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Can I Get A 'Hell Yeah'?: An Exclusive Interview With HELLYEAH Drummer VINNIE PAUL

By Geoff Ketler, Cleveland Contributor
Wednesday, May 6, 2015 @ 3:59 PM


“When we were writing the first record, it was the most difficult thing I had ever been through in my life. I had never done anything without him.”

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Band Photo Courtesy Of David Jackson/Jackson & Co

After almost thirty five years in the music industry, Vinnie Paul has revolutionized drumming in the metal genre, specifically with the iconic metal band PANTERA. After his brother, Dimebag Darrell’s untimely death in 2004, Vinnie joined vocalist Chad Gray and guitarist Tom Maxwell to form HELLYEAH. Four records later and a couple of lineup shakeups and this band is focused, aggressive, and touring nonstop. Before a headlining show at the Cleveland House of Blues, I had the pleasure of catching up with Vinnie about the band’s formation, song writing, Dime’s presence with the group, and future plans.

KNAC.COM: First off, we recently heard the Mayhem Festival lineup for this summer, congrats, HELLYEAH is on the bill. Are you excited?

PAUL: Totally man…it’s going to be the biggest tour of the summer. We’re good friends with KING DIAMOND and SLAYER, we’ve been friends many, many, many years; even before PANTERA had a record. It’s going to be great to be playing with the. I just saw KING DIAMOND over in Berlin, Germany when we were over there. It was the best I had ever heard him sing. The stage show, everything was absolutely awesome and everyone knows what SLAYER brings to the table. It’s amazing. And we’re gonna go out there and kill it too, so it’s an opportunity for us and it’s gonna be special. It’s truly going to be a metal summer.

KNAC.COM: You recently released the single “Hush” which coincided with the “No More” Campaign. What kind of reaction are you getting from fans about this?

PAUL: It’s amazing how many people that it’s touched. You know…how many people have had to live through that kind of experience and kept it to themselves; it’s kind of a release for them. That’s the way it was for Chad (Gray), you know. It’s very cathartic and just a way for them not to feel alone. It really gives them something to cling to and look for. It’s a positive message even though it’s about a very difficult and negative subject. But the reaction has been incredible man.

KNAC.COM: When HELLYEAH first started, Chad had mentioned before that each member had a previous band, but that HELLYEAH was going to be a group where you guys could write songs that you wouldn’t have been able to in MUDVAYNE or DAMAGE PLAN. Now, with four records under your belt, has it gotten any easier to write a HELLYEAH song?

PAUL: I will say for this record, Blood For Blood, I think we have hit our stride. We have what people were expecting from this band from the start, a metal band. When we first put this band together, we wanted to be metal, southern rock, blues, just no boundaries; almost country at times with a song like “Alcohaulin’ Ass”, you know? And it was a great release for us to be able to, as musicians, write those kind of songs. I think it may have confused a lot of people from the very start. We even went deeper into that with Stampede, the second record. And once we got that out of our system, we felt like, you know what? We are all metal guys. We grew up listening to metal. We grew up playing metal. Let’s get back to our metal roots. That’s what we did with Band Of Brothers and then with Blood For Blood we took it to another level and really focused on the song writing to make the very best songs that we could make and that’s where we’re at today.

KNAC.COM: I have also noticed that with each album, you guys seem to be getting a little heavier and a littler darker, is that intentional or did it just happen that way?

PAUL: It’s just natural progression man. Like I said, this thing almost just started off like an experiment just to see what we could do and now the focus is really there. We had a couple of band members that were really…I would just call it cancer. They weren’t positive. They didn’t have any real true input. I felt like at that point that we were just going through the motions. And so, once we parted ways with them, we were really able to focus and write the kind of songs and play the kind of music that we wanted to play. We got two other guys on board (Kyle Sanders & Christian Brady) that are motherfucker players, fit right in, it…it feels like a family to me. Everybody really loves each other. We enjoy being out here. And everybody gives it everything they got. There is not one person that is up there slacking. I am really proud of where we are at with this band.

KNAC.COM: As it works out, HELLYEAH releases a new album about every two years. Has there been any work or movement on the follow-up to Blood For Blood?

PAUL: It’s been talked about but this is honestly the first record that we have done a complete two-year tour cycle for. I mean this whole year and in to next year is already booked with tour dates. We finish this round with GODSMACK and a bunch of headline shows that are mixed in. We have about ten days off. We go to Europe for a month, we come back, we have about eight days off and then we go right into Mayhem. That lasts for two months. We have a small break there, then we go to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the Pacific Rim, all of that. Then we come back and have another tour through Canada and another stop in Europe. Then next year we will go one more time around the states and then we will be back in the studio. So we won’t be back in the studio until close to summer time next year.

KNAC.COM: I have heard Chad refer to your fallen brother, Dime, as the sixth member of the band. What does that mean to you?

PAUL: It means the world man. I feel like he is with us right now. 333 was his favorite number and I see it every day on the clock. It only happens two times a day and to me, that’s just his way of saying ‘I’m still around’. It happens. Every time I see it, it just makes me feel him and feel his power and think of him. When we were writing the first record, it was the most difficult thing I had ever been through in my life. I had never done anything without him. It felt like from the minute it started, he was pushing me, patting me on the back and saying, ‘you gotta do this, you gotta carry on’. And for those guys…it was heavy for them. So it really pushed us and bonded us. He’s with us. He’s with us everywhere we go.

KNAC.COM: It took some coaxing to get you into this band in the first place right?

PAUL: Yeah, yeah. Not a ton, you know, but I told myself that if I was going to get back into music, it would have to be something that just happened; an accident. And that’s truly what happened. I was just fucking around the house and these dudes just started calling me up and saying, ‘hey…we’re putting this band together and we want to know if you want to play drums for us’. And I’m like, ‘ohhhh, nah man…I don’t think I’m ready to do this shit’. And they were persistent man. Tom (Maxwell) probably called me fourteen times. One night he caught me when I had been cleaning my house and I had been drinking some red wine-I never drink wine, I drink vodka all the time-and I had a nice wine buzz, I had KISS on twelve and I said, ‘you know what? – why don’t you guys all fly down here to Texas, let’s meet and see if we like each other, see if we have anything in common and we’ll see what happens’. About a week and a half later, they all flew to Texas, we barbecued, all hit it off great and the next day we went down to Dime’s studio, where we recorded the DAMAGEPLAN record and several of the PANTERA records and just started jammin’. It was just heavy and natural; it started coming out of us. It definitely fell into my lap. That’s what had to happen for this to happen.

KNAC.COM: So for tonight’s show you guys have Rob Prior in the house, right?

PAUL: Yep.

KNAC.COM: How does that work? How was this setup?

PAUL: That’s really a better question for Chad. Honestly, he’s just a really creative artist and he gets moved by music and certain things that he goes to paint for and HELLYEAH is one of his favorite bands. So he has asked us, basically, to come and do a painting while we’re playing. We’re taping this, it’s going to be this big Yahoo special, this would be awesome to have this dude come down. So he is going to be on the side of the stage tonight and painting whatever he feels as we play. We will see what the music does to him and we will see the final results later on tonight.

KNAC.COM: I wanted to ask you about the Yahoo special then. What do you know? When’s it going to air?

PAUL: The last thing I heard was Memorial Day weekend. They’ve been trying to get us on several occasions where our schedules just didn’t work out and tonight just happens to be the night; Cleveland, Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, why not do it here man? Great rock n’ roll city man.

KNAC.COM: What is your pre-show routine like? Is there anything special that you do to prepare?

PAUL: I drink a lot of vodka.

(laughter)

You know, I like to have about three or four shots before going on. I need an hour before any show just to change, get my head in the right headspace, loosen up. I go through a routine of warm-ups that I do. A lot of people just go up on stage and play. I can’t do that. I really like that warm-up time. I put on some old-school metal, fuckin’ Priest, Sabbath, Slayer, any of that shit. Shit to get me motivated. Get three or four shots in ya, start feeling good – I never want to play fucked up. I don’t want to sell people short on anything, but if you get a couple shots in you, it enables you to really loosen up and not let the little things around you bother you; if the monitor is not right or this, that, or the other. You just play. You really get into it and feel it. That’s where I like to be before I get on stage.


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