What was it like getting scooped up into the major label system?
“It was great having tour support, financially. In the U.S. we’re now back to touring in vans for the most part. If you want to make money doing this, you have to make sacrifices. During the major label years, the big tours we did were actually through connections with our friends. Bands like Helmet and Rancid. We did a show in Argentina in early ’99 to 2,000 people, but the next day there was a sold-out festival that had Iron Maiden, Slayer, Soulfly and a whole shitload of other bands, and all those bands flew in the night before and came to our show. Slayer came backstage and told us, ‘We had to see what fucking band could draw 2,000 people when there’s a sold-out festival the next day!’ We became friends with them and got a Slayer tour off of it. To this day, my brother Pete and Tom [Araya, Slayer frontman] are always texting. That’s the stuff you dream about.”
What did you make of Slayer’s decision to wrap things up last year?
“It’s weird from the outside, but we played their last shows in Finland, and sitting talking to Tom about it, he said, ‘When we said this would be the final tour, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders and I enjoyed playing again.’ And you could see it every night, him thanking the fans at the end of the night, soaking it all in. It gave me goosebumps. With us, we half-jokingly, half-seriously say, ‘God, can we fucking retire already?!’ We’re all in our fifties now, but when people see our shows, they say, ‘How do you stay so young?’ and I think it’s because of the music and the way we play.”
And you keep making music, too.
“Yeah, and we try not make shitty records (laughs)! We write what we like and we don’t follow trends. It’s like I say onstage, touring with bands like Comeback Kid and Cancer Bats inspires us. Not because we want to sound like the bands of the moment, but if the bands of the moment are exciting and we like them, it makes us think, ‘We’ve gotta make a great fucking Sick Of It All record!’”
You’ve personally never strayed from the hardcore path, but you have recorded about 15 guest spots. Is there one in particular that stands out?
“Have I? I’ve never actually sat and counted them, but they were all fun. I was surprised that [platinum-selling Christian nu-metallers] P.O.D. asked me to be on a record – I didn’t even know they knew who we were. Playing festivals and meeting bigger bands, it’s so weird. The singer from Disturbed (David Draiman) came to see me and said he saw us play the Metro in Chicago every time we played there. System Of A Down, too. The singer of Dashboard Confessional [Chris Carrabba] told us that we were his favourite band through his whole teenage years.”
“(Laughs) He’s a good guy! He’s friends with my wife now and sends messages to me via her, asking for a copy of the new record on green vinyl and stuff like that. It just goes to show, you never know who’s in that audience. The first time it ever happened – and we didn’t get starstruck because I used to know him when he was in his old hardcore band [Inside Out] – was when Zack [de La Rocha] from Rage Against The Machine came up to us in the early ‘90s and told us, ‘Oh man, I can’t wait to see you guys.’ Now I look back and think, ‘That was when Rage Against The Machine were exploding all over the world,’ and he came to see us, and was at the side of the stage singing along to Injustice System.”