Shattered bones, blood and metal. A conversation with HellYeah goes exactly how you’d expect

HellYeah are a mammoth sized supergroup comprised of Nothingface guitarist Tom Maxwell, Mudvayne vocalist Chad Gray, ex Pantera and Damageplan drummer Vinnie Paul, bassist Kyle Sanders and rhythm guitarist Christian Brady. As you can imagine the band generates an enormous wall of sound, and they’re live shows are a force to be reckoned with.

HellYeah  australian tour

On the first stop of their Australian tour Happy was able to sit down with Tom Maxwell to discuss, musical integrity, the constant struggle for authenticity and the shape of the music industry today. Behind those mean guitar tones is a gentleman full of passion for music. Tom Maxwell is striving to fulfil his musical vision, no matter what it takes. We are mid conversation when I hit record.

Tom Maxwell: I’m just keeping it cool you know. I shattered my ankle almost two months ago so I’m just resting it as much as I can.

Jonty Czuchwicki: Yeah, it was in three places wasn’t it?

TM: No it was twice, just two places. This side (he points) and the other side. You can see part of where the surgery happened right there.

JC: So I see you’ve got a bunch of tattoos, are you covered?

TM: Pretty much, most of it. The only thing that’s left is parts of my stomach and legs but everywhere else is completely covered.

JC: Do you have a favourite?

TM: Yeah my chest tattoo is probably my favourite. It’s a memory of my mother so I have a moth surrounded by a bunch of roses and a sunshine kind of thing blowing up behind it.

JC: So what does the moth represent?

TM: Um… Death. The concept of a chrysalis so changing, from being human, you know when she died its similar to how a moth starts off one way and ends up being free.

JC: So does the single Moth from the latest record have anything to do with the tattoo?

TM: No, I think that was just Chad. I think his whole thing with the moth is kind of like the human tendency to keep going back to things that are not very healthy or good for them. Like when a moth flies into a flame kind of thing. It can’t go the other way, it’s too attracted to the flame.

JC: So the last time you guys were here was at Soundwave a couple years ago.

TM: Yeah it was in 2010 I think.

JC: So what has HellYeah been up to in the time between then, in regards to different countries you’ve been touring?

TM: I think we’ve just been mainly, since then a lots been changed you know we parted ways with a couple dudes and we needed new… it’s funny it’s almost like a moth almost where we just fucking had to break away from the negativity and the things that weren’t working for the band anymore and put our heads together and really see ourselves and our band in a different light. I personally was getting pretty sick and tired of the road we were going on. I almost left the band myself if it would have continued down the same path of songs about partying and reckless abandonment and not digging deep enough musically. It’s not the vision that I had originally for the band. There’s a lot of soul searching and digging deep to reinvent our music.

JC: What was the original Vision for HellYeah?

TM: What I’m doing now! I wanted to put a band together that was heavy but also that had lots of dynamics and lots of emotional value. Hence the new album, it has everything across the board. It’s not like, well for me the last two albums were very one single note. It was just kind of boring. This record has a lot more flow to it. You listen to it from song one until the end and its one continual journey. There’s no songs that don’t belong. You listen to some records and there are some songs on the album that you know don’t belong there, that sound out of place. I wanted to get away from that.

JC: Would you say that with everything that happened with getting the new members of the band that this record was a bit shaky and that the next one will be even further towards your vision?

TM: Well, Kyle and Brady came in after the new record was finished. We did the record as a three piece. It was myself, Chad, Vinnie and our Producer that worked on Blood for Blood. Once we parted ways with Greg and he wasn’t a part of the record and the writing it was a lot easier actually, for me, to deal with recording. It’s almost like too many cooks in the kitchen fixing one dish doesn’t mean that the meal is going to be good.

There’s just too much going on. I think it’s better this way. Me and Chad, you know, this was our baby. It was always our vision in the very beginning. I was relieved to have the responsibility of writing the music because like I said I have a vision musically. Chad does his thing lyrically, but musically I wanna play songs and I want to a part of music that I believe in. JC: So are you looking particularly to make the songs even heavier or more technical?

TM: I don’t know. That’s the thing. I write so off the cuff. I want it to be heavy, I want it to be technical. I want it to be all that but it’s as simple as if it comes naturally then let it come. I don’t like pushing music, you know the last record was kind of like breathing and exhaling, it just comes to you that way. If I have to sit and think about stuff to long then I just lose my interest. I rather the songs develop themselves.

JC: Cool. So Kyle’s brother Troy is in Killer Be Killed and Mastodon. Do you think there will be any cool tours where it will be HellYeah and Killer Be Killed or HellYeah and Mastodon?

TM: I don’t know. You never say never! We’re all friends so if it makes sense then we’ll do it!

JC: So Adelaide is the first leg of the tour right?

TM: We did some shows in New Zealand, but this is our first show in Australia. I believe we go to Sydney tomorrow. I’m looking forward to playing in Sydney. We have a bunch of friends there.

JC: Cool. So what do you do besides music, when you’re not on the road and you’re not writing music?

TM: I have a family at home. I have a little boy who I miss desperately when I’m on the road. So it’s a lot of catching up and a lot of quality time between me and my family. I’m really quiet when I’m home. I write, and I just hang out at home. To get me to go out and see shows or do anything I kick and scream. I rather just sit at home. I live on the water so it’s hard to pull me away from my environment. I cook a lot and I garden, I do a lot of stuff that is completely opposite to what people might think that I do.

JC: So I wanted to ask what it was like growing up in the 80’s because there would be a lot of young fans who would be listening to HellYeah who are from a completely different societal and technological landscape. What are some differences between now and then in the way people consume music?

TM: Back then you had magazines and you had radio stations. You didn’t have internet , you had MTV of course, that was like the cool thing. People actually sought out music. We live in such a fast food society now. The internet has made it so that anyone can listen to music at the click of a finger. There’s no sense of “you have to wait”.

Back in the day you had to wait until a record came out before you heard it. Now you’re hearing it a month beforehand and that kind of sucks because giving people an option to listen to it or download it for free – I personally think it’s bullshit! I think it takes a lot of the integrity out of music. I really do. I think people now, they just kind of submit to it.

There’s not as much quality music out there. Selling records doesn’t mean shit anymore. You used to be able to tour to support your record, now you have to drop a record to support a tour. It’s just how bands make a living. It’s much different. It’s desensitised. The fans that believe in you and love you and follow you are fucking fantastic, but it’s a lot of work out there to crossover and to gain new fans. There’s a lot of snobby fucking cunts out there that sit behind a computer and tear you apart and everybody’s a critic and everybody thinks they know everything, and that they’re smarter than the next dude. Well, go fuck yourself society as far as I’m concerned!

JC: Yeah especially in the metal world, everyone has a bone to pick.

TM: They’re all fucking hoighty-toighty elitist fucking cunts! As far as I’m concerned. The real fans, well you know your real fans are. The ones who just want to slag you and talk shit behind the safety of a keyboard are just a bunch of pussies who don’t belong in any concert. I’d rather they stay at home and jerk off to their porn on TV than be at my fucking show.

JC: It would be interesting if we did live in a world where digital never took off, the internet never took off and pirating didn’t exist and people still bought vinyl records.

TM: There’s some stores like that still and you can find it but those days are long gone. I was just watching the band Ghost doing an unplugged promotional tour at record shops and that’s great. It’s a great thing to see record shops still around. From two years ago there are almost 1500 less places to go and buy a record now than just two years ago.

That’s how many have died or gone away because people need to make a living. If they’re not selling records they can’t have a record store! Now you see record stores and they’re selling more than just records. They’re selling t shirts and toys and cool gadgets. That’s kind of cool though, it’s interesting.

JC: Let’s do some questions for all the guitar nerds out there, gear wise, what are you running for this tour?

TM: For the tour I’ve got a couple Dean Cadillacs out and I have a couple Les Pauls, a couple Soltero’s. I’m using Peavey amplification and also Kemper gear.

JC: I’m a drummer so this means nothing to me!

TM: Oh well a Kemper is like a profiler, it’s similar to a computer. It maps your real instrument and your real amplifier and it’s so close to the real thing you can’t really tell the difference in the sound of it. It makes it a lot easier to travel with. It’s more reliable than an amplifier and it’s quiet and it’s gorgeous!

JC: Okay awesome! What about the set list for the shows, what cant the fans expect?

TM: We’re doing mostly stuff off the new album Blood for Blood and then towards the end of the set we’re whipping out stuff from the second record and a little bit of stuff off the first album. Primarily I would say that 80-85% of the set will be songs from Blood for Blood.

You can catch HellYeah on Thursday August 27th at The Metro theatre in Sydney, Friday 28th August at Eatons Hill in Brisbane, Monday 31st August at Capitol in Perth and Saturday 29th August at Melbourne’s own Corner Hotel!