Opening for a band like Slayer can either be a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, it gives you the chance to perform for a massive new audience of passionate metal heads. However, those dedicated fans aren’t exactly known for being kind towards anyone that isn’t Slayer onstage. Despite knowing this, 4ARM took the challenge to open for Slayer (along with Gojira) on their North American fall tour. And as it turns out, it’s been paying off pretty well for the Australian band.
Drummer/co-founder Michael Vafiotis took the time to talk with Metal Insider while in the midst of the tour. During out chat, the drummer discussed life on the road with Slayer, the advice Overkill gave them prior to the tour, plans for their follow up to the album Submission of Liberty, and the differences touring in the U.S. and their home country.
So I have to ask a question that you’ve probably gotten a million times already… How has it been touring with Slayer?
Yeah, it seems to be the question we’ve been getting asked a lot, which I guess is what most people want to know. We are halfway through the tour and it’s been great so far. We are at the stage now where we’ve truly all passed our initial fan boy thing when meeting them first day and flushed out all the nerves of actually noticing Tom, Kerry, Paul and Gary sit through your performances and watch you play. When you tour with a band like Slayer, you actually see how a band that’s been performing for over 30 years goes about their business. It’s a well-oiled machine with a crew that works tirelessly to get a show of that magnitude running each night. It’s all big scale and to see it behind the scenes is an awesome experience. We definitely feel welcomed on the tour and the Slayer guys have been more than happy to chat, have a drink after the show and give advice to us.
Slayer’s fans have been known to be a tad unruly towards opening acts. How has the crowd reaction been for the band? How did 4ARM prep itself for the tour?
Talking with the guys from Overkill prior to the tour and hearing the stories of how tough it was for even them back in the day to have Slayer fans to accept them when opening up. Their advice for us was basically keep moving on stage to avoid getting shit thrown at us [laughs]. It was a little daunting going into the first show not knowing what kind of reaction we’d get. Hearing 4ARM chants just before the lights went down kind of put my mind at ease though. So thankfully the reaction has been well received and the crowds are actually really getting into the 30 minutes of music we deliver each night. I think also what helps us is our style of music goes down well with Slayer fans. We have that similar sound and vibe that compliments Slayer’s. Our material for the tour is basically our thrashiest, most aggressive songs, just to ensure less negative opinions from the hardcore Slayer audience.
Our preparation for the tour was a little hectic as we have new guy James Munro [guitar] joining us for the first time on tour. He basically had two months to learn the material and have it all 100% for the shows. A lot of jamming took place within that time, I suppose that was a good thing as we all sharpened our performance up. You really can’t go on tour with one of the biggest metal bands underdone. That’s musical suicide!
Any tips you’d give to Slayer’s future openers?
Develop a love for Jäger. You’ll be drinking a lot of it!
While 4ARM has toured the States with the likes of Testament and Overkill, this particular tour has you playing considerably larger venues. How would you compare playing in these larger venues to the experience of playing more intimate settings?
I much prefer the larger venues. When you’ve played in bars and clubs for the majority of your career and crammed up on stage like tinned sardines with a PA system that sounds like your car stereo, it’s a refreshing change. I feel more comfortable up on stage having space and using the best sound/lighting systems available to us. Luckily the crowd is in attendance early so the 5,000+ cap. venues don’t look empty when we’ve been performing.
How would you compare touring the U.S. to your home country of Australia?
I don’t know why, but Australian audiences contrary to belief are a lot more reserved. I’ve seen way more crazy shit from the shows here in the U.S. then back home. Also beers a lot cheaper here in the States, so that could be a contributing factor [laughs]. It’s also difficult to tour back home as since it’s not as populated as the States. You really can only tour the major cities (about 5 in total) really which are all ten hours out from city to city. Makes touring much more difficult and expensive.
What would you say was the biggest culture shock you had when first coming to the States?
The portion sizes of everything are like doubled! Also, not sure whether it’s a culture shock as such, but I noticed how different each State is to one another. Whether it’s the accent, hospitality or general way of life, it changes from State to State and feels like you’re in another country each time.
I know the band plans to keep touring till the end of the year, and then start work on a new album in January/February. How much new material is already written, if any?
We have most of the new album written with just vocals and leads to be done. Myself and Danny [Tomb, vocals/guitars] do all the writing and snuck in time between tours from the start of the year to write. We knew early on in the year about the Slayer tour, and with the long time we spent in Europe this summer, we had to time manage things in order to have material ready for next year. The tunes we got so far is a step up again from Submission of Liberty, so I’m real keen to record the album. Soon as we have a break for Xmas and New Year’s we will go into the studio. We’ve been actually playing one track on tour that will be on the next album.
I also heard there’s plans for a European run in March followed by a return in the States. Will you be joining any notable bands for these tours?
Still working on some details for the tour in March. Hopefully it works out. Probably look at returning to the States after a summer in Europe again, much like we did this year.