Heavy metal supergroup Hellyeah had finished recording the basic tracks for fifth album Unden!able when they started throwing around ideas for a cover song to add to the mix. Guitarist Christian Brady suggested the 1982 Phil Collins song “I Don’t Care Anymore,” and drummer Vinnie Paul burst out laughing — not because he thought it was a bad idea, but because he and his late brother Dimebag Darrell, both of legendary metal band Pantera, recorded the track around 10 years ago with their follow-up band Damageplan. The version went unused.
Hellyeah started piecing together a new version of the Collins single. They attempted to unearth Dimebag’s guitar parts from the incompatible, circa-2004 computer program that housed them, which involved a three-week odyssey. Eventually, Vinnie Paul could once again be heard playing alongside the legendary guitarist.
“When Kevin [Churko, producer] got the tracks isolated, he synched them up, and when we listened them it totally gave me goosebumps,” Paul says. “We’ve always felt like he’s been a part of this band since day one. We felt like his energy and his spirit was always with us. And for people to be able to hear him again in 2016 puts a big smile on my face.”
“It was like Dime was in an iso-booth tracking in the next room while I was singing my parts,” says vocalist Chad Gray. “Tracking that song was one of the most magical moments I’ve felt in my entire career. … After we recorded the first four vocal lines, Kevin called me on the intercom and said, ‘I’m just gonna tell you right now. You’re gonna be singing this song for the rest of your life. It’s going to be amazing.”
Hellyeah may broaden their commercial appeal with “I Don’t Care Anymore,” but that wasn’t what the band was going for when they sat down to write Unden!able. Having initially been perceived by many as a party band thanks to songs like “Alcohaulin’ Ass” and “Drink Drank Drunk,” Hellyeah strove to reinvent themselves as a darker, grittier property on 2014’s Blood for Blood. The corrosive riffs, battering beats and howling vocals of Unden!able expands on that blackened vibe, with a few new musical liberties. “Grave” features orchestral passages and “Love Falls” is a mid-paced, melodic hard rocker that sounds like a nihilistic Night Ranger.
A week into a tour to support Unden!able, Gray and Paul discuss how Hellyeah overcame their pigeonhole, the singer’s newly sober lifestyle and why the drummer is finally returning to the city where Dimebag was killed.
Why call the new album Unden!able?
Vinnie Paul: We felt like after four records, people built quite a few walls around Hellyeah. There have been forces against us that we’ve really had to fight through to continue to do what we do and keep believing in what we do. And we felt like the only way to keep from being denied is to be undeniable. So we focused on that idea when we started making the record.
What forces were against you?
Paul: For a long time people were not willing to accept the fact that I’m not in Pantera anymore and Chad’s not in Mudvayne anymore. So when we played something and it sounded too much like Pantera, Mudvayne, we’d stop and go, “Nope, we can’t use that.” But now, we’re embracing our past and saying, “Who cares if that sounds a little like our other bands? That’s our sound. That’s what we created.”
You didn’t take any time off between after finishing the Blood for Blood tour and starting the new record.
Paul: We really wanted to strike while the iron was hot, so we went straight back to my house in Texas and started writing. From that point on, it was only five or six weeks until we went into the studio with a full slate of tracks. Then we did a couple months recording in Vegas with Kevin. We were definitely under a time crunch, but we made it happen.
Chad Gray: I’ll probably never do a record like this again. We committed to going into the studio while we were still on the road and that’s crazy. I thought the goddamn thing was going to kill me because it was a lot of pressure.
Aside from the time tight deadline were there any major obstacles making Unden!able?
Paul: There were moments we felt like we hit a creative brick wall and I think that happened to Chad more than any of us. There was a moment when we had 12 tracks laid down and we had three songs with lyrics. It was like, “Why is it taking so long?”
Gray: Dude, I had just had shoulder surgery. The first week of that was so, so painful it made me want to put a gun to my mouth. I was just sitting there on my couch knowing those guys were writing. I was in a sling for six weeks so I experienced complete muscle atrophy. Three weeks into that process I went to Vegas to start working on the record. I was in a lot of pain and discomfort. I was doing physical therapy and then going into the studio so it was a real tough time and I had a slow start.
How did you hurt your shoulder?
Gray: I was lifting weights and I lifted poorly. I tweaked my shoulder and then didn’t rest it and kept lifting with it and eventually tore a dime-sized hole in the muscle. When the doctor got in there, he was like, “You’ve got the shoulder of a 70-year-old man.” There was a lot of calcified bone on the top of my humerus. He had to file all that off. It was quite a process, so my recovery was longer than they thought it would be. I’m just starting to get back to lifting again. But I’m lifting smartly and taking better care of myself. And I’m not drinking on the road anymore because I want to be at my best. I really just want to give every fan the full Hellyeah experience and drinking was getting in the way. So I took a lot of inspiration from a lot of peers around me, like [Lamb of God] vocalist Randy Blythe and [Slipknot singer] Corey [Taylor] and I cleaned up my shit.
Was there a specific event that triggered your decision to get sober?
Gray: It wasn’t anything specific. There was no climactic moment. I’m just a very off-balance person. I have moments of deep depression. I have moments of furious anger and frustration and relationship issues. When you drink on top of that, you’re not creating a terribly stable environment for yourself.
Being sober in Hellyeah can’t be easy.
Gray: We’ve always been a drinking band, so it was hard. But you know what, man? Everyone in Hellyeah has really embraced it. They’ve seen a change in me, which is good. And I’m just not drinking today. I don’t have a date that I quit. I don’t follow a 12-step program. But I’m strong-willed and I do it the way I want to do it. Do I fall off? Absolutely I fall off. But I start over.
Vinnie, Hellyeah recently played the Rock on the Range festival in Columbus, Ohio, which marks the first time you’ve returned to the city since your brother was shot and killed there in 2004. What made you decide to play the show?
Paul: We’ve been offered it many, many times. And I really didn’t feel like it was right. I didn’t feel like I was gonna be comfortable going there. And for some reason this year when it came along I sat down and thought about it and I was just like, “You know, I haven’t been there. I can’t blame the people from the city of Columbus for what happened.” It went absolutely awesome and I was really happy when that day was over. I took a big, deep breath and said, “Okay, man. That’s something that’s behind me now and I’m really happy that we did it.”
Were you nervous or apprehensive before the show? Was there any weirdness?
What’s completely bizarre is I got up that day and the TV was on in the front lounge of the bus, like it always is. It was on the Reelz network, and there was a John Lennon special on. I didn’t think anything about it. I was sitting there watching it. He was doing a photo shoot and then all of a sudden the guy that’s narrating it goes, “And on December 8, Mark David Chapman came from Hawaii. …” And I thought, “What is going on here? Wow!” I jumped up and turned the TV off immediately and it really did freak me out pretty good early in the day. But after we hit the deck and we were about 30 seconds into the first song, any weird thoughts that were going through my head immediately went away and, man, it just felt good to be up there playing.
Hellyeah are still called a supergroup, but you’ve been together for 10 years.
Paul: It’s crazy to think about that. We’ve got five records out now and I think we are starting to develop our own legacy. I’ve seen the transformation in our fans of how they’ve been on the fence early on to how they’re they’ve really embraced the band now. They sing all the lyrics when we play. And our meet and greets are nothing but positivity. And I don’t get the same old questions anymore: “When are you doing Pantera again?” That kind of stuff went on for so long and it’s so great that it’s pretty much gone. People understand that this is what I’m all about now.
On January 22, at a Hollywood tribute concert for Dimebag, Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo shouted “white power” and sieg heiled the crowd. What do you think he was thinking?
Paul: Man, I don’t speak for him. I don’t answer to him. He doesn’t exist in my world. I am a very happy person doing what I do and that’s all there is to it.
Were you surprised when you heard the news?
Paul: Nothing that guy does surprises me. And that’s all there is to it. I don’t think it surprised anybody.