Hellyeah will give blood for blood

After releasing four albums with Hellyeah, drumming legend Vinnie Paul is definitely back on track. The band is going forward at a determined, confident pace, seeming barely even concerned by the turmoil that caused the departure of guitarist Greg Tribbett and bassist Bob “Zilla”. Vinnie Paul doesn’t want to hear about a Pantera reformation. Vinnie Paul is looking ahead to forge a new legacy with Hellyeah.

In the following interview, the man talks about Blood For Blood – “the best fucking abum we’ve ever made”, according to him – and the latest line-up changes. More generally, he also talks about the spirit that’s driving the band, their motivations, their goals, and his own history. Just in case you missed our dossier on the subject, it was also a good opportunity to talk about the 20th anniversary of Far Beyond Driven, arguably Pantera’s heaviest album. And let’s not forget Vinnie Paul’s other passion, food, which always makes his mouth water and his eyes light up.

« I’m not to rest on my laurels. If you live in the past, you have no future. »

Radio Metal: It was announced that Greg Tribbett and Bob “Zilla” had both left the band. But there was no real further explanation. What actually happened and which line-up played on the new album?

Vinnie Paul (drums): This actually occurred before we started making the record. Bob and Greg both are part of the Hellyeah family and always have been, but both of them had some serious personal issues that I’m not going to get into, but they became very distracting to the rest of the band and it became to the point that we knew we weren’t going to be able to make this record with them being part of it. So we parted ways with them and myself, Tom [Maxwell] and Chad [Gray] wrote this record, recorded this record and made this record and it’s been the best fucking record we’ve never made. We really needed to pull together and of course having our producer Kevin [Churko] be part of it, that was huge. And since then we have added Kyle Sanders of Bloodsimple to be our bass player, he’s a friend of ours and we’ve known him for many many years, awesome bass player, great dude and good old southern boy from Atlanta, Georgia. And then we’re gonna add a touring guitarist who’ll be on the road with us that may eventually turn into a permanent member. We’re not making an announcement about who that is, but there’s definitely gonna be another guitar player to complement Tom. Tom did such an awesome job on this record with all the guitar playing and all the guitar parts, I’m really really proud of him, he really stepped up to the plate on this.

How was Kyle recruited, in fact? Was it just because he was a friend of yours?

Yeah, we didn’t wanted to go into that audition thing or recruiting, we knew that we needed to have somebody who was a bro, who would really fit in, and Kyle was really the only guy who came to mind and when we first called, he was like: “Dude, I’m the guy, I wanna do it!” So it really have been a no brainer, it was really simple for us to make that choice. We shot a video together, he fits right in, he fits great, looks great, sounds great, and we’re excited about working together, you know. Sometimes, for the brotherhood to get stronger, you need to get rid of things that are weighting you down. To have new blood and this new energy in the band along with this fucking awesome record, that’s gonna be really exciting to tour this year.

What was the band’s state of mind for this fourth album? Was there anything in particular that you wanted to achieve?

I think we got closer on the last record to capturing what Hellyeah was all about, but not all the way. It’s close, it was back to our metal roots, back where we came from, and I think with this record we did capture what Hellyeah’s all about. It really does have the dynamics and the diversity that we were looking for but extremely heavy at the same time, and the best songs we’ve ever written. We really feel like as songwriters, we grew together and as players we grew together and having Kevin on board really kinda helped us bridge everything together and make it seamless.

The new album is called Blood For Blood but the name of title song itself is translated in Spanish, “Sangre Por Sangre”. What is the symbolism of this title and of the fact that it’s been translated in Spanish?

Well, I think the translation is just a cool way to communicate in a different language with other people. There isn’t really any significance to it, it’s just different way of expressing it, you know. But the basic concept behind the songs is that there are so many things in this world today that people don’t have to pay the price for what they do. There are people who are murder people and get out of jail two years later, you know, that’s not right. Back in the days, it was an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and blood for blood. That’s really the whole thing behind the song: getting back to that. If we were back to those times, it might make you think twice before you do some of the things that you do, and that’s what used to keep men level back then, but unfortunately, it’s not that way anymore.

Apart from being a producer, Kevin Churko is also a songwriter and, for example, wrote all the riffs on the last Ozzy Osbourne album. So does he also have some writing credits on Blood For Blood?

We brought him 12 songs that me and Tom had demoed musically, and he told us it was the best demo he ever heard in his life. He’s used to bands bringing in two or three songs, hoping he writes the rest of it for them, you know. He was really excited about working with us. Those songs stayed pretty much the same. He definitely helped us with some transitions and arrangements and really helped us to get it together but as far as writing the songs, no. We wrote those. Chad wrote the lyrics, Kevin was there and he was a great sounding board for Chad, he really got the best out of Chad… He did what a great producer should do: get the band exactly what they’re looking for. So it was awesome working with him and his input was incredibly great but at the same time they were our songs, we wrote them.

« Being at the top of the rock with Pantera is that much more an inspiration for trying to do it again with this band. »

This is already Hellyeah’s fourth album, which makes it a quite productive band. Is it important for you to not rest on your laurels and find back the kind of productivity and regularity you had with Pantera for instance?

I’m not to rest on my laurels. If you live in the past, you have no future. It’d be really easy for me to say: “Yeah, we’ll do a Pantera reunion and we’ll do it with Zakk [Wylde] and we’ll make millions of dollars…” I don’t wanna do that. I’m really focused on this band, I’m really into what’s going on with this band and when people say “reunion”, it can’t be a reunion without Dimebag, period. That’s doesn’t even exist in my mind. Being at the top of the rock with Pantera is that much more an inspiration for trying to do it again with this band. It’s harder today, it’s a much more difficult scene out there all the way around, but I think we’ve laid the ground work and we’re on our way and this is the best record we’ve made yet and I’m looking forward to two years of non-stop touring and we’ll see where this thing goes. But there’s nothing about how I was in Pantera and Chad was in Mudvayne, you know, that doesn’t really exist with us, it’s all about Hellyeah and moving forward.

And about that, like you said, Chad Gray is also the singer in the band Mudvayne but this band is on hiatus almost since the release of the first Hellyeah record. Did you guys impose yourselves to stop any outside activities and fully concentrate on Hellyeah?

Nobody imposed that on anybody. Everybody just decided that this was gonna be the focus and this is what they wanted to give. Chad, I think you’ll have to ask him, but I think he felt that he had pretty much given everything he could in Mudvayne, it’d kind of run its course and done what’s done. He got focused on this and was into it from the start. When it started, it was a great way for us to escape Pantera, Mudvayne and all that, and do songs like “Acohaulin’ Ass” and “Cowboy Way” and stuff like that that would have never worked with Pantera or Mudvayne. It’s so diverse, these songs are almost country and blues, and then there are mellow songs and rock songs. Once we got that out of our system with the first two records, with Band Of Brothers we really wanted to get back to our metal roots and make a metal record. So that was probably the heaviest record, without a doubt, that we made, and then this one was just a natural progression. It was the same vibe, except that it goes deeper on a songwriting level.

Hellyeah seems quite discreet for everything that is outside of the music itself, compared to Pantera with which we often had stories in the press. Is this discretion something you’re trying to maintain with the band?

I don’t know. I don’t even compare the two together because they’re so different. The dynamics of the personalities are completely different. Me and my brother think exactly alike. When I was in Pantera, I was the business guy and he was the fucking party animal, but between the two of us, we got everything done. They’re two different animals, really. Pantera is an untouchable legacy and always will be, and I’m working on building a new one with this.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Pantera album Far Beyond Driven. It’s arguably the most brutal Pantera album. Where did you guys get all this anger and brutality at the time?

Well, we made this pretty amazing album called Vulgar Display Of Power, that was like a pretty high mountain, and when we finished touring for this album, we knew that the only way we were going to please the fans was to build a mountain that was even higher. It was a lot of work. We came up with the title before it started, Far Beyond Driven, and we really pushed each other to another level, to complete extremities on every level. After the succes of Vulgar and all the touring we did, people thought that we were going to go in a more commercial direction, maybe do a black album kind of thing like Metallica did – which is an amazing record but it was a pretty big deviation from what they’d done in the past. But we wanted to go to the opposite direction, we wanted to make a record for our fuckin’ fans, we weren’t worried about the record company selling ten million records. We just wanted to make the most brutal, in your face record for the live shows we possibily could make. And it was the first true heavy metal record to debut at number one on Billboard, it was huge. It was 312 tour dates in one year, which was nearly the whole year being on tour and playing in front of the most rabid fans in the world. That’s pretty amazing times.

« It is important to achieve success and that what we wanna do. This is my life and I’m happy, but I also still want more, I want more from it always. »

The album had reached number one on many charts, would you have thought that such a brutal album could have reached that much success?

I think we expected it to be in the top five but for a band that didn’t have any radio play, no MTV, no mainstream media coverage, to hit number one, that was a tribute to our fans. They went out to buy 200 000 units the first week it came out and kocked out Bonnie Raitt, Ace Of Base, all these huge pop bands that were on at the time. And then Billboard Magazine came out saying: “Pantera, over night sensation”. We were like : “Bullshit, man!” We played every fuckin’ place on the face of this earth over the past four years, we build the most crazed fan base in the world, and that’s how we got a number one record, not because of your magazine or the TV or the radio, but because of the fans. The fans spoke. That was a huge accomplishment.

In the booklet we can read a note by Phil Anselmo on behalf of the band to explain the presence of the « Planet Caravan » cover song. Why did you guys feel the need to write this note? Did you really think this song could have pushed people to « freak out on » you guys?

We actually recorded that song for a soundtrack called Nativity In Black and it was the first song we actually recorded for Far Driven Beyond. Because we knew we were going to do it, we didn’t want to be distracted by this mellow song we were going to do in the middle or anything. So, we did it first to get it out of the way. And then, the two record companies, our record company and the label that was putting out Nativity In Black, they couldn’t find an agreement, so it got left off the record. We were like “man, that sucks!”, because there was a lot of thought that went into it, we wanted to make a cover of a Black Sabbath song that nobody would have ever dreamed of covering. Still to this day people think it’s a fuckin’ Pantera song! I mean, so many people don’t realise it’s just a Sabbath deep cut. I didn’t feel it was necessary to put the liner note in there but it was something Phil felt like, from an integrity stand point, that maybe people might think, with it being the last song, that it might be a new direction we would take on the future. It’s just one of those things that says: “hey, if you’re just fuckin’ into kicking ass and beating your head against the wall, well, don’t listen to it! But if you’re ready to unwind, smoke your joint, after having listened to this whole fuckin’ brutal piece of music then that’s cool too!” I think that was really the point of it.

This album is also known from the fans for its original artwork. What’s the story behind it?

It’s pretty simple, I mean, the label had hired this guy named Dean Karr, who’s known for extreme artworks and photography, to do the album. And he brought us his book with a bunch of his works that he had already done, we were going through it and the minute we saw that, we said “that’s the fuckin’ album cover, man! Metal up your ass, that fuckin’ says it!” I mean, fucked by a drill, this is fuckin’ serious! the label was cool with it, they said “yeah, that fuckin’ awesome. It goes along with the music, some of the most extreme music in the world, etc.” And about two or three days later, they came back to us and said: “we can’t use this cover, it’s not gonna work.” We were like: “What do you mean? You already approved it! It’s done, it’s the album cover!” And they were like “Nah, we can’t get this on Wallmart, we can’t get this on major retails, we can’t do anything with it…” We were pretty pissed off about it. It was not a happy moment when it happened. And they said: “let’s get Dean back over here and see if he can come up with something else.” So Dean put together the skull with the drill going into it and when we got to look at it we were like “you know what? It still represents exactly what we’re talking about. The drill in the brain is just as good as the drill in the butt! [Laughs] As long as you let us use that alternate cover, to put it on vinyl and some other things, we’ll agree to change to the blue drill in the head cover”.

There is no doubt about the fact that Hellyeah really is your home now and that you invest a lot in this band. But do you believe it will be possible to reach the same level of success that you had reached with Pantera, do you feel that Hellyeah has that same potential?

If you don’t set your goals high, you’re not gonna get anywhere. Yeah, I love playing night clubs, I love playing theatres and smaller places that have a more intimate vibe, but there’s nothing like playing Donington or arenas and being a headliner knowing that there are 50,000 people that are there to see you. So, it is important to achieve success and that what we wanna do. This is my life and I’m happy, but I also still want more, I want more from it always.

I know that before joining Hellyeah you were unsure if you would return to music. So what convinced you with Hellyeah to stay in the music business?

Well, it was not too far removed from the horrible thing that happened to my brother. And my first step back to the music business was starting my own record company and putting out this record that me and my brother made with this country legend David Allan Coe called Rebel Meets Rebel. And then my good friends Johnny (Kelly) and Kenny (Hickey) from Type O Negative asked me to produce Seventh Void. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it or not, but that was one of the coolest records that I think was ever been a part of. I love that record man, it’s so fuckin’ heavy, it’s so dark. It’s like Type O Negative meets Soundgarden. It’s really cool, so if you haven’t checked out Seventh Void, chech them out. And then about at that time, that’s when the guys from Hellyeah started to call me and asked me to be a part of the band. I was like: “Eh, I don’t know if I’m ready to do this shit or not. I’m just kind of getting back on my feet. Thanks for thinking about me.” And then the next day they called me again, and the next day once again saying: “Come on man, what do you think?” And then after about ten phone calls, one night I’ve been drinking some red wine – which I don’t normally do, I usually drink vodka -, I had a bottle of red wine with Kiss going on the background and I was like: “These fuckin’ dudes are calling me again. I picked up the phone and started talking.” Next thing you know, I was like: “You know what? I’m never gonna find out if I’m able to do this again or not unless I try. Lets you guy just get on a plane and come to Texas and we’ll see what happens.” So about two weeks later they all flew to Texas and we met, we barbecued, started drinking and found out that we had a lot in common. The next day we were down in the studio recording. It was like magic. It felt like the right thing to do. It felt like Dime was right here with me pushing me, going: “Come on brother, you gotta do this, you gotta to this!” There was some serious chemistry there and that’s how it started. When it feels right you don’t turn around and question why, you just to do it.

How has your relationship with the other guys in the band evolved?

Obviously, Chad, he’s my favorite singer, you know, and I’ve watched him go through a lot of stuff in his life personally since we’ve been together as a band. I’ve seen the strength that he has and what it takes for him to pull together. Same thing with Tom. Unfortunately I’ve seen the other side of it with Bob and Greg, watching them going to their demise which ultimately let us not be in a band together anymore. I wish them well, I hope everything works out for them, but this is Blood For Blood, this is Hellyeah, this is the new version. Welcome Kyle Sanders and let’s move forward.

« There’s nothing like putting a smile on somebody’s face by cooking him a special meal or something that’s really good. »

On another topic, you have a cook book…

Yeah! My cook book, I’m not done with it yet but I’m glad you know about it! « Drummin’ Up In Appetite With Vinnie Paul »!

Can you tell us how you got this passion for cooking and how you ended up with this idea for a cook book?

The idea just came from a picture of me sitting behind the drumset, I’m holding two turkey legs which are known as drumsticks. I like to have a good time, there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor that goes along with me. But cooking is just something that I’ve had a passion for in my whole life, besides playing drums. When I was small, my mom taught me how to cook. My mom was always cooking for my dad. And when my mom and dad split up, my mom worked during the day and I was always cooking for my brother Dime. I mean, I made scrambled eggs, sandwiches or whatever… That how it all started and from that point on it evolved. A lot of people think that they can cook by just throwing something in the microwave and that’s it. There’s so much more to it than that and there’s nothing like putting a smile on somebody’s face by cooking him a special meal or something that’s really good. I just really like doing this. We barbecue and cook on the road all the time. On the Gigantour those guys would freak out. I’d buy 7 or 800$ of stuff and be out there, slaving over the grill after we’d played the show. Zakk (Wylde) and Dave (Mustaine), and everybody are over eating and they’re like: “God! This is the best fuckin’ food!” And that just makes me “Wow! See, that’s what it makes it all worth it.” So, that’s something I’ve been into, I’ve always been.

I know it’s not always easy to get good food on the road…

We try to eat well on the road. I mean, McDonalds’ not good for you, but every now and then that’s all you get, and every now and then what you get is pizzas. But, you know, anytime I can cook for the guys, if we’re somewhere cold, I just put on a pot of chili and I cook it on the bus. Man, it just smells good, people come in, they get in a better mood. They don’t have the stale sandwiches at the catering or something like that, or like I said McDonalds or pizzas. Or it’s a nice day, I’m out there on the grill making fajitas or some kind of steak, and they’re like “wow, man, this is awesome!” So, it’s kind of like being able to take home with you on the road.

What’s your favorite food and what would be your specialty as a cook?

My specialty that I do is probably Mexican food. I do fajitas, the most banging tacos you’ve ever had, just all kinds of different versions of Mexican fish and stuff. Probably my favorite food to eat, that I don’t cook a lot of, it’s Thai food. I love spicy stuff, and that kind of goes along with the Mexican food. If you think about traditional Mexican food, a taco is a tortilla with meat on and that’s it, they don’t put anything else on it. If you come to my place to eat a taco, it’s tex mex and it’s tortillas with meat, with cheese, with lettuce, tomato, opinions, jalapeños, sour cream and hot sauce on top of it! And when you bite into that bad boy, that’s a fuckin’ taco! You can really take it to extremes. That’s what I like about Thai food, they don’t skip out on the heat. These peppers they use are the real deal, the coconut milk… It’s such a different flavor from everything else, it’s pretty special.

Have you thought about opening a restaurant?

I thought about it, but they’re really difficult to keep up to your standard level unless you’re there. If you think about it, I open up a place called Vinnie Paul’s Barbecue Grill and when I’m gone on tour I’ve got a bunch of eighteen year old kids working there that don’t give a fuck, they’re just working, and when somebody comes in to buy something they’ll be like : “Man, that fuckin’ barbecue sucks. This fuckin’ Vinnie Paul’s place sucks!” And I’ve been to Michael Jordan’s, you know, the basketball player, actually it was two of his restaurants and I thought it was two of the worst dining experiences I’ve ever had! So, to put your name on something and really be able to represent it, I think that you always have to be there to oversee it. I’ve kind of stayed away from that. I still would like to do it someday, but not while I’m on the road touring…

After retiring?

Yeah, but I don’t plan on retiring, so I don’t see that happening! [Laughs]

Interview conducted on March, 4th 2014 by Chloé
Transcription : Chloé & Spaceman
Questions & introduction : Spaceman

Hellyeah official website: Hellyeahband.com

Album Blood For Blood, out since June, 9th 2014 via Eleven Seven Music.

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