Flashback! Pantera’s Vinnie Paul & Rex Brown

Pantera

“With a lot of bands the drummer will just go nuts right in the middle of nothing. It really doesn’t have the impact that it could if he just slowed down and put a little thought behind it. The most important thing to us is the song. A lot of bands – and drummers in particular – forget that the ultimate goal is for the song to be powerful, for the song to come across. And to do that sometimes you have to restrain yourself as a musician. You always want to do all these fancy licks and things that took you years and years to learn how to do, and they don’t fit. The only time that Rex really cuts loose would be during a lead section. Then I’ll usually anchor the groove and he’ll carry the chord structure.”

One might think that both Brown and Paul like to hear plenty of each other in their monitors so that they can easily communicate spontaneous musical ideas onstage. But while Brown likes to hear practically Paul’s full kit coming out of his wedges, the drummer admits, “Gee, I hate to be honest, but I don’t listen to a lot of bass. He’s so loud onstage that I like to feel it instead of hearing the click and the attack on the bass. I have a lot of guitar in my monitor and a lot of drums, no vocals and a little bit of bass.”

Even though the members of Pantera each hear different onstage mixes, the band makes sure that Paul’s bass drums and Brown’s bass aren’t competing for the same frequencies. Both onstage and in the studio, they adjust tunings and tones so that each instrument is clearly defined in the mix. “On the previous records, we never felt like we had enough true bass guitar in the mix,” Paul explains. “It always blended in really well with the guitar but it didn’t quite have its own identity. He’s always had a really good bass sound, but when you’re producing a record or even working live there’s only a certain amount of space in which you can put an instrument. If the bass has killer low end and killer high end and the kick drum has killer low end and killer high end, they’re going to wash each other out. There’s only so much that that speaker can reproduce. So you find places in the mix where that sound can sit. We’ve worked on getting the bass to where it has a little bit more of a low-mid sound, and it seems like it’s bigger because it’s louder in the mix and it’s not eating up the kick drum. I mean, anybody can sit in their own room and tune their drums or their bass to where it sounds amazing, but it’s going to eat up all the space in the speaker because they’re taking up the full spectrum of the frequency range. It’s like a puzzle. It all just kind of fits together.”

In order to venture beyond the arrangements on their albums, Paul and Brown must first establish their parts during album preproduction, which involves working out grooves and transitions between verses and choruses. “We want to work really tightly together,” Paul insists. “So we’ve got our little licks that we do. If you listen to ’Drag The Waters,’ that little lick that goes right into the lead is just nothing but a drum and bass thing that we worked on together. We prefer to do that instead of just having one guy going off. It’s got a lot more power and impact if the two of us do it together.”

As precise as these transitions sound, much of it originates from jams rather than analysis. “Pretty much when we write, we use the first thing that comes out of us,” Brown says. “It’s gut instinct, and that’s usually cool because it’s always worked for us. Every once in a while we’ll try something different, but we try not to second-guess what we’re doing. Whatever drum licks he’s putting in, I’ll get a riff that goes around it.”

Still, there are times when the members of Pantera suggest parts to each other. “The cool thing about this band is that everybody’s really open to suggestions and we don’t think that we know it all,” Paul says. “There’s been numerous drum licks that ended up on our records that they told me how to play and I would’ve never thought of in a million years. They’ll go, ’Well man, why don’t you do the bass drums here and put a snare in the middle of this,’ and I was like, ’I’d never do it that way.’ I’ll sit in the room and work it out and really, it was Rex’s drum lick that I played, he hummed it to me. And the same thing with him – I’ll say, ’Man, why don’t you do something a little different on the bass there and go up a little higher or something?’

“But actually, Rex knows probably more about music theory than anybody else in the band. Once we get some ideas together and we’re looking for some different notes to try to give the song more character, he knows what to do. He and Dime’ll sit down together and really figure out what direction that they’re going to take the song once it’s been written. All of us work really well that way.”

Of course, though, there are occasions when the bandmembers simply are unable to make a new song work. “We’ve written songs before when we know they’re just not right,” Paul says. “On every record we’ve ever made we end up writing the exact number of songs that we record. So if something doesn’t sound right, we’ll axe it. There’s been times when we get on a groove and just jam on it and jam on it for four or five hours and the next thing you know, we’re looking at each other going, ’Man, this sucks! Trash it and let’s start on something new.’ That’s always been our approach.”

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