When we think of the phrase Bonded By Blood, we think of two things: a brotherhood that is meant to outlast the trials of war, pain, and time… and the almighty EXODUS. With a bond forged in youth and decades-old friendship, the undisputed masters of thrash metal have recently returned with their eleventh studio album “Persona Non Grata”, via Nuclear Blast Records. Literally translating to “an unwelcome” or “unacceptable” person, “Persona Non Grata” touches on themes of modern societal disgust and degradation. “The people that disgust you – cut ‘em out like cancer,” explains guitarist Gary Holt. “Who is that person? It could be anybody. That’s up to the listener. Who is ‘Persona Non Grata’ to them?”
The underlying irony for many of these songs is the need for unity. “As we were working on these songs, things started happening around the world that ended up tying into it all, and we didn’t even know it! With the general divisiveness in the country today, and everyone being entitled to their opinions; I don’t agree with a lot of them, but I’m not here to be a preacher, either. We want people to listen to the lyrics and come up with their own meanings.”
“Persona Non Grata” 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, EXODUS returned to Swedish artist Par Olofsson to create the album artwork “Persona Non Grata”
“After this album, I feel like we probably won’t work with anyone else again, Par just gets it,” states Holt. A three-faced, winged creature sits atop a bloody pile of diseased and rotting humans as they scream in pain and reach their hands up desperately towards the beast. Undead riot cops beat mercilessly, and senselessly upon this pile of the dying and the world is red with fresh, sopping blood. “Is it an angel, a demon? Is the world being created or destroyed,” asks Holt, “you don’t really know.”
You can read our review of the album HERE.
Expert interviewer Rodrigo Altaf sat down with EXODUS‘ longtime bassist Jack Gibson to discuss the arrival of the album, how the creative process happened this time around, the meaning behind some of the songs, his view about streaming services, and much more. Read the transcript of their conversation below and remember that for more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new content we publish on a daily basis.
Hi Jack, thank you for joining us.
Thanks man, it’s good to be here!
We are here of course, to promote the new Exodus album “Persona Non Grata”, which finally came out on November 19th.
Yeah, exactly. It’s been a long, a long journey! We recorded it almost a year ago now and it’s been hidden away, which is a hard thing to do in this digital age right now. So we’re pretty happy that we finally released it. Gary finally came back and we got the opportunity to really work again.
I know it was postponed due to Tom hunting’s health and the pandemic of course, but it’s been seven years since “Blood In Blood Out.” What took you guys so long?
Mostly it was just Gary being busy with Slayer. And we didn’t want to record an album and then not have him there to tour it. So, we just basically waited until we knew that there was a time limit on the Slayer thing. Gary deserved every second of being out there with those guys [on the band’s farewell tour]and all the extra recognition that it had brought him. We were more than happy for him to be there doing that. So we were basically just waiting for the boss to get back and put everything back on wheels.
I know you recorded the record at Tom Hunting’s house. What was the writing process like this time?
A lot of the time it’s really mostly Tom and Gary getting together for about a month. They just use a half stack and a drum set and they just go in and jam. I used to go in and wanted to be there and all that stuff too. After a while I realized I was just kind of getting in the way, I was just taking time away from both of them being productive. So now I wait until Gary and Tom have it hammered out and then I go in and put the bass on and it’s like icing. When I showed up there they were still working on a couple of songs, even as we were doing the pre-production stuff, some of the stuff still wasn’t done yet. Gary usually comes out with the two fastest, baddest songs, like three days before we’re gonna roll tape. He basically just puts himself in writing mode and works it out and then the next month we sit there and we record it and it always just works. He always gets it done, man.
And is it a usual process for you guys to immerse yourselves in the home studio like that, as opposed to going to a “professional studio”? Or is this something new for you guys?
Well, we usually start off with Tom in a “real studio” because for drums you need 30 mikes and overheads and all that stuff and all the inputs. So that’s usually more than we are wanting to get our hands on. So, we go in and record Tom in a studio. Then we go and do the pro tools stuff somewhere where we can take the time and kind of live there for the month and just chill out with each other and work on stuff. This time we actually had the luxury of having all of the gear that we needed when we brought Steve Lagudi out to engineer for us. One of the reasons that that we liked him too was that he had all of this gear that he had all the mikes and everything that we were going to need. So we didn’t even need to go into a studio for anything, we just set it up there and did everything organically ourselves this time. And it worked out great, man.
Yeah. And I know Steve has worked with the likes of Machine Head, Testament and other bands, and Andy Sneap mixed the album. Tell me about those two choices!
Steve is an old buddy of ours, and Sneap was supposed to come out and do the engineering as well. But because of the pandemic, having him come was not an option.
He’s in the UK, right?
Yeah, he’s in England, so we couldn’t get him over here. And so we were just thinking “Okay, well, what else could we do?”. And I had engineered the previous record “Blood In Blood Out” but it was a lot of work, and it kind of wore me out. I just wanted to play bass this time. And Steve‘s better than me anyway! [laughs]. So we called him in and we knew we were comfortable with him. He’d been on the bus was this before – that’s when you know you can live with somebody and deal with them. And we knew he knew his gear, and he came in and got everything recorded and sat down there. And Andy has been working with us ever since I’ve been in the band. I haven’t done a record that that Andy didn’t at least mix. He’s like our sixth secret member almost. He got hold of it and did his magic to it I think it turned out pretty good, man!
It absolutely did! And I’m curious about one thing. I’m not a musician, so the creative process is always intriguing to me. What is the process in Exodus for the lyrics to match the music? How do you make that connection and finalize the songs?
That’s Gary! Gary‘s the man, dude…I know I say it a lot, but that’s what it is. He’s one of those exceptionally creative dudes. He’s just on fire. When it’s time to do it, the man just sits down and does it and it’s always something original and not a copy of what he’s already done. He’s always bringing new influences, and it’s always just good. We learned to trust him and we just know that whatever he does is going to land. And I just do my part, my little part and make it as solid as I can. That’s my piece of the sandwich that’s made. So, it really is Gary who comes up with all that.
Sonically speaking, it’s amazing to me how your bass cuts through that barrage of guitars. To what do you credit that? Is it your tone, the mix, a combination of those things…
It’s kind of both. Andy knows what I want to sound like, and I give him exactly what he needs to get me right there in the mix. I’ve heard him complain about other bass players that don’t work the same way. And then if he doesn’t get what he wants, he can’t put it where it needs to be. So I’ve had the luxury of working with him all the time. We’ve shaped that sound together over time. But I always wanted to sound just like that. Even on like the live albums I was already aspiring to have that sound. When I heard Frankie Bello from Anthrax on “Among the Living” and DD Verni from Overkill I thought “that’s how bass is supposed to sound in thrash”. There’s got to be an electric side to it, and there’s a place where it’ll fit in there and be with the guitars, but still be a cool sound. So I’ve always tried to emulate both of those guys in that way.
Definitely on “Among the Living,” that kind of set the tone literally for what was to come in terms of bass in thrash.
I think so too! Frankie just set the bar right there.
Tell me about the title, which means someone who’s unwelcome in Latin. And that’s a very long title track too, with more than seven minutes. That’s unusual for thrash.
I think it’s kind of everybody right now, like everybody’s persona non grata. We’re barely treated like humans, and I think it just has a lot to do with that. Each side sees the other side as persona non grata. So I think it was just a good, timely type of thing to explain are the times we live in.
That makes sense. I think “Prescribing Horror” is probably my favorite song and I read somewhere that it’s one of [vocalist]Steve “Zetro” Souza’s favorites as well. I love that intro and the child screams at the end are horrifying, to be honest with you! [laughs]Tell me about that track.
Yeah, it’s a good one. It’s got a really cool vocal hook which is really singable. The riff is really simple, but really heavy. And yeah it’s just of the one song that sort of stands out on the album, with a really slow, chunky, heavy riff and I love it too. But to be honest, I can’t really decide what my favorite song on the record is. It keeps kind of moving. I think that’s a good sign for us, because it means that there’s not like one stand out song on there. I keep kind of changing my mind about which one I like the best. So I think that’s good.
Absolutely! Let’s talk about the single “The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves”. The video for that song is extremely graphic! Who came up with that concept?
It’s the guy who made the video. He’s the same guy that did the Slayer movie The Repentless Killogy. Gary made the connection. It’s the guy that did the little video story thing that they did for the last album.
It’s incredible and repulsive in equal measures, I would say.
Yeah, well that’s kind of like our music [laughs]
That makes sense! [laughs]. Another song title that caught my attention is a REMF. Is it a reference to the military slang “Rear Echelon Motherfucker”?
Yeah. That’s exactly right. And I didn’t know what that was. Gary actually had to tell me what that was!
Yeah. I found out too after I heard the song.
Right. I didn’t even know what it was. Gary does a lot of research and he’s a constant reader. And so he always has these ideas and obscure things to bring up. And he always puts them in the songs.
Speaking of obscure, “Cosa Del Pantano”, which obviously means swamp thing, is a really cool acoustic intermission, which is something you guys do every now and again. And is segues into “Lunatic- Liar-Lord”. That kind of breaks the pattern of all the heaviness and the beating, and gives some breathing space halfway through the album, right?
Yeah. I think it’s kind of a sequel to “Cajun Hell”. Everybody wanted more of that Southern little bit that Gary does coming into “Cajun Hell”. Most of his solos on acoustic guitar are very classic, classic driven finger, finger-picking and pivot note, like true classical guitar. This track is literally very swampy. It’s a really weird tuning that he used. I play a lot of country music and some weirdly tuned banjo stuff, and I’d never seen the tuning that he’d picked to do that thing in. I picked up the guitar and I couldn’t play one thing on it. I was like, “what is this dude?” [laughs]. And then he played the part and I’m like “that’s pretty cool, man!”. So more power to him, it turned out great.
It surely did! Can I ask you how Tom is doing these days health-wise?
He’s doing real good. I’s going to be a real long recovery, but he’s doing real good man.
Okay. Fingers crossed that things turned out all right for him.
Yeah, man. He’s healthy and very positive. He looks good, he sounds good. I talked to him on the phone pretty regularly. He sounds good. He’s got a great attitude and he’s gonna be back, man. It might take a minute because he had a pretty invasive surgery done and it takes a while for your body to stitch itself back together, but he’s going to do it. Tom‘s the strongest one of us, so if anybody’s gonna make it back and recover, it’s going to be Tom.
Fingers crossed. Changing to a lighter subject, Rick Hunolt plays on one of the tracks and he played with you guys at Psycho Las Vegas recently, that must have been a trip down memory lane for you guys, right?
Yeah. Rick comes up and jumps up on stage every now and then, and it’s great fun. He’s super awesome on stage and he’s just a fun, awesome guy to have around. So when he comes around, it’s kind of a treat. We’re all smiling till our cheeks hurt.
What was the track that he played on? I couldn’t pick it up to be honest with you, but what’s the track on the album that he solos on?
It’s “Lunatic-Liar-Lord”. There are four guitar solos on it: Gary and Lee [Altus], and Rick and Kragen [Lum, guitar player of Heathen]. We got all the guys to lay it out on one song.
Awesome. And I think the music business is different from when you joined Exodus in the first place. It’s certainly different from the eighties when the band started. What would you say is the biggest change for you guys in all those years?
Well, nobody pays for anything anymore, so there’s, there’s no money. People don’t buy the music. Like people say music for free and they’ll just stream it. And those guys don’t pay us. They’ll come out and say “we doubled your payment”. And I’m like doubled to what, like 0.000002? Who gives a fuck? I really don’t like streaming. The quality sucks for one thing, and then they don’t pay us. If they simply paid us radio rates, which they should, we’d be fine. We’d be making money and we’d be happy that they were playing us. XM Radio has to pay radio rates, they pay us and we’re happy. So I love XM but not streaming. It’s just a rip off, those guys are getting six and seven figure salaries and they’re paying us nothing. Don’t, don’t let them fool you and think that they’re paying us something they’re paying us nothing. It’s insane.
I think the other thing that has changed is the joy of having a CD or a vinyl in your hands, which almost completely disappeared. Now we just download it and that’s it. There’s no experiencing an album, looking through the booklet and reading the lyrics etc.
I think that’s why vinyl is actually making somewhat of a comeback. It’s kind of a novelty. I realize it’s not really the way people are consuming music, but it’s a thing and you can hold it and you can see the pictures and you can read the credits, that kind of thing. And there’s a certain group of even young people that that’s what they want to do, you know? So there’s a lot of vinyl getting sold. There’s more vinyl than CDs now.
I want to ask your opinion on something. I don’t know if you heard these bands, but there’s a lot of younger bands that emulate the sound of the thrash metal in the eighties. Bands like Havok, Angelus Apatrida from Spain…are you familiar with them?
Both of them are good friends of mine, and I love them!
What’s your take on that because they seem to try to emulate the sound of that era a little bit. Most of them have created their own identity now, but the starting template is that era that you were a part of, right?
Sure. I think you could put Municipal Waste in that group too. They love that time frame and the energy source of that type of music and they’re not copying us. It’s just that they’re playing within those rules that bands like Exodus and Metallica and Slayer set down all those years ago. And I think they’re great, man. They’re all great kids, they’re great players, all cool. We like them all and we’ve played with all of those guys. They all love Exodus and wanna talk to us. It’s a cool scene!
And the last question for me, what can we expect in terms of live shows and touring at this stage? I know you’re doing a few shows here and there, but in terms of like a full tour.
We don’t really know. We just really have to see how the world reacts and shakes out from from all of this. We’d like to just say we’re right back, but I think there’s a lot of hurdles to get over before we can be where we were before all of this. And I think probably a lot of people’s ideas have changed forever. It’s going to be kind of a different world and we’re not, we’re just really not sure what to expect.
Yeah. On October 2nd I went to my first show since February 2020. That was unthinkable to me, but it’s the new reality.
Hopefully we, we catch up to it and it’s not as severe in the near future and we can live with being sick. I think until we can live with being sick it’ll be different and it’ll be hard. And we just kind of have to see what the future deals us and react to it.
One day at a time. Yeah. Jack, thank you so much for your time. All the best with the release of Persona Non Grata. And I hope to see you on stage soon.
Hey, I hope to be down there in Rio soon, man, that’s one of our favorite places to be. So hopefully, this will all open up and we can come and play for you guys, and it’ll be great.
Yeah. Fingers crossed. Thanks so much.
Thanks, we’ll talk later!