Vinnie Paul – Hellyeah – Exclusive InterviewZack Albetta
You can’t have a conversation about the greatest metal drummers of all time without talking about Vinnie Paul. Across three decades and three bands, he has maintained a level of performance and visibility matched by few. After establishing his legacy with Pantera and adding to it with Damageplan, he has manned the drum chair for Hellyeah since 2007. The band is currently touring in support of their fourth album, Blood For Blood.
Paul acted as drummer and producer for Hellyeah’s first three albums, but the band brought in Kevin Churko to produce Blood For Blood. As usual, Paul was heavily involved in the songwriting and pre-production, “So it still had a bit of my signature on it. But it was really nice to not have to be in the studio 18 hours a day … to have to be the drummer, the engineer, the mixer, the editor, the mastering guy … It was great to be able to focus on the drums, to go to the studio for 2 ½ hours a day and just pound the sh*t out of ‘em, and then come back 10 or 12 hours later and hear the songs becoming what they were.”
He trusted Churko to make the right calls, and he says that’s the most important aspect of the producer/drummer relationship. “You’ve got to learn to develop trust there. You have to believe what they’re telling you and that their ears are right. You’re allowing them to hear you experiment and fail. I had a great relationship with Kevin when we went in, and he’s an amazing drummer himself. So, that helped push me to another level.”
Whether as a producer or a drummer, Paul has always been committed to performing songs live the way they sound on the albums. “I don’t think I’ve ever played anything on a record that I couldn’t recreate live. I’m a strong power player, so I don’t do anything fancy that I wouldn’t be able to reproduce because people expect to hear that same thing that you do from the stage.” This philosophy applies not only to his drum parts, but also to the overall sounds and production. “In heavy metal music, the guitars and the drums have to function together, almost like a machine … the drums having the right kind of attack is really important.”
Another musical-must for Paul is creating strong grooves that serve the songs. He attributes this to the combination of his Texas roots and making himself a disciple of the elder statesmen of heavy metal. “The Texas thing is part of it, growing up on a healthy dose of ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan, but I also was a metal-head from day one. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Kiss, Van Halen, all my favorite bands had really great grooves to their music. Even the heavy bands—Metallica, Slayer, MegaDeth—they had killer grooves! It’s not just speed. Even though they sped things up, it still had a groove to it … stuff you can move and bang your head to. I couldn’t picture a Led Zeppelin song with a blast beat. I might be narrow-minded and maybe after this interview, somebody’ll do a mash-up of a Zeppelin song with a blast beat on it, and I’ll go ‘Wow!’ But until I hear something like that, I’m going to have the same opinion.”
Despite the many years and countless miles Paul has logged behind the kit, he’s kept himself in good fighting shape. If you’re skeptical, watch any recent video of a live Hellyeah show. “I’ve learned over the years that you’ve really got to moderate things. I’ve had to battle small bouts of arthritis here and there so I take certain things like apple cider vinegar, stuff that helps keep it in check. I don’t eat too much red meat or drink dark whiskey anymore because those things can give you bad inflammation that’s hard to deal with. But for the most part, my health is great. I just turned 50 this past year and I love playing every night, it keeps me young.”
Image Gallery of Hellyeah at The Mayhem Festival – Phoenix, AZ 2015.
The other aspect of playing that he says hasn’t changed is the energy from the live crowds. In today’s recording market, a hundred thousand record sales is considered an accomplishment on par with a platinum record (a million sales) in Pantera’s heyday. Live performance is once again the lifeblood of the music industry, and that’s fine with Paul. “Live music is always going to be the greatest form of entertainment, period. Nobody can steal that from you. There’s nothing like being in a crowd and feeling that energy of a band, feeling the speakers vibrate you … the heat and the sweat in the mosh pit … being at a live show is incredible, and that’ll never go away.”
Although the members of Hellyeah were previously established with other bands (including vocalist Chad Gray with Mudvayne and guitarist Tom Maxwell with Nothingface), Paul doesn’t buy into the word “supergroup.” He explains that forming a supergroup was never the goal. “From the very start, we wanted it to be a real band. We didn’t look at it like a supergroup or a side project. We knew some of the members were going to be taking time off to do other things in between, but everybody was ready for something new and fresh and put all their energy into it. We’re four albums into it and we’ve developed a hell of a legacy. If you look at the span of Pantera, it only had five studio records and we’re close upon that.”
Given the short stints of other collaborations like Chickenfoot and Velvet Revolver, it’s hard not to be impressed by Hellyeah’s longevity, and they’re hungry for more. “We’re going into our fifth record—we start working with Kevin in October after we get back from Australia, New Zealand and Japan. We’ve been touring our asses off with the success of Blood For Blood. Things are going great and we’re just looking to keep capitalizing on it.”