right now, I've got about five days into it and I think I just nailed down the principal riff. Because I had 10 versions of it — 20. Like, which one's the right one? I don't know. They're all killer. And most people would have been happy with it, but I just had to find the one. I had to make 20 into one. And sometimes it sounds like there's 20 riffs in there. But just whatever happens, I'm just gonna follow the riff."

Speaking specifically about the progress of the songwriting sessions for the follow-up to EXODUS's 2021 album "Persona Non Grata", Gary said: "Tom [Hunting], my drummer, he just got back from a vacation he went on, and he's all really eager to jam, and I said, 'We're not there yet.' I need a stockpile of riffs and then we'll come in then we'll flesh them out. And sometimes when we get together, the entire song is done. Sometimes it's 90 percent done. Sometimes it's an idea that completely does a 180 and is nothing like what it started at when it's finished and the whole thing will transpire with just him and I. You never know. But right now I told him, 'Be patient.' I'm working on having some stuff to flesh out when we jam. But yeah, sometimes you hear the beat in your head and then you really hear the beat, 'cause I don't waste my time with demo home recording and all that. I know what's going on; I know where I'm going. And we're still super old school. I just record things on my phone. If my old four-track cassette recorder still worked, I'd still use it. Because I had one that has a built-in mic. So I didn't even have to bother with miking; I just leaned it up against the amp. For me personally, I'm better off just working by myself with a riff, and I grab my phone so I don't forget it."

This past May, EXODUS canceled its previously announced summer 2023 European tour so that Holt could "tend to his family" after his brother was hospitalized in Italy.

Holt joined EXODUS in 1981, shortly after the band's formation, and has been the group's main songwriter ever since. Holt has performed on every EXODUS album, and is considered highly influential in the world of thrash metal.

Holt began filling in for SLAYER guitarist Jeff Hanneman at live shows in 2011, and became the band's full-time co-guitarist as of 2013, while remaining a member of EXODUS. Holt played on SLAYER's final album, "Repentless", which came out in 2015.

"Persona Non Grata" came out in November 2021 via Nuclear Blast Records. The LP was recorded at a studio in Lake Almanor, California and was engineered by Steve Lagudi and EXODUS. It was produced by EXODUS and was mixed by Andy Sneap. For the third time in the band's history, they returned to Swedish artist Pär Olofsson to create the album artwork.

"Persona Non Grata" was the follow-up to 2014's "Blood In Blood Out", which was the San Francisco Bay Area thrashers' first release since the departure of the group's lead singer of nine years, Rob Dukes, and the return of Steve "Zetro" Souza, who previously fronted EXODUS from 1986 to 1993 and from 2002 to 2004.

Six months ago, Hachette Books announced that it had acquired Gary's upcoming memoir. "A Fabulous Disaster: From The Garage To Madison Square Garden, The Hard Way" is described in a press release as "a no-holds-barred memoir from the preeminent thrasher's life in metal, from its humble (but not quiet) beginnings in the San Francisco Bay Area through today's current resurgence in worldwide popularity, as he lived big, played fast and crashed hard, written in collaboration with Adem Tepedelen."

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