Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Kill Devil Hill In St. Louis & My Conversation With Rex Brown

On a muggy Wednesday evening in May I arrived at The Firebird to meet with Rex Brown of Kill Devil Hill (and formerly Pantera).

As I made my way up to the door, I ended up having a conversation with some of the members of Crobot and their road manager. We spoke for about ten minutes before it was time for me to head in. There's something about that band that stuck with me, which I'll get to another time. They were opening up.

My nerves started to get the best of me. I've listened to Rex's music for a very long time. It was the first time I had the opportunity to interview someone whose music I loved. 16 year old me would be proud.

Rita Haney and Rex greeted me as though I was important. After a few minutes of chit chat with Rex a few things became as clear as an azure sky: he drops a few F-Bombs (I did soften this interview up a bit by removing some) and that he says exactly what he's thinking and it was equal parts a relief and a bit nerve wracking....

GM: You've always seemed very genuine..

Rex Brown: I'm pretty genuine sitting right here smoking a cigarette and having coffee with you.

It's about the song. It's about making music and that's what I'm into it for. I'm into playing music. And that's what the passion is. It was about playing in a band and succeeding and working your ass off for it.

And with this, with the state of the industry there's so many fucking bands out there kids don't know if they're coming or going. There's not a lot of, it's one of those situations where you see the bands who are around now doing this kind thing, next year you want see all these fucking bands. There's no way you can do it.

The song tells the story and the way you present yourself live and that's all you've got.

GM: A lot of bands that deserve to be around next year won't be...

Rex: That's true. There's just no nurturing the process at all. It's no like back in the day or even 10 or 15 years ago where it's all about the money.

GM: 10 or 15 years ago you heard about how it wasn't as good as it was 20 years before that.

Rex: And I believe that's true too. You see the decline...what they even do to CDs, they don't want to spend the extra three cents...they just want to get it as loud as they can and all distorted and not put it through any of the shit.

Every record you possibly sell out there, there's going to be, I don't know the right numbers, but I'd say 30 to 1 that have stolen it or more and let me put this in. This iTunes thing fucked everybody up. You can go in and just get one song.

It's about the whole body of work and to me that's what it's all about. You put a beginning to the record and you wanna climax that motherfucker. That's the process of listening to records.

GM: I understand what you're saying about full albums. There are a lot of songs that don't sound good out of the context of their album.

Rex: That's what it's so sterile and so mundane these days. Cram down your throat (the) stuff you don't want to listen to because it's popular. It's kind of like I look back on the career and go the trend is dead. That's exactly what we were saying.

They say that this metal thing always goes in circles, but it's always here. It's constant. It just depends on what you know as real metal and what isn't. It's been over done and done again and over and over and people are looking back to where the real shit came from. That's how it kind of gets stale.

GM: That's why I like stoner metal because it's a 2nd generation from the originators.

Rex: That's been overdone. It's been done for 20 years <pauses> because it's good fucking music. Kill Devil Hill's not stoner metal. It's just hard aggressive rock'n'roll. That's what it all boils down to in the end. It's just all rock'n'roll. It just matters how hard you attack it.

GM: What I like about Kill Devil Hill that I don't hear Pantera or Black Sabbath, but a completely different thing.

Rex: That's the whole name of the game, Jack. You gotta reinvent yourself and do something new to keep refreshed and alive.

GM: How did it all come together? What were the first meetings like?

Rex: Vinnie (Appice) had this thing and had a bunch of tracks and he knew Mark (Zavon, guitar) from somewhere and he knew Dewey (Bragg, vocals) and then they went through a couple of bass players and Vinnie called and I just had my big surgery and I was just coming out of that. Because of the Down thing, it was one of those it just fell into my lap kind of deals and we started doing this and when we started this band, it was fucking killing.

When Vinnie just lost his...<pauses> and I still will (give) respect to the man because I love him to death, he just didn't want to tour. You have to be on the road especially if you're going to have a product out.

The whole thing of this "supergroup" tag and you can just throw that out the window. It's just four guys in a band and regardless of where you come from and what you do. You still come from the confines of both your strengths and weaknesses of four individuals.

Then you pull it together and make it work. It was about ego or anything else. He just wanted to do other things closer to home and we wanted to and need to go out and tour. Now we've got Johnny Kelly in the band and it's not "boo Vinnie."

"It's hooray, Johnny."

We knew it was coming for a long time. We just couldn't schedule things.

You have to get out and tour. You can't sit at home and expect a record to sell.

GM: In this day, you don't get any help from radio anymore.

Rex: You have to be visible. All you have are your live shows. How many times has Kill Devil Hill been through St. Louis? Not very many. That being said, you have to make plans to keep being in the (public) eye.

GM: What's the writing process like for you guys?

Rex: Mark usually has a skeleton of something and I'll bring a riff in. That's usually the way it starts and you put everything into the pot and like I said there are strengths and weaknesses and you know how to play off of them and you just make it as badass as you can.

There's no real formula to it. We've all been in the game long enough to know what works and what doesn't. There's no magical formula to any band on how to fucking do it. There's just individual tastes, individual influences, same goal.

In the end, Vinnie didn't have the same goal, and it was frustrating. That's nothing saying anything against him, it just wasn't happening.

GM: So he went his way and you're going to keep going?

Rex: Am I going to stop?

GM: I should say keep going with this project...

Rex: Who knows what the future holds? You gotta keep doing what you're doing. You're doing this and I'm doing my thing.

GM: You gotta do what you love.

Rex: That's the way I look at it. There ain't no ... book that tells you how to do it. You get on down the road and do the best you can everyday and at the end of the day, shit, that's what you got.

GM: Was there ever any thought to bringing in another guitar player?

Rex: Why? Mark covers all the ground. Why do we need another guitar player?

(After watching the band perform that night, Rex nailed me and rightfully so. There was no need for a second guitar player.)

GM: What's it like playing clubs again?

Rex: It brings back the old days, hunger. You know, and that's where we play. I just played Rock On The Range, Jack in front of thousands of people.

To get where this band needs to go, we need to find the right package. There are so many bands out this year.

This package works really well with Kyng and Crobot. So, I think you'll see more of this come fall. Because right now it's all the Mayhems, Uproars, and all that kind of shit.

GM: And none of that comes here.

Rex: There's a reason for that. It doesn't sell. They put it in the markets that sell tickets.

GM: What's the response been like on this tour?

Rex: Oh, it is what it is. You're playing a lot of Tuesday Wednesday Night places. Let's see what happens tonight.

It just depends on how much the promoter...is he promoting the show or just doing it for the alcohol sales?

Is it about the rock'n'roll or is it just to make the light switch burn. That's part of the state of affairs too.

GM: Have you started writing your next record yet?

Rex: We've got tons of material, man. Tons of shit. Lots of ideas upon ideas of where we kind of wanna head, but that's down the line. I don't like to think ahead of the game as far as what.. When you're on the road, you have a job and that's what you need to focus on.

This being the road, we're going to stay focused on being on the road as much as feasibly possible.

This is just me playing and having fucking fun.

Plain and simple.

GM: Is it still as fun as it ever was?

Rex: It's still as fun as it ever was. You have days when it's grueling and days when it's not. It's anything like in life.

The show itself was flat out phenomenal.

The music was heavy and sludgy, but still oh so very articulate. Dewey Bragg really owned the stage. In club shows, too often the performers do not know how to own the stage. For Kill Devil Hill, that was not the case.

Bragg stalked the stage looking for someone not enjoying the performance like a lion tracking a gazelle. Brown put on his show with utter authority.

Zevon stayed largely on his section of the stage until the all-star jam at the end....

Dewey kept asking the band about what music they were into. He took some time to read off the shirts and always he alluded to Pantera. There was a 500 pound elephant on the stage and Dewey seemed to enjoy pointing at it even though Kill Devil Hill and Pantera have very little in common aside from the name of the bassist.

The riffs had more lumber in them than a forest of redwoods, more swagger than Captain Hook, and enough meat to keep the coyotes fed for weeks.

Newcomer Johnny Kelly was absolute thunder on the drums. He played as big as John Bonham with the precision of Neal Peart. At no point I was thinking that it could have been any better were Vinnie Appice on the drum stool. Rex was right when he busted me on that. Rex told me that when I hear the band tonight, the words I write will be very different from what I get from the tape of our interview.

He was right.

Between galloping double bass beats, staggering single bass lines, and the explosions on the toms, there's nothing negative that could ever be said about how he attacked the skins. Metal drumming defined.

Eventually, Dewey let the elephant out of its pen. For the first encore, they played Mouth For War off of Pantera's seminal Vulgar Display of Power. That was followed up by an All-Star jam of Fairies Wear Boots by the Mighty Black Sabbath.

Everybody was on the stage for that one just about and it was very, very cool.

Having heard their first album and seeing them live, this is a band that must be seen to be heard. The day after seeing them, a song of theirs came up, and it went from another song in the day to I cannot believe how great this is.

When they come to town, make sure you are there.

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