Interview: Tom Maxwell of HELLYEAH
Thu, 31 Jan 2008 08:43:28
Over the past year, HELLYEAH have proven to be far more than just the ultimate heavy metal supergroup. Initially, expectations ran extremely high. Keep in mind this band features Vinnie Paul (Pantera, Damageplan), Tom Maxwell (Nothingface), Bobzilla (Damageplan), Greg Tribbett (Mudvayne) and Chad Gray (Mudvayne). All eyes were on HELLYEAH for a statement, especially given the members' resumes. Instead of an overbearing mantra, the band delivered the most raucous, fun and cathartic party that heavy metal has seen in over a decade. Their self-titled debut breathed new life into heavy metal, and band toured the world with everyone from KoRn to Bloodsimple. Also, in an age when CDs aren't selling, this collection of hell-raising hard rock became a staple in CD players and iPods everywhere. HELLYEAH guitarist Tom Maxwell exudes an undeniable cool. With his signature black hat and leather jacket, he commands attention on stage while throwing down crushing riffs and smooth leads. Tom took some time out of a sick tour with Machine Head to talk to ARTISTdirect about why HELLYEAH rules.
The guitar playing on the HELLYEAH record truly stands out. What was the riff-writing process like for you?
It wasn't really dramatic or anything like that. Vinnie sat at his drum kit, and Greg and I sat right across from each other. We just traded riffs off. Greg would come up with a riff, and then I would follow it up with a riff. At first it was kind of that back and forth kind of thing. There were also a couple riffs that were just floating around. We came into it with a clean slate. We didn't have anything written. We just sat down, cracked open a drink and started trading riffs off. That's how we did it.
You can hear that riff volley on the record, especially on the title track.
It's so raw and unconditioned, almost. It's just born, and boom, there's no time to figure it out or clean it up. We wrote it, and we recorded it at the same time. It was like being born and walking right away. It was kind of weird, but with the bands that we come from, we're used to always working songs down a bit before we record them. We're used to having it all worked out and arranged. But the way that we did it, we were just writing and recording as we went. We would go back and clean up stuff. Some of the stuff we kept was from the original take though. There were guitar tracks on that record that are first takes. We captured that element and that sound. We didn't want to lose it.
There was definitely a real magic with everything going straight to tape like that.
That's kind of what I want to do with the next record. I think that the way we wrote the record and recorded it is perfect for the kind of band that we are: the mentality and energy that we give out. I don't want to go into a studio with a producer, you know, somebody brought in to do pre-production and all that crap. I love what we did this time. It was really old school. Just kind of like, get in there, do it and go. That's why when we play it live it, everything translates so authentically. We're not bringing in any tricks. There's no tape or anything like that. We just always crush it.
It's a natural progression from the record to the live show. The transfer is real, and it hits.
You're right, and I really appreciate your knowledge of that too.
I was blown away by how pummeling everything was live.
It's honest, you know. We come out like we did the record. We just get in, get out and do it, like on the record. I actually feel like we play better live than on the album. We had so much time to play it. For the record, we just kind of wrote it, recorded it—boom, boom, and boom. I went back to one solo I did, and I think I played that lead so much better live. Right there, you're writing to it. I just hit play and went for it. Then I went back and learned it.
You guys are bringing that badass mentality back to rock and roll. It's been missing from hard rock for too long.
It's like Motley Crue. Nowadays, everyone is so serious. They've all got some kind of statement, movement or scene that they're trying to push. There's enough seriousness in the world. Whatever happened to just playing guitar? Whatever happened to going to see a band that makes you want to go home and fuck your girlfriend or raise hell for a night? Everybody just has some statement they want to promote—political or self-serving. When I was growing up and listening to Motley Crue, Led Zeppelin and Kiss, they wrote about having a good time and chasing chicks. We made a record we're proud of. It's honest.
That's why fans have really responded to it. You go see HELLYEAH, and it's a good time.
Yeah, they come to one of our shows, maybe thinking about work, money and whatnot; and we give them a good time. Fans walk out of there having a good time. We will make your bad day better.
In Nothingface you did everything solo. What was it like writing and playing with another guitar player?
It was nice. It was a welcomed change. It's nice to have somebody who brought in a different aspect of guitar playing. In response to that, it would broaden my imagination. I'd be playing one riff, and Greg would play a counter-riff that was completely opposite of mine, and it worked. It's so cool with him. I've been missing out for years!
You and Greg have such different styles. Greg has that polyrhythmic style, and you seem more influenced by the chord-y guys like Dave Navarro.
Absolutely. I'm more of an in-the-pocket rhythm and hook dude. More so, I like to focus on whole songs, rather than playing really busy. I was listening to one of my records the other day and I was thinking, "Jesus what was I thinking when I wrote that part? There's so much going on." With this, it's just so much calmer. It's cool. I think we lucked out with the chemistry between everybody. I really believe that. It's awesome having Vinnie, it's awesome having Chad and it's awesome having Greg. I just don't think it would've worked any other way— with a different guitar player or with a different singer. With what we've got going on, it's pure, it's real and it's awesome.
It just seems like there's a mutual respect. There's an emphasis on making kick ass rock overall.
When Chad and I first had the idea of making a band, he was doing the Mudvayne thing, and I was in Nothingface. We never really had the time, you know, we couldn't find it. To see it happen the way that it did is amazing. Obviously, it was meant to take the years that it took to finally get it going. Everything happens for a reason, I'm a firm believer in that. We're all great friends, and we all have ties with each other. I've been really good friends with Chad and Greg for eight years, and I've known Vinnie since Pantera took Nothingface out on tour. There's a mutual respect for everybody. We hang out, we party together and we get in trouble together. It's one of those kinds of things. We've all had great things happen to us in our bands, from Pantera to Mudvayne to Nothingface, all of us feel like this is our tomorrow. What we're doing today is HELLYEAH. It's just getting born. It's setting up what we're doing for tomorrow. We're going to finish our time. I don't know. We can keep going for a long time. We love what we do so much. This band is so awesome. We hang out together. We're all about bringing the HELLYEAH. It's about the fans. They're really receiving it. When we first got together, we didn’t have a label, because we didn't want any interference or any drama. Our idea was "Let's go to Texas and write some songs." If anything, we make a great record for ourselves, and we have some new best friends. It's for us. We didn't care. Next thing you know…
What was it like making a record down in Texas? You must've gotten that Southern vibe down there.
I think the Southern vibe comes naturally the way Vinnie spins. The way he brings drums, and the way he raises stuff. Chad definitely brought in some stuff differently. With Greg, there are a few songs that have a completely different twist. Some of them have riffs that we would've written no matter what—like "Nausea" and "One Thing."
A lot of the riffs sounded like they could've come off of Nothingface's Audio Guide to Everyday Atrocity or Violence. Right.
I write the way that I write. I'm not going to try to change in some other vision. I just write, but Vinnie's drum pattern is great. Going to Texas was definitely awesome, for the sole reason that we were together 24/7. We didn't have any distractions. It was just us, everyday in the studio. It was definitely that. There was a lot of Texas influence on this record. That’s where it was born and bred. That's the mentality we had, and that's what we were waking up to everyday. It's the kind of weather we woke up to, the food we were eating and the amount we were drinking. The music was definitely fueled by the Lone Star state for sure.
What's the road been like with this band?
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