Tom Hunting of Exodus on how building a song is like building the best sandwich possible
Exodus was founded in 1980 by a group of high school friends that included a pre-Metallica Kirk Hammett and Tom Hunting, the sole remaining original member of the act. The classic line-up also featured Paul Baloff on vocals and Gary Holt, who moved over to guitar when Kirk joined Metallica, just prior to the when the group recorded its debut album in 1985. Bonded By Blood is a landmark thrash record and was the first of many excellent subsequent offerings from Exodus.
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Like many of their peers, the guys in this band got into both hardcore punk and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal around the same time in the early '80s and produced thrash, a synthesis of the two that became and remains influential to this day. Thrash's Big Four -- Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer -- are rightfully credited as having the biggest impact on the genre, but it has often been said that should that Big Four could be expanded to the Big Five or Big Six, with the addition of Testament and Exodus.
After multiple line-up changes over a career spanning more than three decades, Exodus still puts out relevant metal, especially now that that form of music has experienced a bit of a renaissance. We recently spoke with the articulate and affable Tom Hunting about the early days of the band, Paul Baloff, Bonded By Blood and how writing a song is like making the best sandwich you could build.
Westword: You formed the band when you were fourteen or fifteen years old. How did you get into playing with guys that were a bit older than you?
Tom Hunting: I was just a big fan of music, and back then, there was all this hard rock like AC/DC. Prior to that that, I was into funk music. Going to school back then, music was heavily in the schools. It would suck nowadays for kids because art is being strangled everyday unless you're in a private school. But back then, it was virtually wide open. You could learn any instrument you wanted. If you wanted tuba, there were three different classes.
First I played guitar, and I always wanted to play drums and finally bought my own drum set. I met people through high school and jamming in my bedroom listening to "My Sharona" and shit like that. Then my brother brought home Pink Floyd's Animals, and that changed everything. So I just looked for people to jam with in high school and met up with Kirk Hammett. Gary Holt wasn't even playing guitar back then. He was actually Kirk's guitar roadie at first; then he picked it up and in six months he was just shredding. He was kind of a natural.
Why about Animals changed things for you?
I think it was just one of the "Pigs" songs that really struck me. That was a special time for music, period. It was the late '70s, and I stood in line to buy Back in Black. You know, to buy an album, that was when you actually had to work and go out and seek the music. I think in today's world it's instant gratification: point, click, if you like it, you like it, but you're still on to the next thing.
Back then, we would study the inner sleeve and read all the liner notes and look at the back of Stevie Nicks on Rumours for hours and hours as a young teen. It was a good time to grow up in, musically. Not just Pink Floyd. Everything was new and fresh. It was a special time, and the thing that made it special is that it'll never happen again. It's just going to get more and more digitized. I don't know. People who are fans of music, even older music, will never know that time.
There was an interview you did in which you had sung for Exodus at one point before Paul came in. Did you start out as the drummer?
I was the drummer. The earliest formation of Exodus was out of the East Bay. Our first singer ever was a guy named Keith Stewart, and we would trade off on vocals because he didn't really have a high voice. Back then we were playing cover tunes, and we were playing backyard parties and kegger parties. A good friend of ours, Merle, bought Iron Maiden's first album, which, by the way, R.I.P. Clive Burr. He bought it just for the cover.
Before we even put it on the turntable, we were like, "Ah...look at the cover." Nothing like that had ever been put out there. That inspired curiosity. Def Leppard's first album came out and there was this barrage of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. They were playing in college radio stations here, KUSF, and we would stay up until two in the morning just to hear what's next.
I was the original singer, I guess, one of them. We had a guy named Dave Vanderhoof for a couple of weeks, and he was kind of a Van Halen clone, so we kicked him out. I was just the singer because I was the guy in the band that could also sing. But we always wanted to get a front man. Then we met Paul. Kirk introduced me to Paul at, I think, at a Hari Kari concert in Berkeley, circa 1982 or something.
I'm not really a good metal singer. But back then, we were playing backyard parties, and we were playing Iron Maiden covers, and people thought they were originals because nobody had heard Iron Maiden yet and nobody had heard "Get Your Rocks Off" by Def Leppard. We're playing these songs at backyard parties just because we loved them. [UFO's] "Rock Bottom" was in the set. We were writing pretty cheesy originals back then, too. It wasn't until we were exposed to this heavier music that it took a turn.
Continue reading for more from Hunting.