Groove metal/southern rock supergroup Hellyeah is gearing up to release their latest album, entitled “Band Of Brothers”, later this month. Vocalist Chad Gray, also in Mudvayne, was in a really talkative mood when I caught up with him. He had a lot to say about the new Hellyeah record, the philosophy behind the album, the unfortunate situation of Randy Blythe, the future of Mudvayne and playing golf…
Let’s start with the first question. Hellyeah is currently touring through North America. How are things going so far?
It’s been going great so far. We’re touring with Fozzy. They are a great band and awesome guys. We’re really appreciative of them picking us to tour with them. We’re getting in front of lots of different crowds every night, so that’s very exciting.
Are you guys playing some new songs of the new record and how are the crowds responding to it?
Yes, we’re playing “War In Me” and “Band Of Brothers”. There’s a level of people not knowing the new songs yet, but that will change when people get the new record and grow closer to it and gets in the fabric of who they are. But still, the people are responding well to the new songs.
I think especially the track “Band Of Brothers” has this anthem-like quality to it…
I think so too. It translates well to a lot of people. The more interviews I do to explain the background of this song the better. It’s the title of our new record and it’s about us being the underdogs, you know what I mean? We are fighters. It’s also about the metal community.
Everyone who likes metal music is put in this type of box by the rest of society and that box is usually an underdog box. As a band we are proud of our roots and proud of where we come from and what we are into. “Band Of Brothers” is a calling to everyone who wants to be a part of it.
Would you say that “Band Of Brothers” is a sort of statement of what Hellyeah is all about?
It’s a statement what we’re all about. If we need to fight, we’ll fight together. If we have to live, we live together. It’s a song about brotherhood on whatever level you want to make of it. That’s the idea of what kind of people we are. We’re from the South and The Mid-West and we have that kind of mentality that you take care if your own and appreciate the people who help and support you. When you’re down, we get your back, you know what I mean? It’s like it’s said in the song, when the five of us come together, everything is going to be alright. That also goes in real life whether you have a wife, life partner or whatever.
Let’s move on to the new album. Compared to the previous two records it’s notably heavier. What triggered this?
I think what happened was when we started with Hellyeah we didn’t know each other musically speaking. Tom (Maxwell, former Nothingface guitarist) and I talked about putting a band together for almost ten years. Greg Tribbett and I were still doing Mudvayne records and Vinnie Paul wasn’t sure what was going on his life after the tragic death of his brother Dime. I think Vinnie automatically wanted to get away from the trademark Damageplan and Pantera sound, so he was fine with a more experimental edge.
With Mudvayne have this really crazy and heavy edge to the music we used to do, so for Greg and me it was all about getting the fun back in playing music, because that was completely destroyed after playing in Mudvayne for eight or ten years at the time. It wasn’t fun any more and it became our job. We wanted to have fun again and write something totally different, like “Alcohaulin’ Ass”, “Pole Rider” and “Hell Of A Time”. Stuff that would never made into our previous band for a million years.
This time around, with Mudvayne on hiatus, we really felt that we need to make a heavy record again. Vinnie really needed to come back to this kind of music again. I mean, he’s Vinnie Paul and people like to hear him play that kind of music. I want to be Chad Gray when I write a certain lyric. That’s who I am and that’s my method of getting things out of me.
I got to admit that the last two Mudvayne records lacked the spirited edge of the first three records. Both are fine albums in their own right, but they miss the spark of “Lost and Found” and “The End Of All Things To Come”…
That’s different, we got better at writing songs at the time. When we first started with Mudvayne we we’re all about craziness and weird time signatures, but we become better songwriters. We lost some of that edge. With Hellyeah I needed to get back to that crazy type of head space again. I needed to feel that danger again. Let’s go, let’s write some heavy shit again. I never aspired to become a rock star. I wanted to become a metal singer when I was a kid.
“Band Of Brothers” and “Drink, Drank, Drunk” remind me of Pantera’s “I’m Broken” and “5 Minutes Alone” as far as the groove and attitude are concerned…
Yeah, another thing about those songs is that we’re known as a great party band and that’s our attitude when we write songs while having a barbeque and drinking. That’s what we do when we meet together at Vinnie’s house. We like the party aspect of what we do and our shows are a kind of relief for people who are coming. “Drink, Drank, Drunk” is a light-hearted party song, but it’s still heavy. It has the Hellyeah vibe, but with a heavier edge to it, do you know what I mean?
Do you feel that Hellyeah has found it’s signature sound on “Band Of Brothers” and do you guys want to move on from here?
Oh yeah, I think this is the record we’re all the things we respectively did with our old bands came together as one. Fuck the experimental shit and let’s focus on the heavy stuff. It’s like shooting a picture at a really wide-angle and turning the lens, thus it becomes more focused and centered. That’s what we did individually. We bring all our individual styles to the table and focus that energy to a much smaller and intense place. We did that collectively, but in order to do that we had to use our individual talents. For example, Vinnie needed to play like he did in Pantera in order to do that. I had to scream and write darker lyrics like I did in Mudvayne. We brought this all to Hellyeah and it fucking worked. We finally found our signature sound that was hiding inside us for all this time.
Did you guys had any trouble with translating the live energy you have on stage onto the record?
I don’t think so. You’ll have to understand how we record things. We don’t do any demos and we record what we have demoed. We just go into the studio and we start going and we work our way through the songs. Every note that Hellyeah has ever written and recorded is on a hard drive somewhere. We do guitar overdubs and stuff, but there’s a very live aspect of how we record things. It’s like a boxer getting in a ring and not thinking too much of what’s going on and what you’re going to do. It’s all about reaction. When a boxer sees an opening, he’s going to punch and goes in for the kill. That’s the way we approach our music. We have a riff, we listen to it, record it and here we go. I think what we do live translates well in the studio and vice versa.
What I really like about the album is the whole in your face attitude. It’s basically says “We’re Hellyeah, take it or leave it.” What do you think?
Absolutely, we’re an honest band. That’s all we ever wanted to be and that’s all we ask for. If you like it, embrace it. If you don’t like it, we don’t care. We know that we like it and we know that other people like it, so that’s totally okay with us. It’s like putting out art. If you’re putting something out there because you want to sound like someone else, it’s simply rubbish. We put it there and we’re completely honest in what we do. You hit it right on the head when you said if you like the album, like it and if you don’t, whatever. We’re still going to keep touring and we’re still going to write new records. You have to do it for yourself first and then you share it with everyone and you hope everyone will embrace it. It’s a level of vulnerability. You don’t know how people are going to react to it. It’s like opening your chest and give your heart to other people. Do you want to stick a knife through it or do you want to hold it? It’s that level of vulnerability that creates honesty.
In conjunction with that you stated in some older interviews that Hellyeah gives you the chance to open up in a whole new way as an artist and a lyricist. Care to explain?
It works in two different ways. Like I said before with “Alcohaulin’ Ass” and “Pole Rider” I could sing about things which were never possible in Mudvayne, but with Hellyeah I can explore a whole different side of me. Like you said, it’s in your face, but it’s in your face in a whole different way. On the early Mudvayne records there were loads of crazy time signatures and there’s a lot of movement, do you know what I mean? Hellyeah is Vinnie Paul fuckin’ driving the drums straight up the middle. He can play like a motherfucker when he wants to. He’s not arrogant about it and he’s not posturing, do you know what I mean? He doesn’t do a bunch of fills when the song doesn’t need it. He can, but he doesn’t. He lays it down when he needs to and he let’s go when it’s needed. I did very much the same thing. When a song reaches a sterile moment I write a vocal part to lift that off. When the other guys come up with something exciting, I let go.
The whole “Band of Brothers” philosophy of “I got your back – you got mine” even applies to our songwriting. We all know what we can do, but it’s all about the song. We let the song dictate of what goes where. It just makes for a better song. I put songs behind me in the past like I didn’t really care about, but on this record every song has a special place in our heart. They all have their own space. When you put all those songs into a single body work, that’s how all individual songs come to live. It’s fuckin’ amazing, I love it!
Hellyeah is often described as a metal supergroup because all you guys come from established acts like Mudvayne, Nothingface, Damageplan and Pantera. To what extent is this a blessing and a curse as far as expectations go?
It’s kind of a curse. Nothing to you personally, but we never said we’re a supergroup, somebody else did. We’re literally five guys that came together and see whether we got any kind of chemistry going on and write fuckin’ songs. Our goal was to become to biggest garage band in our garage. All of a sudden we got tagged a supergroup all over America because of Chad Gray of Mudvayne and Vinnie Paul from Pantera were involved. We were like: “fuck, really?!”. They don’t have any idea of how we are thinking.
Of course, there’s a level of expectations. You know what, I don’t even know whether we meet that level of expectation. I don’t follow it that way. I do exactly what I like to do and we all have that attitude since the beginning of Hellyeah. As long you don’t have that supergroup tag rule you, you’re fine. We never let that tag run us. We’re five dudes being honest about ourselves, writing songs, touring and have a hell of a time doing it.
Let’s talk about somebody who’s going through a rough time. What are your thoughts on the whole unfortunate Randy Blythe situation and does this spook you from coming over to play in Europe in general and the Czech Republic in particular?
It’s horrible, man! It’s just the whole way it went down, it’s just bullshit. It’s not keeping me out of Europe, though. It sucks for Randy and the rest of the Lamb Of God guys. We talk about this every day. We know the guys personally and I consider Randy a friend and a bro. If he got released today, it wouldn’t be fast enough for me. I want him to get out and get released. He didn’t do this and it will come out in a wash, but he didn’t have any responsibility in this shit. All what they’re doing is wasting his life. If he’s going to released from prison and he’s forced to live in the Czech Republic until the trial starts or whatever, he doesn’t need to wait in a fuckin’ cell to be proven innocent. You’re innocent until proven guilty is the way we do things here. Right now he’s guilty until proven innocent and that’s fucked up thing about this, man. I’m not worried that similar things will happen to us when we enter Europe. You can’t live your entire live in fear like that. We want Hellyeah to be a global force. If people want us to play in Jakarta or Manilla, we’re fuckin’ going there. If our record comes out in Zimbabwe and nobody buys it there, you’d better get prepared to get down there and play it for them.
I would like to talk a bit about your vocal technique. You have a very aggressive way of singing which is very demanding on your vocal chords. How you do keep them in shape while being on the road?
What I’ve been doing lately is warm up exercises for my vocals. I’ve never done that in the past I start by singing a couple of lalala’s and then I sing some Hellyeah songs. It’s kind of like getting my voice from lala-land to Hellyeah-land. It has helped me tremendously.
I also seriously cut back on my drinking and partying behaviour. This may sound strange for Hellyeah, but a guitar player can party until seven in the morning getting hammered, get a couple of hours rest and play guitar. That’s how they do that. As a singer I can’t do that. I’m taking more care of myself now, but when we have a day off and we got a whole day to recover I’m drinking until seven in the morning partying my ass off.
On a show night, I don’t drink at all. When I get the chance to have a drink you’d better watch out. Hellyeah isn’t the funniest band to be around when you’re sober, especially with all the madness and loudness going on. I think it’s cool though.
Hellyeah is really taking off and it’s the main priority for everyone, including you and Greg Tribbett. Is there any room left for Mudvayne in your lives?
I don’t know man. I really don’t. Right now Mudvayne is on hiatus and our focus is now fully on Hellyeah. Will we ever tour again? Probably. There will be day when we will regroup, but for now we simply don’t know. We haven’t really communicated about it. We only focus on Hellyeah right now and we’re only worried about Hellyeah right now. That’s pretty much it.
Time for the final question. Do you still play golf to unwind from the rigors of touring?
You know what, I still have my clubs with me but I haven’t played golf on the entire tour and also not on the previous tour. Hell, I don’t even know why I brought them with me. But soon I’ll be home for a month and I have all the time in the world to play golf. Many people don’t consider it “metal” to play golf, but for me it something I can by myself for myself and be out in nature and play my little stupid game. It’s for me a way to be alone and when I play it with other persons I play it for the game. I’m not competitive on that level. When I get home from touring all banged up from the craziness and the noise I lock myself up just to enjoy the silence and have my wife around. It’s like heaven to me.
Thanks to Lars Uyttenboogaart for additional input and inspiration.