By Mike Bax
Hellyeah has been assaulting our earholes for a decade now over the course of five tightly performed albums. Founding members Chad Gray, Tom Maxwell and Vinnie Paul along with their new bandmates Kyle Sanders and Christian Brady have recently unleashed Undeniable (customized as Unden!able with the exclamation mark) upon us as their fifth and heaviest album to date.
Recorded with producer Kevin Churko, Undeniable steps up the already established sound Hellyeah has established over their previous efforts, with a subtle shift to a heavier bass and drum lower end on the songs, courtesy of Vinnie Paul’s pummeling drum beats and the low end rattle of Kyle Sanders signature bass playing.
The band has already been touring Undeniable in earnest, and recently announced a co-headlining run of shows with In Flames (and openers From Ashes to New) that will come to Canada in November. Don’t miss the In Flames + Hellyeah: Forged In Fire Tour with a Toronto show at The Danforth Music Hall set for November 23rd (TICKETS)
In advance of this tour, drummer Vinnie Paul (ex-Damageplan and ex-Pantera) talked with Lithium Magazine about coming back to Canada; the creation of Undeniable; his bandmates; his brother Dimebag Darrell and his afterward on legacy band Pantera.
Mike: Undeniable is the first Hellyeah album that features contributions from Kyle Sanders and Christian Brady, correct?
Vinnie: Yes, sir.
Mike: Can you describe how they fit into the creation of Undeniable and how that writing process went down together?
Vinnie: It was really awesome to have them be part of it. They joined the band during the Blood for Blood touring cycle so we really got very comfortable playing live together and touring around the world. Really just getting that ‘band’ feeling again, you know? And then when we got into writing new materials we did it the same way we wrote Blood for Blood. We wrote the stuff here at my house – all of the music. And then we went into the studio in Las Vegas with Kevin Churko and Kevin was on the fence about whether we should have other people contribute to the record. But once he heard their playing he was very excited about it. He loved Kyle’s bass playing. And when he heard Christian’s guitar playing he thought that they were both definitely a plus to the Hellyeah family. I like it to be less people when I am recording. But with this album he was really gung ho on bringing them in and having them be a part of it. I think they were a great addition to the record and I think that Undeniable is without a doubt our heaviest and best record to date. We’ve been out touring for it. We just got back from South America and we found the response down there was absolutely incredible. We are out doing these big festival shows right now with Avenged Sevenfold, Deftones, Slayer and Anthrax. It’s all just going down great. Things are feeling really good, man. So for us to be coming up to Canada in the winter with In Flames and doing our own shows is just amazing. We are so excited about going out and doing a headlining tour with longer set times.
Mike: Awesome. I’m looking forward to that tour, Vinnie. I think that Hellyeah and In Flames makes for a cool double bill. Two awesome bands.
Vinnie: Oh yeah. They are a great band. And to have that Euro vibe is great. To have the Swedish guys on a run of dates and be a part of what we are doing, along with a really fresh new band From Ashes to New, it’s a cool bill all the way around.
Mike: You just mentioned Kevin Churko. You have done a few albums with him now. What is it about Kevin that you like so much, and ultimately why you keep working with him?
Vinnie: He’s great, man. (laughs) It’s that simple. He just gets it, you know? Kevin helps you make the record that you WANT to make. Not the record that the record company wants or anybody else wants. He understands artists. He worked with one of the greatest producers ever, Mutt Lange, He’s got it hard-wired into his DNA, you know? He knows what it takes to get things right. He knows when to give the artist some room when it’s needed. He lives and breathes everything about the album that you live and breathe. And one thing for me is that he’s a drummer. I really feel like he tends to push me. I produced the first three Hellyeah records and found that I really didn’t have time to focus on the drums as much as I needed to focus on the whole big picture of those recordings. So it’s cool to work with somebody who will punch me along with everyone else in the band to make the record really shine.
Mike: Can you pick one word only to describe Chad, Tom, Kyle and Christian? One each.
Vinnie: Uh, intense would be Chad, man. He’s a very intense person. He’s very focused. He’s all about kicking ass and getting stuff done. Let me think of one word to describe Tom. Stoned. (laughter) He’s great man, you know, but he does like to have his weed once in a while. It helps his creativity though. I’ve REALLY enjoyed working with him, and writing songs with him. As a guitar player, he is one of the fastest right-hands I’ve ever heard. One word for Kyle: he’s a beast, man. He’s just an animal on stage. He’s one of the best performers I’ve ever played with. He’s the best bass player, definitely. I love hearing what he brings to the band. The bottom end is really what makes the Hellyeah sound right now. It’s so integral to what’s going on with us. And then Christian, he’s amazing. (laughs) I really love his personality. This is all new to him right now. He’s never played in a big time touring band before. He’s always played in bands that stay around Las Vegas, so this is all new to him. Watching him go out and do the same things I’ve been doing for my entire life is very exciting. And to see how much he’s really embraced it and how he gives it everything he’s got every night that he’s on stage is amazing. That word fits him pretty good.
Mike: Hellyeah has managed to maintain a steady release schedule – an impressive feat for bands in this day and age. You’ve managed to put a new album out every two years since Stampede in 2010. Would you describe your creation of music as a scheduled / regimented process?
Vinnie: Not at all, man. We’ve always felt that for people to continue to pay attention, you have to stay in the present, you know? You have to continue to tour or release stuff. We have been very focused since we started. It just seems to work out that everytime we make a record, we then tour for about 18 months and then we go right back into the studio, you know? It’s not really anything we schedule or regiment, it’s just how it happens. So if the touring schedule ends up shorter next year, we’ll probably be in the studio sooner. If it goes the same amount of time as the previous album, then it will probably be around October 2017 when we wind up hitting the studio again. We’ll just play it by ear and see what happens.
Mike: Do you ever get writer’s block?
Vinnie: I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way. I think there are new things that inspire us all the time. We communicate really well, you know? Me and Tommy write the bulk of the instrumental side of the music. Songs aren’t songs until Chad brings the lyrics and the melodies to them, but they always start with the music. I’m constantly writing down ideas and taking notes on things that I like and things that inspire me. And Tom does the same thing. When we get together we are always full of ideas. We just seem to work really good together.
Mike: Do you ever get to do any interviews and NOT talk about Pantera?
Vinnie: Ah, you know, it’s getting less and less. I just got back from South America. It was our first time with Hellyeah down there, and I really expected to get a ton of that. It was really limited. And the audiences, I could believe how well they received the band. They just treated us like we are exactly who we are; a new band to them. They were into it, and it was a powerhouse thing to them. They are two different bands. They are completely different from each other. The thing that people have to realize is that I don’t live in the past. I did a lot of great things in the past, but I live for today and for the future. If you live in the past, you have no future. I’m really proud of what I do with Hellyeah and I’m focused on it. I will never take anything away from Pantera. It was great, we had fourteen amazing years together. But it’s no longer here. My brother is no longer here. So we have to carry on, you know?
Mike: Yep. We can legitimately talk a bit about Dime, though. You have unearthed some cool riffs he did and included them on Undeniable.
Vinnie: Man, it was so special for that to happen. It was an accident, which is amazing. We were basically done recording and we were sitting around in the control room talking about songs that we liked. Christian Brady said that he loved that song ‘I Don’t Care Anymore’ by Phil Collins. And I can remember thinking ‘Bingo’. I started laughing and said, “You’ve got to be kidding me, man. Me and Dime covered that fourteen years ago when we were in Damageplan and we just never put it out.” And Then Kevin Churko chimed in that he’d worked with Phil Collins before, and how cool would it be if we did this? So we immediately just hopped in the studio and started working on a version. We took an old song with a really familiar sound and really brought it up to date for 2016. We totally made it Hellyeah. And as we were doing this it came up that it would be cool if we could get Dime’s tracks and make them part of this, you know? We went through the rigors of extracting his guitar tracks from the old RADAR system to get them into what we were doing now, Pro Tools, and got it on there. Man, everyone in the room had goose bumps the first time we heard it right through. I think it’s truly amazing that in the year 2016 that people get to hear Dimebag again – and blazing across the radio, because Pantera never was on the radio back in the day. For fans to be able to hear him again and for him to be a part of Hellyeah is incredible. From day one Dime has been a part of our driving force, pushing us to create. We are really ecstatic about that, really proud of it. And also for me as a drummer; ALWAYS a big fan of Phil Collins. I’ve loved everything he’s ever done. Awesome drummer. Great singer. It’s just a cool track all the way around.
Mike: ‘Love Falls’ reminds a bit of some of the ballad-like metal songs that permeated the MTV generation of the mid to late 1980s. It’s a bit different than the rest of the Undeniable album – is there a story behind that song and it’s inclusion on this album?
Vinnie: We were in the studio one day and it was close to the end of the record. We felt like we had covered all of the ground we wanted to cover on the album. Tom said he had this riff and an idea and we started into it. It was a much slower song when we started it. I thought the song was cool, but it needed a bit of tempo. We picked it up and got it going, and then once Chad came in and started doing what he did on it, we all got goosebumps over it. We thought it was a special sounding song. And you are right, it does have kind of an old-school eighties feel to it. But it has a new sound as well. We all have our roots and things that we’ve come from and I’m never afraid of anything that reminds me of something from back in the day. I actually embrace it and love it and want to bring it back. Anything that inspires me from acts like Van Halen, Judas Priest or Black Sabbath – any of that kind of stuff I’m all over. I grew up listening to that stuff and anything that reminds me of it tends to pump me up. I think that track does have an old-school feel to it, but with a new sound. For people that haven’t heard it, it’s going to be the next single. I think it’s going to make a lot of people say, “Wow, I dig that vibe.”
Mike: It’s different for your band. It stands out. Maybe because the rest of the album is so heavy. It’s cool. I like it.
Vinnie: We’ve done that ‘reach back’ thing a time or two. On the last record Blood for Blood, I think ‘Black December’ kind of had that old school feel to it. It has a nice groove to it. I think the main thing about songs like that is just the groove, a thing that people these days don’t really capture anymore. It’s a really cool vibe to have something like that, and to lay the basis of the song down and let the vocalist deliver the message, you know?
Mike: I could keep doing this for another twenty minutes, Vinnie. This is great. Thanks for doing this. I look forward to seeing you in Toronto with In Flames in a few months.
Vinnie: Man, we are going to have a blast up there. Spread the word. We are going to have a full house and it will be a great metal show. A great night for everybody!