Reverb Interview: Exodus’ Lee Altus

Some guitarists are really picky about their guitars. Perhaps too picky.

Exodus’ Lee Altus isn’t one of them.

“To me, it’s a means of transportation, like a car,” Altus told Reverb. “I don’t need to know the year. I know the basics; there are certain woods that I like. I like mahogany. I like an ebony neck more than a rosewood neck. Those are the basics,” he says. “You just pick up the guitar, and if it plays nice, that’s all I need to know,” he added. “It’s a tool I use. When people get a new guitar, they try to be so careful and not scratch it, and one of the first things I do is just put a scratch in it and get it over with. It’s going to get banged up. That’s what a guitar is about.”

One of the first things I do is just put a scratch in it and get it over with. It’s going to get banged up. That’s what a guitar is about.”

Altus and the guys of Exodus have been on the road for much of 2015 in support of their 10th studio album, 2015’s Blood In, Blood Out. Next year looks just as busy, with the metal band plotting shows in Europe and South America.

Altus chatted with Reverb.com about his lifelong attachment to ESP guitars, the preamp he can’t live without and why he believes metal is hot again.

Congratulations on a great year for Exodus. What was the highlight?

The highlight is being home! We’ve been out on the road for so long, so you appreciate being home. It’s nice to be busy in music, though. You’re in demand, and things are happening. I remember the years where it was the other way around, and it wasn’t good.

Your latest full-length, Blood In, Blood Out, dropped last year. What was your approach to the guitars on this release?

We did what we’ve been doing for years. That’s all we really know. You just pick up and play what you know. You don’t really think about it. There isn’t much planning that goes into it. Whatever you feel at the moment, however it comes out, that’s the way it is supposed to be. It’s a natural flow. I can’t speak for other bands, but in this band, it’s really whatever feels right, and you go with it.

Do you have any plans to record the follow-up yet?

Not at this point. We’re going to finish this album cycle. Starting out in 2016, we’re going to South America for three weeks, and then we’ll come back a week later and then go to Europe and play some European festivals. We have everything planned out until the end of next year. So, then after that, I guess we can take a little break and start getting ready and talking about the new album.

What’s your guitar of choice?

I’ve been playing ESPs forever. I don’t even know how many years or decades! I’ve stuck with them. I like the guitars. The only thing that’s been changing is that I’ve always been a Flying V guy, and lately, I’ve been using Explorers. I like the feel and sound of those. That’s the only change I have made in the last year or two.

ESP LTD V-300

ESP Snakebyte

What else is in your rig?

My rig is simple these days. We used to have all these amps and pedals and effects. We had this giant rack with all kinds of stuff in there. Now with the new technology, ever since we switched to the Kemper Amps preamp, it has all the sounds, guitar tones, effects and everything in one. It’s an amazing unit. It has all the noise gates and effects you could imagine: chorus, reverb, delay. It’s just this three-rack space unit that has everything, when we used to have 24 racks or 36 racks. You don’t have to go big anymore. It’s very convenient and light. We can save our favorite amps now. They never leave the house, and they never go on the road anymore.

How has your gear influenced your technique?

With the Kemper Amps, you don’t even mic the cabs anymore. It’s a direct line out, which gives you a different tone onstage. It keeps you a lot more honest. It’s like you’re always in the studio, so you can’t cheat. You have to play tight and honest. The first time was a learning curve. It really exposes you. It makes you a better guitar player.

Do you come from a musical family?

Yeah, I actually do. My mom was an opera singer, and my dad was a symphony conductor, so I grew up on classical music. That was my in. Now, obviously my parents do not understand what I’m doing now. They hear it, and they can’t connect the dots. They say, “How did you grow up on classical music and all of a sudden start playing this?” Not that I was planning to be a musician. It wasn’t my dream to be a musician. I was led to that later, and I started seriously playing.

If you weren’t in a metal band, what would be your career?

Well, my dream was always to be a professional hockey player. I still play recreationally and pick up hockey whenever I’m home and get free time. That was my No. 1 thing—to be a professional hockey player. However, that didn’t pan out.

Do you think metal is experiencing an upswing?

There’s a resurgence. I remember 10 years ago, we were trying to do this and it was tough times. We’d play somewhere and the turnout would be terrible and it would be depressing. We’d sit on the bus and talk about it, like, “Why are we even doing this?” And then, slowly, we’re grinding and touring, and there was some kind of resurgence. Younger kids have started getting into this kind of music, and it’s definitely helped the resurgence of the old school, thrash metal, speed metal.

Thanks for the chat, Lee! Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you to everybody still supporting bands that are doing metal; 30 years ago, when we were all starting out, we could never have imaged it would last this long. We always joked around in our late 20s saying that by the time we were 40, we couldn’t do thrash metal. Here we are 50 years old, and we’re still doing it!

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