New Orleans thrash outfit Exhorder are responsible for the sound we know today as groove metal. The band released a pair of seminal albums, 1990’s Slaughter in the Vatican and 1992’s The Law, before hanging it up. With the exception of a number of live appearances between 2009 and 2011, Exhorder have stayed quiet, until recently, when they announced three shows—two at New York City’s Saint Vitus and a hometown gig.
Exhorder vocalist Kyle Thomas and guitarist Vinnie LaBella spoke with Decibel for their first interview since the announcement, discussing their current lineup, Slaughter in the Vatican and The Law and the possibility of a new Exhorder album in the future.
Exhorder just announced a reunion. 2018 you’re going to be playing a couple shows, playing some festival dates, some club shows. What made you make the decision that it was time to start playing together again?
VL: We’ve all initiated this over the years, man, at different times. It’s funny how this one happened. Me and Kyle weren’t really expecting it, we saw each other at a show that we were both attending in New Orleans and we wound up outside.
KT: Go ahead and tell him what show it was. [laughs]
VL: It was fuckin’ Corey Feldman, of all fucking things. We were attending the fucking Corey Feldman show, we both grew tired of that and went outside to smoke on the deck, and I don’t know, it was fucking really weird, man. It was one conversation just kind of led to another and the topic kind of fucking came up and it just seemed right. Exhorder, whenever we would put it back together, it was always… we wouldn’t do it unless it felt natural to do it and this time, it just felt natural and real. We weren’t force feeding it onto one another or trying to do it for any other reasons than just fucking doing it. Back when we were kids, it just kinda felt like that.
KT: I have to say I agree with that. We just kinda got to talking about things and the topic came up… it just seems like things gravitated toward us, almost magnetically, this time around. I’ve noticed over the years, every year that goes by, the stock for this band just seems to go up. The interest grows and grows and grows, and we just looked at each other and were like “Wanna play?” And it was like, “Yeah!” That’s really kind of how it went.
Once you decided that you wanted to get back together, play music again, how’d you go about finding the rest of the band? Because the rest of the band isn’t original members.
VL: It’s not the rest of the original guys. I was in the midst of doing a project with Jason Viebrooks (bass) and Sasha Horn (drums), doing Year of the Tyrant. Jason has played bass with Exhorder before and me and Sasha have a very good working relationship, and it just seemed to be a natural fit. If we needed other members outside of the original guys, to add some guys that I’ve already been playing with—and Kyle too, he’s been playing with Marzi, so he was a natural fit.
Looking back at your albums, 1990 was when Slaughter in the Vatican came out and then ‘92 was when The Law came out. Looking back now, how do those albums hold up in your guys’ eyes? Are you still proud of them? Do you still listen to them?
VL: I’m very surprised, there’s not many bands outside of, like, Slayer, Reign in Blood everybody’s gonna remember that record. There’s a few more, maybe Master of Puppets to some people, and it’s weird to me that those two records… it’s weird to have one, much less two, that have stood the test of time, man. It’s humbling to me, personally, because I never expected to really get outside of Louisiana with that stuff when we were kids. To see it blossom into what it has, it really means so much to so many in the manner that it does, it’s humbling and it’s exciting that we’re still able to get out and do it 25, 30 years later.
KT: We’ve also had moments where we’re dissatisfied with it, because you always want it to sound perfect. You always want every record to sound perfect, and those albums were both recorded on very low budgets, at a time when we didn’t have ProTools to make sure that everything sounded the way everything was supposed to sound.
Are they perfect albums? No. Are they perfect representations of what Exhorder is live? No. But are they good, solid albums? Yeah, and I think it’s safe to say, like Vinnie said, they stood the test of time and you’ve just got so many people coming back and saying these albums pioneered a certain aspect of heavy metal.
It’s fair enough to say that we may not have met our potential as far as making the proper Exhorder album yet. I think we will now with the technology we have and the time that we have with the determination and knowledge of what not to do, more than anything.
Does that mean we can expect new music to come out of this reunion?
VL: Yeah, absolutely. The idea is to kinda inch our way out and kind of get our sea legs again, get out and play some reunion shows and get to feeling it again. Inch our way into new material. Kyle’s busy doing some stuff, some other projects, I have the Tyrant album to finish up which is done. We just have to go in and record it now, all the pre-production is pretty much done. Once I’m through all of that and we get out there on the road and we start feeling it again, I’ll be working on new riffs and putting some ideas together.
I do echo what Kyle said, and I’ve been vocal about it over the years, and about the production on those records, there was so much you could do with so much money those days. Everything was tape and money-driven, and the guys that recorded the stuff did the best they could with the tools they had, so I’d like to clear that up that I have no rub on any of the engineers or producers that did those albums. That’s just how it is.
But nowadays, yeah, probably expect the new Exhorder record to just be ridiculous when it comes to production. I tripped out, man. The first time I left the studio with Year of the Tyrant, I was like “Where’s the fuckin’ tape?” There was no tape. I was trippin’ out, man.
Do you also think that in time will you do some touring and playing more than just the Vitus shows and the New Orleans hometown show?
KT: I would think so. The bottom line is at this point, once we get out there, I know how this works. We get out there and we start having fun and people start asking for more, we’ll look at each other and say, “What’s feasible to do next?” If it’s something that we can do, we’re probably going to end up doing it. I don’t see why not at this point. I’m ready to meet that demand.
VL: Me too. That was one of the things that made this kind of natural for me and Kyle. Nowadays all I do is play music and he’s kinda in the same boat now, so it’s really easy and natural for everyone to do when everybody’s own personal life is on the same page.
When it happens in that way, it’s hard to make mistakes. The last run out, years ago, everybody was at a different space in their own personal lives. It was kinda tough, and it was a lot of pressure back then to make things happen.
Do you think that more natural thing is a result of you being at different places in your lives or are you guys doing anything to keep your perspective in check so that it remains fun to you?
KT: I think that back then, for me, personally, it was a much different world that I lived in from day to day. I had small children and spent most of my time being dad during the day and working a couple of jobs to make ends meet. It was really, really difficult for me to think in a term of “We could probably do two weeks on the east coast and then run through Europe.” Now that my children are older and they don’t need to have a daddy at home every day, I’ve got a more flexible option here. The dynamics of my life personally dictate a much different scenario.
VL: Under AISA Management, he understands. We’ve led into this pretty well by having multiple meetings and signing with them, where we are and what we are willing to do, and those guys were able to put together a plan that me and Kyle could both agree upon, and they’re working with us. Those guys will kind of help to make sure that we stay on the path. That’s something a little different than we had before; we had booking agents back on the last run, but didn’t have, I guess you could call it proper full band management, so it’s nice to have a team looking after your interests.
KT: I definitely concur with that. They’re thinking in ways… it’s just too big a picture for us to wrap our head around because we’ve never delved into that part of the business that extensively. They’re thinking in ways that… it’s all things we want to do, but things we hadn’t necessarily thought of.
That period in New Orleans was really pretty crazy. 87-88 is when Eyehategod and Crowbar and all those bands started to form in some capacity too, so it really was just a really booming, big period.
VL: That’s what’s funny about New Orleans, man, you have all those bands you just mentioned. There was no other band in New Orleans that sounded like Exhorder. And then there was no other band that sounded like Crowbar. There was no other band that sounded like Soilent Green or Eyehategod. Yet we were all from the same area, we all knew one another, we partied with each other on a pretty much daily basis, but nobody wanted to do what the next guy was doing. It’s a very original city, man, and you can do shit there that you can’t do anywhere else in the country, much less the world. New Orleans is a funny town when it came to that time, because the 80’s were the developmental stage of heavy music for that city and it’s cool to look back on it and see how we all came from the same place, but we all did something very different.
We talked about the past, we talked about the future a little bit. What is, if you had to pick one thing, what has you most excited about being back together? Is it the thought of playing live together? Is it the thought of putting out new music? Is it the thought of touring?
VL: For me, man, I think it’s all of the above. I never thought that I’d be able to get back on stage with Kyle again. As an old man, I never thought we’d be doing it again. A decade or so goes by and you look at it and you look back and you always say, “I’m too old for this. Is it possible to do it again?” I didn’t think it could happen again, so first and foremost, just to turn up the volume knob and look to my left, man, and there’s Kyle Thomas. It’s enough for me. But that is gonna spawn off into a lot of other things for me too. Playing live, man, it’s great. Thinking about doing a new record down the line is great too. All of the above, especially at this age when you feel like—at least for me—I’m lucky to be able to be doing this again with him.
KT: I have to thank you for stealing my thunder, because I was literally just about to say “Nothing will compare to looking to my right and seeing Vinnie freakin’ throwing it down like it’s got hot shit all over it, you know? That alone, right here, Vinnie and I have played music together, toured together, in essence we’ve lived together for months at a time and we’ve played like brothers, we’ve fought like brothers, we’ve loved like brothers and that’s really—I think Vinnie said it the other day—it’s about the relationships and for me that’s the most exciting part about getting back together with this is having another opportunity to share with him. We’ve had so many instances in our career when things we felt should have gone a certain way and didn’t and it’s very frustrated and disappointing and when it goes south, it just creates for an unhappy home. This time around I think if we do things right and go in with the mindset of “Let’s have fun first and let the chips fall as they may,” I think that’s going to be the key to having a successful run this time around.
We’re gonna attempt to have fun and love being around each other and we’ve put together a great group of guys to do it with. I’m so stoked to go out with guys who are just as dedicated to doing it in a professional manner as we are, and capable of doing the job every single night. That’s definitely an exciting thing.