Interview: Hellyeah! Vinnie Paul talks about touring, Blood for Blood, and the story behind Rebel Meets Rebel

In the world of hard rock and heavy metal, there are drummers, and then there is Vinnie Paul. Starting up his first project in 1981, which would soon become the game-changing metal band Pantera, Vinnie has been delivering crushing drum beats for three solid decades. When tragedy struck in 2004 while playing with Damageplan, it was unclear if Vinnie would ever play drums again. But you can’t take the music out of the man, and soon Hellyeah, a veritable metal supergroup, was formed in 2006 with Vinnie once again behind the kit.

On the recent Five Finger Death Punch and Volbeat tour, Hellyeah brought their incredible sound and heavy presence in support every night. When the tour came to The Times Union Center in Albany New York, I was lucky and honored to be able to talk with Vinnie about the road, the band’s newest record, and the future. Because of a scheduling error, Jim Gilbert and myself were rushed into a small back room with a broken cooler and a chair, and were warmly welcomed by rock royalty.

Vinnie Paul (Hellyeah, Damageplan, Pantera) and Jeff Ayers ()

Jeff Ayers: So how has this tour been going? I’ve been following you on social media, it looks great.

Vinnie Paul: Absolutely awesome. One of the favorite tours I have ever been a part of. Every band is different from each other, and unique from each other. It’s been sold out, or nearly sold out every night, and it’s a great opportunity for us to play to a lot of people that have never seen us, and to play to people who have seen us before. It’s just been awesome man. Five Finger and Volbeat have been treating us great, and we are all really good friends, everybody gets along, so everybody’s having a great time.

JA: That’s great. Speaking of social media, you really do a lot on the internet.

VP: I try to keep the fans informed as much as I can.

JA: You definitely do, and speaking from people who came up in the music business before all that, was that easy for you to pick up, or did it take some getting used to?

VP: You just have to catch up, you know? Back in the day it was word of mouth. “You gotta check this band out”. This guy went and told this guy, and that guy went and told these girls, and those girls went and told their friends. Five people told ten people, and that is how it spread. Nowadays you can touch so many people with just a touch of the button, it’s incredible.

JA: Recently in the press, Gene Simmons said Rock is Dead. Your band, and this tour, is direct opposition to that statement. In your own opinion, what do you believe is the current state of rock music?

VP: I think Gene was speaking from a different perspective. We are talking about, if you wanna look at the bands that are still headlining huge festivals and stuff, it’s still KISS, it’s still Motley Crue, it’s still Metallica. It’s the same bands that were doing it fifteen or twenty years ago. There hasn’t been any bands that have stepped to the forefront to be as big as those bands. So that’s where his perspective is coming from. But as far as rock and metal being dead, there is no way it will ever die. It is the greatest form of music there ever was, people love it and still support it. Sometimes it goes through phases of more popularity or less popularity, unfortunately with all the downloading that goes on it is harder and harder for artists to tour, especially young bands that are just coming up. But there are still people who are out there fighting, we are here, Five Finger is here, Volbeat is here, there are a lot of great bands out there doing this. I’m not going away from it. It has changed a ton from when you would buy Pantera albums, and not CD’s and all that, but you either get in line with or you fucking fall by the wayside.

Photo from Jim Gilbert, Times Union Center 2014

JA: Very true. As a drummer, and from maybe a non-metal area, what are some of your lesser known influences? Maybe something that drives you from the beginning of your career, or music that you have found as your career has taken you places?

VP: I’m a fan of any kind of music except hip-hop. Hip-hop just doesn’t do anything for me. I grew up listening to a lot of country and western, a lot of David Allan Coe, Waylon Jennings, and stuff like that. And, you know, all the bands from Texas; Kings X, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Edie Brickell and The New Bohemians, all that stuff was really influential and good to go watch at an early age. I don’t think there are any big ‘secrets’ as to something in my [music] vault that you don’t know anything about. I love female singers. I like Christina Aguilera, and I like the Heart sisters. Lzzy Hale, from Halestorm is an amazing vocalist, Pat Benetar, so maybe that’s something people didn’t really know.

JA: Lots of great music. Pat Benetar is actually going to be [in Albany] very soon. So this just hit me, because you mentioned David Allan Coe, how did the album that you guys did [Vinnie, his brother Dimebag Darryl and Rex Brown from Pantera] with David Allan Coe come about? What’s the story behind Rebel Meets Rebel?

Album Cover

VP: Well it’s really crazy. Like I said, my brother and I used to hear him [a lot], he was one of my mom’s favorite country artists back in the day. My brother went over in 1999 to see David Allan Coe play at a place called Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, Texas. So, you know, we always would take our Pantera CD’s and DVD’s with us to pass them off to people, and Dime actually stood in line, the meet and greet line, for David Allan, and he stood there with like a hundred people and he was at the end of the line. So when he got up to David he said “Hey man, I know you don’t know who I am or anything, but I play in this band Pantera and I love your music, and I wanna give you a DVD, and maybe we can get together and write some songs sometime.” So Dime gave him his phone number, and the next day about eight o’clock in the morning, Dime said his phone rang, and he said there was this country dude on the phone and [laughs, in his best David Allan impression] “Hey man, this David Allan Coe” and Dime was like David Allan Coe? At eight o’clock in the morning? What’s going on?

Jim Gilbert: I would not think he would be up at eight in the morning.

VP: Yeah, right? [laughs] But he was like, “I just watched this DVD you gave me man, and you guys are like the fucking Beatles of fucking 1999 man! When are we gonna get together and start writing some songs?” That is basically how it happened. So he came into town, and everytime he would come to town after that we would write a few songs with him. This happened like four times and by that point we had enough stuff for a record, and we finished it. At that time, we were doing Damageplan, and the fans were really confused as to what had happened with Pantera, and we didn’t want to confuse them further, so we put it on the shelf. Then, after the horrible thing that happened with my brother, it took me about eight months to get my life together, and the first thing that came to me was man, Dime was really proud of that album, and I gotta get it out for him, you know? It was really important to me, so I started my own label and put it out, and it did really well.

JA: Yea, I love that record.

VP: Thank you. Honestly, it was the first true collaboration between a heavy metal outlaw band and a country outlaw together. Some people had done it with a single or something, but that was the first full length record.

JG: Also, country music influencing metal right now, is so popular, there is such a blend.

VP: Yeah there is a great crossover there, for sure.

JA: So back to Hellyeah. Blood for Blood, marks in my opinion, the best, most coherent version of the band to date.

VP: Thanks man.

Album Cover

JA: Did you guys go into the studio with that mindset, or was that born from the recording process?

VP: Well, we felt like we got back on track with what we wanted to do, and what the fans wanted us to do, being a metal band. The first two records were really experimentally, doing things outside of what we had done with Nothing Face, Mudvayne and Pantera, and songs like “Alcohaulin’ Ass” and “Hell of a Time” were songs that wouldn’t work in those bands. So once we got that out of our system, we got back to doing what are roots are, which is metal, with Band of Brothers. Once we finished the Gigantour last year with Megadeth and Black Label Society, we felt like we pulled the heavy fans back in. We wanted to get in the studio and make the best record of our careers. At that time, that is when we realised that Greg [Tribbett] and Bob[Zilla] didn’t have the same vision or focus, and they both had serious personal issues that were taking away from the band, so we parted company. So myself, Tom [Maxwell] and Chad [Gray] wrote the entire record with a brand new producer [for us] Kevin Churko, and he really understood the vision we had and we made the best record we ever made, so we are really proud of it.

JA: You should be, it is a really great record. You said that the track “Say When” is the first time you have written a drum part that extreme since the Far Beyond Driven days. Do see more parts like that in the future?

VP: Yeah man, especially with the direction we are going, it allows for more drumming, and heavier stuff. Like I said, the other records, the earlier Hellyeah was more rock and roll influenced, so it required me to be more of a back beat on things. Going back in the metal direction, it gives me more freedom as a drummer to tear it up and do more.

JA: Awesome! What’s next for Hellyeah after this tour?

VP: Well we have a long tour to go, this is only the tenth show! [laughs]. So this goes until November, then we will be off until New Years Eve, with a show I can’t talk about yet, and then next year is a whole year of touring. Definitely a tour of the U.S., Europe again in the spring, we will be going to South America, Japan, all that and non-stop touring until probably October next year, then back to the studio and do it all over again!

JA: That is the dream.

VP: Hellyeah!