Interview: Hellyeah’s ‘Welcome Home’ Is a Full-Circle Tribute to Vinnie Paul
Out next Friday, Sept. 27, Hellyeah’s upcoming album Welcome Home is different from the metal supergroup’s previous efforts for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is due to the death of drummer Vinnie Paul, the Pantera icon and Hellyeah co-founder who succumbed to heart failure last year at the age of 54. But not before completing his drum parts for the record.
Yet just one listen through the album reveals tones and textures not often explored in Hellyeah territory. The lo-fi, slide guitar part in “Perfect,” for example. Or the understated treatment of drumless elegy “Skyy and Water,” the only song on Welcome Home written after the drummer’s death. In fact, it might be surprising to learn the band’s sixth studio album was envisioned as somewhat of a departure even before the unexpected passing of Vincent Paul Abbott, the full name of the late percussionist and band paragon. That’s what guitarist Tom Maxwell relayed to Loudwire last week, leading up to the album’s release.
“Going into the album, I remember having conversations with Vince,” Maxwell explained. “I was like, ‘I really want us to go outside the box on this one.’ It's easy writing to heavy shit. But I really wanted us to dig deep and do stuff that we've never done before. To feel uncomfortable, to have a little bit of uncertainty. And I think we accomplished that. I know he's looking down now and crankin' it up in his Escalade, up there with his brother.”
Abbott’s brother, Darrell — best known as Dimebag Darrell; guitarist of, and Vinnie’s foil in, the Texas metal archetypes Pantera — was murdered onstage in 2004 during a performance from the Abbott brothers’ post-Pantera band Damageplan. Three others were also killed in the shooting at a Columbus, Ohio, nightclub. Vinnie survived.
“He was on a bad downward spiral after Dime,” Maxwell recalled of his late bandmate in that tragedy’s aftermath, the sorrow in his voice now mournful for two influential musicians. “He would get lost in his house for days just drinking, almost like he wanted it to end. It took a lot of courage for him to come out, invite us into his home and pretty much create what we've become.”
What they became was, and still is, Hellyeah. It’s perhaps the most befitting moniker for the group of heavy metal lifers first brought together by Maxwell, formerly of Nothingface, and ex-Mudvayne vocalist Chad Gray. Abbott’s openhearted invitation, and subsequent installment in the act in 2006, was the clutch piece of the puzzle in the formation of the band. Back then, Maxwell and Gray’s enthusiasm for the music is what convinced Abbott to join. Now, the reverse is coming true: The surviving members are summoning Abbott’s zest for music, family and friends to continue moving the Hellyeah mission forward.
“That was a big factor in our decision to keep doing this,” Maxwell said. “We didn't know if we were gonna do it anymore. We didn't know if we wanted to. It's still a struggle for me, personally. Granted, his loss was way more tragic, losing his brother the way that he did. But his perseverance gave me the inspiration and motivation — as it did for all of us — to keep doing it. And to do it properly, to pay homage to him.”
That tribute is fully felt on the 10 songs that make up Welcome Home, nine of which feature Abbott’s drum tracks. (An additional closing cut features an uplifting, spoken statement from Abbott, recorded at a band associate’s wedding.) But so close to the quick was the recording process that, by the time of the drummer’s death in June 2018, he’d heard few of the finished tunes — although he put his stamp of approval on all he’d laid down.
“He only got to hear two songs completed with vocals before he passed,” Maxwell clarified. “He heard almost everything, but there was still a lot left unfinished when he passed away. But he got to hear ‘I’m the One’ and he got to hear ‘Welcome Home.’ Which was weird because that song was written prior to him passing, but it took on a whole new meaning after that. So it was kinda surreal.”
As a natural part of the healing process, the album’s stormy title track became a sort of calling card for the collection as a whole, and Hellyeah’s comeback in general. That sentiment extended to the band’s return to live performance after a couple of years off the road. As bassist Kyle Sanders previously stated, “Vinnie would be extremely disappointed in us if we didn’t promote this record properly.” It’s an attitude to which Maxwell concurred.
“I can see him shaking his head right now and looking down at the floor, you know, if we’d decided not to do it,” the guitarist added. “He would’ve said, ‘Listen motherfucker, I lost my brother and I came back and did this. You can fucking do this!’ And I know that he’s upstairs, or somewhere in the ether, cheering us on. Giving us that extra strength that we need.”
But continuing their career meant someone had to sit behind the drum kit. As fortune would have it, Hellyeah found the most suitable and immediate tour replacement in Stone Sour drummer Roy Mayorga, a personnel decision that weighed heavily on the band. Not only did the group want to involve someone who fans could get behind, they also wanted a musician that Abbott would have approved of himself.
“Chad ran into [Stone Sour and Slipknot singer] Corey Taylor somewhere, and Corey had mentioned to give Roy a call, and it just kinda clicked,” Maxwell revealed. “But it was also important for us to get someone that Vince respected and loved as a person. And those guys were buddies.”
With Mayorga now enlisted to help on tour, Hellyeah (who also feature second guitarist Christian Brady) are treading lightly even as they charge ahead. Maxwell’s firmly aware of life’s — and music’s — ephemeral nature. After all, the guitarist just got out of surgery for a hand injury that threatened his guitar-playing ability.
“We don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” Maxwell symbolically offered before adding he’ll be “ready to rock” by the band’s late 2019 tour dates. “We’re just gonna have to get there one day, one show, one song at a time. That's our focus right now. We just finished our first tour in two years, our first one without Vince. It really helped us, and it healed us a lot. We're just easing into everything, and I think we're gonna be alright.”
Pre-order Welcome Home here.
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