During their 13 year existence, Hellyeah have cranked out six records, whiskey-strong in lyrical content with screaming delivery, riffs and beats. They’ve spat out good ol’ heavy and loud anthems about the unbreakable bonds of brotherhood, the ups and downs of road life, partying, and the strength of family and friends. The group that brought together members of Nothingface, Mudvayne and Pantera continued carrying the metal colors and legacies of each band forward with new blood and fury.
While recording new record Welcome Home, tragedy struck with the untimely passing of drummer Vinnie Paul in June 2018, derailing the bands momentum. “It took a minute to figure out,” guitarist Tom Maxwell says. “The whole grieving process interrupted our momentum. It took some time, stifling our love affair with it. We concentrated on finishing the record and the whole touring situation. We’re just getting started.” They’re easing their way into the touring cycle.
The band’s future was in question. “We didn’t know. What it really boils down to, we asked ourselves what would Vinnie want us to do? What would he do? He led by example. If he could pull himself out of his funk, get behind a drum kit after his brother was shot in front of him, then we can do it. We have to honor him, the music, the record and the fans. Include them on anything we’re doing moving forward. That’s why it took so long to get back on the road.”
The future’s still murky. “We’re gonna take it one day, one song, one tour at a time. Whatever door the universe puts in front of us we’ll go through,” Maxwell says. “Right now we’re focused on touring and going around the world if it allows us bringing this album everywhere we can.”
With long term future plans unknown they’re focused on picking themselves back up and representing the music for Vinnie, and themselves.
The song Welcome Home was written and finished before he passed. “I think Chad’s initial message was how much the feeling of being alone is so predominate in our lives, almost like a welcome home. This is your place. Then when he passed, it took on a new meaning. Obviously people are gonna gravitate toward the meaning being, Vinnie’s reunited with his brother and mom, so welcome home. It’s open ended. The song was already written and finished. He heard it before he left us, now it’s taken on a new meaning. That wasn’t the intention. There’s only one song on the record primarily written for him, Skyy and Water. An open letter saying what we wanted [to say] to him.”
Live footage was blended together celebrating Paul’s performances. “I’m not sure where the footage came from. Our guy who does our artwork did it. At the end of the set, we’ll have that tribute and he put that together for the Skyy and Water track. We used [the video] to narrate it. It’s such a powerful piece. The label and everybody wanted to see it. There’s probably half a dozen places in that video.”
On Saturday May 21, 2016 Paul made metal history, returning to Columbus at Rock on the Range. “It was the first time he’d been back since Dime,” Maxwell remembers. “We’ve been offered Columbus many times but he just wasn’t ready to go back. One day he woke up and said, ‘You know what, I’m ready to do this. I’m ready to face it. I’m ready to get out there, back to Columbus. Our fans there, we can’t make them pay a price for something that happened. It’s not their fault’. It took a lot for him to do it and we’re all really proud of him. We hugged after the show. I think he cried a little, it was an emotional victory for him. He was able to move on and move forward. Going back was a big step for him.”
The song 333 opens the record and was Dime’s favorite number. “He had this thing with three. There’s a lot of mysticism and power around three, the trinity, the pyramids, lots of weird little coincidences around that number. He used to say that 333 represented he wasn’t fully evil, only half evil. He was 333 instead of 666, a total Dime thing.”
The “welcome to the family” lyric in 333 is a mutual bond of musical kinship metalheads share as fans. An extension of a common, uniting bond saying the mainstream will never understand us. “You always felt like your back’s against the wall. You look in the mainstream today, the Grammy Awards, our genre’s not recognized. We’re not in the forefront. It’s very important for us. We’re all here together for a reason. When we’re playing shows, Chad will have us look around, see who’s here and high five your brother. We’re all in this together, it means a lot.”
Maxwell says some of the greatest musicians in the world are in our genre. “There are guys playing guitar as hired guns for a lot of big, Madonna level, type stars that are all metal dudes. They grew up listening to Metallica and Slayer and they’re playing for Lady Gaga. Metal has always been that black sheep and still is.”
Metal has always been for the outsiders and the alienated, not the mainstream, “I don’t wanna see Kardashians wearing a Hellyeah shirt. That’s not my fucking people, not my crowd. I’m cool with it being ours, leave it alone.”
The closing track Irreplaceable is a fitting Vinnie Paul excerpt taken from a wedding reception, “Our merch guy Luke got married. There were cameras everywhere, where we could record messages. I was like; we need to put this on the record. It’s a great send off. Everybody have a good time, it’s that kind of thing. We waited 33 seconds to put it on the end. We all thought it was a perfect way to end the record.”
Maxwell says Paul was always positive and upbeat, never a down dude. “He was positive reinforcement nonstop. I would compare him to Santa Claus in a way, he was always jolly. He was a dude that when you walked in, had so much charisma, people just gravitated toward him. He was always welcoming, always wanted to make people happy. Him and his brother both, that’s what they lived for. Dudes that loved being around people and making people laugh. [It was] like an initiation to get fucked with by those guys.”
Maxwell toured with Pantera on their last tour, “I was lucky enough to tour with them. They took my old band Nothingface out on their last record, Pantera, Soulfly, Morbid Angel and Nothingface. It was crazy man, a dream come true. I never thought in a million years, I’d be playing in a band with the guy. I was lucky enough to witness it nightly.”
We will always have the music. “That band saved metal. Back in the early ‘90s, it was all about the Seattle sound. There wasn’t a lot happening, then Pantera came along and breathed fire into the whole heavy metal/hard rock genre. The world needed it and it’s still alive today. It was kinda hard to top that energy at the time, the crowds and all that but their music is timeless. It’s like listening to a Beatles record for me.”
On May 11 they played their first post show in Vegas introducing new drummer, Stone Sour’s Roy Mayorga. Artist Rob Prior was also on stage visually capturing the night, “He actually did a painting for the Blood for Blood tour in Cleveland. We brought him back for the Vegas show. It was a big thing for us, the first step in moving forward without Vinnie. We wanted to capture that moment, capture everything on stage, the energy and he did it. Bless him for doing it. He took the energy from that show and visualized it. I think he was going off a little more than we were. He looked like a mad scientist. Then you see what he did. Everything we were feeling on stage was in that painting. It’s crazy how he connects with that and brings the energy of a room into one visual piece.”
The fans can expect a loud, pulverizing night as they celebrate Paul’s life each show, “We’re doing a lot from Blood for Blood and Undeniable without touching too much older stuff. We might do War In Me from Band of Brothers. We’re playing 333, Welcome Home, Black Flag Army and Oh My God, one of my favorites off the new record. We kick into that song and the whole crowd just drops, it’s unbelievable. Lots of songs, radio tunes that you can’t ignore, popular stuff, pulling out some deep tracks, sometimes we’ll play Grave.”
The set will change every other show Maxwell says, “Have one set one night pull some songs out, put some in, just for some variety to make it interesting for us.”
With Welcome Home now available Hellyeah will kick off their A Celebration of Life tour on November 15 in Cincinnati.
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