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A Celebration Of Life: An Exclusive Interview With Guitarist TOM MAXWELL Of HELLYEAH

By Cynthia Fields-Jalil, Writer/Photographer
Friday, August 30, 2019 @ 10:36 AM

"...we’re all kinda broken. We’re kinda shards of what we were. The one crystal dropped and they all kinda shattered."

- advertisement -
Live Photos By Cynthia Jalil & Geoff Ketler
Band Photo Credit: William Felch

Hey there KNAC.COM friends & family! I recently had the luck of the draw with this interview falling into my hands as a last minute fill-in writer and photographer. And, WOWWW was it an awesome assignment! I whole heartily was honored to sit down and chat for a bit with HELLYEAH’s guitarist & co-founding member Tom Maxwell. My goal was to squeeze in as many questions as I possibly could pre-show, at their show on Friday, August 16, 2019, at the House of Blues, Houston, Texas - the night before making their way back to Vinnie's home city of Dallas, Texas where it all started for the Abbott brothers Darrell ”Dimebag” and Vinnie Paul! The show honors HELLYEAH’s fallen dear friend, bandmate & idol andnd it pays tribute to his musical legacy and his memory as well as serves as a way for all of HELLYEAH’s fans to donate a portion of their ticket to The American Heart Association to help bring much-needed awareness to heart disease the disease that ultimately took Vinnie’s life on June 22nd, 2018. Most of us are unaware that heart disease is THE NUMBER ONE KILLER of people globally than any other disease, and it had become a mission for the band to again bring heart disease to their fans attention. In Vinnie's honor and memory, this tour has been titled "Vinnie Paul: A Celebration of Life Tour". Here is that interview. I hope y'all enjoy it! Remember when you're done reading my interview, make sure to head over to my KNAC.COM HELLYEAH show review for another awesome read and to check out my live show photos as well!

KNAC.COM: First and foremost on behalf of myself and my KNAC.COM family, I would like to extend my heartfelt condolences for the loss of your dear friend, and bandmate Vinnie Paul - his musical legacy will live on forever.

MAXWELL: Forever.

KNAC.COM: I was blessed and fortunate to also shoot & review Vinnie's Public Memorial and "Celebration of Life Ceremony", in Dallas, Texas on Sunday, June 28, 2018, at The Bomb Factory following his untimely passing. Thank you kindly for allowing me to also cover Vinnie's "A Celebration of Life Tour", I am honored to be here.

MAXWELL: THANK YOU…thank you so much!

KNAC.COM: HELLYEAH has partnered with The American Heart Association this tour run and is donating a portion of ticket sales from Vinnie’s “A Celebration of Life” 2019 Tour in Vinnie’s memory to help bring awareness to heart disease. Will you please share with your fans the specifics of how the campaign came together and explain some of the ways your fans can help meet your $10,000 goal if they can’t attend the show?

MAXWELL: Well, I can't get into complete specifics. A lot of that stuff is arranged through the management and the label and stuff. But we wanted to do something and give to The American Heart Association because if he would've went in earlier and gotten looked at we could have still had him right now. So our whole thing is just bringing up awareness of don't let anything go by, you know? The older we all get, the more vulnerable we are to diseases, heart attacks, strokes whatever it is because it's not like human beings live clean, right? We don't. I remember when we’d always have our peers pass away, he’d always kinda have a little freak out about it. He always felt like he would be next. And so, he was always kinda checking his heart, his blood pressure, all of that shit. So, I think you know, I mean would’ve…could’ve…should’ve? I wish he would’ve paid more attention to himself a little more intensely. Do you know what I mean? It could have been prevented maybe?

KNAC.COM: In the wake of Vinnie’s death, and after researching his cause of death, you discovered that heart disease IS THE NUMBER ONE killer of more people globally THAN ANY OTHER disease, which ultimately made youl rethink your lifestyle choices as a band. You've stated in previous interviews that losing Vinnie was a wake-up call. What kind of changes have you made together as a band since then, especially when being out of the road isn't really conducive to a healthy lifestyle?

MAXWELL: Yeah, I mean, we've slowed down. We’re known to be a hard-partying band. We go out there and we like to have a good time especially after the show because people use to congregate and they still do. They congregate to our backstage area but you know, personally, it's like for myself, I’ve slowed down man and stopped drinking as much. I'll have a couple of cocktails as opposed to a couple of cocktails every fucking fifteen minutes or something. But, we all just really...I mean, I can't get like into a regime cause we're not but, I think it forced us to really appreciate what we have. And we really have to be here for our loved ones, we have to be here for our friends, we have to be here for each other and just taking care of ourselves. It's coming down to eating correctly or eating good and taking the right steps to not live so hard on the road. The road will tear you up. I mean literally, you wonder how people think how can you be so unhappy out on the road and turn to alcohol and just sit there, it's cause it’s lonely out here, you know what I mean? You’re around your friends and stuff every day but it’s “Groundhog Day” every day! So the only normal time of the day is the hour that you're playing and then you have to fill in all those gaps and a lot of bad stuff can happen and you can do a lot of bad things to yourself in those gaps. You know you, you just kinda have to take better care of yourself that’s basically it and get checked — go to the doctor routinely.

KNAC.COM: Have you done that for yourself?

MAXWELL: I do it all…I’ll get a physical every two years. Every time I go into an album cycle I get a physical. I keep it up. I’ve had the same primary doctor for 15 years and he’s great! And I see him regularly because you just gotta get checked.

KNAC.COM: Are you doing stress tests as well especially because you’re so nonstop on the road?

MAXWELL: I don't know about stress tests but yeah, if anything I stopped taking anxiety medication and stuff like that. I felt it was doing more damage to me. I think that a happy life consists of...it's all in how you do it. Some people are just wired differently. You can't go up to a depressed person or who’s suffering depression and just tell them why don't you just snap out of it? We all go through that! After Vince passed I went through a period and I’m still going through a period of depression. It was really, really chronic this time last year. So it's just really you know..yeah, to get back to what you were saying, you just kinda gotta pay attention to your body and your mind.

KNAC.COM: Losing a loved one is a very difficult and challenging life event especially when it happens without warning. Where and how did you find the most comforting strength to move forward after losing Vinnie?

MAXWELL: Hmmmm, (pauses and lets out a deep breath) wowww, that's a difficult question to get asked. I mean we’re still trying to figure it out. For me, I felt like I was dropped in the middle of the deepest part of the ocean and I don't know which way I'm going. I'm swimming, at least I'm swimming. I don't know where I'm going yet. My love affair for music has suffered greatly not for music but for doing what we're doing. They say time heals and it's true because I'm feeling better day by day, show by show but also needing my family, my wife, my kid, my dog. I had just gotten a dog right when he passed and I'm still blown away on how intuitive and emotionally comforting these little animals are. She's not so little anymore but, therapy…therapy.

KNAC.COM: Well, dogs are therapeutic, they use them a lot for geriatric patients, cancer patients…

MAXWELL: Yeah, and therapy! And I recommend anybody…just talk to people too man. I mean you really have to. You don't necessarily have to go sit down with a therapist every single day but it does help to talk. To have somebody ask you questions about how you're feeling and triggering little emotions that you can put to rest or at least face.

KNAC.COM: Is it hard to find someone that you feel like you can really talk to or trust?

MAXWELL: Sometimes sure, you know! I mean maybe that's why a therapist is sometimes best because they’re kinda of like they’re only “outside of the box”, you know what I mean? Listen, I’m pretty fortunate to have people in my life. I know a lot of people and I'm friends with a lot of people but my core circle is really small.

KNAC.COM: Good, I think that’s probably a good thing!

MAXWELL: It's the ones that are in my life daily. It's a very small group of people and I can definitely speak to them. I mean I have my bandmates, too!

KNAC.COM: What is one of your favorite cherished memories of Vinnie?

MAXWELL: Jesus! Every day for the last 14 years, you know what I mean?

KNAC.COM: I never had the opportunity to meet him, but I heard he was an amazing guy and really down-to-earth and just a really good person.

MAXWELL: I’ve told this before, and I'll just give it to you like this: there's a gazillion memories and highlights! I mean, how much time you got? (smiling) I've said this before in interviews and I'll say it to you if you really wanted…hanging around with him was like being a child around Santa Claus! You know what I mean? There's just that adoration, that love that you can't wait to be near him or talk to him. He was joyous, he was selfless and he was just Vinnie Paul, he was awesome, he was great! Not only was he like one of the greatest drummers ever, EVER! He's up there with John Bonham and Keith Moon, all those cats man! Well, him and his brother, man from day one that they were together! Like how great they both were! I mean it was just kinda like you had one feeding the other, one feeding the other! Gettin better and bigger, and bigger watering that plant, watering this plant — it's like a tree and he was definitely worth it, he was definitely known!

KNAC.COM: So, congrats on your upcoming album release Welcome Home, due out on Friday, September 27th and your “Oh My God” and “333” videos which are out now! I gotta tell you, I especially love how you made sure to pay tribute to Dime’s and Vinnie’s special numbers. Whose idea was it?

MAXWELL: Well you know, we called it “333” because Vinnie came in with the idea for the song. And we always have working titles before we put a real title on it. And I think it was Kevin Churko our producer who just put “333” on there just as an identity thing like a tribute for Vinnie…for both brothers. “333" was a Dime thing you know because he always referenced it because he said he was only half devil (laughing)! I just got it tattoed right here (extends left wrist to reveal tat). Yeah, it's got the Dime razor blade center that’s going through the middle just very simple kinda easy and simple lines.

KNAC.COM: That is so cool! By the way, did you work on Welcome Home at Vinnie’s studio as the band has historically done?

MAXWELL: No, I mean writing…the second half of the writing process yes! We recorded it in Vegas, the whole thing at Kevin's studio. We took a break. We probably recorded about five or six songs then we took a break because Kevin had some other commitments he had to deal with. And then I went to Vinnie's in Dallas, and me and him and I think Brady (Christian, guitarist for HELLYEAH) flew in too and we worked on about seven or eight songs down there and then went back to Vegas where we recorded them for real.

KNAC.COM: Did you write the music and lyrics of each track together or did each of you contribute individual tracks to the album?

MAXWELL: It worked differently, like there are songs on there that I would go in by myself and just work with Kevin alone, nobody else. And then Vinnie would do his drums and then Kyle (Sanders, bassist) and all that. And then there were songs where like I said, it would be me, me and Vince worked out the demos and then we brought them to Kevin and the we constructed them fully. And then, Chad comes in after the fact. Once he's got a body, a score and then he hears the melodies and what he wants to do. Now, we did “Sky and Water”. That song was written…I wrote that the day after he passed away and it's the only song that is really directed towards him. I mean there’s references all throughout the record you know, but that song is specifically to him and it's just me, Kyle, Brady and Chad with no drums, no nothing, Kevin’s playing some piano and there's orchestration in it and stuff but that kinda was written. We were all together when that was written.

KNAC.COM: Were all 11 tracks completed before Vinnie’s passing?

MAXWELL: Drums, yes he had! We had all the music written, and he had all the drum tracks recorded. What was left was just us coloring and decorating the tree.

KNAC.COM: Which track is your favorite and why?

MAXWELL: Well, I mean I like the song “Oh My God”.

KNAC.COM: Can you tell me what exactly it’s about? I watched it (the video) and I was just like wow, it's intense!

MAXWELL: Well you’d have to ask Chad about that, his lyrics about that, because I can’t. It's his perception and when he writes it's very open-ended. But you know it's just like he sings I made a deal with the devil and the devil's got my…you know what I'm saying? It’s like he's the gun and I'm the bullet type of a thing and it's just the whole thing, the whole thing. It's not just his lyrics and the melody that he’s doing but the song has so much hook and groove. It's like from the crotch type of a riff you know? “Welcome Home” is another one of my favorites. It’s our first one we started recording in his studio. And the song was written and Vinnie heard it and when he passed away it took on a completely different identity. It was almost like “HE WAS WELCOMED HOME” to home to his mom and his brother. So that kinda changed. They’re are all so good man! "Sky and Water" is one of my favorites even though we’ll probably never play it (nervously laughing). It's very emotional. It's like it’s hard for me to listen to without breaking down. We’re going to play it tonight, not physically but we have a tribute we do to Vince and “Sky and Water” narrates it. And so, you're watching it as the song is playing.

KNAC.COM: What type of emotions did you experience once the final recording process and pressings of Vinnie's last drumming creation was completed?

MAXWELL: I was pretty happy, to be honest with you. I was proud of us for going in there and digging deep and swallowing it, especially Chad too! I’ve gotta give him a lot of credit because he was left writing the lyrics — it's maddening! He just goes so deep into it. When you're doing music you kinda have all your buddies all around you, your bass player, your other guitar player, your drummer, they’re all like ideas and vocals. Lyrics, they’ve gotta come from one entity or else…do you know what I mean? He can't passionately sing something that I wrote down unless he can completely identify with it. It’s like “Holy Shit!”, you know what I mean...like it's his. So, that's a big responsibility.

KNAC.COM: Is there a special significance to the album's title and cover art?

MAXWELL: Welcome Home…it's a couple of different things for us. Welcome Home is like that sense of being lost. We’re always there but we feel like we’re lost all the time as human beings. So it's kinda of a Welcome Home. It feels the same, it's like being home. And then you have the cover with the door and you see the light shining through reaching out to six different entities which is the drum major of the band, his best friend and his girl, the clocks, all of the machines in the door which represent everything you have to go through to get to the other side of that door. And then behind it, it's just the ether and the heavens and the lightning which represents him.

KNAC.COM: How is Chelsey (Yeager, Vinnie’s girlfriend)?

MAXWELL: She's doing good, I mean she’s...we’ll see her tomorrow. But, she's okay, she’s like the rest of us, she’s just trying to navigate. They were together for six years, the happiest days of his life. He loved her, I mean like “HE LOVED HER!” Yeah, I know they loved each other like love should be, selfless. They always had fun, they were always smiling, they were great, It was awesome!

KNAC.COM: I saw that. I saw her and it was very difficult to see her at the memorial.

MAXWELL: She was the love of his life. There is no doubt about it.

KNAC.COM: I’m glad that he experienced real love.

MAXWELL: Yes, he absolutely did! She's got a heavy weight to carry and time will help her. And still being a part of our family and being close to us is very important because as you know, we’re all kinda broken. We’re kinda shards of what we were. The one crystal dropped and they all kinda shattered. And it's just a matter of finding all the pieces and trying to…some of them we’re not going to find anymore, some of those shards are gone. It could be people or places or things you know? But, we’re all going to be all right in time. And we are, we’re moving on and I don't mean that moving passed anything. You have to walk forward, you do.

KNAC.COM: When I interviewed Chad back in 2014, he spoke about how Dime’s presence was felt by all of you whenever you worked together in Vinnie’s home studio. Do you now feel Vinnie’s spiritual presence with you as well and if so, when is it the strongest?

MAXWELL: (Laughing happily) Yeah, it's quite a bit man! I feel him on a personal level. It's more of the things of like…it’s just emotional stuff I really can't pinpoint. It's almost like a heart palpitation in a way. My worst times when I feel him is like when I'm breaking down and trying to figure out if I still belong here. Not alive, but here doing what I'm doing and then it's like there is a sense of okay that comes over and gets me from the point of “holy fucking dog shit to sucks to okay, I can do this today”. I know it’s a weird metaphor but…

KNAC.COM: Vinnie’s shoes are obviously hard to fill, but has the band decided if Roy Mayorga (current tour drummer for HELLYEAH) will be HELLYEAH’s permanent drummer?

MAXWELL: (Pauses and takes a deep breath) We're not even there you know what I’m sayin? We’re not even thinking that far. Right now, this is enough on top of us right now. But doing the tour is a lot, I mean it’s like a lot! It took a lot for us to make it happen, it took a year for us to consider it. So we’ll see in time. I mean Roy is our friend and was Vinnie's friend. They respected and loved each other. We all love each other. And Roy is amazing and if there were somebody to do it I would absolutely love to work with him in the future and write songs, but we are just not at that point yet.

KNAC.COM: If you could send one last message to Vinnie, what would it be?

MAXWELL: I love you and I miss you.

KNAC.COM: Moving forward after this tour run what plans do you and Chad have for HELLYEAH?

MAXWELL: After this tour? Well, we’re going to be touring this cycle all next year, we're not slowing down! But, I have to slow down in September because I have to get hand surgery. So, it's going to take a minute.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, I read that! Which hand is it?

MAXWELL: It's my left hand (extends left hand). My middle finger, my favorite one (laughing)! Yeah, I get like trigger finger. It gets stuck if I were to make a fist and it hurts too! I can put these up (showing fingers) but it just won’t stay down - I have to manually do that (laughing). Well, in your hand the tendons run from the tip all the way down like a fishing rod and you know the little eye hooks where the fishing line goes through? That's how it's set up and so, right here, it gets stuck. So, I've already gotten three cortisone shots, and you can only get so many of those! My doctor did it because I was going out on this tour. And he's an awesome doctor! So, he's gonna put a little slice right there (extends left hand pointing to hand surgery site) and go in there and fix it. And four weeks later, I'll be rocking!

KNAC.COM: Well, God willing all goes well!

MAXWELL: Thank you!

KNAC.COM: Do you have any parting words for your fans?

MAXWELL: Just THANK YOU for sticking it out with us! And for all the kind words and the support, and the never ending love and devotion you have for the band. I tell you, I think this record is going to hit home to a lot of people. So, I’m looking forward to reading some of the things people say.

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