It’s Monday morning in Los Angeles and Vinnie Paul is running on fumes. Since playing a concert Friday night in Tokyo, catching a red-eye to Hong Kong, enduring the 14-hour flight to L.A., where he spent three hours in customs before heading out to play a private party in Las Vegas, he has had maybe half an hour of sleep. “I’ve done more traveling in the last couple of days than I care to do the rest of my life,” he says with a laugh. “Planes and airports, planes and airports.”
The brief run in Japan to promote new Hellyeah release Band Of Brothers was cancelled three times due to all the infrastructure chaos in the wake of the tsunami last year. Paul has rocked the island nation more than a dozen times and could have easily blown it off, but nothing could stop him from giving Japanese fans a taste of all-American red meat. “It made it that much more special for those people that had to wait that long,” he says of the shows. “It was awesome.”
Of greater significance is the sonic overhaul the band has undergone with Band Of Brothers, a batch of high-octane no-frills bangers that will have fans tearing up the pit instead of boot scootin’. “The first couple records were kind of almost like an experiment for all of us,” he says. “We wanted to step outside of the box and do something different, and that’s what we did.”
To recap, Paul set the hard-rock community abuzz when he emerged from retirement in 2007. That year, along with refugees from other bands including Mudvayne, Nothingface, and Damageplan, Hellyeah unleashed its self-titled debut. Far from the power-groove of Pantera and Damageplan, the album was a precarious hybrid of countrified pop-metal. The 2010 follow-up, Stampede, followed suit. Both were interesting in theory, but the effort left some fans baffled.
For Band Of Brothers, the Nashville affectations are finally out of their system. “With this record we decided it was time for us all to get back to our metal roots and really do what we do best, man. And I think that’s just kind of what people expected of Hellyeah from the start.”
In summer 2011, Paul was still trying to figure out who would produce the record. That’s when Hellyeah singer Chad Gray and guitarist Greg Tribett brought up the idea of working with Jeremy Parker. “I had no idea about the dude,” Paul admits. “I’d never even heard of him at that point.”
Fortunately, Parker, who had worked with Evanescence and Godsmack, hit it off great with the drummer when he came out to Texas. “He’s the kind of producer that we needed, which is a guy that’s just pretty much just a badass engineer,” he says. “He doesn’t really get involved in any of the songwriting and arrangements — that’s pretty much our thing.”
You wonder why the band needed a producer at all given how extensively Paul has designed Upstairs Studios, better known as the second story of Paul’s home in Dallas. With its 20' ceilings, the crib is practically a state-of-the-art drum room with couches and a flat screen. First, the kit was set up downstairs in the living room while guitar amps were upstairs in the game room, and Parker was stationed in one of the bedrooms. Paul then installed video cameras so they could all see each other while they played. “We just jammed, drank, barbecued,” he says. “We do everything together; we don’t have to go anywhere.”
It would be easy to mistake the Hellyeah recording process for a month-long house party with cases of Keystone and monster riffs. But like an efficient machine, the band prides itself on cranking out albums, and the only reason Band Of Brothers ended up taking six weeks was because singer Chad Gray had to have vocal surgery.
The chemistry within Hellyeah is so good that the band doesn’t rehearse the songs. “We record everything as we’re writing it so it captures the emotion of that moment and everything that’s going down right then,” he explains. “A lot of bands will make demos and then they’ll go back to this really high-dollar studio and everything maybe technically sounds better but you take all the dangerous element out of it. So we usually would just bang out a song a day, sometimes it’ll be like a couple songs, or Chad is like, ‘Man, I love the verses and everything about that song, but I hate the f___ing chorus. Write me another chorus.’ Then we’d go in and bang out another chorus and add it into the song. That’s just us working together.”
Just as Band Of Brothers achieves a new level of aggression, the lyrical content also tends toward extremes. Stampede included cornpone such as “The Cowboy Way,” but Band Of Brothers feels like a one-way ticket back to reality. “I don’t think there’s an overall theme,” he says. “It’s just emotion — things that Chad’s been through in his life; things that we as a band, collectively, have been through. Some days you wake up and you’re ready to be in a party mood and you write ‘Drink Drank Drunk,’ and other days you get up and you do ‘WM Free.’”
The latter is an homage to the West Memphis Three, a trio of teenagers whose life sentence was thrown out after a wrongful conviction. The three men, now in early middle age, were accused of mutilating and then murdering a child in a Satanic ritual in the early ’90s. The fact that the group’s leader, Damien Echolls, listened to a lot of heavy metal bands was cited as evidence by the prosecution. “[Chad] was inspired by those guys that basically had their lives taken away from them over something that they didn’t do. And so, he wrote a song about it.”