Chad Gray: ‘No Way’ Hellyeah Put Out New Music Without Vinnie Paul’s Drums
Hellyeah frontman Chad Gray was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. He discussed the band's latest album, Welcome Home, which was finished following the death of drummer Vinnie Paul, who recorded his drum tracks prior to his passing.
Despite the loss, the members of Hellyeah were able to group together, powered by the spirit of their late bandmate, and finish writing and recording the record. For Gray, he admits it wasn't easy as he tends to overthink the songwriting process, but feels proud to have been able to have given fans Vinnie Paul's final recordings.
He's thankful that Vinnie did finish these tracks, as he affirms that Hellyeah would not have considered releasing new music without his drumming on it.
We're here to talk about the new Hellyeah album, which is called, Welcome Home. Musically, Hellyeah has continually developed and matured from one album to the next. What aspect of Welcome Home best defined that evolution?
I don’t know, it's just super diverse. The singles we released from "333" to "Welcome Home" to "Oh My God" all have their own vibe. That, really, is the thread that's running through the fabric of this record. Just true diversity. It was a lot of fun to write. Well, not the end, obviously [laughs]. It was brutal.
I am so happy that Vin got his drums done. Do you know what I mean? That really made everything come together as his final work and that puts a lot of pressure on me. I had six songs left to write after his passing. I went back home and four days later me and Kevin Churko, bless his heart, we're back in the studio. Kevin had suffered a big loss too because we had done three records with Kevin and so we were kind of both in the same headspace and he was super patient with me and I normally second guess myself writing songs anyway.
I was second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth guessing. I didn't feel like anything was good enough because I knew what it was about at that point. It was about writing Vinnie's last music and being the icing on the cake, so to speak with vocals, so it was a lot of pressure. But that pressure and time, I'm very proud and I think Vinnie would be very proud of what we did.
The circumstances of recording Welcome Home were not the typical way anyone makes an album. How has that experience of making this album forever changed you personally?
Oh man, that's a broad question. I mean it taught me a lot about patience. It was really tough. We had two writing sessions, one in December of 2017 and then we went to Dallas to do another writing session so we had the music and it was pretty much done. We came back and did some stuff in the studio. Vinnie, his baby was "333" and I didn't write that song until after he passed.
I had six songs left to write after he passed and it was brutally beautiful. I was devastated, obviously and but I looked at Kevin one night and was like, 'You know the weight that I am shouldering right now is the heaviest I ever have in my life.' He's like, 'I know man.' For some reason, to me it feels it should be heavier and he just kind of looks at me and he just looked at me and I was like, 'It makes me feel like Vinnie is with me and he and Dime both are with me and lifting just enough weight off me to keep me standing but keeping just enough pressure on me to keep me focused,' and that's really what it was about.
It was about finding my focus so I think I did a few quests and I think I focus better now, I think I'm more patient in my songwriting, and just always trying to aim for the best stuff that I have in me.
Vinnie Paul's drum tracks were already completed. How would the conversation about making Welcome Home have been different without having those tracks?
It would have been a lot shorter record. There was no way we would have put anything out without his drums on it. Honestly, that is the thing I'm most thankful for that he was able to complete it all and get it all done. It was still hard but you know - when you're writing and when you're tracking and when you are doing your thing and putting your vocals on it or the guitars on it over the overdubs and stuff like that - he was always there with you because you were listening to his parts.
I think that made it a little bit easier it kind of made you feel like he was in your ears and he is in your soul and he is in your spirit. His spirit is there with us. As I said, we wouldn't have written the songs that he wasn't a part of but we did write the songs and he was there. I mean we were listening to his drumming and the drums actually being played after he was gone. It was a really cathartic thing for all of us I believe.
Grief is a double-edged sword that can impede creativity or inspire it. How did it affect your creative side when making Welcome Home?
Vinnie's spirit was my muse. It was like you said - it can tear you down or it can inspire you. It truly did. I knew that it was his last work. I was well aware of it and it made me focus a lot harder almost to the point of a crippling effect because I always second guess myself writing. I always want to make something better.
On this album, I would write choruses with three, four, five different completely different melodies, completely different lyrics and flesh it and forget it and move onto the next thing and stuff like that. Sometimes you just gotta know when it's done. Do you know what I mean? When I felt like I would kind of catch that lightning in a bottle I would just kind of look up to Vinnie and blow him a kiss and be like 'Thanks, brother.' I mean honestly, Vinnie was truly my muse to finish this. It was his spirit that inspired me.
Chad, naturally there are questions about whether or not this band will continue. Why is it important for Hellyeah to consider carrying on?
I think we were taught by one of the greatest mentors ever on how to carry the legacy and love and life of someone that was taken from us. Dime was like our sixth member and Vinnie used Hellyeah as a platform to carry the torch for his brother and we gladly did it with him because we all loved Dime. Vinnie's mantra was, 'Keep on keeping on. No matter, what you keep on keeping on.' Whether the bus breaks down and you do four weeks in a minivan or in this situation, you keep on keeping on.
We did the Vegas show and we're telling the crew makes sure to keep the tissues out because it's super emotional and we got two measures into the first song and it was like the weight of the world was lifted off me. We came together as a band and we played great but just looking out over the eyes of the fans in our heavy metal family in the crowd and seeing how that was probably a benchmark for them to kind of put down the Kleenex and turn the frown upside down and smile and celebrate the life of Vinnie.
We got done with that show and man we were just high on life. I was like, 'Man, we gotta take this to our heavy metal family around the world.' Vinnie would want that. Vinnie would want us to carry his flame and his light and his generosity and his love and his legacy for him and his brother. The torch has been passed and we're doing it and we just kind of dipped our toe in the water doing that first run of the 20 dates, but every night the band got tighter and tighter.
Every night the band had more and more fun and we got together closer. I feel like the spirit of Vinnie and Dime are always with us. The looks and the electricity in the room of the family and us — because we're their family too — of everybody not giving and taking, but sharing. We were sharing something special and again Vinnie was that sharing. That's the important stuff and to just keep the life legacy of Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrell Abbott alive.
Hellyeah seemed to provide healing for Vinnie Paul. In what ways is Hellyeah now a source of healing for you?
It absolutely is. Vinnie mourned and grieved for probably four years before he came out to play music but yeah, he used Hellyeah as a platform to carry his brother's light. We were in a band together for 12 years so when we go out and play, we're not just playing stuff off Welcome Home, we're playing stuff from the first record.
That's what's helping my healing, is like, every song we play is off a different record which marks a different point in my life and I have memories from each and every song that is in the set list — writing them and recording them with Vinnie. That's really what the cathartic element is for me personally and I believe the band too is just - the lineage that we have through the set list of us playing it every night that we have those memories that keeps taking us back to the beginning.
Thanks to Chad Gray for the interview. Hellyeah's new album 'Welcome Home' is out now and can be purchased here. Follow the band on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s radio show here. View their upcoming North American tour dates below.
Hellyeah / Nonpoint / Deepfall 2019 Tour Dates
Nov. 15 - Cincinnati, Ohio @ Bogarts
Nov. 16 - Peoria, Ill. @ Monarch Music Hall*
Nov. 19 - Toronto, Ontario @ Phoenix Concert Hall
Nov. 20 - London, Ontario @ London Music Theatre
Nov. 22 - Flint, Mich. @ The Machine Shop*
Nov. 24 - Angola, Ind. @ The Eclectic Room
Nov. 26 - Belvidere, Ill. @ The Apollo Theatre
Nov. 27 - Madison, Wis. @ Majestic Theatre
Nov. 29 - Colorado Springs, Colo. @ Black Sheep
Dec. 2 - Missoula, Mont. @ Palace Theatre
Dec. 3 - Billings, Mont. @ Pub Station
Dec. 5 - Calgary, Alberta @ Palace Theatre
Dec. 6 - Edmonton, Alberta @ Union Hall
Dec. 8 - Vancouver, British Columbia @ The Imperial
Dec. 10 - Seattle, Wash. @ El Corazon
Dec. 11 - Spokane, Wash. @ Knitting Factory
Dec. 12 - Boise, Idaho @ Revolution
Dec. 14 - Chico, Calif. @ Senator Theatre
Dec. 15 - Sacramento, Calif. @ Ace Of Spades
Dec. 17 - San Diego, Calif. @ House of Blues
Dec. 18 - Los Angeles, Calif @ Regent Theater
Dec. 19 - Phoenix, Ariz. @ Van Buren
Feb. 1-6 — ShipRocked 2020 (not part of 2019 tour)
* = Without Nonpoint
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