PHIL DEMMEL: 'I Think SLAYER Saved My Musical Career In Some Way'

March 21, 2019

Former MACHINE HEAD guitarist Phil Demmel says that playing with SLAYER "saved" his musical career.

Demmel filled in for SLAYER guitarist Gary Holt for four European shows last fall after Gary returned home to be with his dying father.

Phil, who had only played his last show with MACHINE HEAD the day prior to being asked to join SLAYER on the road, spoke about the experience of sharing the stage with one of his favorite bands during a brand new interview with Music Radar.

"I think SLAYER saved my musical career in some way," he said. "In under 24 hours, I went from the last day of a tour wondering whether I was even good enough to be bands any more to this mind-blowing text from Kerry King asking if I could play in SLAYER.

"Having that experience and stepping in there, being able to pull off 19 songs in just a matter of days, I'm really proud of what I accomplished," he added. "But I'm even more proud that I made them proud and was deemed worthy enough to be in that position, for Gary to hand over the keys to his car for a few days. Tom [Araya], Kerry and Paul [Bostaph] really took me in and sang my praises."

Asked if it is strange looking back at footage from those shows, even all these months later, Phil said: "I've looked back at some of the pictures just to remind myself there was pentagram pyro going on behind me and upside-down cross. I was so locked into doing them justice that I didn't notice the chaos around me.

"That first night, the intro tape started rolling and I stood next to Tom thinking, 'Holy fucking shit, I'm in SLAYER right now!' He was constantly fucking around with me and pretending I wasn't where I was supposed to be. It was the experience of a lifetime and I'll always treasure that."

Regarding what the hardest song of the set was to learn, Phil said: "Well, there were some songs I wasn't all that familiar with, some of the newer stuff I'd never heard before. But those songs were about three minutes and I managed to map them out.

"From a speed standpoint, it was 'Dittohead'," he continued. "That's one fast tune! You think you know all the parts to a song like 'Postmortem' — I've played it before — but you don't. There are little things they do that a lot of people don't pick up.

"I thought I knew 'Chemical Warfare' — it's one of my favorite SLAYER tunes — and it completely blew me away... there are so many little nuances to it. The picking is so fast, there are so many different parts in weird keys. I remember thinking, 'Fucking hell, Kerry, what is going on in this lead break?!' I'd ask Gary and he'd tell me it was in some indecipherable key, so I just fuckin' hit the trem the whole way through. [Laughs]"

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.

Demmel joined MACHINE HEAD a decade after his previous band, VIO-LENCE, broke up; VIO-LENCE being the band that he and Robb Flynn, MACHINE HEAD's lead singer and guitarist, launched together as teenagers. Robb went on to form MACHINE HEAD in 1992 and Phil joined them in 2003.

Demmel announced in October that he would leave MACHINE HEAD at the end of the band's fall 2018 North American tour, explaining in a statement that it was "simply time" for him "to step away and do something else musically."

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