Losing a key member can sometimes cripple a band, but legendary rock act Slayer continues to trash on in memory of founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman, who died at 49 in May from alcohol-related cirrhosis.
Slayer has recently been touring through Europe, South American and Mexico, and will headline its first proper North American tour in approximately eight years, beginning Oct. 22 at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska. See full dates below the Q&A.
Scott Sokol, Slayer's booking agent at Pinnacle Entertainment for the past 15 years, tells Billboard.biz the band hasn’t lost its edge since guitarist Gary Holt joined the group more than two years ago to fill in for Hanneman. The agent acknowledges that there’s no replacement for Hanneman, but says performing for fans has been therapeutic for Slayer following its loss.
“It wasn’t going to help anybody to cancel what they were doing,” says Sokol, who also books acts like Bullet For My Valentine, Mastodon, Halestorm, Keane and Robyn. “The band likes to go out there and play. Not that I’m a counselor, or anything, but I think part of the way they deal with things is to do what they love. And they love to go out there and do their thing.”
In the interview below, Sokol delves further into whether Slayer’s sound has changed since recruiting guitarist Gary Holt, what type of production and set list to expect from the band’s North American tour, what tributes are planned for late member Jeff Hanneman, and the group’s return to Los Angeles’ Hollywood Palladium after being banned 25 years ago.
Billboard.biz: It’s been a while since Slayer last toured North America. How did it come together?
Scott Sokol: It was probably at some point in the spring. I’m excited about the package, which is Gojira and a young band from Australia called 4ARM. We wanted to be very ticket-price conscious. The majority of the venues in the U.S. have tickets available for under $40 for the bulk of the tickets, with a few exceptions. Slayer hasn’t really done a true (North American) headlining tour in probably seven or eight years. They’ve gone out there and done the co-bills with Slipknot (on the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival) and they had Megadeth playing underneath them for probably two U.S. tours. They’ve co-billed with Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson. But this is going to be the first time in a while where they’re doing the full on, 90-minute-plus Slayer extravaganza.
Were there ever discussions about taking a break from touring after the May 2013 death of Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman?
I think if it happened while they were on tour it might’ve been different. But Jeff hadn’t been (touring) with the band for close to three years at this point. So it wasn’t like (Slayer guitarist) Gary Holt was new to the equation. At the time of Jeff’s passing, Gary had been in the band for two-and-a-half years. It wasn’t going to help anybody to cancel what they were doing. The band likes to go out there and play. Not that I’m a counselor, or anything, but I think part of the way they deal with things is to do what they love. And they love to go out there and do their thing.
Do you think Slayer’s live show changed much since Gary Holt joined the band to replace Jeff Hanneman?
I don’t think they’ve really missed a beat there. There’s no replacement for Jeff. Gary doesn’t replace Jeff, who is a legend unto himself. But Gary Holt, to a degree, is also that. He’s just a little different stylistically. Brian Johnson and Bon Scott are different frontmen for AC/DC, but both are legendary in their own right. So in some way you could look at it like that.
Is Slayer planning any kind of tribute to Jeff Hanneman during the upcoming concerts?
I believe during the European shows they have a picture or some footage, and they play a bunch of songs that were Jeff’s favorites or that he was heavily involved with. But that was done a little bit on the fly, because all of the touring and Jeff’s passing were coming so close together that they did what they could do in the short amount of time that they had. In the U.S., I think you’re going to see something different and much more thought out, simply because they have the time.
What will Slayer’s North American concerts entail, in terms of production and set list?
That’s an ongoing discussion now. They definitely want to ram 10 pounds of shit in a five-pound bag, that’s for sure. They want to bring out as much stuff as possible that can fit into these venues, but still make it cost-effective. Given the state of the economy, the band understands that their fans only have so much money to spend. So we’re keeping the ticket prices low, but we still want to bring as much of a show as we can. You’re going to see a lot of material played that you probably haven’t heard in a long time, along with a couple surprises that will be announced in the coming weeks.
These guys are coming like a house of fire for this tour. They haven’t hit the U.S. in so long, and they’ll be able to do whatever they want to do. They don’t have to play with a certain timeframe or split the stage with anyone. They’ve got the full run of the venues and time, so they’ll be doing whatever they’ve been wanting to do for the past seven or eight years. I’m excited about it.
Slayer was banned from playing Los Angeles’ Palladium about 25 years ago. Is the band excited to return for back-to-back shows at the venue?
They were banned from the Palladium last time because it got so out of control that a riot ensued. That makes the return to the Palladium very special. They’re thrilled.
How would you describe a Slayer concert to someone who’s never seen the band perform live?
You can consider it one of the 10 life-changing experiences you’ll have in your life -- maybe even top three. Marriage, birth of children and going to a Slayer show. You’ve never seen anything like it; nobody has. That’s why they’ve been around doing what they do for as long as they have. Heavy metal was born with Black Sabbath. Then you had Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. But Slayer perfected it.
Do you see any younger fans coming to Slayer shows, or it mostly people who grew up listening to the band?
It’s a very split crowd. I’ve talked about this with other people in the industry -- going to a Slayer show is almost a right of passage. If you’re into hard rock or heavy metal, you have to go at least once. When you go once, you become a little more addicted to going. There’s no band putting out music today in the genre that doesn’t pay some sort of homage to the band. Even when you see Dave Grohl winning a Grammy, what’s he doing? He’s wearing a Slayer T-shirt. The image is that they’re the scariest, most brutal music entity out there. But the reality is that it’s also the most electrifying and entertaining live show you’re going to see.
Is Slayer working on any new music?
They’re definitely working on new music. More things will be revealed in the coming weeks.
Here are Slayer’s North American tour dates:
Oct. 22: Anchorage, Alaska (Sullivan Arena)
Oct. 25: Las Vegas (The Joint @ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino)
Oct. 27: Los Angeles (Hollywood Palladium)
Oct. 28: Los Angeles (Hollywood Palladium)
Oct. 30: San Jose, Calif. (Event Center at San Jose State University)
Nov. 1: Seattle (WaMu Theater)
Nov. 2: Calgary (Stampede Corral)
Nov. 3: Calgary (Stampede Corral)
Nov. 4: Edmonton (Shaw Conference Centre)
Nov. 5: Saskatoon (Prairieland Park)
Nov. 7: Winnipeg (MTS Centre)
Nov. 8: Saint Paul, Minn. (Myth)
Nov. 12: Houston (Bayou Music Center)
Nov. 13: Dallas (South Side Ballroom)
Nov. 15: Chicago (Aragon Ballroom)
Nov. 16: Detroit (The Fillmore Detroit)
Nov. 17: Columbus, Ohio (Lifestyle Communities Pavilion)
Nov. 19: Silver Spring, Md. (The Fillmore Silver Spring)
Nov. 20: Pittsburgh (Stage AE)
Nov. 21: Toronto (Ricoh Coliseum)
Nov. 23: Montreal (CEPSUM At University Of Montreal)
Nov. 24: Quebec City (Pavillon de la Jeunesse)
Nov. 26: Wallingford, Conn. (Toyota Presents The Oakdale Theatre)
Nov. 27: New York (Theater At Madison Square Garden)
Nov. 29: Camden, N.J. (Susquehanna Bank Center)
Nov. 30: Lowell, Mass. (Tsongas Center At UMass Lowell)