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Finally Themselves

31 July 2012 | 4:57 pm | Michael Smith

"I didn’t want anything to cross, Hellyeah in this box and Mudvayne in this box, but with Mudvayne being on hiatus for an indefinite amount of time, I thought, ‘Fuck it’."

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Here in February this year as part of Soundwave 2012, Hellyeah started out as a bit of fun on the side for Mudvayne singer Chad Grey, a chance to jam with former Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul. Along the way, they cut two albums, 2007's self-titled debut and 2010's Stampede, but it's only now, with third album, Band Of Brothers, the guys – guitarists Greg Tribbett and Tom Maxwell, and bass player Bob Zilla from Paul's post Pantera band Damageplan – have allowed themselves to be themselves.

“I think the whole vibe of the record is that we've kinda taken our lives back,” Gray explains, “bringing what we've done individually in the past to Hellyeah. We've never really done that at all. I was doin' Mudvayne and Hellyeah simultaneously, and whatever was influencing me in Mudvayne was going to influence me in Hellyeah, and you really have to unzip yourself and step out of your own skin and then put the Hellyeah skin on; you have to arrive from a different standpoint, write from a different place, and we had never really done that, never brought fully the style or the full sound of what we do individually to Hellyeah. I remember writing Hellyeah songs and writing parts that sounded too much like Mudvayne I'd scrap it and write something different and then I'd really go out of the box.

“I didn't want anything to cross, Hellyeah in this box and Mudvayne in this box, but with Mudvayne being on hiatus for an indefinite amount of time, I thought, 'Fuck it'. I went to Vinnie, 'Be Vinnie Paul – not only your sight but your sound. I wanna be me again. I wanna write the way I wanna write in this band.' I wanna write a happy record with one of my favourite drummers, with a guy I've been a fan of for twenty-five years, know what I mean? The sound that Hellyeah had was getting more broody, with kick and stuff like that and his drums in general, and I think, you know, Pantera had that really slacky kind of tight-focused drum sound and I wanted that sound back. And I wanted to be able to write darker lyrics, work up more harmonies and more helpless songs, more aggressive more angry songs versus Hellyeah alcohol and hash! But it was kind of unspoken. There was no big discussion. We just turned on the amps, Vinnie set up the kit and we'd just go. The first song that was written was War In Me, which pretty much set the tone for the attitude of the record. We were writin' a heavy record and we were ready for that, you know what I mean?”

The band started working on Band Of Brothers in the northern summer of last year, again, as with their previous two albums, at drummer Vinnie Paul's home studio in Dallas, the self-styled “VP's Upstairs Studio”. Guitarists Tribbett and Maxwell messed around with some riffs, combining different ideas until they had coherent structures. Then they presented them to Paul. Frontman Chad Gray started doing his vocals in his home in Arizona but felt he wasn't fully in sync with the others so scrapped what he'd done and headed into Paul's place.

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“It's his house! He just calls it Upstairs because the control room's upstairs,” Gray explains with a chuckle. “Everything else is downstairs. I mean his drums are set up in his living room, all the guitars, the amps are off in another room on the other side of the house.”

Paul is endorsed by ddrums, Sabian cymbals and Vic Firth drumsticks, and plays a ddrums signature kit, which includes two 24” bass drums. Both Tribbett and Maxwell play through the exact same rig, the new Egnator amp series on the market called The Impregnator, while Maxwell plays his Dean guitar through Ibanez tube screamers, Dunlop 535 wah pedals, Boss super chorus and MXR carbon copy analogue delay, and Tribbett uses an Ibanez Weeping Demon wah pedal.

It took eight months to complete the record with engineer/producer Jeremy Parker, with whom Gray had worked on Mudvayne albums, and whose CV includes albums with Godsmack and Evanescence among others – more than twice as long as it took them to make Stampede, which was coproduced by Gray, Paul and Sterling Winfield.

“Jeremy is really just a fuckin' master at what he does. My experience of working with Jeremy in the past with Mudvayne was [Ugly Kid Joe guitarist] Dave Fortman [Eyehategod, Slipknot, Evanescence, Simple Plan] was the producer and Jeremy was the engineer, and that was pretty much Jeremy's role in this. We brought him in kind of as an engineer, but in doin' that we're getting' sounds and stuff and he's makin' comments, you know? We always used him as a sounding board. Jeremy isn't the driver – he's kind of the passenger, the guy close enough to be in it with you but he's not in it 'in it'. He's close enough that you can trust him and he trusts that you'll trust his feedback.

“I mean there's a lot of vulnerability and weirdness, you know, that goes into that relationship, but once it's established, you'll be able to look at Jeremy and go, 'What do you think?' And he'll tell ya. He doesn't know what's goin' on in my head as far as melodies and lyrics and shit like that, which is my idea of working with him, harmonies and shit – 'What do you think about it?” He'd always answer a question with a question, but when you're questioned by somebody you're using as a sounding board, it makes you re-evaluate it and you kind of process it differently, and sometimes it's exactly how you want it and sometimes it's, 'You're right, I don't really feel this is getting where I'm goin'.'”