Kirk Hammett Cuts Heads with Former Exodus Band Mate Gary Holt

It seemed like a heartfelt and groovy studio reunion when Kirk Hammett walked in to record a solo on “Salt the Wound” for Exodus’ new album, Blood In, Blood Out [Nuclear Blast].
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Hammett (left) and Holt getting serious in the studio.

It seemed like a heartfelt and groovy studio reunion when Kirk Hammett walked in to record a solo on “Salt the Wound” for Exodus’ new album, Blood In, Blood Out [Nuclear Blast]. Hammett had co-founded Exodus when he was in high school in 1980, and although he had performed on a couple of demos back then, he never actually recorded a commercial release with the band before leaving to join Metallica in 1983.

But don’t think the brotherly comradery extended to the solo sections Hammett recorded with long-time Exodus guitarist Gary Holt, because neither player gave any quarter. In fact, the ferocious attacks unleashed by each player are reminiscent of David Bowie’s exclamation on “Diamond Dogs”: “This ain’t rock and roll. This is genocide!” Or, perhaps, one of the horror- movie gorefests that Hammett loves. In any case, it ain’t pretty, and it presents a wonderful, inspirational, and thrilling head-cutting contest for guitarists and guitar fans alike.

Wow. You guys pretty much went for each other’s throats on the “Salt the Wound” solos.

Hammett: You know, right from the beginning, way back in our high-school days in Exodus, Gary and I were all about stealing each other’s thunder. At first, I thought, “This is not too cool.” But then I realized that this was a way to get the best out of the both of us all the time. So we’ve always tried to outdo each other, and it does bring out the best in us—even today. It certainly keeps us on our toes. Holt: Yeah—that solo is two guys just trying to out-shred each other. It was so much fun, and we felt like we were back in my parents’ garage jamming. My solo was already laid down, so Kirk heard that, and he came in and threw down a bunch of takes of his own. The ripping solos complement each other perfectly.

As Gary’s solo was already recorded, did you have an “uh-oh” moment when you first heard it?

Hammett: I did think, “Damn, what a great solo.” So I sat down, and I tried to match the intensity of Gary’s performance. I laid down about 35 solos to get there! It was funny, because when I was at about guitarsolo number 29, Gary walked in, and said, “How many have you done yet?” And I said, “I’m almost at 30.” He goes, “Is that all?” [Laughs.] So you can see that whole thing of pushing each other never really went away.

Did he stay in the control room to torment you?

Hammett: No, he’d leave the room and give me my space to do what I wanted. Ultimately, he came in and said, “Yeah, it sounds good, man. It sounds good.” When the track was finally recorded, put together, and mixed, I thought the solo I laid down was very, very complementary to Gary’s. It felt so right; it felt like we were kids again. I was just so pleased to finally be recording with Exodus after all these years.

When you’re cutting 20 to 30 solos for a track, are you refining as you go along, or are you exploring totally different approaches every time?

Hammett: It’s a little bit of both. I’m improvising, obviously. I’m searching for new ideas, and I’m refining ideas that I know are working within the solo structure. Basically, it’s searching, finding something, and then using a process of elimination until I have a complete solo. And over the course of time, solo number one will sound completely different from solo number 10. Solo number 15 will have elements of number 10, and solo number 20 will have elements of number 10, as well as 15 through 18, until we get something that we can work with.

Holt: Sometimes, you just end up, like, you should have stopped when you were ahead [laughs]. It’s hard to know if you’re improving, or if you had the thing a long time ago. I tend to get sidetracked, and say, “I don’t even remember that one take now—just roll it again.” Of course, no one wants to go back and try to find the perfect performance 75 takes backs. We typically don’t save every solo—which, of course, you can do in Pro Tools. We usually just roll over the previous take to record the new one.

What things happen that tell you, “I’m getting closer to nailing this solo”? Is it phrasing or speed or groove?

Holt: It’s groove and vibe and feel. There were times where my gut instinct was to fix everything, but we didn’t obsess over absolute total digital perfection. If it’s raging, and it sounds raw and heavy, then who cares if a note is a bit off or something? That kind of stuff just makes it sound more like a real band banging it out, man.

Kirk, what gear did you use to record the “Salt the Wound” solo?

Hammett: My main guitar was still out on tour at the time—about 5,000 miles away—so I used my ESP White Zombie. I sampled my Randall amp that was made by Mike Fortin into my Fractal Axe-FX II, and brought it to the studio. We didn’t even plug into amps for these solos. I also used my signature CryBaby wah—which was funny, because Gary used a wah, too. The solos kind of ended up like dueling wahs.

Gary?

Holt: On the entire record, I mostly used my old Schecter V and signature model ESP. All of my best amps are profiled into my Kemper Profiler—even my 1987 modded Marshalls, which are firmly in retirement. We did a blind A/B with the Kemper and my amps, and the sounds are that close. So I take the Kemper—as well as a flash drive with all my tones on a keychain—everywhere I go. It’s a thing of beauty.

After more than 30 years away from being an active participant in an Exodus session, it appears like everything just locked in nicely.

Hammett: It was easy. After the session, we kicked back all afternoon with some beers and barbequed chicken. We just hung out, and it was like it used to be in the high-school days. We were laughing about all the same stuff—about our old friends and all the trouble we got into back then. I totally felt like I was back home.

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