Tom Murphy of the Denver Westword recently conducted an interview with drummer Tom Hunting of San Francisco Bay Area thrash metal veterans EXODUS. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Denver Westword: [Late EXODUS singer] Paul Baloff is one of the great characters of heavy metal and rock music, generally. What are a few of your favorite stories about Paul?
Hunting: One funny story is when we reformed the band in 1997, we didn’t know where to find him. We had heard that he was hanging out in Santa Cruz building sand castles for tourists and stuff. We heard a lot of stories. I can’t confirm if that’s true or whatever. But apparently he was living in one of those tiny, little, Airstream, egg-type trailers. He basically sold his trailer to two different people, and as one guy was driving away with the trailer, another guy was pulling up to pick it up. I guess, as he would do so many times, would slip out and head to the Bay Area and rejoin EXODUS. When we met him, he was super energetic, and he loved heavy metal. He wasn’t the greatest singer in the world. But as far as thrash music, man, he dug it way more than any of us even did at that point. He was a character. He kind of took care of us in the early days because he was older than us. He loaned me seven hundred bucks to buy my first drum set ever — my first real drum set. Prior to that, I’d only had pieces of shit. I got screwed. I went into [this music store] in San Francisco and saw an old Rogers Drums kit, and I immediate equated Rogers Drums with THIN LIZZY because their drummer played them. I probably could have got it for three hundred bucks, but I walked in a young lad and said, “I’ve got seven hundred bucks and I want to buy that drum set.” And the guy said, “Okay.” Paul loaned me the money to buy that, and I believe he loaned Gary [Holt, guitar] the money to buy his first Marshall half stack ever. We paid him back eventually. We all worked jobs in the summer. He had just received an inheritance, I guess, so he kind of looked at it like money in the bank. Even though we weren’t the most reliable, we did eventually pay him back. Paul was a good man. He wasn’t too kind to his body, and in the end, it cost him. We learned a lot through our experiences with him. It was an education, and we miss him terribly. We didn’t recognize all the physical things that were going wrong with him at time he passed away, but we knew something was going on. In hindsight, we all recognize those things happening in people.
Denver Westword: As a singer, what did you enjoy about him?
Hunting: He had good stage presence, and he got the crowd going. His unconditional love for thrash music and heavy music kind of just poured out of him and the crowd loved that about him. When [Steve “Zetro” Souza] came along, Zet just wanted to be a frontman and a star type of singer. Compared to Paul, in a metal environment, Paul just had that something on stage that you’d want in a metal singer. Even though he would hit wrong notes and be off time. Our band has never required anybody that could totally sing, you know?
Denver Westword: Metal has made a big comeback in the past decade, especially thrash in some ways. What do you like about how things are now and what do you miss a little bit?
Hunting: I miss the album sales. People download it for free now. Bands like us, DEATH ANGEL and TESTAMENT, we have to play live. But it’s okay because as long as people come out and support the music live, which they do; attendance is up, merch sales are up. The only thing I can equate that to is maybe people aren’t buying the records, so they come out and support the music live. But this music is best delivered live anyhow. We’re not a slave to touring, but it’s how bands like ours make money and are still able to sustain ourselves doing this. So, from that standpoint, it’s a positive because I get to travel all over the world. As we get older, and I look at it realistically, I have this thing where I realize that we’re a lot closer to there than we are to here, and there is the stopping point. Because, let’s face it, this is going to stop at some point. So I’m going to squeeze all the adventure I can out of it between now and then and make some good music and really awesome connections along the way.
Denver Westword: Is there anything you find these days that surprises you?
Hunting: What surprises me is when you see young people in the audience who aren’t forty-something and they’re singing every word. Even people who speak very broken English or don’t even speak English — they still know what you’re saying in the music. That surprises me, to see people that are young digging this type of music. Kids also, if they like something that’s current and they’re a fan of, say, SLIPKNOT or LAMB OF GOD, maybe they want to see what spawned all of that. Maybe they want to do some research. From that standpoint the Internet is a good thing because it provides exposure you normally wouldn’t have.
Denver Westword: There is talk of a new album coming out this year. How would you say you’ve challenged yourself as a musician to keep things interesting for you?
Hunting: For me, personally, I think it’s because I’ve stepped away from it a couple of times. Coming back, it was fresh and awesome again. I think it’s nothing that was planned, any musical evolution and how our band sounds or whatever. But I like the process. I like the process of hearing a riff for the first time and putting a drum beat to it. Building a song from that form all the way to its recorded version. That’s inspiring to me because I love the process of building the music and seeing it all get arranged. Forming a song is fun. It’s like building a sandwich, like building the best sandwich you could possibly build.
Read the entire interview from Denver Westword.