By Brian Ives
For years, Vinnie Paul was thought of as “former Pantera drummer” slash whatever project he was working on at that moment. And while that legendary metal band will always cast a long shadow, Paul’s current group Hellyeah is four albums into their career, amassing an enviable catalog of metal classics of their own.
Radio.com recently sat down with the drummer to talk about the upcoming album Blood for Blood, which was the first one he didn’t co-produce for the band. This time around, they opted to work with Kevin Churko, who has produced for artists ranging from Ringo Starr to Five Finger Death Punch. But it was Churko’s history with producer Robert “Mutt” Lange that interested Paul.
“The fact that he worked with Mutt Lange was huge for me, I was always a Def Leppard fan,” he says, referencing that band’s early hard rock classics High ‘n’ Dry and Pyromania. “And Mutt’s records weren’t [just] records, they were like Star Wars. They were a true production. Kevin kind of has that same mindset. The Ozzy records, I think he made a big different in Ozzy’s career.” (Churko produced Ozzy Osbourne’s last two solo albums, 2007’s Black Rain and 2010’s Scream.)
Paul isn’t the only member of the Hellyeah with a big band name in his rear view mirror. Frontman Chad Gray is also in Mudvayne and guitarist Tom Maxwell is formerly of Nothingface.
“I think early on, we had a pretty good fan base to start with, because of those bands that we started with, and people realized from the start it was a new band. When me and my brother did Damageplan, that was a different bridge. That was like, ‘Nope, we want Pantera.’ That was really humbling and difficult experience in a lot of ways, although we did really enjoy it.
But with Hellyeah, I think they embraced us right out of the chute. I think with Stampede, the second record, we lost some of them because we really diversified what we were doing. The main reason we started Hellyeah was to do something outside of Pantera, outside of Nothingface, Mudvayne, and really go places musically that you can’t go with those kinds of bands. With the third record, Band of Brothers, we felt like we’d gotten that all out of our system, and we felt it was time to get back to our metal roots, and do what we do best. We regained a lot of the people that we kind of lost on the Stampede record, and then with this record, we really just wanted to take it to another level, make it our Back in Black.”
While working on Blood for Blood, he also was involved with the deluxe 20th anniversary reissue of Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven. “I’m somebody that doesn’t live in the past, I’m always looking forward to the future. That said, the three of us still here [vocalist Philip Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown] being involved in it really makes a difference for the fans. And whether we wanted to put it out or not, the record company’s gonna put it out anyway. So we all did our best to make it the best it could be. And after listening to it and being a part of the remastering [process]… it’s a brilliant record, man.”
That album surprised many by topping the charts in the U.S., which still surprises Paul. “For it to come out and make it to number one in the United States was an incredible accomplishment, not only for Pantera, but for heavy metal. For real. We knocked Bonnie Raitt and Ace of Base off the charts! And the magazines and Billboard said, ‘Overnight sensations: Pantera!’ There was nothing ‘overnight’ about this at all! We played nightclubs for seven years solid before we got a record deal, and then Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display of Power we toured non-stop four years for those records and we developed the most brutal, loyal fan base on the face of the earth. When the record came out, MTV hated us, radio wouldn’t play us, we had no coverage other than the heavy metal magazines, and 200,000 people went out and bought the record and made it number one. That’s a tribute to the fans, they’re the ones who made it go to number one.”
A big part of their appeal was that, during an era when Lollapalooza was an influential tastemaker and heavy metal lost some of its cultural cache in the media, if not to the thousands of faithful fans; Hellyeah similarly are proud of their metal and hard rock pedigree. “[Pantera] carried the heavy metal flag when heavy metal was uncool, man. It got to a point where bands would run from it. ‘We’re an alternative band!’ It was amazing how much that word was a bad word. Except to our fans and the die-hard metal fans. We carried that flag as high as we could ’til the very end. We always said, ‘We’re a heavy metal band.'”