The Next Level: an interview with Hellyeah

Chad Grey (vocals) & Vinnie Paul (drums)
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Some would say to find a classic album is considered a rare find these days, what's even more unbelievable is finding a band such as Hellyeah, with a collective history of over 20 albums between them, who are still producing quality, top 20 chart albums. With the release of Blood For Blood, their fourth release, the pressure is on and the Texas metallers know it.

Despite members of the band being on the music scene for ten years, the passion and determination to write good music is no doubt still there and despite the departure of original members Bob "Zilla" Kakaha and Greg Tribbett, the band of brothers have never seemed more focused, especially drummer and metal icon, Vinnie Paul. "I just think it's the best record we've ever made first of all y'know. It's all been a part of the evolution since the very first record. With the last record we were able to get back to our metal roots and really captured I think what people were expecting of us and on this record I think we really were able to take it to another level."

So far since their first release in 2007 with their debut album Hellyeah, the band has had three top 20 albums, with their self-titled album coming in at number nine and 2010 effort Stampede entering at number eight. However despite the fact that there have been three previous albums released, there is still a definite excitement coming up to the release of their fourth album in June, especially from Paul. "It's just like the first time you put a record out y'know, it doesn't really get old as long as you're proud of it and you really put your heart and soul into it. I really feel like this one doesn't matter to me if someone says they don't like it coz I know it's good and I know it's good from start to finish."

Vinnie makes it clear that no matter how many records you put out, there is still a certain excitement in the build-up to its release, but they're not a new outfit, so the question that arises is simply ‘What has been brought to the table that varies from previous work?' For Paul, and singer Chad Grey, the overall outcome was clearly a lot. "The more time that goes by and the more records and songs we write, that focus gets tighter and tighter and I think this is a really good extension of that." Grey goes on to say, "I got back to writing more dissonant harmonies and deeper, more emotional lyrics and things like that, and I missed that!"

“ If everything was full on, you would never get that chance to take a breath ”
- Vinnie Paul

One of the most notable changes within the new album is arguably the slower tracks such as Moth and Hush. Grey explained the reasoning for coming back to the slow tempo ballad, "these songs are heavy and that's something that is maybe some of the heaviest music I've ever written as far, being aggressive music and being fucking heavy and deep and lyrically intense, even if they are mid tempo. For a record with ten songs, three kinda deep tracks are a little odd but it's fucking awesome. All three of them are definitely coming from three different places emotionally and I think just really strong in general and I think are really heavy by their own right, just coz you're not going "Ahhhh"." Vinnie Paul also adds, "It's a rollercoaster's ride; peaks and valleys. If everything was full on, you would never get that chance to take a breath and this record gives ya that. It beats you in the face and then you take a breath and then it beats you in the face and then you take a breath."

The subject of song writing was always going to be interesting for them due to the fact that they have each already worked in notable projects years before Hellyeah's inception. Although they had both believed that the band's performance on Blood For Blood was different from previous Hellyeah work, did members' performances differ from their past projects? This is a subject Vinnie Paul is eager tackle, "I think in the early days we might have thought of that, the first two records we really did everything we could to stray away from anything we did in our previous bands but with the last record we let all that go and we really got back to our metal roots and if something was reminiscent of something we done in our previous bands, we were cool with it coz that's who we are and that's what we come from and that's what people really wanted from us. It's Hellyeah, it's a part of our sound, he comes from Mudvayne, I come from Pantera, that's a part of our sound, it's a part of our multiplex. I always try to get better; I mean that's the goal in life with anything you do. As far as what we do in our previous bands there no kind of competition there, those were what they were and this is what this is."

Although relatively quiet on the writing process of the album and previous projects, when it comes to lyrics it seems that Blood For Blood is in fact extremely important to Grey as a songwriter. "Just being there and hearing the music and allowing the song to kinda dictate what it wants me to write about, if its mid tempo or more droning music or whatever, it just kinda draws something out of me, takes me back to a place. My thing is just writing lyrics that are open ended; yeah I use my life experience and stuff like that, like lyrics for the song Hush. I think it's more to let people realise that there were times I went through when I was younger, I felt alone, I thought I was the only person in the world who was going through those emotions and were locked inside of that. I didn't have the outlet that kids have now days. I think that one of the things I was just trying to bring across was you're not alone and that's actually a lyric in the song like you're not alone, I've been through it and if they can just make that connection with one person, just to be able to go, "okay this guy has been through something similar", whether it's exactly the same or not, it doesn't matter, its letting someone know that's going through a hard time, that there not alone. I'm trying, to help people from giving up, I don't want anyone to give up, they've got to fight, you fight to live another day and you fight to fucking win. I think that's the biggest thing with this record as far as us as a band. We've been transitioning, trying to get back to who we are, him getting back to Vinnie Paul and the way he played in the day, me getting back to Chad and playing the way that I played in the day, fucking being intense, extreme whether its screaming into a microphone or lyrically, I feel really, really complete."

Despite the excitement and enthusiasm, there is a sense of calmness and maturity that arguably comes with experience. Even with past projects such as Mudvayne and Pantera, both Paul and Grey feel they had to start again from the bottom, "it's always a challenge man, we wanna raise the bar so the band after us has to work that bit harder and that's kinda the goal we had in our previous bands. That's how you get to that headliner status and I think this is a really good and solid live band and I'm looking forward to touring with these songs along with the previous songs that we have. With any band your goal is to get to the top of the rock, to get to that headline status and that's where we're heading but in the meantime we'll do plenty of support jobs man, we're looking forward to it," stated Paul. "That's hopefully what the band you're playing in front of want from you, that's why you're on the bill, they want that impulse to work harder," added Grey.

There is no denying that helping the band of metal veterans is the relations to past bands, and therefore the branding of "supergroup" is unavoidable. However, despite the flattering, eye catching name, 'supergroup' doesn't always go down too well, especially for the Texans, "We never wanted to be a supergroup it just happened and it kinda just got tossed on us" stated Paul. "We have to live with it coz of what someone else said and it's kinda flattering when you first see it" added, rather passionately, by Grey, " but you don't realise that a lot of music is about perception, we have to live with it and the next thing you know, your explaining your way out of it, it's like we don't want to use this, that's not our way in, we want our music to fucking speak for itself, it doesn't matter where he came from or where I came from, where together now and that's it. So it comes back to the honesty and integrity of what we do, supergroup ain't got shit to do with it."

“ it's really important that this record translates live ”
- Chad Grey

Although there was a general confidence and excitement from the Hellyeah camp, not two weeks earlier had the band announced that founding members Bob Zilla and Tribbett had departed. The bass player situation was sorted almost immediately, but it's still a delicate topic. Grey added a calm positive insight into band arrangements. "We've got Kyle Sanders from Bloodsimple, he's playing bass for us. It's really important for us, there's a lot going on this record and it's really important that this record translates live, so we've got some fucking serious beast guitar player situation."

A new guitarist wasn't found until very shortly before touring North America was due to start, with Christian Brady eventually joining the band as a touring member. Before that happened, Grey's outlook was positive, "we're a big family man, if it works, it works and they will be a part of the band. You know there's always that little testing ground with growing pains and shit that you have to go through, but we are really excited. We shot videos for Blood For Blood and Moth, and Kyle came out and was a part of the videos and photo shoot's stuff like that, so we are super, super fucking amped to just get rolling man, fuck, we have been chomping at the bit since we got out the studio and been like "we wanna play!" We want to play these songs."

So despite the departure of long term friends and band mates, the horrid term "supergroup" being thrust upon them, and the task of producing an album that surpasses all previous work, the southern titans seem to be in a comfortable and more importantly confident place. Only time can tell if Blood For Blood will be regarded as highly as previous work, but at least the band feel it's their best work to date.

Written by Ellis Davis
More: Interviews,

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