You may know Rex Brown as the founding member and bass player of legendary metal bands Pantera and Down. What you may not know, but what you SHOULD know, is that he’s back with a new band. Along with Vinny Appice (of Black Sabbath, Dio, Heaven & Hell drumming fame), Dewey Bragg (vocals) and Mark Zevon (guitar), they are Kill Devil Hill and they are on the road supporting their sophomore release, “Revolution Rise.”
Digital Diversion sat down with Rex before Kill Devil Hill’s headlining set at the Red House in Walnut Creek. It’s rare to find a performer who’s genuinely stoked to sit down with the press and talk about their new album and all the possibilities ahead and, as you’ll see from the interview below, even when the questions ran out, Rex was by no-means done.
Live, it’s easy focus on legends Vinny Appice and Rex Brown, but the reality is that these guys are a unit who fill the stage chock-full of rock and roll badassery .
“This is a band. This super group thing you can throw out the fucking window as far as I am concerned.” –Rex Brown
One thing that I noticed on the way in is the crazy paint job on your bus out there. You’ve got Dimebag [painted] on the side.
Rex Brown: Well that’s actually Rita’s [Haney] bus but it used to be one of the old Pantera buses that we had back in ‘97 or ‘98-ish. So that was one of the crazy buses back in the day. She [Rita] goes, “Well any time you want to use the bus, you know, it’s all in the family.” So I said “Well, we’re going out on this run, you want to go do merchandise?” and she said “Fucking love to!” So she does merch for us and she’s part of the family and she always has been, but we haven’t been out in almost a year. So it’s cool man – it’s that old bus, that old feel, you know it’s like home. My chick’s coming out – she’s coming out on the road for a couple of days. She’s going to get a real treat.
And she’s never done that before?
Rex Brown: She’ll never come back again.
Is that the point?
Rex Brown: No not really, but you know what I’m saying … this is just the lifestyle I lead. This is how we fucking roll. This is what we do.
Congratulations on the new record.
Rex Brown: Thank you. Very proud of this record. We spent a lot of time on this and really put our hearts and souls writing that … it just came real natural to us.
You guys came out with your first record a year ago, went on tour and then followed it up pretty quickly with “Revolution Rise.”
Rex Brown: Basically we put a record out last year and three weeks after we get the thing out, the label folds their music division into something else and then they fold it back in and by that time it’s already over. So that’s what happened. We were out there with our dick in the wind, fucking having to do it ourselves … our promotions and stuff like that. Because we signed with Century Media, the outlet is so much bigger than what we had on our first record.
How did the signing with Century Media Records come about?
Rex Brown: Basically I had to do a lot of homework on who’s the best out there. I wanted to, of course, own my own masters and shit like that. So I did my homework of who was out there kicking the most ass and these guys have a staff that know what they’re fucking doing. I’ve known Paul [Gargano] for a long time and I met Don [Robertson] briefly … I met him in a party. It was a Grammy thing. There is this guy sitting there and he doesn’t know who he’s talking to. He had a big beard and was kind of showing off and I’m just talking to him through my manager Eric, and he was just a real straight-shooting guy. So we got to know each other and we were going to sign with this other label and at the eleventh hour that kind of popped – and I’m glad it did – and we called Don and we said, look we’re looking for a home. I called Don myself and I said I want a home for my music, you know, this is where I want to be. I want somebody who’s going to put stuff out for a while, not just a one fluke deal. I want to build and progress with this band which means being visible, being out on the road and doing everything that we can.
This little run is just getting our feet wet. We hadn’t played live since November of last year. We are playing the second and third tier markets where you usually do that at the end of the tour. We are playing some bigger markets towards the end of the tour, but we’re also playing in the places in-between that maybe there’s less people there that never heard of you and have never been through it before. Let’s go and hit those and make a little buzz and get it going. Basically in these days it’s so oversaturated with the market that, you know, bands – the kids that are out there, they are coming to spend money on this better be good. So that’s the way that you got to do it you. It reminds me of the days when Pantera was coming up. We did the same exact fucking thing. You just got to keep out there on the road and keep doing it and keep doing it and keep doing it until it fucking hits. You look back at any record that really didn’t take off … like you thought it was going to take off because it’s a really good record … that it took a while for it to hit and sink in, but you had to be visible. And that’s the whole thing with this one. We’ve written a really great record and I’m really proud of it. Musically it’s a record I’ve been wanting to do for years.
How did the recording process on the latest record compare to the first?
Rex Brown: The difference between was, [with the first record] everything was rehearsed, we got in the studio knocked her out in 28 days, then we mixed it. With this new one, we did it three songs here, Jeff Pilson we were just going to do drum tracks at his house, then he got involved with – okay well then you’d start coming to rehearsal place that we had and I’d be flying back and forth from Texas. I was putting out a book … this whole year has just been a whirlwind for me personally. I wanted to go and just slam these songs out, but it was good that we kind of took our time and listened to the three, then we’d go in and do another three and then three and then four … just because of scheduling with Jeff. It was like Jeff wanted to record at 11:00 in the morning till 7:00 at night. I don’t get rockin’ till like seven, you know what I’m saying. So it was a different working environment, but it kept us on our toes because this album is more music sensibility. I mean it’s more musical in everything with it. The songs are very well crafted … as we kept crafting, we kept layering and finding different things we could do to it. And Jeff really put the drive into it because he’s a real … I mean you just have to drink his coffee to know what this guy … he has that energy and that flow and that feel and it really got us moving.
In your book you talk about the prominent position you took in the arrangements. Did you take a similar role on these songs?
Rex Brown: Absolutely, absolutely. Even though there are some songs that Mark had done that we really didn’t have to fuck with that much. It’s just putting your spice in the gumbo and mixing it all up with everything we had. We’d give it to Vinny and then the three of us would get it down pat. And then I’d always – what I even did I’d bring Jeff and even my mixing guy Jay [Ruston] because he knows exactly what I want to fucking hear. Love this guy and I got turned on to him doing a couple of records through mutual friends. He’s done all kinds of crazy shit but, he did the first record and I loved the sound of that. So Jay and I worked really hand in hand mixing this one back and forth, but the tones were there, it was just trying to get it heavy yet musical and that sometimes can be laborious. You put the smooth and the heavy together and then you have those dynamic vocals on top and let her breathe and it’s a dynamite combination.
How did the lyrics come together? I wouldn’t call it a concept album, but there are certainly some common themes in the record.
Rex Brown: Look, I’ll leave interpretations up to the listener. Always have, always will. To me, these songs might mean something different than what Dewey actually thought he was saying when he was doing them. Or a line might have come in that sounded a little closer but as long as it was with the theme and the song, then it changes. I always try to do that but for me it’s just about overcoming shit. And building … it’s not a revolution … there is an actual track called ‘Revolution Rise’ and I had that written but somebody had ‘revolution rising’ as part of a lyric and I go “Well, I’ve already got that written down in one of my notebooks in ‘Revolution Rise’ so that’s how we came up with the name ‘Revolution Rise’. It just seemed to fit, you know?
And then I noticed that on the back cover of the insert there is a quote from ‘Art of War’.
Rex Brown: Yeah, absolutely.
Whose idea was that and how does that kind of fit into the theme?
Rex Brown: That one came from … that actually came from Sam Shearon that did the art work. He kind of put it out there to us and he had something he wanted to use. We just condensed it to make it flow with the album.
I noticed that Dewey has a very large Kill Devil Hill tattoo. Has anyone else gotten Kill Devil Hill ink yet?
Rex Brown: We’re going to go home for a couple of days, here in about a week and I’ve got my tattoo artist ready to go, so I’m probably going to get ‘Kill Devil Hill’ right [points]? I’ve got to get these [pointing] re-done anyway so I’m going to incorporate the ‘Kill Devil’. He [Dewey] just has the ‘Kill Devil’, he doesn’t have the ‘Hill’ on it.
So I guess that demonstrates how dedicated you all are to the band.
Rex Brown: This is something we want to grow and build and hell, look at the two pieces of work we have done within two and a half years … almost three … since we started this thing. It’s pretty amazing, you know. Like I said, this is one of my favorite moments. Well, I say that and a lot of people say that, but for me personally it’s about overcoming shit and getting over stuff. And even though in Down I was with Phillip and overcoming different stuff that we had to deal with. Down III was the last record I did with him and that was overcoming fucking people dying from Katrina. I think a lot of the issues over Dime were involved lyrical content in that. This doesn’t necessarily meet that … to me it hits home more where Dewey’s standpoint is coming from because it’s about other things that you have got to leave behind.
You have all been in bands before but Dewey and Mark don’t necessarily have the legacy that you and Vinny have obtained.
Rex Brown: Look, these cats are just as talented as we are. They don’t have the name behind them, you know what I am saying? This is a band. This super group thing you can throw out the fucking window as far as I am concerned. If you think about it, it’s a super group but these guys just don’t have a fucking name. And so that being said, it’s nice to have the names or whatever; I guess they use it for fucking marketing or whatever. For me it’s just Kill Devil Hill. For this record, we collectively and collaboratively … we all were together at the same time, while a lot of these songs in the first record I wasn’t there for when it was written in structure.
I talked to Vinny and the first record actually started from a bunch of drum tracks he had worked on.
Rex Brown: Right.
Right before he had [shoulder] surgery.
Rex Brown: Before he had surgery, right. Dude I’ve got to get out there and play. I was born with a gift I want to share it. That’s what I want to do. That’s it.
On ‘No Way Out’ you have Zakk Wylde playing guitar, how did that come about?
Rex Brown: Yeah. Zakk and I were fucking texting back and forth and a lot of stuff had gone on in my life at that point and so I just I asked him out of the blue. I go “Hey man I got this track man, you want to fucking play on it”. He goes ‘abso-fucking-lutely’. He goes, send it over. I got in touch with his engineer sent it to their studio … just this place not too far. He could have come down and done it, but you know Zakk likes to work on his own. And he sends this thing back and I’m freaking, you know? It is like you can almost hear the fucking smoke come off the fucking fret board. Now that did not take away from Mark because Mark is his own fucking beast altogether. But when Zakk had just – it kind of fit. It was just one of those, ‘do you want to play on the record’ kind of deals. We were buddy buddy and I said this would be a cool track for you to fucking play on. It happened to be the lead and just happened we liked the track so much we used it the first track of the record. It’s featuring Zakk Wylde, but we are not trying to use … you’ve got to put his name on there. But even that being said, you know who the fuck it is when you listen to it.
And you are not marketing the record using his name. You don’t feature a sticker on the front.
Rex Brown: No, fuck no. A lot of bands are doing that now. Oh, we got so and so we got so and so. Fuck you, do it on your own merit man. That track was way beyond the stage of written and in the can. I’m just “Hey Zakk, do you want to play in the track and see if it works or not?” And that’s about the same time I played … Jake E. Lee was going to come out and play a fucking solo on something. Or it was thrown up in the air and I actually played a bass track on one of his new songs on this record … I don’t know if I’m on it or not … but hadn’t spoken to them, I had been so fucking busy just trying to keep my head above water.
So there were some rumors going around about a potential Pantera reunion with Zakk on guitar. Do you think some of those rumors bubbled out of his participation on this record?
Rex Brown: I think any time you get in this social fucking network … a little blog, somebody will say something and then a rumor turns into fucking truth somehow and it’s not true. So that being said, the possibilities of a reunion are definitely there, but is Zakk playing guitar? Who knows. We are not into that stage yet. But I will say that Phillip and I both feel we’ve been ready for a long time. It’s up to Vinnie [Abbott] to make that decision and up to him only. So as soon as he feels comfortable doing that, then we will get to it. It’s for the fans, man and it’s a tribute. It’s not more of a reunion because you can’t have a reunion without Dime, you know what I am saying?
Rex Brown: And that’s what you were going to fucking make it around. So it wouldn’t necessarily have to be Zakk on every fucking song. You bring some other cats out and fucking play the songs. Do it that way.
I think that would be a fitting tribute.
Rex Brown: That would be very cool. Guys that Dime liked, you know. That he would want to go up there and fucking bless his songs and keep that legacy alive.
Who would you put on that list of guitar players besides Zakk?
Rex Brown: I don’t want to say. Because, you know, if I do, it just … I don’t want to fucking jinx anything. I would love to fucking get out there and fucking give her one more fucking time. The politics between it is a totally different fucking issue.
Do you think Vinnie is anywhere near that?
Rex Brown: I think he’s a lot more open to it. I don’t know. I can just say that there’s been talks and not this next year but maybe down the road. I would say ‘maybe’. And ‘maybe’ is fucking really, really good you know what I am saying? ‘Maybe’ is a fucking really good possibility. But I don’t want to jinx the thing and I don’t want to say anything that gets out there that , “yeah it’s happening”. That’s not the truth. That is not the truth as we are sitting here now.
Thank you for being straight with that.
Rex Brown: That is as straight as I can possibly answer that question.
Has Dewey ever gotten his beard beads tangled up during a set?
Rex Brown: Oh Jesus Christ, the other night he got his mic wrapped up in – one of these whipped around this way and the other whipped the other way and he got the mic caught and didn’t know where to go and he’s trying to do that and he’s moving his head. So anyway it was funny man, a Kodak moment for sure.
Well thanks for your time Rex …
Rex Brown: Is that all you got?
That’s all I got yeah.
Rex Brown: That’s it? That’s all we are going to talk about the record?
You want to talk more about the record?
Rex Brown: Come on.
What’s your favorite song on the record?
Rex Brown: I don’t have a favorite. It depends on what mood I’m in that night. I love playing all these new songs. It’s so cool that it’s only been out a week and here we are playing these songs for the people. And they know the lyrics which is great. At first I was like, well are we going to play the old and wait for it to sink in, you know. Fuck that we’re just going to fucking cram it down their throats. “Long Way From Home” is really fucking cool to play because it’s a different dynamic for the band. But it’s such a powerful heavy fucking song. Dewey just sings his ass off on it. When we first started I said, Dewey this is all you baby. Let your wings fucking spread out and fucking fly. And he did, my God did he. And with the help of Jeff … Jeff was really, really instrumental in that vocal because Jeff’s a great singer.
I didn’t know that.
Rex Brown: As far as far the band, he would add suggestions and stuff like that. He was a really good fucking producer for what we did on this record. And we were just going to use him for the drum tracks and he ended up doing the fucking whole record.
How did the ballad at the end of “Life Goes On” come about?
Rex Brown: I had a bass line and we just based it off of that. That kind of flowed up … he’s got a keyboard that sits in front of the actual desk so he can hit notes just to make sure, you know, it is pitch wise or whatever and it’s tunable. I already had the melody so we just put strings and everything fucking else on it because it’s the end of the record but it’s just one of the epic fucking pieces, you know and we play it live like last every show.
How important is the sequencing of the songs within the record?
Rex Brown: Very. It was very hard to do.
And who figures that out? Is that kind of a band thing?
Rex Brown: Mark will run it through and then I’ll have my input. Mark’s really good at picking songs that fit together. The input from everyone was extremely important on this, so it wasn’t just one or two people. Mark’s really good at that, Mark’s a fucking incredible writer. I just want to say that.
Will it be released on vinyl?
Rex Brown: Oh yes, we’re already in talks. And that’s another thing, we just keep it going. When you fucking release it on vinyl, here we are going to do some B sides. Fucking just chunk that shit up there while you’re out there doing it.
So what’s left over that we might see come out later?
Rex Brown: I don’t know. All kinds of shit is in the air so the possibilities are fucking endless.
And as you tour you’re writing as well …?
Rex Brown: Not necessarily we just listen to different music and like I’d love to fucking just do like a cover record of old killer songs. Put it out there man, just to fuck with people.
What do you listen to?
Rex Brown: Slayer to Sinatra.
I had a friend that had radio show called Slayer to Sinatra.
Rex Brown: Really?
Rex Brown: That’s funny because I have been saying that for fucking years. That fucker ripped me off, man. I grew up listening to my grandmother play piano for the silent movies back in the day. I was the last of 26 grandchildren. My folks came out of World War II, so it was all big band around the house. My sister was 17 years older than I was. I got all the Beatles and the Stones and everything between. Lived in a small peanut town and I found ZZ Top and then we moved to the city and so after that I listened to only fucking Sabbath because you couldn’t get that in that little bitty small towns in Texas.
Do you remember the first concert you ever you went to?
Rex Brown: It was probably Texas Jam, something like that. I remember Van Halen on the first fucking tour. I wanted to see Kiss and my mom wouldn’t let me go see them. They came through and played Arlington … the university there … never got a chance to do that. But I was definitely into Kiss and Cheap Trick and you know when you’re that young, writing logos on your folders and shit like that. That was the shit. Bad Company and all that stuff and then here comes this new wave of British heavy metal and that changed everything. I listened to “Ace of Spades” and that fucking record changed me completely … changed my outlook, you know. I’m still a major Zep fan all the way through and through. Have always been.
Who would your dream tour be with for Kill Devil Hill? If you were to pick the one band to go on the road with?
Rex Brown: You know I’ve played with all my heroes with Pantera. Dream band? I’ve played with Sabbath, I’ve played with Kiss, I’ve played with fucking you name it. We’ve never played with Van Halen.
Would you want to go out with them though?
Rex Brown: Now? No, probably not. Dream fucking tour … who’s still around man? I don’t know, I’ll fucking jam with anybody. This is its own entity and I’m trying to get it going. That’s what my push is. I’ll tell you a band I’d love to fucking tour with is Motörhead. Abso-fucking-lutely. I think that’d be fucking crushing. I’d fucking give my left nut.
Well Lemmy is on the mend …
Rex Brown: Absolutely. Dude I’m there.
Their new record is doing well …
Rex Brown: Yeah. I heard a couple of tracks and … Motörhead is just a fucking good time fucking metal … they are more a rock and roll band. And they are a fucking great rock and roll band. You know, fuck the genres and the subgenres and all that fucking crap that you have out there that is saturating the market today. Motörhead is just a good fucking rock and roll band. And I would like to say that Kill Devil Hill would fit in that category. I think you try to fucking take it apart and fucking twist it and turn it, it still comes out as a pretty good fucking rock and roll band, but with the metal touch that we put on because we are metal fucking heads. Dude, it’s all about the song. I don’t care who the fuck it is. As long as it’s a good song, it could be heavy as fuck, if it’s got that catch or that hook to it, I’m in. I’m sold.
We’re not trying to sound like fucking Pantera. We’re not trying to sound like Black Sabbath. It’s the four of us together that sound like what we sound like.
- No Way Out
- We’re All Gonna Die
- Brown of Thorns
- War Machine
- Rise From the Shadows
- Drum Solo
- Leave It All Behind
- Long Way From Home
- Wake Up The Dead
- Stealing Days
- Life Goes On (with recorded outro)
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