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Dear Guitar Hero: Slayer's Jeff Hanneman on Songwriting, Pre-Show Warmups, Hendrix and More

From the GW archives: This story originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Guitar World. Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman died of liver failure on May 2, 2013, at age 49

He’s a founding member of Slayer and one of the fastest players in thrash. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is…

You guys just played your first-ever show with Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth [at the Sonisphere Festival in Poland]. All the press that’s coming out says everyone is in a good mood, but is everyone really getting along? — Dimitar Kalfin

Everyone got along great. Dave Lombardo and Lars [Ulrich] were doing their drummer thing together and getting drunk and stuff. And [Dave] Mustaine seemed to be cool, too. I ran into him a couple times and we hung out and talked. I haven’t heard any bad shit from anyone on this tour at all.

If you were to go on real-life Call of Duty–style killing spree, what album would you pick as the soundtrack? — Harry Reagan

It would have to be Reign in Blood, obviously. It’s relentless all the way through. Twenty-eight minutes and I’d be done. [laughs]

You seem to keep pretty private, while Kerry seems to be everywhere. What do you do when you’re not on “Slayer time”? — Rob Wells

I hang with my woman, and with some friends that have nothing to do with Slayer. I also like to watch sports and go to hockey and football games.

You’ve mentioned in the past that you record stuff that you don’t use with Slayer. What does it sound like, and do you plan to do anything with it in the future? — Mika Jaakonaho

Every now and then I write something that at the time I feel is not right for Slayer. Then years go by and I find it again, and I’m like, This is cool. Some of the stuff from Seasons in the Abyss I wrote years before we recorded that album. I’ll bring out these old ideas and play them for the guys, and they’re like, “Fuck, let’s use it.” I have a method of working on music: I’ll get up in the morning and throw down some drums on my drum machine, and then I’ll come back later and try to pop off rhythms to it. Some of it’s cool but too tacky or too melodic or something for Slayer. I’ll probably do something with it after Slayer decides to quit, but I can’t see doing a side project.

Who would you rather share a beer with, Jimi Hendrix or John Lennon, and why? — John McNeil

I’d say Jimi Hendrix, because I’d like to see what was going on in his head. He had no rules on the guitar, and I’d really like to see what’s going on upstairs.

You’re one of the fastest right-hand pickers in thrash. How can I increase speed and endurance? — Dude

I’ve been asked this question before, and the only thing I can say is that Kerry and I warm up a lot before we go on. We start, like, an hour before so we can build up our speed in time for the set.

What’s the least-metal tune we would find on your iPod? — Aazan Habib

Probably B-52s. [laughs] I like to go hang at the beach or the pool, and they’re kind of the perfect music for that.

Lots of people I know form bands in hopes of getting girls. But I’m in a metal band in Ohio, and it doesn’t seem to be the case. When you first started Slayer, did it help you score with chicks? — Antar Turgay

Not at all. [laughs] The majority of our fans are dudes. And the chicks you do see at our shows are probably there because of a dude. Slayer shows are nothing but sausage fests. [laughs] We always joke that we really need to write some love songs or something.

What is the scariest thing you’ve seen a fan do at a Slayer show? — Alonso Loaiza

Every now and then they get too crazy and headbang on the ground or on the barrier, and knock themselves out. At a recent show, I looked down into the pit and there was this guy just lying there, and he looked totally dead. He might have just passed out from exhaustion, but I never found out.

Do you believe in a spiritual plane, like Satan, God or aliens? Or is this world the only thing out there? — “Genghis” Connors

I’m pretty much an atheist, so I’d say this world is the only thing we got.

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Brad is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and video producer. He is the former content director of Revolver magazine and executive editor of Guitar World. His work has appeared in Vice, Guitar Aficionado, Inked and more. He’s also a die-hard Les Paul player who wishes he never sold his 1987 Marshall Silver Jubilee half stack.