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Hitting ‘Below the Belt’ with HellYeah’s Chad Gray

 

CHAD GRAY OF HELLYEAH AND MUDVAYNE

December 15, 2007

HellYeah started as five guys—drummer Vinnie Paul of Pantera/Damageplan fame; Mudvayne’s Chad Gray and Greg Tribbett on vocals and guitar, respectively; Nothingface’s Tom Maxwell on guitar; and Damageplan’s Bob Zilla on bass (replacing Nothingface’s Jerry Montano prior to the start of the first tour)—just looking to make music and have fun. It quickly turned into one of the most successful hard rock acts of 2007, with headlining tours and stints on the main stage of the Family Values Tour and as direct support on Korn’s fall arena run. When the band’s “Balls, Volume and Strength” tour recently brought them to Baltimore, Md., Live-Metal.net’s Greg Maki sat down with Chad to discuss all things HellYeah and get the latest on Mudvayne.

Live-Metal.net: A few days ago, I watched the new DVD, Below the Belt. It looks like you guys are having such a great time. That was the whole point from the beginning, right?

Chad Gray: Yeah, yeah, for sure.

Did you have any expectations for how far this would go?

Honestly, this wasn’t the plan. I mean, we were just kind of putting it together, having a good time doing it. We had a great time recording the record. We were only supposed to go to the end of Family Values, and about the first four shows of Family Values, [Korn vocalist] Jonathan [Davis] sat on the side of the stage and watched us ‘cause I know John from touring with Mudvayne with him and stuff. He comes up to me after a show one night or whatever and he was like, “What are you doing in the fall?” And I’m like, “What are you doing in the fall?” He’s like, “We’re going on a fuckin’ headlining arena run, all B markets.” I was like, “Cool, you want us to go?” He’s like, “Yeah, you guys want to go?” I’m like, “Yeah, direct support?” He goes, “Yeah.” And I’m like, “Cool. Let’s let the fuckin’ monkeys work it out and we’ll figure it out.” So within the first couple days of Family Values, all of a sudden our fall was planned. Then we started going through the summer and the record was selling good, and the label got behind us, like, “You shouldn’t fuckin’ come off ‘cause you’re selling records.” We booked this headlining run right after it. We’ve only had a couple weeks off since fuckin’ June. We’ve just been fuckin’ knockin’ it out. It’s starting to take its toll, honestly. I’m fuckin’ ready for a break.

From the time we put it together, as far the expectations question goes, we didn’t have any label, management didn’t really know what was going on. We just kind of got together and did it. So the expectation level was just within ourselves, like whatever we wanted it to be it would be, no pressure. So, yeah, I guess from that point of view of not having an expectation, yeah, it’s exceeded it. It’s been great, man. It’s been a lot of fun.

You’ve probably taken a lot of people by surprise, especially with a song like “Alcohaulin’ Ass,” when they see the people involved. What were the influences for that song?

That song is just kind of an anomaly. It was just this thing that happened. I was working on something else that day. We were in the studio. Greg was on one of his hungover days where he just kind of sits back and does nothing. Somebody had brought an acoustic guitar in to do some overdubs. I was at the soundboard. I just always sit at the desk at the soundboard and just open my laptop up on top of the buttons and shit and just work. Our engineer was sitting there working on something. I was kind of tracking and whatever and writing. Greg, all day, was like, “Let’s write a country song. Let’s write a country song. Let’s write a country song. Let’s write a country song.” All day long, literally, every time I’d take a break or anything, he’d just be strumming around on some shit.

Finally, whatever I was working on, I was just burnt out on it and [producer/engineer] Sterling [Winfield] was cooked. We’d been working all day. It was probably about 10 o’clock at night and he was like, “I’m gonna go get some beer, get out of here for a minute, get away from this fuckin’ Pro Tools.” I’m like, “Cool, whatever.” So he takes off and Greg starts in on this shit again, and I’m like, “Well, then play something. I can’t write a fuckin’ country song unless you’ve got a country riff.” He starts playing this riff and, literally, [snapping his fingers] it just came right to me, the lyrics. He’s like, “You better write that shit down.” So I turned around and wrote the first verse instantly. And then I was like, “You got a chorus idea?” So he goes into the chorus. I don’t know what it was—we had been talking that day about alcohol or alcohaulin’ ass or something. I can’t remember what it was. So that chorus was right there on the tip of my tongue anyway, fresh in my head. I think we were gonna try to do a band name or something, Alcohaulin’ or something like that. So then I write the next verse. Literally, this is all just happening fuckin’ like lightning, like fuckin’ gunpowder. We get to the bridge section, he’s like, “Nah, fuck that. Let’s just go back into the chorus.” I’m like, “Dude, you know, country song, you gotta have a bridge.” So he starts writing it, we wrote the bridge, instantly, back into the chorus and shit, and like, literally, Sterling gets back with the beer and we had run through it three times front to back. He was like, “Dude, you gotta set up the mics.” So he set a vocal mic and he set up a mic on Greg’s guitar, and fuckin’ we just played through it once and that was the original fuckin’ version of it. We played it for Vinnie, he loved it. We made it the song with the metal and the drums and all the bullshit. Sometimes you hit those magical fuckin’ moments where it all just comes together. You don’t even know where the hell it comes from. It just comes together.

 

So, kind of in general, what are some of the influences for the band?

I think it’s just that. With me, with Mudvayne, I do a lot of research. I do a lot of mapping, a lot of song mapping. I put a whole theme and idea together and I dissect it and I cut it apart into 12 different pieces or whatever. Then I start working with each of those pieces to write that song and then I go to the next one. It’s like putting things in a box and then dumping everything out of the box and writing about what’s in that box. Everything’s more calculated with Mudvayne.

With this, it was just more of a spontaneous moment and capturing that moment, like living inside of that second. ‘Cause we didn’t have a lot of time to do it. The whole record was written, tracked, recorded and mixed in probably—it was written, tracked and recorded in under a month, probably three and a half weeks, and then mixed in probably two weeks. It was just really fast. I think that’s just kind of the essence and the vibe. The way we recorded—most bands would go and demo everything, so basically, you go into the studio with 12 pretty completed songs or whatever, 14 or whatever it is, and then you would re-track all of that. You start at the top and you would do drums for the first week, get all the drums and scratch guitars. Then you go in and start doing the guitars, and then you come in and vocals and overdubs and all the bullshit. You go through that process and by the time you get done, then there’s your record and the demos are kind of forgotten about.

With this, we set everything up, mic’d everything up, got the tones we wanted and then started recording as we were writing. There’s more of a live edge to it. There’s more of a kind of a raw, dangerous edge to it that you can’t really get because you’ll get demo-itis—that’s what we call it. When you go to re-record all the demos that you’ve done, there are parts, little spots on the demos that you really love and trying to recreate those moments, you can’t do it. It’s not physically possible, like a tag on the end of something or the way that a scream comes off or the tone of the scream or the tone of the guitar. Sometimes you just can’t recreate that exact tone. We didn’t run into those problems ‘cause that was what it was. It’s literally just like a glorified demo. Pretty much, that’s what it is.

You’re back here in Baltimore, where you played the first HellYeah show. What was it like walking out on stage that first time?

It was a trip. I knew Rams Head Live and remembered that it was our first show or whatever and I could remember the venue itself, but you don’t really remember where you’re at until you kind of walk in. Today, I walked in and I was like, “I remember this place.” I do it all the time, like I can’t remember where the dressing room is or what the dressing room’s like or the layout or whatever, but today I walked in and I’m like, “Oh yeah.”

It was amazing. It was fuckin’ amazing. I mean, come on, who wasn’t a Pantera fan? Me, having worked as intimately with Vin as we have, after not knowing him at all, to go through the recording process and going through the rehearsals and playing the songs for the first time, really—like, we were getting ready to come here and fuckin’ play the first show. There were still some of our chops where we were like, “Oh shit.” We were a little nervous, but we got up on stage and everything just fuckin’ clicked and everything fired on all eight cylinders. It was great. It was a really electric moment. It was awesome.

It was awesome to see Vin get back on stage, too. It was a really great experience to see somebody that told me many times, “I thought I’d never do it again.” Because being as fuckin’ amazingly talented as that dude is, to get back up, staring in the face of so many different emotions, I’m sure, go for it and do it, and really get that fuckin’ fist in the air to his brother and a fist in the air to all of music that loves him and saying, “I’m fuckin’ back,” it’s a statement. It was great.

 

Do you think this band, would it have happened without him?

I don’t think so. We talked about it with a couple different drummers, but ultimately, at the end of the day, he was the master facilitator. Without him, it wouldn’t have been possible, I don’t think. He provided the studio. We had talked to another drummer or whatever and we had talked about doing a spec deal at a studio for like 1,200 fuckin’ dollars a day or something, out of pocket, before we had a label or anything. I wouldn’t have wanted to roll the dice on getting together for a couple days with a band and spending 2,500 bucks or 3,200 bucks or whatever it is, $3,600, to not even be sure if there’s gonna be chemistry. We kind of just went in and just started playing. We weren’t spending money ‘cause he already had the studio. We stayed at his house. He fuckin’ would make Sam’s trips and get fuckin’ tons of food and booze and we’d get beer. I had 25 fuckin’ cases of Coors Light fuckin’ drop-shipped to the studio. I had a friend that worked at Coors and we used to get fuckin’ deals. When Mudvayne was touring, we’d have cases of beer drop-shipped to us and we’d just carry them in the bay, a whole bay full of beer, so we never worried about it. And we go down there—this is a funny story ‘cause we go down and there and fuckin’ I had 25 cases of Coors Light drop-shipped to me the first day we got there. By the fifth day, we were buying beer. And three guys in the band don’t even drink beer. Me and Greg were there fuckin’ around the clock. We would go into the studio anywhere between 2 and 5. They would work until about 9 or 10, sometimes 11. And then Greg and I would stay in there and work until 5 or 6 in the morning on vocals for the song that they had just written—and Sterling . We would drink so much that, literally, drinking would determine how much we would record. I would be in behind the mic and all of a sudden you would hear a slur in my vocals.

[laughter]

So that was a little weird. But, I mean, literally, that’s how much we were drinking. It was just an unbridled fuckin’ beerfest. It was fun.

The first time you ever talked to Vinnie about this band, you had never met him before. Was that intimidating talking to him?

Fuck yeah, it was. I walked around my house for like 25 minutes with my phone in my hand and my wife was like, “Just call him already. He’s just a guy.” I’m like, “He’s not just a guy.” You know what I mean? I can say that to a lot of people or a lot of people, like a lot of people are just guys. If I had to fuckin’ make a phone call to fuckin’ Nikki Sixx, I’d be walking around my fuckin’ house with my phone in my hand for 25 minutes. And that’s how it was with Vinnie. Like I said, who wasn’t a fuckin’ Pantera fan or a Damageplan fan? The idea of putting something together and playing in a fuckin’ band with him was just like over the fuckin’ top. It was weird, man. The first time I talked to him, it was 14 minutes and 38 seconds, and I didn’t talk to him again until I showed up at his fuckin’ house. And I talked to him a month before I left. I remember two weeks before and a week before and two days before, calling Tom and everybody, going, “Dude, this is not how things are supposed to work. I’ve never worked like this. I only talked to the guy one fuckin’ time for less than 15 minutes and I’m gonna get on a fuckin’ plane in two weeks” or “I’m gonna get on a plane in a week” or “I’m gonna get on a plane tomorrow and fuckin’ fly down to Dallas and write a record with this guy? Are you out of your mind?”

I get on a plane and get down there, they come and pick us up, and we walk in his house, he just kind of comes walking out of his bedroom. “Hey, what’s going on, man? I’m Vinnie Paul.” I’m like, “Hey, I’m Chad . How you doing?” He’s like, “Come on back. Let me show you what I built you guys.” I’m like, “What?” He’s like, “Yeah, man.” So we fuckin’ walk out back of his house and on his pool deck he built these fuckin’ cabanas. They were like three little apartments. It was one solid unit and you open the door for each one and there was a little apartment in there. There was a bed and a little refrigerator and a fuckin’ TV and a DVD player and porn playing on it. There was a porno playing in the DVD player when I walked in. I’m like, “Dude, I don’t even fuckin’ know you and you built me a house.” That’s the kind of a guy he is. He’s probably the most warm, generous person ever. He’s just a fuckin’ really nice guy and his brother was the same way. They always did things to put smiles on people’s faces.

I can’t really say that I didn’t know Vinnie. It’s more that Vinnie didn’t know me. You know what I mean? Because I knew them through their videos and through 3 and Vulgar Video and the Cowboys from Hell video. In stuff like that, you really got to see what they were all about. And you met their family. I think that’s kind of like where Below the Belt came from. It was kind of a subtle attempt at that kind of vibe. It wasn’t like we were trying to do what Pantera did necessarily because you can’t do that, because you’re taking probably one of the most amazing, creative minds of every aspect in art and hilarity out of the equation, and that’s Dime. Dime was a big part of those videos and obviously he’s not around to be on Below the Belt with us. But it’s the same kind of vibe in the sense that you get to kind of live a day in the life of what we do. You get to meet our family ‘cause it’s not just me on this bus. There’s me and eight other guys on this bus. On this bus, there’s no difference between the singer and guitar tech or singer and drum tech or singer and fuckin’ sound guy.

And that’s how it comes across on the DVD.

We’re all the same people. At the end of the day, the only difference is I’m the guy getting up there and fuckin’ singing to the crowd. But those motherfuckers are in there bustin’ their ass all day long and they’re bustin’ their ass till the end of the night and then they’re on here fuckin’ drinking and we’re rollin’ and we’re high-fivin’ and we’re partying and we’re having a good time, and we’re just like brothers. A couple of my guys are from the Mudvayne crew. That’s how tight we hold people. Even going to do something else, we knew exactly who to call. We already know ‘em. We don’t have to try and gel with someone who we don’t know at all and it’s just like you don’t fix things if they ain’t fuckin’ broken. If they’re available, they’re coming and they did. So there we are.

Was it hard this summer to get fired up for a show at 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon?

 

I’ve done it before. I did it with Metallica. I did it on Ozzfest in ’01 and I pretty much did the same exact slot as we did with Mudvayne on Ozzfest in ’05. You just kind of do your thing. The thing with that is it makes for a shorter day ‘cause you’re drinking earlier, so you pass out earlier. So instead of being up till 6 in the morning fuckin’ drinking beer, I was out at 1.

[laughter]

And I think the music fits with that summertime vibe.

That was our thing, man, just kind of really trying to get out there. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what band you are, if you’re playing ahead of another band, you’re always trying to steal their fans. That’s the name of the game. We were basically sharing them, but we wanted to get up there and let the HellYeah name fuckin’ ring, come up there and bring it hard and bring it early and put asses in the seats and fuckin’ kind of prove ourselves. And we did. That air raid horn, that fuckin’ thing would go off and you could just see people coming ‘cause they just knew. They knew our slot, didn’t know when we were going on necessarily, but the second that air horn started going off, man, motherfuckers were coming in and watching HellYeah and being a part of that day and having a good time at a fuckin’ summer festival and getting fuckin’ drunk and hanging out and jamming out. We just kind of wanted to be the good-time band of the summer, so when people remember that, hopefully, ’07, it’s like, “Oh yeah, I went and saw Family Values and fuckin’ HellYeah.” That’s all we were trying to do. We weren’t trying to kill anybody or BRING IT! We were just trying to let people let their fuckin’ hair down and have some drinks and fuckin’ have a good time. That’s what it’s all about, anyway.

It’s almost over now, but how has this headlining run been?

It’s cool. It’s the same shit, fuckin’ day in and day out. What might be new to you ain’t that new to us. We do it every fuckin’ day. We try to bring it just as hard every day. Even on days when you don’t think you can, something about the music, it’s the fuckin’ wind in your sails. You can just fuckin’ drag your ass up to that stage and it’s like, “Fuck.” You get on it and the music starts going and it’s loud and the crowd’s there, it’s like fuckin’ flipping a switch. It’s been cool, though. Like I said, I’m fuckin’ burnt. I’m burnt out. I haven’t toured this hard probably since 2001, since the early days of Mudvayne when did 300-some shows in a year. We toured for L.D. 50 for 22 months. This is pretty equal to that lifestyle of touring. There’s a lot of people on this bus and it’s just been going and going and going. This tour that we’re on now—by the time I get off of it Dec. 17, I will have not been home for three months. To me, that’s a long time because the last time I was not home for three months I was fuckin’ 26 years old, 27 years old. This is fuckin’ eight years later. It’s a little different now. It’s harder touring. People have fuckin’ families now and you feel more established. No matter how established Mudvayne is, this has been very much a starting over process and you would’ve maybe never thought that. You put these players together, you would think that it’s just gonna go BOOM ! and everything’s gonna be fuckin’ limos and fuckin’ catering. It’s been like, “OK, here’s your fuckin’ $10 buyout. Go to fuckin’ Burger King.” It reminds me of 2001. It really does. It reminds me of fuckin’ years ago.

After this tour is over, is that gonna be it for HellYeah for a while?

We’re gonna go back out. We’re working on it. We haven’t confirmed anything yet, so I can’t even say the bands that we’re talking about. We’re maybe slated to go out like late January through February.

Headlining or supporting?

Headlining.

Switching to Mudvayne, where did the whole idea come for the new By the People, For the People album?

We had so much shit on hard drives and discs and live versions of stuff, acoustic versions and different shit we had laying around. It was kind of like we need to put this out there. Like, “This is fuckin’ stupid. We’ve got something here that we can put out and I think people would really dig it.” We’re not putting this out to sell millions. We don’t give a fuck, although it did 27,000 the first week, which I was really overwhelmed by. It’s just demos and live versions and shit. It’s not new stuff. “Dull Boy” is the only new fuckin’ song on it. We were just like, “We should do this.” I’m like, “Well, fuck it. If we’ve got all this stockpile of shit, this music sitting around or whatever, we should use the stockpile of artwork that we have sitting around from fans to do the artwork with.” Because one of the biggest fuckin’ headaches of doing a record is putting together the artwork. It’s a nightmare. It’s a zillion emails back and forth. I’m like, “Fuck it. Let’s collage it, put it together.” And then we were like, “Fuck it. If we’re doing a contest, there’s not one song that somebody could pick that we don’t have some version of. So fuck it. Let’s let them pick the tracks and then we’ll determine what version they get.” If somebody wants “Forget to Remember,” we’ve got a live version of it, we’ve got a demo version of it and we’ve got a fuckin’ acoustic version of it. OK, fuck it. Let’s give them the acoustic version ‘cause it’s something different and it’s something we can put out there and whatever. So it’s cool, man. There are a couple things, obviously, that people wouldn’t have known we had, like the cover of “King of Pain.”

 

I don’t think most people would have expected an acoustic version.

Yeah. “Forget to Remember,” I think the thing with that was the idea that it doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles you put on something or how many instruments you bring to the table. You start pulling all the layers off of something and you get down to the root of what is just the song and it’s like if the song is strong like this still, then let’s try to fuckin’ dick with it and just change some melodies here and there, mostly just notations and fluctuations and stuff like that and we just fuckin’ threw it together and recorded it and said, “Fuck it. Who cares? It’ll never go on anything anyway.” And then here we are.

[laughter]

This gives us a good outlet to just throw it out there. It’s for Mudvayne fans. That’s what the record’s for. It’s not for anybody else. It’s for hardcore fuckin’ Mudvayne fans that care enough to see where songs come from. Like I said earlier, when you’re demoing, you’re just quickly mapping the song out. You don’t start fuckin’ tweaking shit—and if you do, you’re wasting your time—until you get into the studio. If you waste a bunch of time tweaking shit when you’re demoing, it’s literally a waste of fuckin’ time because you’re not gonna be able to duplicate it, you’re not gonna be able to get that tone or that sound exact. So you basically just get the fuckin’ brass tacks in and then you go and then you build from there, and you start adding all the fuckin’ finishings. It’s like framing a house. You just frame and then you come in and you do all the finish work. So if you’ve got a good framework and you stand back and you look at it and you’re like, “Cool, yeah, I like where this is going,” then you start doing the other things. You put the roof on it and you fuckin’ put the siding on it and you put the windows in it and you fuckin tweak it out and you pick your mantel and you do everything like that. You go down to the tile work. Then you really start getting meticulous and shit. To just show people the framework of Mudvayne songs, this is a great example and it’s no more, no less than that. I think it’s one way for the band to let our fans that much closer to us, by being that vulnerable and really surrendering ourselves and putting it out here and going, OK, we’re letting go of production value here, we’re letting go of a lot of things that Mudvayne is very meticulous and particular about and we’re gonna let you hear where these songs fuckin’ came from. This is what we did. This is what the fuckin’ four guys in the band did, ‘cause this, what you’re listening to right now, basically, was just the band and a fuckin’ guy that was like our engineer who was just engineering shit as we just rolled through. There’s no polish on it at all. It just is what it is.

Is the new Mudvayne album done?

Yeah, it’s done.

Any idea when it will be out?

We haven’t decided what we’re doing yet. We talked about writing more. We talked about writing another record. We talked about doing all kinds of shit. I think now we’re really trying to figure everything out in the sense of timelining and scheduling and how we want to see things going down ‘cause we do have something else now. We’re excited about HellYeah, but we are very, very much still very passionate about Mudvayne and I think we’re gonna try to get the most bang for our buck. Give as much to the Mudvayne people as we can without wasting a lot of our lives and our time. So maybe we’ll do something like—we thought about putting out two records in a year. We put out two records in a year, then that opens up another two years where we would be touring and supporting those two separate records. If you put one out and you tour for 18 months, then you put the other one out and you tour for 18 months, there’s a lot of fuckin’ time gone there. When you can just write ‘em, put one out, start touring, put the next one out while you’re touring, finish up touring, support both records at the same time, come off, be done, go back, write a HellYeah record, go out, tour, come back, write a Mudvayne record—you know what I mean? Let’s start hustling. Let’s start moving and shaking. Not hustling people, hustling our time, really lassoing our time and fuckin’ corralling it and going, OK, this is what the fuck we want to do with our time. We don’t want to waste it anymore by going out and touring for 18 fuckin’ months and doing fuckin’ five runs through the States and two runs in Australia and two runs in Japan and fuckin’ two runs through Europe . Essentially, you’re doing the same shit anyway. The cool thing is with doing a couple different records in one year is that if you are gonna roll through the States five times, you’re gonna go to Australia twice, you’re gonna go to Japan twice and you’re gonna go to Europe twice, you can schedule everything so that when you do go back to Australia for that second time, you’re playing some new new material; go back to Japan the second time, you’re playing new new material; you go back through the States for the third time, you’re playing new new material; you go back to Europe the second time, you’re playing new new material. And the first time you went there, you’re playing new new material, too. So it’s cool. It gives the fans more, too. They’re not seeing the same show.

Can you give me an idea of what the new stuff sounds like?

“Dull Boy” kind of precursors it a little bit. We try to do things pretty smart about how we look at the future, whether it’s the future of moving through a song by taking something that may be an outro here and precursoring it somewhere in the beginning of the song or maybe a little transition part, you touch on what this is gonna be, and then you get to the end of the song and then all of a sudden it’s this huge part created out of that little thing you precursored at the beginning of the song. People go, “Oh yeah, I see.” So this gave us an opportunity to get “Dull Boy” out and it’s kind of our way of subtly precursoring what’s to come from the next Mudvayne record. Things are generally that whatever. The verses are pretty wacky and the chorus is really big, and not every chorus is that big and not every verse is that wacky. It’s not the same thing. Mudvayne is very—everything’s different. I think one aspect of it is the sound. The sound of the record is kind of that, like the tones and stuff like that. It’s all done from the same recording session, the new record and “Dull Boy.”

OK, I’ve already taken up a lot of your time.

That’s OK, man. I’m chillin'.

Is there anything else you want to add?

[laughter]

Buy every damn thing we put out!

[laughter]

That’s all I can say.