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HELLYEAH – Brothers In Arms
Anthony Morgan
May 2013

Hellyeah (l-r): Tom Maxwell, Bob Zilla, Greg Tribbett, Chad Gray and Vinnie Paul

The roots of American heavy metal outfit Hellyeah lie in the friendship of Mudvayne vocalist Chad Gray and Nothingface guitarist Tom Maxwell, a friendship formed during the 2000 Tattoo The Earth tour. That year, Mudvayne and Nothingface toured alongside Slayer, Slipknot, and Sevendust. It wasn’t until six years later – during 2006 – that the pair’s ambition to spearhead a supergroup came to fruition, the resultant supergroup being Hellyeah of course. Rounding out the ensemble’s initial line-up were Mudvayne guitarist Greg Tribbett, Nothingface bassist Jerry Montano, and erstwhile Pantera and Damageplan drummer Vinnie Paul. Montano’s membership drew towards a conclusion in 2007, his replacement arriving in the form of erstwhile Damageplan bassist Robert ‘Bob Zilla’ Kakaha.

“They were very persistent,” Vinnie remembers. “After what had happened to my brother, I didn’t know if I would ever be back in music. I knew I still loved music, though. It was something that fell in my lap. Chad and Tom were talking about putting this band together when they were on tour with Mudvayne and Nothingface. They had been talking about it for about three or four years, but then finally they got a window of opportunity to do it – they were finally winding down both tours. They started talking about drummers, and my name kept coming up. They called me the first couple of times, and I said ‘You know guys… Thanks for thinking of me man, but I don’t know if I’m ready to do it or not.’ This went on for about two weeks. They would call me just about every night, and say ‘Man, you’re the guy’ and so on.

“One night they called me; I was drinking a bottle of red wine, and I had Kiss on on a 12-inch vinyl. It just kind of hit me. I said ‘Man, you know what? Maybe there’s something there, man. Let’s see what happens.’ I got on the phone with everybody the next day. We talked about what kind of music we wanted to do, and about a week later they all came back. We had a big barbecue that night, and did a lot of drinking. The next day, we went straight to the studio and wrote our first song. That’s basically how it came together.”

‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbott – the sticksman’s brother – was fatally shot on December 8th, 2004. That evening, the siblings were performing at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio as members of Damageplan. Pantera had inaugurated the duo’s musical partnership, Hellyeah marking the first group to feature Vinnie among its ranks sans Dimebag. “Obviously, it’s almost impossible to compare the three bands,” he acknowledges. “Those first two bands, my brother was a part of. He was a part of everything that I ever did in my life, so I would say that I felt more comfortable and more safe in those bands just because of that. With this band, it was definitely more of a challenge. I can’t find the word I’m looking for, but I’m definitely proud of this band because we really had to build it from the ground up. Even though we were a part of those other bands, it really felt like we were starting in the garage and building it.

“It’s definitely different from the other bands we have been in, but it was nice to be able to bring the elements that we brought to those other bands into Hellyeah, and not really have to try to create something new or different. We do what we do best, and that’s metal.”

Hellyeah’s self-titled debut full-length surfaced in April 2007. “I like it, man,” Vinnie enthuses. “It’s a dangerous record. There are a lot of elements of surprise. Musically, it can be very heavy in moments, and then there are other moments. Like the song ‘Alcohaulin’ Ass’; there’s a guitar on there that really goes somewhere that none of us have ever been.”

Vinnie Paul
Pic: Tracy Ketcher

At Rams Head in Baltimore, Maryland on May 20th of that year, Hellyeah performed live for the very first time. “It was completely sold out,” the percussionist recalls. “It had wall to wall people, and of course all of us were very, very nervous. We didn’t know how we would be received, or what would happen. Right before we walked onstage, they started chanting ‘Hellyeah’ so loud that it almost blew the roof off of the building. From that point on, I think all of us knew that things were gonna be alright. We got up, and kicked ass. People really dug it, and it has been the same ever since.”

Sophomore outing Stampede hit shelves in July 2010. “Stampede was a really big step in direction for us,” Vinnie feels. “I think we went maybe too far in an experimental direction, and really a little too far in the cowboy direction. I think we really strayed with that record. We still love that record and are proud of it, but being able to come back with Band Of Brothers and really do what people expect from us, it really felt good. We’re gonna continue that.”

July 2012’s Band Of Brothers – Hellyeah’s third studio platter overall – is a heavier affair compared to its predecessors. “The first two records were really a way for us to step outside of the box, and do something different than what we had done in our previous bands,” the rhythmist muses. “It was a way for us to really play some different forms of music, like southern rock, and there was some metal mixed in there too. Really though, it was a great combination of all that. We kind of got all of that out of our system when we got back together to make Band Of Brothers; we wanted to make a full-on metal record, get back to our metal roots, and do what we do best. It’s the record that we really expected from us. We really brought all of the elements that we brought to our previous bands into Hellyeah, and I think it made for a really nice, heavy, heavy rock record. I really love everything about it. I love the fact that its my signature drum sound, and everything about it. The solos are really produced well, and the album has a really nice, angered edge to it.”

Essentially military terminology, the record’s title references the quintet’s internal relationship. “It really felt like we were becoming a full band,” Vinnie shares. “It wasn’t a project or a supergroup. We all had this intention for this to be a real band from day one, but at the time we knew that certain members had other commitments. We took a break between the first and second records so that they could do that, and then after the second record was out everybody really felt committed to Hellyeah and wanted to tour with Hellyeah.

“We all really liked each other and we all really enjoyed playing together in the beginning, but we didn’t quite know each other that well. I think that as we interacted with each other on the road and the more dates that we did though, we really began to know each other inside and out. After six years of playing together, obviously that brotherhood formed and our friendship has grown. It’s something that definitely has to build and grow with time. We work hard with each other; we really want this band to succeed, and move forward. That’s the direction we’re going in now.

“It really was a band with Band Of Brothers, and we just really felt like the music itself is what really brought us together. Band Of Brothers was just the perfect title for that.”

Pencilled in for single issue on June 10th, 2013, album cut ‘Bigger God’ touches on philosophical subject matter. “It’s basically about if something ever beats you down, the only way you’re ever gonna get past it is to build a bigger god within yourself,” the drummer explains. “You have to carry on, be strong, and not let other things or elements – whether it be a woman or a guy or whatever – tear you down. That’s what the song’s about.”

Lyrical responsibilities mainly lie with vocalist Chad Gray. “He’s open to ideas, but generally they’re his concepts and his ideas that he comes up with,” Vinnie credits. “He really thinks things through, and spends a lot of time writing the lyrics. It’s not like he just has a piece of paper, and writes them first shot. He really works in and out so that they all fit together, so that they all work together, and that they mean what he’s trying to get across.”

Hellyeah (l-r): Greg Tribbett, Tom Maxwell, Chad Gray, Vinnie Paul and Bob Zilla

Plans to record a fourth Hellyeah studio full-length are firmly in the pipeline. “It’s funny that you asked me that,” the sticksman comments. “We just started writing new stuff – we’re really excited. We’re just in the beginning stages, so there’s just a lot of jamming going on right now. It’ll be in the same direction as Band Of Brothers, if not heavier. It’s definitely gonna continue in the metal direction.

“We’ve got a month-long stint of Europe in June, Download being one of the big festivals that we’re playing at. We then come directly back to the United States to begin a tour with Megadeth and Black Label Society, and that will take us all over the United States until the end of August. Then we’re gonna write all during September, and enter the studio in October. I’m looking forward to the fourth Hellyeah album being released in 2014.”

A perennial live fixture, Vinnie has “always been a groove drummer. I really feel like that that’s where the emphasis is. I think I do enough to keep drummers interested, but not so much that it goes over the average listener’s head. I’ve always really looked at my drum parts kind of like guitar parts, like a riff or something – with a snare drum, or something or that. Something that people are interested in when they hear it, instead of it just being something that’s really, really busy.

“I look at it this way. If you take a song like ‘Kashmir’ by Led Zeppelin (from February 1975’s Physical Graffiti), that’s about as simple as it gets. It’s all about the groove though, and it’s all about just laying it down. For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s a simple drum part. It’s still an important element of the song, and the groove is what’s the most important in there.”

Live renditions deviate little from their studio counterparts. “We throw some things in there from time to time, but I think people are familiar with hearing what they hear on the record,” the percussionist observes. “I think it’s good to stay true to that when you play it live.”

Vinnie harbours an affection for the touring lifestyle. “I love playing live, man,” he exalts. “To me, that’s what music is all about. It’s all about the band and the songs, and the continuous circle of energy that we get back and forth from each other. Playing live, you can’t replace it man. That’s the one thing that people in this world can’t steal from us. They can steal our music. They can steal anything that we have, but they can’t steal the live shows. You can watch a show on DVD, but it’s not like being there. The energy is what it’s all about. Some people are cut out for this, and some people aren’t. Some people don’t wanna be on the road, but I’ve dedicated my life to playing music. My road crew is my family, and I love the road. I love playing live.”

A February 1979 appearance by Sammy Hagar and Boston at the Tarrant County Convention Center in Texas marked the first of many live concert attendances by the rhythmist. “It was absolutely incredible; it just completely blew me away,” he reminisces. “The next concert I went to was Alice Cooper, and that blew me away too. From that point on, I just knew that that was what I wanted to do – play live music, and be a part of that entertainment.”

Emulating his childhood heroes, Vinnie’s touring commitments are prolific even today. “Far Beyond Driven (March 1994) was the most busy that I’ve ever been on tour,” he cites. “We did like 312 dates in a year, and that’s probably nine months solid. With Hellyeah, we’ve been getting close to that. We’ve actually had a little bit of time off now, but we started way before the album came out. We went to Australia for the big Soundwave festival, and then from that point on we did several tours. Then the record did come out. We’re still touring for it; we still have three more months of touring, including the European festivals and the tours over there. I would say that we’re just as busy, if not busier. Especially for this day and age, where things are much more difficult. It’s good for us to be able to be on the road that much.”

Vinnie Paul
Pic: Tracy Ketcher

The touring lifestyle arguably greater takes its toll as one progresses in years. “I don’t think so,” the drummer contends. “The hangovers are a little more pounding sometimes, but as far as getting up and playing… It keeps you young, it keeps you feeling good, and it keeps you breathing right. I drink in moderation, and that was learnt through years of experience. You know that you’ve gotta get up and play the next night, so you have to know when to reel it in when you’re having a good time with your bros – partying so to speak. There are so many bands out there that don’t even drink nowadays, that don’t even party – that don’t even live rock ’n’ roll anymore. It’s almost sad to me. It’s PG. Whatever happened to sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, and alcohol? It just seems like everything is really cleaned up these days.

“The only thing that this band does is drink, and we do it in moderation. We go at it, but then again, we know that being onstage is the most important thing, and we want to be able to deliver the best show that we can. It’s alright to have a little bit of a hangover when you get up there; you beat it out, and it feels good. A hangover is inspiration to keep going, but those days of just going crazy and drinking a bottle of vodka are kind of over.”

Whether it be festival or concert commitments, Vinnie savours live energy. “Playing to 500-1,000 people, you can’t beat that intimate feeling,” he emphasizes. “Knowing that they’re close enough to touch, you know that the energy is there. Playing to 100,000 people like at Download, there’s nothing like hearing the roar of that crowd. That’s a total rush too. There’ll be people that know me from Pantera – or Chad and Greg from Mudvayne – but don’t really know the band, so it’ll be a new experience for them. Then there are those people that… We’ve played Download twice before, so there are festival regulars. I really like both situations.”

Originally released in March 1994, Far Beyond Driven approaches its 20th anniversary during March 2014. As was the case with July 1990’s Cowboys From Hell and February 1992’s Vulgar Display Of Power, Far Beyond Driven will undergo a 20th anniversary reissue. “I’m so focused on Hellyeah that I haven’t even thought about it,” the sticksman confesses. “I don’t get those records out and listen to them. Whenever those anniversaries come around though, I definitely remember what went into making them. It especially brings me back in touch with my brother that much more, which is special.

“When the time comes, we’ll start digging through the vaults. We’ll see what we can find, and do our best to make it very special for the fans. We’ll do everything we can to make the package special, something that the record company does with our consent. With the previous ones, all of us that are still here did everything we could to contribute to them and make them special. We’ll do it again.”

The studio platter lived up to its title. “It was exactly what the album says – it was far beyond driven,” Vinnie reckons. “We really pushed each other to another level. That record was the first real heavy metal record to debut at number one on Billboard. It was an exciting time and an exciting period, man.”

Terry Date handled production duties on Cowboys From Hell, Vulgar Display Of Power, and Far Beyond Driven, not to mention May 1996’s The Great Southern Trendkill. From these recording sessions, Date reportedly has roughly 600 hours worth of Pantera material in DAT tape format. “I would definitely listen to them, and if there’s anything there then of course we would use it,” the percussionist considers. “Terry’s got a pretty good memory of everything that went on, so we’ll pick his brain and see what we can find.”

Spanning across Pantera, Damageplan, and Hellyeah, Vinnie’s musical career being documented in the shape of an autobiography would make an engaging read. “I’m not really interested in a book like that,” he divulges. “I’m actually working on my own cook-book right now, which is called Drumming Up An Appetite With Vinnie Paul. I’m really excited about that. I love cooking. We always take a barbecue grill with us on the road. Everybody enjoys doing the barbecuing, and a little drinking. We really just try to make it feel like we’re at home, so I bring a lot of that to the book. Cooking is a passion of mine, something I like doing on the side. I have a little fun with it.

Hellyeah (l-r): Greg Tribbett, Vinnie Paul, Chad Gray, Tom Maxwell and Bob Zilla

“I’m hoping it’ll be done and ready to release around Christmas 2013. I don’t know if I wanna mess with a publisher though, man. I think I just wanna put it out independently. I’ll probably put it out through my record company Big Vin Records, and then we’ll go from there. If it really takes off, then I’ll need a publisher to reach more people. Maybe we’ll then go that way, but right now I’ll release it independently.

“As far as doing an autobiography or anything about my life, I really haven’t thought about that. Maybe some day that point will come, but right now I’m still in the moment. I love playing music, so I don’t have time for that.”

Official Truth, 101 Proof: The Inside Story Of Pantera hit shelves in March 2013, the autobiography of erstwhile Pantera bassist Rex Brown. “I haven’t read it, don’t wanna read it, and don’t even really think about it,” the rhythmist dismisses. “I did see somewhere where Phil said that it was full of mythology, so that’s about all that I know about it (laughs).”

Official Truth, 101 Proof paints Vinnie in a somewhat negative light. “That’s fine with me,” he responds.

June 1983 debut full-length Metal Magic reached its 25th anniversary in June 2008; since that time, Pantera have been eligible for induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. An induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame would fuel reunion rumours. “It’s not anything that I’m interested in, man,” the drummer cautions. “My life is fine like it is. When bridges are burned, there’s no sense in trying to rebuild them. Man, they’re burnt. I’m moving forward in my life; I’m really happy doing what I do, and that’s where I’m at. There’s no sense in living in the past.”

Band Of Brothers was released on July 17th, 2012 via Eleven Seven Music.

Interview published in May 2013.

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