Exodus' Gary Holt Recalls How European Metal Tour 'Quickly Snowballed Into a Disaster' Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Gary Holt Slayer
Miikka Skaffari/FilmMagic

Gary Holt of Slayer performs at Oakland Arena on Nov. 26, 2019 in Oakland, Calif.

Exodus guitarist was among half a dozen people on the Bay Strikes Back tour to test positive.

Gary Holt knows what it's like to be the last band out the door. His metal group, Exodus, was on the epic European tour The Bay Strikes Back 2020 with Testament and Death Angel in March when everything had changed almost overnight. "We flew home the morning the president shut down all flights outside of anyone who was an American [on March 12]," says Holt 55, in an interview with Billboard last week following his personal battle with COVID-19.

The monthlong tour kicked off in February and had only two dates left (in Milan, Italy, and Hanover, Germany), when the bands had to call it quits as European nations began to lock down in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that has infected nearly 2.4 million people and killed almost 163,000 people across the globe. Holt was one of at least half a dozen people on the tour who tested positive for COVID-19, and while he feels lucky that his case was like "a really bad flu," the bigger question for him now that he's recovered is what will happen next?

Check out Billboard's interview with Holt below.

Can you describe what it was like to be on tour as the coronavirus was breaking out all over Europe?

The tour was amazing, it was crazy and killer, but you're following what’s going on in Europe, which was becoming a hotbed of the virus. As it started approaching during the last couple weeks of the tour, you're starting to get nervous, so we canceled the Milan show and went and had two and a half days off, so we went to Spain. That was awesome and refreshing and we ate good, but it turns out that Spain was a hot spot too.

Did you have any symptoms while you were on tour?

You're on tour so any feeling of cold-like symptoms you felt, you got paranoid. I got on the plane and was fine and I landed and had a cough. I started having a little cough after two flights -- Munich to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to San Francisco.

Did you worry that staying on tour might be dangerous?

We were on tour for six weeks and we were aware on the last night we were in Germany [that it was probably going to be over soon], so a couple of us went out to dinner and were like, "I don't feel so good." It was freezing outside and we were waiting for taxis and I assumed it was just that, but then I got home and progressively got sicker.

But at some point it was clear you had to shut it down, right?

Things were getting pretty hairy and Italy was canceled for us. That was early on in the outbreak, but it all quickly snowballed into a disaster. At that time, I was dealing with elbow tendinitis, my arm was super painful, and so I needed those two days off. We tried to never cancel a show throughout our career ... but we started paying really close attention to it and if you did run into a fan, you would give an elbow bump and maintain your distance. No meet and greets, obviously. But since a bunch of people got sick, for all we know we were giving it to the Europeans.

People describe it as everything from no symptoms to a cold, to a bad flu, to the worst flu you've ever had. What was it like for you?

I'm fine now, perfectly back to normal, whatever normal is, I have no idea. [Laughs] But I was really sick. I was one of the lucky ones, because my version of really sick was like really sick with the flu. I had a fever and night sweats and a cough. The most different thing some people experience is loss of a sense of smell, but my sense of smell became bunk -- everything smelled really pungent, like a strong smell of garlic powder. I would eat a couple bites to make the rumbling go away, but everything tasted like sh-- covered in garlic. I ended up losing 16 pounds. There were no severe symptoms. I had what felt like the flu and I've been sick where I had a temperature of 102, but I think the highest this got was 101.

Who else on the tour got sick?

Will Carroll [the drummer] from Death Angel was on a ventilator for two weeks. [Testament singer] Chuck Billy and his wife, Tiffany, who works for the band and their guitar tech, Kevin, who is a longtime friend of mine, and their bassist, Steve DiGiorgio. Carlos, another tech for Testament [got it], but I'm the only guy in Exodus who got sick who was symptomatic. Death Angel's lighting designer got it and there were others with symptoms who got better but who never got tested.

There have been a lot of stories of how hard it's been to get tests and how long it takes for results. What was your experience?

I had to really push to get a test. It was 10 long days for my results and it was like the end of the 10th day that I got a call. My wife got tested and she was negative, but who knows if she already had it and was no longer symptomatic? Nobody knows anything.

What was the hardest part of having COVID-19?

Just waking up in the middle of the night soaked, that always sucks. I would get a towel and sleep on top of it because of how drenched the sheets and pillow cases were. And not being able to visit my mother. My youngest daughter lives five minutes away and I can’t see her. I haven't seen my grandkids in two-and-a-half months, that really sucks. I'm just inside the house watching stupid TV with my wife, which is what I do every day anyway.

Are you back to normal now?

I was sick for a couple weeks for sure, then once I felt a bit back to normal I would get up and try to do something and get really tired really fast and I was not quite up to the task. Now I'm staring at this two-month-old growth of weeds and I'm contemplating getting out the weed wacker. But I also can’t really call someone to do it for me.

How long have you been on lockdown?

I've been home for over a month and only really left to go to the grocery store. I left the house pretty well-stocked with plenty of toilet paper, which is good because I haven't seen a single roll anywhere.

What did you do during? Did you work on new Exodus music?

I've been doing the least glamorous thing on earth: my taxes, which are complex and require a lot of crunching receipts. But next week, I might pick up a guitar and work on some stuff. I've played a couple times since I got better, but right after I got home I was immediately sick. I'm excited to play a guitar my wife bought for me as a present: She got a replica Prince cloud guitar that the estate sold. It's a beautiful dark purple and it took a year to arrive.

Do you feel like you were kind of the last men out?

I think it was probably the last European tour of any genre for a long time. Everything after us was canceled. If we had another 10 shows, they would have been canceled.

Were you already done touring for the year after that tour? What was the plan?

We already planned to work on a new album and we had two one-offs booked this summer. I have zero faith [that they will happen] and zero desire to do it. ... I think every one of them will be canceled, including the festival in Kentucky we were supposed to play that probably won't happen. That was all we had until the fall anyway.

I've spoken to less-established bands who've said that not being able to tour is really going to have a huge impact. How will it hit you guys?

It's not affecting our bottom line that much because there [weren't many shows booked]. We have some stuff booked for later in the year, but we have no idea whether that stuff will happen, but at least it's there. We're also supposed to go into the recording studio, but it will be a while for that too anyway.

Do you think you'll be able to record in the studio together or will you have to Zoom it?

By the time it's feasible for us to record, I'm sure the stay-at-home order will be lifted enough where I can sit in the studio with my bandmates. Other than drums, we all do everything on our own anyway. For now, though, everyone is locked down at home.

Will it ever be the same? Can you picture fans in the pit all sweaty at your shows, standing right up on each other?

I'm afraid audiences will stay away once the all-clear is given. But I bet people will be super-excited to go out to shows again, whenever that is. The effect on the global economy is bad and we're all in the same boat. Who knows how many of us bands will be able to ride this out? Because we depend so heavily these days on tour income and merch sales. They're saying it could be well into 2021... I'm nervous about it, you know? We're all nervous about it.

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