Soul Killers: An Interview with Hellyeah

MB Wacken

What can be said about Vinnie Paul, the legendary drummer of Pantera, that hasn’t been said before? Whether you love them or hate them, it is undeniable that Pantera are nothing short of a tremendous influence in heavy metal, and that if it wasn’t for them a lot of what we see as normal staples of the genre might have never come to exist.

After the demise of Pantera, Vinnie kept himself busy, working with his brother, the legendary Dimebag Darrell, in the band Damageplan, until the tragic night that brought everything to a halt.

Hellyeah, Vinnie‘s latest project, is a groove metal band that has been pumping out powerful releases nonstop since their inception in 2006. Although the ghost of Pantera will always loom above any of Vinnie‘s projects, this is no revival band. This is pure fucking metal.

That was our goal, just to carry the heavy metal flag and wave it as high as we could.

MB: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
Vinnie: Of course!

MB: Hellyeah just released a brand new album, the fourth overall. In the beginning many saw the band as a side project, but of course over the years it has occupied more and more of your time. Do you still feel it’s a “supergroup,” more of a side thing, or do you think that it has now become the driving force in your career?
Vinnie
: I think a lot of people were kind of confused from the start, it always WAS a band to us from the beginning, but we just knew that some of the members would be taking time to do other things from time to time. Since Band Of Brothers everyone has been really focused and committed to this.  Like you said, this is our fourth record, and we feel like it’s our very best studio record to date. We got a couple of new guys in the band that really brought in some nice fresh blood and fresh energy, and we feel really good about it.
The supergroup thing isn’t something we intended to happen; it’s just that we all come from bands that have been established in the past, so that moniker just kind of came along with it and, you know, we’ve embraced it. If you want to call us that, fine, but if not, we’re just fucking Hellyeah, man.

MB: I think it also happens, as you said, that since you are from a well-established band, fans think it’s impossible for Vinnie Paul to be in a band without it being a supergroup. I think that says a lot about how people perceive your career and your talent as a musician.
Vinnie
: Thank you, I appreciate that.

MB: At the beginning you were reluctant or unsure if you wanted to continue making music without Dimebag. How were you able to finally decide to push forward?
Vinnie
: The first thing I did to help pull myself out of the deep depression that I was in, and just the fucking horrible state, was to release the Rebel Meets Rebel album. Me and my brother did the record with David Allen Coe, and he really really loved it, and really wanted people to hear it. We just didn’t want to confuse anybody since we just put the Damageplan record out and were trying to focus on that, so we put it on the backburner. I decided that it was important for people to hear it, and wanted to carry my brother’s wishes through, so I started my own record label and put it out. That was kind of my first venture back into music, and I started feeling the flame, and feeling like I could do this again.
I put out Seventh Void on my label too, which is Johnny and Kenny from Type O Negative, and I love that record, and I mixed it and produced it with them. That really brought me even closer back into playing music. Then the rest of the guys in Hellyeah started calling me, and I was like “I don’t know if I’m ready to do this yet.” They were very persistent, they were calling me for about 2 weeks solid, once a day. One day I was cleaning my house and drinking a bottle of red wine, which I never do, since I always drink vodka, and said “you know what? I’ll never know until I try, so you guys come on down and we’ll try it out and see what happens.” About a week later they all flew to Texas and came to my house. We barbecued, had a lot of drinks, and found out we had a lot in common. The next day we went down to the studio, set up all the gear and started writing songs, and Hellyeah was born from that point on.

From left to right
From left to right: Kyle Sanders, Tom Maxwell, Chad Gray, Vinnie Paul.

MB: After experiencing something as hard as what happened with Dimebag, did you find it difficult to play live again?
Vinnie
: Naw, I told myself from the very start that if I was going to do this I was going to have to do it with no fear, just like I did before. I know it really heightened security at shows, and made people more aware of the freaks that are out there, and about the things that can happen, so I felt safe ever since. I mean, even that night, neither one of us had any fear, or could imagine something like that could even happen.

MB: Damageplan, Pantera, and Hellyeah all have a very big southern vibe to them. How much do you have in making that, I don’t want to say necessarily bluesy, but thick southern tone you find in all of your music?
Vinnie
: I’ve always been a very groove oriented drummer, that’s been my thing, it kinda comes from Texas. You grow up listening to bands like ZZ Top, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and stuff like that, and they have an undeniable groove to them. Even with our music being heavier and faster, it still has some groove to it, and that’s the most important thing to me that I bring to all the bands I’ve been a part of, it’s just a metal groove to the drums.

MB: In addition to Hellyeah, you mentioned you have your own record label, Big Vin Records. Did you always want to be part of the music industry?
Vinnie: No! [laughs] It’s a lot more difficult than the artist side. I enjoyed it, and I learned about it, but I don’t do much with the record company right now since I’m so focused on Hellyeah. Maybe somewhere in the future, if I come across a band that I think is really amazing and they’re not really having any lucky with the labels, I might try to putting another record out on Big Vin, but it’s really difficult out there right now in the music business.

MB: Was it something you decided to do on a whim?
Vinnie
: Well, what happened was that I had that David Allen Coe Rebel Meets Rebel record I did with my brother, and I went to the president of Elektra Records, the label where Pantera was at the time, and said “I want you guys to put this out, it’s really important to me.” They listened to it, then called me back the next day and said “we don’t know what to do with this, we can’t put this out. We don’t know if we’re going to sell it to country people, rock people, or what!” That’s when I was like “bingo, I know what to do with it. I’ll start my own label and put it out myself!” I sold 150,000 units of it, I mean, that’s pretty solid for a fucking independent label in this day and age.
That was a big mistake on their part, but it kinda helped me get back into music, and it kept me busy, kept my mind off of things. My buddy “Bri-dog” was a big part of that, and we worked our way through it.

MB: I read somewhere that you have done some work with Dethklok
Vinnie: I’ve never done any work with Dethklok! I don’t know where that comes from, I get that from a lot of people. Apparently I was on an episode of Metalocalypse or something, but I’ve never played in that band. I don’t even know who is in it!

MB: I will update the Wikipedia page.
Vinnie
: Please! [Laughs]

Hellyeah Interview Promo 2

MB: Rebel Meets Rebel was met with widespread acclaim. Do you think we can expect any future collaborations with David Allen Coe?
Vinnie: I think it’s a one-time thing, you know? If my brother was still around, absolutely. We really enjoyed working with him, he’s a completely different kind of human being [laughs] and he’s really out there. He’s really cool and really hip. He was a lot more in tune with what we were doing on the record than I thought he would be, he really comes across as kind of a hillbilly, but he’s much more than that.

MB: There’s something that I always wonder when I interview a musician such as yourself that has had a very big hand in shaping metal. On the one hand, I’m sure you’re very happy about the legacy of Pantera, along with Dimebag. But you do find yourself having to say “well Damageplan is NOT Pantera, and Hellyeah is neither Damageplan NOR Pantera, we are something different?”
Vinnie
: Well, they’re totally different bands. I’m sure that Jimmie Page and Robert Plant will have that problem the rest of their lives too. “Hey, you were the singer for Led Zeppelin!” I mean, they were one of those bands that were iconic and that made a huge impact so, just like them, I know that Pantera will always be a part of me wherever I go, and I am proud of that and, of course, I appreciate it.
My brother was a huge part of it, and is one of the reasons why it was so successful too. It’s hard to think about how the whole thing ended at the end of the day, but we did have 14 great years together, and we really made a hell of a mark in heavy metal music.

MB: I think it was more than a mark, you really reshaped heavy metal.
Vinnie
: Thanks man, I really appreciate it.

MB: On that note, when do you think you and Dimebag realized you made such an impact on metal? There has to be a point where you thought “we aren’t just popular, we are really a fundamental part of this whole “groove metal” thing!”?
Vinnie
: When we were in the moment we never had time to assess anything or look at anything.  We would make a record, tour for 2 years solid, come home for 3 weeks, make a record, and then go back and tour for 2 years solid. We did this for 10 years straight. We never realized the impact we had brought on.
When we came out, which was right around the time hair metal came on and grunge was coming in, we knew we stood the test of time against grunge. Then we came up against hip-hop metal, rap-metal, whatever you want to call it and we stood the test of time against when every band was taking that route. That was our goal, just to carry the heavy metal flag and wave it as high as we could. That’s what we were, you know, whether it was cool at the time or not. After being away from Pantera, and even Damageplan for quite some time, having a chance to look back on it, Pantera was a very influential band, and touched a lot of people. To this day, bands want that guitar sound, they want my drum sound, people try to emulate, so it was very special and big.

MB: When Pantera started out it was a glam metal band that. Why did you start out as glam, and how did you move into your groove sound?
Vinnie: It was very simple. When we started off we wanted to emulate our heroes, man. We were a cover band, we played cover tunes, we played 4 sets a night, six nights a week at night clubs, and we knew every goddamn Van Halen and Motley Crue song. As we went along we made our independent records, and they got heavier and heavier. Then, of course, when Metallica, Slayer, and those bands came on the scene, we moved even more into that area too. When we started into that direction, that’s when we decided the matching clothes and poofy hair-do’s don’t play the music we do, so we got rid of all that, and started writing the music for Cowboys From Hell. Everything really changed for us at that point.

MB: When you look back at the pictures from your glam metal days, do you ever think “I probably shouldn’t have dressed that way?”
Vinnie
: Nah [laughs] that’s what we did back then, you know? That’s what everybody did, even when you look back at ancient pictures of Slayer and Metallica, those dudes had spandex on too. They didn’t start off with all the cool jeans, it took a minute. That’s just where the world was with music back then.

Vinnie Paul in his glam metal days.
Vinnie Paul in his glam metal days.

MB: Finally, do you think a collaboration with Rex and Phil is forever out of the question?
Vinnie
: Ah, man, I’m happy with doing what I’m doing here. Like I said, Pantera had 14 amazing years, and without my brother being here to be a part of it, it would be a travesty, man. I’m just not interested in it at all.

MB: Do you think the bad blood that started afterwards can be put to rest eventually?
Vinnie
: To me there’s no bad blood at all. It’s like when you get a divorce from somebody, there’s a reason why you got a divorce. You don’t have to stay in touch with that person, you don’t have to fucking see that person, or do anything with them. I’m just not interested.

MB: Vinnie, it has really been a privilege to meet you, thank you for your time!
Vinnie
: Thanks a lot!


Hellyeah's photos were taken by the very talented people of Jackson & Co.  as part of the promotional 
material for Hellyeah's album Blood for Blood.

 

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Considered by his mother as the brightest and prettiest boy, J's interest in metal started in his early teens, listening to bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica (coupled with an embarrassing period in which Marilyn Manson "totally represents me, man") eventually moving into the realm of power, black, and death metal. He holds a PhD in law, trains martial arts, practices law, and enjoys coming up with excuses as to why he has to miss work after going to a concert. He also dabbles as a concert photographer, you can see his sub-par work on his instagram.