According to an old nursery rhyme, little boys are made of “snakes and snails and puppy dog tails.” When little boys turn into real men this formula looks more like “booze, babes, and hot rides,” sometimes with little variation. HELLYEAH, in turn, is then what real men are made of, alongside an attitude that will crush your skull to dust. Chances are that youäve heard that this band has resurrected the legendary Vinnie Paul Abbott (Pantera, Damageplan), as well as brought together some members of Mudvayne (Chad Gray: vocals; Greg Tribbett: guitar), Nothingface (Tom Maxwell: guitar), and Vinnie’s partner in Damageplan (Bob Zilla: bass). By now they have released two face-melting albums (Hellyeah and Stampede) and have likely consumed about a million beers.
HELLYEAH have been rattling around the world for most of 2010, bringing the audiences one “hell of a time.” We caught up with Chad Grey and Vinnie Paul in Oslo, Norway, where the band played together with Stone Sour, and they told us what it’s like to start over with a new band after you have already been on the crest of the wave.
You have been touring non-stop for quite a while now. What is it like being on tour with HELLYEAH?
Chad: It’s blurry.
Vinnie: Yeah, blurry. A lot of press, a lot of drinking, never getting to soundcheck. I mean, we would like to have one, but being a support band, usually things are not ready in time for us to do that. But we like to do a lot of things. This is the most I’ve ever gotten out to see in Europe when I’ve ever been on tour. Every day I get out and walk somewhere. Just about every tour I did with Pantera, I never saw anything. It was just staying on the bus, go to the hotel, go to the gig, that was it. The other day in Milan I walked around the whole damn square, it’s really cool just to get that experience. We’ve done a lot of this support stuff in the States. We were on tour with Avenged Sevenfold and Stone Sour, which is called Uproar. We were done at 5:30 in the afternoon every day. So we started drinking at 4:00 [laughter] That’s not really a rock ’n’ roll life style when you’re done doing your job at 5:30 in the afternoon. We’ve got singing to do, we are done at 7:00.
Chad: The worst part about tours like Uproar is those “sheds” that are just in the middle of fucking nowhere; there’s literally nothing to do. We headline the second stage, we play, like he said, at 5.30. So we start drinking about an hour before we go on and I am getting up at 3:00. I am only sober literally like a fucking hour a day for the whole summer, it’s amazing. That’s how we usually are out here [in Europe] too, but it’s been awesome.
How would you describe HELLYEAH to people who have never heard the band? Give me some kind of a teaser.
Vinnie: It’s a fucking Friday night, it’s a full-on freight train. It’s all about working-class people that bust their fucking asses, living in the real world, not the shit you see on MTV [laughs]. And you know, you bust your ass and you can’t wait to get to Friday night, forget about your problems, drink, have a good time, and just enjoy yourself. That’s the basic vibe that we put out, that’s kinda it in a nutshell.
Chad: I think HELLYEAH as a band, it’s more of an attitude, it’s kind of a lifestyle…
You speak about the working-class people, but I would assume you haven’t been a part of the working class for quite a while…
Vinnie: I wouldn’t say that. When you have to do what we do every day…
Okay, but that’s not a 9 to 5 kind of job…
Vinnie: No, it’s a 24-hour a day job. You can’t take this face off, anywhere you go people will expect something from you. They want an autograph, they want to say hi, they want to shake hands – it’s part of it, you don’t get a day off. If I get sick, there is nobody else who’s gonna get there to play the drums.
But then you can cancel the show.
Vinnie: No you can’t just cancel the show.
Chad: You’ve got to understand that everything is tied down to a budget. If you take one show out of that budget, you’re fucking everything up. And we’ve got to play. You know, I’m not gonna say that I am laying bricks…
Vinnie: But back in the day you were.
Chad: Yeah, I have done that.
Vinnie: I worked in McDonald’s back in the day. You start off somewhere.
Chad: I’ve worked in construction, I’ve worked at factories, and [Vinnie]’s done it. There are great elements to what we do [now], there’s party, the drinking, and shit like that. But when I leave home, I’m gone, I go to work. When I grab my suitcase and go out of the door, I’m going to work. I’ve gone to work for months sometimes before I can go home to my wife, my dogs, sleep in my own bed. Trust me, we’ve got 6 more days now [untill the end of the tour]. We’ve been out since April and been going really fucking hard since July.
What’s the first thing you are going to do when you get home?
Chad: Sit down [laughter].
You’re sitting down right now.
Chad: It’s a whole different [world] sitting down.
Vinnie: I’ll probably go straight to the shop for Thanksgiving, ‘cause we get home the day before probably one of the biggest holidays in the United States. And there are always a lot of people coming over, so there’s a lot of work to be done when I get home. Now, with that being said, it is a job that we love and we’re lucky. A lot of people go to work and they hate doing their job. This is a job that you love; the music – that’s why you’re there in the first place – and you find out you can pay your bills sometimes and then you do it. To me it’s like being a professional athlete of some sort. It’s something you love to do, but it’s not easy. And very few people are lucky enough to get to live their dream and do that kind of thing. So we appreciate it.
How do each of you contribute to writing the music in HELLYEAH? I know Chad writes the lyrics, right?
Vinnie: He is an amazing lyricist and really great at coming up with melodies and stuff, and Greg works with him quite a bit on some of that. And for me, I’ve always wanted to be more than a drummer. I can’t sing for shit, so I don’t try [laughs]. I leave that up to him [Chad]. But I do find myself involved in the producing process, helping arrange the music, and sometimes I’ll come in and work with Chad on some stuff. We all trust each other from the start, we all work together. So I guess everybody truly puts everything they have into the band musically. When I watch Greg and Tom sit down and start riffing, it’s the two of them. Somebody’s gonna change something along the way and they work it together. Anyways, it all comes together as HELLYEAH in the end.
Chad: Mudvayne was coming up on a break when we first started this thing. I told Greg that “I would really like for you to do this with me”. Because I knew we were going to take a break; we had to take a fucking break. We’ve been working non-stop for years. And I was like, “You can either go home and sit down on your ass and watch TV or we can go do something else.” Kind of explore the different sides of ourselves. This was before Vinnie actually came in. [Greg] thought about it and was like, “yeah ok, cool.” And then we got Vince. We went to Dallas and we all got together and I didn’t even know [Vinnie]. Then we went to dinner, got drunk, and got up the next day and went into the studio. And we wrote a song that night; we wrote seven songs in the first seven days. It’s weird, because it’s like: Damageplan – one guitar-player band, Nothingface – one guitar-player band, Mudvayne – one guitar-player band. I was blown away by three different guys from one guitar-player bands [who] can get together and work together amazingly. And we just went like boom! song, next day – boom! song, next day – boom! song. We had no idea what the hell we were even doing. We just started writing music and it became what it is. It’s a very honest band. We’re not trying to be like anybody. If anything, in the future we’ll probably try not to be like people who are trying to be like us.
Chad, what’s the difference for you between fronting HELLYEAH and fronting Mudvayne?
Chad: It’s like night and day. Mudvayne is pretty calculated and there’s always a deep theme that runs through the fabric of the entire record as a whole. So you have to get the ideas around and then kind of adhere to something. In HELLYEAH we just write about whatever, it doesn’t matter what it is. It’s been really liberating for me to do this; all I’ve known for so long was Mudvayne. So to be able to just write whatever I want to write about, write whatever kinds of songs I want to write. We don’t stick to one theme and I think that’s been really awesome. You know, Damageplan, Nothingface, Mudvayne… they have to write these kinds of songs. You can’t really go too far out of that box before everyone will go, “What the fuck are you doing?” HELLYEAH started that way, so now we can just go wherever. We can write any kind of fucking song. We wrote a country song – “Alcohaulin’ Ass” is about as country as it gets, and then we can write a rock song like “Pole Rider” about strippers. I’ve never written a song like that. I never had a reason to, but they started playing the song and that’s what came into my head. It’s kind of a part of this band’s lifestyle – just partying and barbecuing, drinking, we do a lot of this shit.
What would you say Stampede is about?
Chad: It’s like the dictionary definition of it; it’s a herd of wild animals, it’s unstoppable. It’s not about one thing, it’s the most diverse record I’ve ever written. There are songs like “Stampede,” there are songs like “Better Man” or “Stand or Walk Away” and then there are songs like “Pole Rider.” So many different vibes all the way through the record – every song is different from the previous one. It’s just how we write. It’s really hard to put in a box – like what is “Stampede”? Fuck, I don’t know.
Are you planning to maintain this kind of “badass cowboy” style on the upcoming albums?
Chad: Tom and I have been wearing fucking cowboy hats since like 2000. Since we’ve met we both used to wear cowboy hats. It’s not like we’re out roping cows or mending fences. People look at us and go like, “What’s up with the cowboys thing?” We’re not trying to look like cowboys, we’re trying to look like fucking outlaws. It has a southern vibe to it, of course, but the way we look at it, it’s more about being real people. You know, like that’s how people really look. We just walk on stage in what we wear.
Both of you have been in the music industry for quite a while. What would you say was the most valuable lesson that you have learned along the way?
Vinnie: Probably the most valuable lesson anybody should learn is never piss on the people on your way to the top, ‘cause you’re gonna have to see them on your way down, someday. That’s a very valuable lesson.
Another lesson is to try to learn to be some sort of business-minded. You know, it’s called the music business. We’ve all gone into it, ‘cause we love the music and a lot of people end up with nothing at the end of the day, after they’ve done all of this great music, ‘cause they never learned anything from the business side. So to be able to pick up on some of that is helpful for sure. Don’t just say, “Well I’ll just let my accountant handle that.” Still to this day, I pay my own fucking bills, they come to my house, they don’t go to some dude in L.A. and he does it. I wanna look through them, I want to make sure there’s no bullshit.
Chad: The first thing he said about not pissing on people on your way up… I’ve always been the kind of person who has really kept my feet on the ground. I know that he has been that kind of person too. I think that’s why the respect level that we have for each other was so high right from the get-go. It’s ‘cause when we met each other, there was no bullshit, there was no ego. It was like wow, this is fucking amazing, ‘cause it’s really hard to find it in this business. HELLYEAH has been very humble. Mudvayne saw a [certain] level of success: we have three records out in the States. We make money when we go out in the States, we sold almost 6 million records worldwide, and that’s a big deal. HELLYEAH is like starting over in this new world that we live in with downloading and so on. It’s been really humble; it’s been fucking awesome too. It’s really taking me back to be able to live a life and make a climb for 10 years and then turn around and come back and start all over again. It just makes you really appreciate all of your work, where you kind of end up. It’s been really awesome for me. I never saw the level of success he saw. It’s a testament to the headspace of HELLYEAH and what we are. I don’t know many people that could do what we’re doing right now, how we are living our lives right now. Trust me, this has been the biggest, nicest dressing room we have seen on this whole tour. All the props in the world to Stone Sour, they’ve taken such good care of us, being really respectful, and doing the best that they can.
Vinnie, I have read some speculations online regarding the possibility of you ever re-creating Pantera without Dime. I don’t know what triggered these speculations, but what do you have to say to these people?
Vinnie: It’s ridiculous. Dime was such a huge part of it; it would be just completely asinine to even consider that. I think it’s pretty disrespectful of people to even suggest it. He left an amazing legacy and it’s gonna be left untouched; it’s beautiful, it’s pristine, and I wanna leave it that way. I am really proud of what I do with this band [HELLYEAH]. Of course the history of Pantera speaks for itself. I want him to always be known as “the dude,” you know. Period. Forever.
Yeah, but the comments I have read were actually criticizing you as if you have ever said that this was possible.
Vinnie: No no, I have never said this was possible. Not me. Might’ve been some other clowns that used to be in that band, but not me [laughs].
You are quite accomplished musicians today. Is there anything that you still strive for musically, or it is more like just chilling and playing what you like?
Vinnie: With the economy like this, with the music business like it is and everything else, of course we are striving to be successful. If we get to some level of that, then that’s going to be a dream for me. My dream when we put this band together was to have just a gold record from HELLYEAH. We’re so close to it in the States, it’s almost there. Gold records these days are like having a double-platinum record, really it is. It’s an amazing accomplishment. So for that and to just, you know, be able to stay healthy, enjoy what we do, and keep writing great songs. Our chemistry is incredible, everybody works together; it’s a respect thing, you know? You never have to worry about anybody stepping on somebody else’s toes; we all fit together pretty well.
There are many young bands these days who act kind of arrogant, thinking that they basically make history in a way, even though for real they just make noise. And then there are you guys who have actually made history, but you are really down to earth. So what helps you keep your feet on the ground?
Chad: It’s probably that statement that Vince made. That’s the greatest thing I have ever learned and I learned that from Ozzy from this Decline of Western Civilization Part II [documentary], where he says that. Don’t fuck with people on your way up, ‘cause you’ll meet them on your way down. I remember watching that whole documentary and I was like “that’s it!” I was probably 17 when I saw it, way before I had ever done anything, but I always kept that in my head for some reason. It’s all gonna go away, it all ends. Here today, gone tomorrow. If you’ve got an attitude like, “I’m the fucking shit” for the here today, what happens when you’re gone tomorrow? You’re gonna look like a fucking fool, when you’re working at the record store or flipping fries. Hang on to your integrity as a person. It’s just a fucking job. We love our job, but it’s a job.
What is it about music that you love so much? What gives you goosebumps?
Vinnie: It’s just creating it and performing it, you know. There’s not a bigger rise in this world than to hear the crowd [roar] when the lights go down. If you can’t get up for that, you can’t get up for anything. That’s what it’s all about – performing. You look out there and whether it’s five hundred people, or Donington a hundred thousand people, or Monsters of Rock with half a million people, you’re making these people happy and they’re into it.
Chad: For me it starts [when] we start writing something, putting something together. I listen to a song and I’ll listen to it over and over. A lot of times you’re kinda holding on, you’re trying to figure it out so you know where to go with it. The more I listen to the song as a singer and a writer, the more I familiarize myself with it, the more I tend to just unconsciously let go of the song. Then it’s just in my head, and all of a sudden here comes the melody, here comes the lyrics, everything just starts coming. And I love that feeling when I start writing and everything is just pouring out, I am so fucking excited, I can’t wait to get behind the mic. So you’ve got that one moment. Then you get the moment of getting behind the mic and actually hearing it. And then you get on stage and there’s this fucking energy, like what Vince was talking about. We’ll get on stage tonight and there are all these people, they’ve never seen us here [in Oslo]. And if everything is really cool and everybody’s being really open-minded and everybody really wants to give it a shot, there’s this energy exchange that happens. We’re giving them something and then they go, “Waaaah!” and they give it back. And then we go, “Oh yeah!” and we give it harder and then they give it harder. And the next thing you know everybody is fucking partying and fist-pumping and drinking… We fucking bring it pretty hard and I think that’s what people receive from us. They see that we are very passionate about what we do. It’s a real fucking thing, you can almost touch it. The big thing with us is honesty, we’re not out to fool anybody. We just want to share our music and if you like it, take it, if you don’t, okay.
If you could go down in history as the first band that did something, what would it be?
Chad:… drank one billion beers. I think we are close [laughter].
Vinnie: And that’s just the four of them, because I drink vodka. I drink a lot of vodka. And I’ve been drinking Finlandia all the time I was here.
Chad: Yeah well… one thing. I think just to leave any kind of mark, whether it’s record sales or this or that, but actually leave a mark with what we’ve done, that would be amazing. I mean a worldwide mark.
Text: Tanja Caciur | Photos: HELLYEAH MySpace | Ed: Amy Wiseman