Checking in with Big Vin. Gnarly Charlieís Exclusive Interview with Vinnie Paul from Hellyeah

By Charlie Steffens aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Tuesday, January 22, 2008 @ 10:32 PM

"I spent eight months so miserableóI donít even want to tell people how miserable it was."

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Vinnie Paul is a man whose drumming is venerated by fans and drummers alike. To be standing stage right during a Hellyeah show, about five feet away from his drum kit, having my internal organs displaced was an inexperience that was priceless. Was it priceless because the Texas hellraiserís such an amazing drummer? Affirmative, but whatís better is that heís back, hitting Ďem hardÖand smiling.

I met with Vinnie in the Hellyeah tour bus before he and his band mates annihilated Hollywoodís Key Club. After the first couple of questions the disarming, cowboy hat-wearing drum god seemed to steer the interview, but in a way that any journalist would have relished. As he spoke candidly about his departed brother, Dime, it was evident that Vinnie is, in fact, holding the torch high.

KNAC.COM: The Hellyeah record has been very well received in our community.

VINNIE PAUL: Itís really been embraced well by the fans, man. We didnít know what people would think when we first came out with it. The first time we showed up and played in Baltimore, we had a sold out show and they sang every word to every song, man. It was just great. They chanted Hellyeah before we came on and we knew from that point on that the fans were behind us and into what we were doing.

KNAC.COM: The album charted really well from day one, didnít it?

VINNIE PAUL: Oh yeah. It debuted at Number 9, and weíre getting close to 250,000 units now. Weíve been on Billboard for over 30 weeks, solid, straight. Weíve had two Top 5 singles at Rock Radio--weíre about to have the third one coming out. We got lucky. We did the Family Values tour all summer, which was a big part of our success. And then Korn took us out for another six weeks, doing direct support for them on their own headlining tour. Itís just been good, nonstop.

KNAC.COM: At first guess, Hellyeah seemed like an unlikely fusion of musicians, judging from your background and Chadís background.

VINNIE PAUL: It started with Mudvayne and Nothingface touring together. Those guys getting together and talking about wanting to do a band outside of their current bands, when they saw the window of opportunity. They got serious about it, and they needed a drummeróa hard hitter and my name kept coming up and the phone calls started coming. I just started my label and released Rebel Meets Rebel and DimeVision and really didnít know if I was ready to get back into playing or not. I was really starting to get acclimated to be part of the music scene. I guess persistence paid off, because they kept calling and calling and calling and they werenít going to take no for an answer, man. After about eight or nine times they caught me one night, when I had about a half a bottle of vodka and listening to Kiss and I said ďYou know what? Letís try this. It seems like a damn good idea.Ē So we went and made a plan and they all came to Texas and we wrote seven songs the first eight days we were together. Our fuckiní chemistry was just incredible. One of the things that made it work is that everybody came into it with no ego. Everybody showed up as if we were all from no-name bands, so to speak. And thatís the attitude we took, instead of one of those things like you said, ďSupergroup,Ē where they all need to get their own managers and make all the deals before it goes down. We didnít want any of that to be part of what we did. We wanted it to be like an old school garage band that got together just to have a good time and then take it from there.

KNAC.COM: When did you guys feel like it was going to really work?

VINNIE PAUL: Once we had that first week together we knew we were on to something special and we knew from that point on that we wanted it to be a real band, something that would be much more than a side project or one-off, you know? We started talking about it from that point on and agreed that we would keep it going and that we would have to just work around everybodyís schedules and previous commitments to keep this thing going. Itís already lasted way longer than any of us thought it would, to this point, and it looks like weíre going to go out and do more dates next year. The success of the record just keeps growing, so once we get to that pointóthe Mudvayne guys already have one record done and theyíre going to do another one and in a year and a half, two years from now, weíll get back together and do Hellyeah Part II, and hopefully it will be bigger, badder, harder, and fasterÖmore of the same goodtime stuff we did the first time around.

KNAC.COM: Are there any more songs in the tank left over from the initial session, and is there anything youíve been working on while youíre on the road?

VINNIE PAUL: We donít have anything left from that particular session, but weíre always keeping up with ideas. Greg [Tribbett] and Tom [Maxwell] are always laying down guitar riffs on tape, just archiving all the stuff. Iím sure weíll break some of that out when we start writing on the next record, but weíll want to go into it with the same attitude we had the first timeóto just get in there and hash it out all at one time.

KNAC.COM: So again, itís not a side project. You regard it as your baby.

VINNIE PAUL: Yeah, especially for me. You know thatís one of the things that lured me to the project, was the fact that I would definitely get some breaks, which, I had never had with Pantera or Damageplan. We were just non-stopóalways. With this I knew at some point there would be a year to take the time back to focus on the record label and these other things that I wanted to put out to keep Dimeís legacy living forever. And my strip bar and other things like that.

KNAC.COM: Jerry, your dad, pretty much spoon fed you and Dime music as kids and you were brought up on the greats, like David Allan Coe. What was it like to do Rebel Meets Rebel?

VINNIE PAUL: That bond was started by Dime and David just meeting each other at a show. And we got together just to see what would happen if you put Country and Metal music minds together and you got Rebel Meets Rebel, man. Thatís how that whole thing came about and it was something that me and Dime and David all wanted to get out. Itíd been done probably since 2002, and we just put it on the shelf, because we didnít want to confuse the fans at the time when we were really trying to establish Damageplan. We wanted to make sure everybody knew that was our priority and what we were all about. So when everything happened December 8th [2004], after a long period of time it finally came to me that it was the next thing for me to do. It was important, it was music that we made, that we were really proud of and we wanted people to hear it, so I put it out.

KNAC.COM: I was listening to an Ace Frehley tribute album that I have the other day and really got into ďFractured Mirror,Ē the song you and Dime did together.

VINNIE PAUL: That was just me and Dime, nobody else played. He put his flair on it. Dime was a huge, huge fan of Ace, and of course Kiss. Any time he could pay tribute to his heroes he would do it in a heartbeat, whether he was just talking about them in an interview, or covering one of their songs. That was always special to him--to be able to say ďHey, this guy really made me want to play guitar and do this and do that,Ē you know?

KNAC.COM: Is there a lot of music you and your brother made thatís still in the vault?

VINNIE PAUL: He was always recording, nonstop. He has the ultimate archive of just fun songs. If something went wrong that day, you know, when I would go to Taco Bell and get screwed, he would write a song about it and just fuckiní lay it down. I donít think a lot of people had the opportunity to see that side or hear that side, so maybe someday that will come out. As far as Pantera went, we always believed in ďall killer and no filler.Ē When we went to make a record, we made the 10 or 11 or 12 songs that we thought were perfect for the record, and that was basically it. There is a whole selection of Damageplan stuff that we were doing. We were really excited about the second record and really felt like we turned the corner and got the fans to pay attention to what we were doing, instead of constantly clamoring for Pantera at the time. So, that shit should come out someday, definitely. But the next thing is going to be Dimevision II. It always warms my heart just to see him on video. I feel like I can almost reach out and touch him. He was the ultimate entertainer. He loved entertaining people, man. That was his gift. He loved it. It didnít matter if it was with his guitar or fuckiní pouring shots. Whatever it was, he just wanted to put a smile on peopleís face.

KNAC.COM: Like skateboarding through a hotel kitchenÖ

VINNIE PAUL: It put a smile on his face. He was the biggest kid I ever knew in my life. Iím the same way, too. Neither one of us wanted to grow up, neither one of us ever wanted to get married, have kids, any of that. It was all about good times. My Dad and I are working on a photo book, which will come out sometime next year. Itís a really, really great tribute to him and a good way for people to see him from younger days. I want to sign a couple bands to my label. I got five or six thousand demo tapes in my office, waiting on me. I havenít heard anything special enough just yet, and I want to sign something that really sticks out like a sore thumb, something thatís really different and something that could be exciting and create a new wave in music, so to speak. So, Iím definitely going to spend some time on that next year and Iíve been working on putting a Clubhouse 2 together and putting it in Las Vegas. I donít know how thatís going to go, but Iím working on it. Thereís lots of city council shit you gotta get through to go to Vegas. I donít know if Iím going to be able to pull it off, but Iím working on it. Those are my future plans when Hellyeah takes a little hiatus, and of course Iíll be dying to get back to doing this again, because I love playing music and traveling and everything thatís part of it.

KNAC.COM: Itís been three years since the tragedy, and aside from a short period where you were keeping it kind of low-key and healing, youíre out there really hitting it really hard now.

VINNIE PAUL: The biggest tribute you can do is to carry the torch as high as you can and never let it down. I spent eight months so miserableóI donít even want to tell people how miserable it was. I got a really cool letter from Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, ex-Nirvana) that said, ďIíve been through something similar with Kurt [Cobain], and I thought Iíd never be part of music again. But music is what healed me.Ē Just those words ďmusic will heal you,Ē thatís when I decided ĎI need to quit being useless and sad and destroyed, and pick up the pieces and go.í From that point on I was able to put it behind me and focus, and just move forward, man. Once I started on the label and started learning a different side of the business, it really helped me. Thereís not a day that goes by where I donít think about himóI miss him more than anything in this world, but I know that if I was sitting at home and I was fuckiní drunk and on pills, he wouldnít want that. Heíd kick my fuckiní ass. So, I think heís proud of me. I know heís proud of me and I know heís proud of all the people who are part of all the things that Iím part of. The support, the love the fans have given usÖIt something thatís never happened, man. Itís never happened. Thereís just no way to explain it. Itís one of those things you could say ďwhyĒ for the rest of your life. Hopefully, I am an inspiration to people. A lot of people lose people and they never regain their heart and are never able to carry on. It is a horrific fuckiní thing to go through, and I get strength from knowing that he wouldnít want me wasting awayÖperiod. So, I carry the torch. I go as hard as I can, just like I always did. And, of course, anything I can do to preserve and carry on his legacy and what he was all about, I do. I donít put DimeVision out and books to make money. I donít need that shit. I do it to celebrate his life and to help people who are fuckiní fans to have more. Since heís not able to give it to them and I can, thatís what Iím going to do.

KNAC.COM: Whatís on your setlist?

VINNIE PAUL: Itís about an hour and ten minutes of material, and weíve never played a Mudvayne song, never played a Pantera song, never played a Damageplan song, never played a Nothingface song. We felt like from day one that this band stands on its own; our materialís strong enough that we donít have to reach into those past things that helped get us to where we are today. Itís worked. Itís worked really well.

KNAC.COM: Okay, who are you endorsing equipment-wise, these days?

VINNIE PAUL: Oh man, Iíve done Pearl drums ever since Pearl drums paid attention to me. Iím loyal. Iíve stuck with the same companies foreverÖSabian has been my cymbals, Vic Firth has been my sticks, and Sky Vodka is my buddy (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Are they one of your sponsors?

VINNIE PAUL: I wish I had an endorsement from them. I donít think they really do that kind of thing, but after being a long time whiskey drinker, I got a problem with getting gout. I donít know if you ever heard of that or not. Itís when you get too much uric acid in your system and it crystallizes, and then the favorite place that it does it is in the joint in your big toe, which ainít good for drummers.

KNAC.COM: They call it the Rich Manís something or other.

VINNIE PAUL: Yeah, because you get it from dark whiskey and red meat. Those are the two top things, and when I started getting itóit was really fucking me up. So I had to quit eating red meat, I quit drinking whiskey, switched over to vodka, and after going through a lot of different vodkas and having some really bad hangovers, I found the blue bottle. I hit it and ďWow, I feel good today.Ē And then I hit it again and felt good. I come to find out it was American made, invented by a doctor, who got tired of having hangovers, and itís the only vodka thatís filtered, like four times.

KNAC.COM: Itís clean fuel, right?

VINNIE PAUL: Itís better on your liver and everything else, man (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Run with it, man. When you go out on stage, do you still get your buzz on?

VINNIE PAUL: Oh, Hellyeah.

KNAC.COM: Hellyeah!

VINNIE PAUL: Iíve got to. It helps you to loosen up it helps you not to let things bother you. If the monitors suck or if the lights arenít right, those things are less annoying when youíre feeling good. It just allows you just to play, youíre not thinking so much about what youíre doing, and you just do it.

KNAC.COM: You always have a smile on your face. Like ďHey man, lighten up. Itís fuckiní rock and roll.Ē

VINNIE PAUL: Thatís right. Thatís the way it should be. With HellYeah I feel like weíve brought fun back with it. Itís not so damn serious, itís not so technical, itís not so ďThe worldís sucksĒ and ďOh well, weíre stuck here.Ē Itís cool.

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