2 April 2013. To say there was a buzz around drummer Jon Dette prior to the commencement of this year’s Soundwave travelling jamboree was something of an understatement; Stepping in at the eleventh hour to help out a percussionless Anthrax in their hour of need was admirable enough, but when Lombardogate blew up a week later, leaving thrash titans Slayer seemingly lacking a timekeeper too, who should step up to the plate but the man himself?
Clearly we needed to chat with the man about two timing with a brace of thrash legends, so during a bit of down time between the Anthrax and Slayer sets at the Melbourne instalment of SW I took the opportunity for a brief chinwag…
It’s already a week into your remarkable tour of duty – how’s that week been?
“It’s been going great, you know – just preserving my energy as much as I can! I’m pulling double duty out here but the shows have been going great. It’s an awesome experience. It’s my first time in Australia and I love it here!”
You’ve been quite lucky with the weather actually, we’ve been up to our knees in Canbeer this week.
“Well it rained in Sydney, and we were in Brisbane for a few days, where it would be hot, then pour down with rain under black skies, then itd be immediately hot again – crazy weather!”
I resist the opportunity here to get into some musing on climate change – there are infinitely more metallic subjects to chat about.
Not content with playing twice a day during Soundwave, you actually played a set for both bands in Sydney at Lunar Park on Monday night – how did that go?
“It was really good, a great show. I was definitely put to the test – I think it was about two and a half, no two hours and forty five minutes of drumming for me.”
Have you ever done this before?
“Never, never. And certainly not this type of intense, physical music. But I manned up, and got it done, everybody seemed to enjoy the show – it was a great show that night.”
Now even some Metalheads might find themselves saying that with Slayer and Anthrax what you have there is just two thrash Metal bands, with not much difference between them. But they are two very different bands musically – do you approach the two sets differently? Do you incorporate some aspects of technique in one set and not the other? Or are you just Jon Dette at all times?
“Well, with both bands I try to preserve the style of both drummers as far as I can, but I try and sprinkle a little bit of ‘me’ on top, I guess you could call it… But you know Charlie (Benante, Anthrax drummer) has a certain style, Dave (the aforementioned Lombardo of Slayer renown) has a certain style and so honestly for me when I jump in I just get in to that mode, or the vibe of the band.”
And you’ve drummed for Slayer before of course.
“Right. And all the Slayer songs we’re playing in the set at the festival are songs I played with them when I was with the band back in the nineties, so It’s really been like riding a bike. It’s not anything new for me, but basically what I’m trying to do is play with as much integrity as I can for both bands and add a little of myself on top.”
So nobody’s said to you ‘you’re not doing this right!’, then?
“No, I haven’t had any of that! It’s more that they smile at me and they are into it! You know I’ve been a fan of these bands since I started playing. For my fourteenth birthday I got a double bass kit, and that day I also got a tape of the ‘Fistful Of Metal’ album by Anthrax. Literally the first song I tried to play was ‘Metal Thrashing Mad’. So I tried to teach myself for the first couple of years by just learning to play albums by Anthrax, Slayer, Metallica and later Megadeth and Testament.”
So always thrash Metal?
“Yes. I listen to all kinds of music but I guess I’ve got a demon in me or something… that’s just the kind of music I like to play! But again it’s such a foundation, those bands are such a foundation of my style that I don’t have to adapt much to come into them. I think I’d have to adapt my style to join a band like Avenged Sevenfold – I can do it, but I don’t have the foundation in it, it wouldn’t come as second nature.”
Out of those three bands – Slayer, Anthrax and Testament, that you’ve actually drummed for – who do you find the most technically demanding?
“Well, Testament have really stepped up in the drum department; I think from the Low album – John Tempesta did such a good job on that album – since then their drumming has really been at the next level. Not to take anything away from Louie Clemente, who I think did a great job on those early Testament records, he was a hard working guy.
“But being on stage, Slayer has to be the most physically demanding, if only because they have so many uptempo songs. Anthrax has a lot of fast stuff, but they also have a lot of midtempo songs, songs like Antisocial or Indians, which are great songs but they just don’t… they aren’t ‘Chemical Warfare’!”
Dette makes a machine gun noise as he tries to make his point even more obvious.
I understand what you mean, but it sounds weird that you might look forward to a song like Indians to have a rest! What’s your favourite Slayer song to play?
“Ah, you know, I’ve got a bunch of ’em! What was fun for me was in Sydney at the Luna Park show we played some new songs – World Painted Blood and Hate Worldwide. I’d never played those live before with them so that was exciting for me. As far as old songs go on this run my favourite part of the set is when we hit ‘Altar Of Sacrifice’ and ‘Jesus Saves…’ I really love the ‘Reign In Blood’ record and there’s something about those two songs, playing them back to back… it’s awesome.”
So you’ve nearly finished with Soundwave, only a couple of days to go. I watched the Tama promo video you shot recently – you said you’re going to do a few shows on the upcoming Anthrax Metal Alliance tour, and you’re going to do some more stuff with Slayer – does that fill up the rest of the year for you?
“Well, first of all, as far as Metal Alliance goes, Charlie has asked me to fill in for dates he can’t make. He’s trying to work out which shows he can’t do right now. I told him that whatever he can’t do I’d absolutely be there, no problems. As far as Slayer… there’s nothing concrete right now. They have some touring set up in the (Northern) Summer I believe, but everything happened so suddenly, so If things can get resolved for Dave I don’t know… that’s a question for them. But if they can’t resolve it and they ask me to fill in then I’ll definitely do it. “
Well, you’re in the seat…
“Yes! It’s a good time. We’re having a great time out here. It’s great to see Tom and Kerry having a laugh.”
So when were you finally sure you’d be doing both jobs this week?
“I knew about three weeks ago.”
So you’ve literally, in three weeks, gone from minding your own business to being in Anthrax and Slayer!
“Well I did the Anthrax tour with Motorhead a little while back, in November and December, and they were honestly trying to get Charlie down here. Charlie really wanted to come down, it just wasn’t able to happen. So here I am!”
Final question: In a similar sort of scenario, something really bad happens next year and all of Soundwave’s picks to headline the festival are suddenly incapacitated. Somebody says to you, ‘Mr Dette, give us five names to headline this touring festival!’ – who do you pick?
“Wow. You have such an eclectic line-up of bands here too. I think the addition of Metallica as headliners here was a great move. I’d have to say the big four – Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer – I think it would be great to see Testament (not that I’m being biased!) but I think Testament are doing great things at the moment, so that’s five, right? How many more can I get?”
I said five, but you can have as many as you want.
“Let’s throw in Machine Head, let’s throw in Avenged Sevenfold, just because I’m a fan. I don’t know why people harp on that band. I like that band! And just to mix it up let’s throw Zeppelin in there and S.O.D. Scott Ian would never do it but that would be amazing to see them do a show again. On the Winter tour when we were soundchecking I threw in a couple of S.O.D. beats and Scott would look at me and say what the heck are you playing? He was trying to work out the riffs of S.O.D. songs and that was the best part of the tour for me! So to have them on the show would be amazing!”
Jon Dette – the thrasher’s thrasher. A top bloke and, for this week at least, the hilder of the ‘hardest working man in show business’ crown…