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HELLYEAH – Sangre Por Sangre
Anthony Morgan
July 2014

Hellyeah (l-r): Kyle Sanders, Tom Maxwell, Chad Gray and Vinnie Paul

On February 13th, 2014, it was confirmed that American heavy metal outfit Hellyeah had parted ways with guitarist Greg Tribbett (Mudvayne) and bassist Robert ‘Bob Zilla’ Kakaha (ex-Damageplan). Said departures caused the ensemble to become a trio – consisting of Mudvayne vocalist Chad Gray and Nothingface guitarist Tom Maxwell, and erstwhile Pantera and Damageplan drummer Vinnie Paul – a trio that would subsequently cut June 2014 full-length Blood For Blood, Hellyeah’s fourth studio opus overall.

“They didn’t leave – we decided to part company with them,” Vinnie Paul clarifies. “We finished the last tour – the Gigantour that we did in 2013 with Megadeth and Black Label Society – and we were really wanting to get right back into the studio, and really get focused and make the best record of our career. Bob and Greg were going through a lot of personal issues at the time, and just became very distracting to the band. Really, the only way for us to move forward was to part company with them. Myself, Tom, and Chad wrote the entire record; we recorded the entire record, the three of us.

“I think writing and recording as a three-piece made it better, man. It really enabled us to focus, and once we had three people that were thinking alike and were really positive about where they were going musically, it really helped to make for a better record. Tom was really able to showcase what he can do as a guitar player; coming from a single guitar band, he was able to write songs that were more conducive to what his style of guitar playing is. It really brought the best out of me; I wanted to really step up as a drummer, and be able to give more to the songs. And then Chad, I think Chad just really hit a home run. Lyrically and with his performance on the record, he’s never been better. I feel like the three of us really pulled together, and made the strongest record that we could ever make. We’re really proud of it.

“After we recorded the entire record together, then we put together the live version of the band. Then we brought in Kyle Sanders on bass from Bloodsimple and also from MonstrO, who was a great friend of ours. He toured with us many times – he fits in great. Then our good friend from Las Vegas – Chris Brady – came in on guitar, and he also sings really great. I know Chris from where he plays around Las Vegas and Los Angeles. I would go out and see him in numerous different bands, and he’s also performed with Camp Freddy many, many times. We really got to be good friends. He was just a no-brainer to fit the band; he’s just the perfect guy. He adds another addition to the band, and the band’s never sounded better, man. We’ve got five guys that are 100% committed to it, five guys that are really focused. We feel like it’s the best version of this band that we’ve ever had.”

Axeman Tom Maxwell dubbed the circumstances behind the personnel shift ‘a toxic situation that almost broke the band up.’ “I wouldn’t say that we came close to breaking up, but we definitely hit a trying time, man,” the sticksman offers. “Parting company with Greg and Bob was really important for us to be able to move forward. Like I said, they were becoming a big weight to the band, and then not productive. Really, it was just a negative situation, so once we got rid of them, things really turned around. We were able to really focus on writing and recording the record that we wanted to.”

Hellyeah’s nascent 2014 line-up could translate to a permanent fixture. “We’re definitely gonna make sure that everything gels, but so far, we’ve had so much fun playing together live,” Vinnie enthuses. “The further and further we go, the more and more it feels like we’re a 100% complete band, and we definitely want them to be permanent members of the band.”

Hellyeah’s dual guitar assault is destined to continue. “I feel like we definitely need two guitarists for live for sure, because we really wanna do the songs justice, and we want them to sound similar to the record,” the rhythmist notes. “Having Chris Brady onboard has really brought a lot to the table. His guitar playing is really awesome and definitely compliments what Tom does, and then also his vocals really compliment what Chad does, so he’s just a great addition to the band.”

Blood For Blood is the platter the ensemble are touring behind. “It’s the ultimate Hellyeah sound,” Vinnie submits. “I feel like we’ve been working towards this for the past three records; we really feel like it’s the best record we’ve ever made, and we really feel great about it. I think it has better songwriting; I think they’re the best songs we’ve ever written. I feel like the performances on the record are really, really strong from everybody that was a part of it, and I feel like they’re the best songs we’ve ever put together. I feel great about it. The production aspect of it is really good, too. Previously, I had co-produced all of the records. We had done those ourselves, and I really feel like we got the most that we could out of ourselves. It was time to bring in a different perspective and a different person to really help push us, and that’s what happened. This was the first time we had worked with an outside producer – Kevin Churko, who I feel like helped to get the very best out of all of us.

“I bought a house in Vegas about five years ago. He has a studio here in Las Vegas, and I would run into him from time to time. I really was a big fan of all of his work. I really got to know the guy pretty well, and I liked him a lot. I mentioned him doing Hellyeah. He was really excited about it and wanted to do it, so I took it to the other guys in the band, and they got excited about it. That’s how we ended up hooking up and working together.

“The best thing about Kevin is that he understands what you want as an artist, and he helps you make the record that you want to make. Not the record that he wants to make or that the record company wants to make, but the record that you want to make. He really understood the vision that we had with the new Hellyeah record. We wanted to take everything that we’d done in our previous bands and really mould it into what we are today. That’s what we did with our last album Band Of Brothers (July 2012), where we kind of got back to our metal roots. We felt like we got close to where we were going, but with this record, he really understood what we were looking for sonically. We took it even further on this record, and I think Kevin really helped us hone on in that. We really wanted to focus on writing the very, very best songs that we’ve ever written. We wanted to get really deep into the song structures and really just make them complete from start to finish, so that was the vision. He really brought it to life.”

The time signature for lead number ‘Moth’ contrasts with time signatures for fellow Hellyeah compositions. “It’s in a 6/8 time signature, which isn’t a time signature that we’ve ever played in before – it’s not anything that I’ve done,” the skin-beater observes. “It has a lot of playing in it. It’s a unique time signature. It really helps… I don’t know. It just has a really nice flow to it. It’s something that we’ve never done. I enjoyed it, and it’s a really deep song. It’s a song about things that we do in our lives, when we know that they’re not right or they’re not gonna work out. We still are lured to them and want to try them though, kind of like a moth to a flame. A moth knows that it’s made out of paper, but it’ll fly into that fire because it’s attracted to it.”

The title cut is lyrically reflective of Hellyeah’s temperament, meanwhile. “‘Blood For Blood’ man, it’s kind of a mentality,” Vinnie contends. “We’re out for blood. We’ve always kind of felt like we’ve been in an underdog role, and really have had to fight for everything that we’ve done with this band. That’s just basically where we’re coming from on that.”

Hellyeah (l-r): Chad Gray, Tom Maxwell, Kyle Sanders and Vinnie Paul

Each of Blood For Blood’s respective tracks vary with respect to lyrical theme. “They’re all different; every song is a little bit different,” the percussionist reckons. “It depends on where Chad was coming from at the time or what he was thinking about, but they’re definitely open to other people’s interpretations. He’s never written to where things are set in stone, to where this exactly means this or that exactly means that. It’s open-ended for the listener to interpret.”

Several of Blood For Blood’s numbers proved challenging for Vinnie. “‘Say When’ is definitely the most challenging drumming song that I’ve done since the Pantera days,” he reflects. “I’m really proud of that. It’s something that I just came across. I hummed the guitar riff to Tom – what I wanted him to play – and he chimed right in. It’s a hell of a challenge to play it live; it’s only three minutes long, but it’s up and going from start to finish. It’s one of those ones that I would put in a league with ‘Becoming’ from Pantera (from March 1994’s Far Beyond Driven), with ‘Primal Concrete Sledge’ from Pantera (from July 1990’s Cowboys From Hell). I’m just really proud of the drumming on it. It turned out great.”

Tattoo artist Paul Booth handled cover artwork duties. “It’s just imagery – there’s really no significance behind it,” the drummer downplays. “It just kind of has that old school, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, blood for blood mentality behind it.”

Further 20th anniversary reissues of past Pantera full-lengths are in the pipeline. “The label does what they wanna do, whether we want to be a part of it or not,” the sticksman considers. “We always participate and try to make it the very best that we can for our fans, and the people that have always followed the band. I’m sure after two years has passed, it’ll be time to do a Great Southern Trendkill reissue (May 1996), and then four years on from that it’ll be time to do Reinventing The Steel (March 2000). I guess when it comes around, it’ll be kind of time to take a look at it, and see if there’s anything special that we can add to it. For right now though, my focus is Hellyeah.”

Blood For Blood
was released on June 10th, 2014 via Eleven Seven Music.

Interview published in July 2014.

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