REX BROWN – Dragging The Waters
Bassist Rex Brown – formerly of Texan metallers Pantera and currently of metal supergroup Kill Devil Hill – was queried regarding the possibility of an autobiography by Edinburgh, Scotland-based author Mark Eglinton, who the musician had worked with previously. This initial query would be the catalyst for March 2013 autobiography Official Truth, 101 Proof: The Inside Story Of Pantera.
“Mark said ‘You’ve really not said anything in the press; you’ve really not stepped out, and said your truth or whatever,’” Rex recalls. “It took about six months for me to finally just say ‘No, I haven’t.’ I don’t know if there’s ever a right timing for this, but for me there was a lot of truth that I wanted to maybe get out of my system in a weird, subconscious way. I decided to go ahead, and go down that path. I had to go through the horrible tragedy of Dime, and the dark places that I went to. I had to deal with all those. I guess it was about time to go ahead, and put my story out. As hard as it was for me to do something like that, the timing couldn’t have been better.”
Roughly 60 hours of interview footage was recorded in Spain during 2010, the four-stringer renting a cottage during several days of off-time from touring commitments with American metal assortment Down. “During the six months of me saying ‘No’, me and Mark discovered we were into the same kind of music, that we listen to the same kind of stuff or maybe we did at some point back a few years ago,” he discloses. “It just became a friendship, so I started to trust him more. I figured that he was a really good writer. He really pulled a lot of stuff out of me that I haven’t really talked about, especially to the press. That was for no reason other than I was just up for the jam, man. I couldn’t care less about the press, but then everything went awry. It wasn’t a break-up of the band, but more a breakdown of the band communication-wise. I just didn’t say anything in those years that went by. I had a few small children, and I was watching them grow. We just needed a break, as I say in the book.”
Rex’s lack of affection for the press in general is quite evident, but perhaps deepened following the December 8th, 2004 fatal shooting of Pantera guitarist ‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbott. That evening, Dimebag was performing at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio as a member of Damageplan. “That was a very deep thing after the tragedy, and everything that went with it,” he acknowledges. “I had to dig deep, and of course I got this terrible disease after that. It took me two years to rehab off of that. I just felt the time was right. I’m in a good headspace now; my life is wonderful, and my life was wonderful except for that little period of time. Sobriety and everything else kicks in, and makes you think ‘Why would you wanna be 77 and tell your story about Pantera?’ My life’s good, and it felt good to tell the story now. Hey, look… This is my side of the story, but it’s my truth.”
Touching upon sensitive topics such as Dimebag’s murder as well as personal experiences with alcohol dependency was “pretty difficult”, the rhythmist confesses. “You have to remember the good times also, though,” he advocates. “Life is good, bad, and ugly, but I have to remember all those good times that I did have with it. I think that was the main difference in me saying ‘Yes’ to this. I’m just telling my story, and if you’re gonna write something that says Official Truth on it then you better tell the truth. That’s all I can tell, but this is also just my side of the story. I have collaborations and corroborations in there with me about what was going on at the time, but it took four individuals to make Pantera. We were four strong, good musicians that all got together, and made that history. This isn’t some made-up story. It’s just no-holds barred, and gets down to it.”
The touring lifestyle consequentially means Rex must frequently combat the temptation to consume alcohol. “Let’s just put it this way,” he begins. “I get so much of a rush off of the fans and what they give back these days, more than I did in the past. We were a party band back in the day, because we were young men. These days, it’s a different story. Of course, there are times when you’re maturely irresponsible. I’ll put it that way, but those times are very, very few and far between. Not often, but seldom.”
The bassist refuses to confirm whether he attends AA meetings. “I don’t really wanna get into that,” he dismisses.
“There was really magic at work with what” Pantera did in respect to February 1992 opus Vulgar Display Of Power, Rex believes. “We re-released that in May 2012, but yeah, when I look back on it, it was a very poignant moment in the band’s chapter of metal,” he observes. “How do you say favourite though? Do you have a favourite interview that you like better than the next one? My opinion changes. That’s the way I look at, the way you look at your interviews. That’s my honest answer. I like Reinventing The Steel (March 2000) a lot also, but then again I like… Like you say, one day it might be this record, and then another day it might be that one. I don’t go back and listen to a lot of that old stuff, but I have been lately. This book was very cathartic for me, writing and having to go back. I just didn’t wanna know after Dime’s tragedy. It took me awhile to get out of that. That was a very dark, deep time in my life, but now it’s time to go ahead and rejoice. It took me awhile. I miss the dude a lot.”
Vulgar Display Of Power’s 20th anniversary reissue during May 2012 included the previously unreleased composition ‘Piss’. “It’s so funny,” the musician remembers. “Vinnie found ‘Piss’ and so on in the vaults somewhere, and it was just one of those songs that didn’t make it onto Vulgar Display Of Power. I wrote the main riff of that song. I was just messing around with it, getting the sound for the day when we were in the studio. We ended up using that in ‘Use My Third Arm’ (on March 1994’s Far Beyond Driven) as part of that, but whether there’s anything else in the vaults? I’m not sure. I can’t recall if there’s anything. We would only write ten to 12 songs for a record, plus there was a soundtrack here and there that we wrote for.
“That means there might be something which’ll turn up, but I’m really not certain that that’s gonna happen. I think that at that point after Vulgar, we just pretty much wrote ten, 12 songs, or whatever it was, and that’s all we wrote. We always had the DAT rolling though, so there’s nothing that was maybe recorded. We just have these outtakes of how we maybe started a song. We could go back, and listen to those DAT tapes. Terry Date has about 600 hours worth of tape of us in the studio during those years, so I’d be interested in trying to get those back and listen to them. As Kill Devil Hill is recording right now though, that’s just not a possibility.”
May 1996 full-length The Great Southern Trendkill “was kind of lost” on Rex, however. “That’s a fan favourite,” he appreciates. “We really experimented on that record more. Before, the songs were more structured. When we did Trendkill though, it was more of this kinda… Just from an artist point of view, that one was the one that we just kind of went off on. So yeah, I like it. Like I said man, I like all of them. That has a lot of depth in it, and a lot of stuff that was just off the cuff. One of my favourite songs on that record is ‘Floods’ for obvious reasons, but there’s also tons of other great songs on that record. You have to remember, man; I’ve written a lot of songs over the years.”
Pantera made “a conscious decision to distance” itself from its 80s catalogue, meanwhile, which consists of four full-lengths; Metal Magic (June 1983), Projects In The Jungle (July 1984), I Am The Night (August 1985), and Power Metal (June 1988). “You’ve gotta remember, I was 17 when I got into the band,” the four-stringer stresses. “Most bands don’t last for five years, much less the 20 that we did. I think we would’ve lasted for longer if Dime was still alive.”
The possibility of re-releasing Pantera’s 80s catalogue hasn’t been discussed. “Are they relevant now?,” Rex questions. “Maybe to some people. I still love Projects In The Jungle, stuff like that. That record was pretty good for a bunch of 18-year-old kids, but at the same time that’s part of the past, and sometimes we don’t live in a part of the past. We need to… Hey, look man. I put my pants on and my boots on just like everybody else does. We just get up in the day, and make the best of the day that we can for that day. If there was an opportunity to put those out – which for surely there is – it wouldn’t bother me.”
The Texan quartet favoured a glam image during the 80s, that respective image discarded prior to the issue of July 1990’s Cowboys From Hell. Nonetheless, the rhythmist harbours no regrets regarding Pantera’s chosen 80s image. “That’s just a part of the past,” he reasons. “We wore what we wore then because you had to put a little bit of shtick onto what you were doing to even get considered to play in these clubs. Do I look at the natural progression of the band, and what we did? Absolutely. I wear different stuff today than I did when I played in Pantera.”
The death of Dime notwithstanding, personal differences between vocalist Phil Anselmo and drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott – Dime’s brother – would have to be resolved before a potential Pantera could take place. “I know it’s a cliché to say, but I never say never,” Rex muses. “I think it would be great to get in a room, rehash all of these old stories that we have, think about the good times and not the bad, and put that water underneath the bridge and down the river so to speak. At the same time though, I can’t give you that answer because that hasn’t happened yet. Until that does happen, for now we just have to leave it in the past. I would really like that to happen, but time will only tell. I’ll put it this way, dude. We’ve been offered millions of dollars to get back together – a lot of money. We’re not doing it for the money.
“It would have to be organic, but how do you do that without Dime in the band? It would be kind of hard. It’s so easy for people to answer that question, but unless you were in the band and know exactly what happened and what went on, then you don’t know. I try to explain that in the book. Again, let’s not take things out of context man. I just wrote a book. I’m here talking to you about it, and that’s what I wanna talk about. I don’t wanna talk about anything else.”
The name of Black Label Society / erstwhile Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde has frequently been mentioned with respect to Pantera’s vacant guitar position. “There are all kinds of names out there; there are all kinds of great players who would like to be involved,” the bassist notes. “For me it would be cool just to have a tribute, but until the three of us get in a room together and figure things out, then there’s really no use in me wasting my breath. Dude, I’m not trying to be a dick. I’m just saying. That’s a very tough situation, to say ‘Oh, yeah, yeah… That would be great, man. Everything’s gonna be just fine.’ No. There are a lot of things that have to be worked out before any of that could be a consideration.”
The foreword for autobiography Official Truth, 101 Proof, meanwhile, was penned by Dug Pinnick, the bass guitarist and vocalist for Springfield, Missouri-based rock act King’s X. “Dug has always been a mentor, and from the very first he was one of the guys that just kind of really had this…,” Rex searches. “A lot of people helped us along the road, but we were still playing the club circuit, and playing different covers and stuff like that. We just finally decided ‘Well, look… We’re just gonna play one show,’ and the club owners at first were very hesitant. We were playing six nights a week, and three sets a night. We just had this strong material, and the crowds just kept getting bigger and bigger in Texas, and on the rest of the circuit that we were playing. Dug was the perfect choice to write a foreword. He was there from kind of the beginning of… Not the very, very first, but he was there from the sidelines pushing us on. I’m a huge King’s X fan, as Dime was. It felt very fitting to have one of my favourite guys and mentor write a preface to my book.”
Copies of Official Truth, 101 Proof have been mailed to both Phil Anselmo and Vinnie Paul, though the pair are as yet to provide feedback. “They can write their own books, if they like,” the musician concludes. “Phil and I have a very good relationship, but I haven’t spoken to Vin in a long time. My arms have always been open to that cat. As I say in the book, I just wish that everything would be water underneath the bridge. That will hopefully break in, and then we can all sit in a room and laugh about all of the good times that we had.”
Official Truth, 101 Proof is arguably quite critical of Vinnie Paul, suggesting Rex dislikes the sticksman. “I don’t dislike Vinnie, but we’re very estranged,” he clarifies. “I would say we had a good working relationship, let’s just put it that way. That’s fair to say, right? Everybody has to like each other in a band, but towards the end it got to the point where we just all needed to take a break from each other. There was that breakdown, and then the terrible tragedy with Dime. My whole thing with Official Truth is that this is just my story, and I just think that fans should read it. I don’t wanna get too… You can read a different line out of that book if you want, but nothing’s malicious. This is just the way that I saw things. If other people wanna write a book, they can write their own story on it. Whatever. It’s so hard to put 20 years of your life into 300 pages of a book. I’ve got 600 pages of stuff on the cutting room floor that the publisher didn’t feel should be in the book, but it’s all just crazy anecdotes of Dime and all of the shenanigans that we used to get into, and everything else, anecdotes that maybe weren’t chronicled in all of the videos.”
These 600 pages could form the backbone of an additional tome. “I’d like to do that,” the four-stringer admits. “Right now, I’m just trying to plug this one. I’ve never done a book tour before, so all of these interviews are coming my way. I also have a band that I’m in right now. Like anything else, this is my journey. As a musician, I’m playing with some of the baddest cats that I’ve ever played with. I’ve been blessed three times, let’s put it that way. Dude, that’s what I’m alive for man. It’s like you. You’re a scribe and love doing what you’re doing, or else you wouldn’t be doing it. My take on it is that I still love jamming, and that’s all there is to it. I’m doing so very accurately and well, and I’m not trying to be arrogant in that statement. I’m just saying that… Shit, I ain’t washed up, man.”
Official Truth, 101 Proof sugarcoats nothing, but Rex harbours no regrets with regards to the book in general. “You can’t live your life and just go ‘Oh, man… There are so many things you could’ve done better,’” he submits. “The same with Kill Devil Hill. I’ve always wanted to do this. I wanna get over to England; I wanna play about several weeks worth of dates, make a big splash, and then figure it out that way. That’s our next plan. We have nine songs in the bag as we speak, nine tracks that are done. We’re also working on another four that we’ve already demoed out. We’ve been working with Jeff Pilson at his house, Jeff Pilson of Dokken fame. He’s a great engineer and brings a lot of stuff to the table that we might not have thought about. If you like the first one though, then this one is gonna knock your damn boots off.”
The follow-up to Kill Devil Hill’s May 2012 self-titled debut will be “similar in vein. It has heavy parts to it, but the vocals are really just… it’s time for Dewey (Bragg, vocals) to fly where he needs to fly. He’s doing a lot more lyrically, but then he’s the guy that’s gotta sing it every night. It’s more of a collaborative effort than the first one, I would say. It’s still as heavy as piss, but the heaviness has these melodies over the top of it. I can’t put my finger on it, man. It just works. When you know something like that, you feel that. We haven’t played these songs live yet, but I just can’t wait to get on the stage to do some of these songs live.”
Official Truth, 101 Proof: The Inside Story Of Pantera was released in North America on March 12th, 2013 and subsequently on the 28th in the United Kingdom, all via Da Capo Press.
Interview published in March 2013.