KILL DEVIL HILL’S REX BROWN: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
I’m gonna tell you right now – I don’t usually get all “fan-girl” and nervous talking to people, even those I greatly admire on an artistic level. When I was told I was going to be interviewing Rex Brown, the fact that I was going to be talking to someone who helped mold my musical tastes as a kid didn’t hit me until probably an hour or so beforehand, and that’s when, admittedly, I started to get a bit weak in the knees. I started to remember so vividly hearing Pantera’s “Floods” for the first time on a family road trip to the Midwest, how it chilled me like nothing else ever had, and those days speeding down 95 in my first car blasting Cowboys from Hell. As one of the founding members of Pantera – up until their unfortunate end – he helped open the gates for a great deal of us to the world of metal. With his involvement in Down, as well as Crowbar, that love for many of us was kept alive.
Of course, with his recent departure from Down, some may have been wondering what else, if anything, Rex had next up his sleeves. Thankfully, there’s plenty.
As soon as I answered the phone, one of the first things Rex said to me (with a laugh) was that he’d been “giving interviews all day.” That in itself I thought was a true testament to someone who, even after over two decades working at it, is not looking to give up anytime soon – a fact that’s emphasized by his enthusiastic involvement with his new band Kill Devil Hill. The new project, featuring Vinny Appice (Heaven and Hell, Dio, Black Sabbath) on drums, Mark Zavon (Ratt, 40 Cycle Hum) on guitar and Jason “Dewey” Bragg (Pissing Razors) on vocals, is currently on tour and looking forward to releasing their yet-to-be-named debut album early next year on SPV/Steamhammer Records.
Talking with Rex was not only an experience in that he’s someone I have long admired; it was something getting to speak with someone so excited and hopeful about his current conquest. After over two decades playing music – through the triumphs as well as the hardships – to be as enthusiastic and passionate is not an incredibly common thing. I think that’s something that all of us can not only appreciate, but hopefully aspire to.
So, Kill Devil Hill: We first stared hearing about that late last year. Was this something that had been in talks for awhile, or was it more of a spur of the moment kind of thing?
For me, it was more of a spur of the moment kind of thing. These guys have, um… actually, Vinny went down and did some drum tracks at his friend’s house, and he had to have shoulder surgery and he had all these tracks and he started working with Mark Zavon, the guitar player, and then they had found a tape from this guy named Dewey Bragg, and he was like, “Dude, you know, that’s your guy.” I’ve known Dewey for awhile, used to work for Black Label Society and the whole bit – and I’ve known Vinny for close to twenty years, I mean we’ve toured together and we’ve always been acquaintances. So, they gave me a ring and said “Would you like to play some of this stuff?” And it just so happens that my neighbor has a really nice studio, so I just started putting these tracks down that they were sending me, and it just kinda fell into my lap, y’know? With the Down thing, we were just kinda waiting on Phil [Anselmo] for everything, and he really wasn’t into what was going on, and I had just finished another project to keep – I just, I gotta be playing all the time or I go crazy. So, in January, I met these guys at the rehearsal spot, and it really just all came together it was one of those – you… you know it’s right. So we started jamming and I’d fly out to L.A., I mean I still live in Texas, so I’d fly out every three weeks, something like that, and we started building these songs, and I’d help write several tracks on there that needed help. We’re about 90% done with the record, it’s gonna come out either February or March on SPV, which we’re really excited about. So we’re out here on the road, you know, just honing our skills, basically.
I was actually planning on asking if you guys were going to be touring at all…
We’re touring now, yeah. We started last weekend in Jersey, and we’ve now got a couple shows under our belts. I mean, nobody’s heard of us, y’know? It’s not on the radio or anything, it’s kinda just word of mouth, and that’s kinda just what we wanna do, and that’s a cool way to do it. I mean, that’s the way Pantera did it, and it feels wonderful.
So how are the shows you’re doing looking? How’s the audience reception?
They love every bit of it! You know, between me and Vinny playing together, it’s a really solid rhythm section. And also with Mark… you know, there’s a lot of harmony to it. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve actually been out there to see the deal. Like I said, we’re honing our chops getting ready for the big launch.
I’ve heard some of what you guys have recorded and I’m liking it. I know you guys have been described as having an Alice and Chains kinda feel with some Led Zepplin thrown in, and I can hear that.
Yeah, it’s cool – I mean instead of having a singer that just “rocks” all the time, we’re now in a position where he just sings his ass off. And the harmonies and the whole bit just make the music even heavier, a little darker. I was pleasantly surprised that all that stuff was going on. We’re about 90% done with the record, we should be finishing up probably around the end of November – but yeah, it’s going great. I haven’t been this happy with a band in a long while.
Awesome, that’s always good to hear! So, I can’t help but bring up the fact that you’ve worked with Jerry Cantrell in the past, and now there’s this Alice in Chains comparison…
Yeah, I’ve known Jerry for 23 years, something like that — since we were kids, playing the circuit. But yeah, I played on his first solo record.
But it’s not derivative of Alice in Chains – it could be compared to Alice in Chains, but it’s its own thing, it’s completely original – it’s no rip-off. I think with any band that’s coming out now that has actual singing and harmonies in ‘em, you know, they’re gonna be compared to an Alice in Chains kinda deal, but that’s not what we’re shooting for. What we’re doing is basically taking the old Zepplin route. It’s old meets new – just really cool. I love old 70s rock, you know, and that’s where Vinny comes from and I mean the lead guitar player that we have is really solid and plays these unbelievable riffs, and with the harmonies on top of it – it’s just the perfect combination of what I wanted to be doing anyway. I kinda fell out with Down and the whole bit, and now I’m with these clowns and having a blast!
So, with Vinny, you said you’ve known him for a while. Do you think that adds to the dynamic of the band, working with someone you’ve known for so long?
Yeah, our personalities are pretty much the same as in what our musical tastes are. Everybody’s just kinda feeding off of all of our musical influences to make this thing as solidly killer as possible.
I know Warren Riker is producing the new record, and you yourself have worked with him before with Down…
Yes – [he did] the last two Down records and [I did] some soundtrack stuff with him when I lived in L.A. for a couple of years. Couldn’t take that anymore [laughs], and I moved back to Texas. But yeah, Warren and I are musical buddies.
I think it’s interesting that he’s worked with artists like Sublime, Santana, and Destiny’s Child. Do you think the fact that he’s successfully spanned so many genres adds to the recording process?
Not really. He’s a metalhead like we are. He’s just a really great engineer – I think with Warren doing the record, there’s a different kind of spontaneity. I mean, he’s got Grammys for bookends, you know, for all those records that he did with Santana and Sublime and the whole bit. He’s got his way of working, and we’ve got our way of working, you know, we know what the music needs to sound like, and trying to relate that sometimes gets in the way, but, y’know, Warren is the best man for the job.
I know you said the album isn’t completely done, but is there a name you’re currently tossing around for it or are you guys not ready to give that out just yet?
I can’t really say, maybe self-titled, but – it’s just really, really, really good. I’m really stoked about it; I wouldn’t be out here doing this if I wasn’t. I couldn’t be happier. We’re doing meet and greets and hanging out with the crowds, and signing autographs – it’s just an awesome feeling.
So, you’re on tour right now, and obviously throughout the years you’ve toured pretty extensively and you’ve worked with a lot of really influential people, Vinny included. Has there ever been a time where you just thought “Whoa, I can’t believe I’m talking to so-and-so” or “Wow, I’m on the same tour as this person,” you know, looking back on your career?
Hmm… yeah, that’s an interesting question. I think you know, this is just what I do, and I do it really well. Not tryin’ to pat myself on the back, but this is what I’m accustomed to. But yeah – it’s just kinda weird. Touring with all these different cats, I never thought in a million years I’d be playing with Vinny Appice, and in this band. We’re all functioning on very high cylinders. You know, I’ve been blessed in certain ways, as far as music and the whole bit. All I can say is – it’s like starting all over again, with this thing. You have to put the best that you have into it and if it’s working out, great! The response that we’re getting, it’s not gigantic in numbers, it’s just people that wanna hear whats going on and no one’s leaving the room without a smile on their face.
Well, that’s also kinda leading into my next question a bit – obviously, you’ve been in bands that have been extremely influential to a lot of people in the metal community – Pantera especially has been cited by many as THE band that got them to metal in the first place. Did you ever imagine becoming such an integral part of people’s lives in that way?
Never. I mean, it just happened. We just found a hole in the music industry that we could slide through. Metallica put out the Black Album and, it really wasn’t that heavy. We just kinda slipped through the cracks and did what we did and got progressively more heavy with every record, instead of the old way, where every record would be less heavy, like, “Let’s go for the hits and try to make all this money.” And it worked to our advantage doing it that way. I was 17 when we formed that band and [it had] kind of a terrible bittersweet ending, you know – we were definitely, uh… how do you say it? How can I say this right? We were definitely one of the “ground-shakers” in the movement, if not the top, in the 90’s. We really tried to go far beyond our dreams, and it worked. Then we all got sick of each other [laughs], and it kinda went south from there – everybody needed to go to rehab and the whole bit. But what can you do?
Well, I just remembered something, and for the sake of full disclosure, I just have to tell you, I’m pretty sure my very first cell phone I ever got, the first ringtone I put on it was “Cemetery Gates,” [laughs] so…
[laughs] Awesome! That’s cool, that’s killer! It’s a good song, I remember recording the whole thing. Yeah, that’s one of my favorites, for sure.
Is it, really?
Yeah, Dime had this riff, and I actually played acoustic guitar and piano on that song. I think it touched a lot of peoples hearts, it’s kind of a deep subject matter – but yeah, that’s one of my faves, for sure.
I actually didn’t realize you did that on that track. I don’t want to talk too much about Pantera, but I’m just curious about your perspective on this – have you ever thought back that maybe you would’ve liked to put out another album or do another tour, or are you pretty happy as far as the legacy left by the band?
Yeah, I mean, I expected it to go on for a little while. I took about a two year hiatus from playing music and watched my kids kinda grow up a little bit – I’ve got twins, a boy and a girl, so I just took some time to do the family life. It was just one of those things where everyone just kinda broke into pieces. It’s a hard thing to describe, but I never thought that we wouldn’t get back together until, y’know, what happened to Dime. You know, to this day, I’m still freaked out about it. It’s a hard thing. I mean, he was the best man at my wedding.
I really just can’t even imagine losing someone like that.
It was very traumatizing.
Absolutely, I mean – for a lot of people influenced by his music, I know to this day fans still talk about how traumatizing that loss was – in a different way entirely, of course – but, yeah. Obviously, none of us were impacted in the same way – I’m sorry.
Well, thank you. I mean… it’s just one step in front of the other, y’know? You gotta do what you gotta do, you can’t take something like that back, it’s just crazy fucking shit.
Again, I can’t even imagine losing someone you’ve known, and worked with so closely, for so long in that way. My next question was actually pertaining to you officially leaving Down, and of course you’ve worked with Phil for a very long time –
Twenty-three years. Y’know, we worked together for a long time, and just kinda called it a day, y’know? I mean, what do you do? It was just getting a little stagnant for me, and then I hooked up with these guys, and that’s just… that’s the end. But, I mean, I’m still in contact with him, we’re still great buds, and we still talk. I just talked with him last night on the phone; it’s always a friendly conversation. But it’s just one of those things, you gotta move on if you’re not happy with the situation that’s going on.
No, I hear ya. Do you ever see yourself working with him going forward at some other point?
Sure, the door is always open between the two of us. It just depends on timing and all that other stuff, but yeah, there’s no animosity whatsoever. We’re brothers, you know – brothers from another mother.
[laughs] Well, that’s good to hear! So, with Down out of the picture right now, is Kill Devil Hill your only project for the moment?
Yeah, absolutely, this is all I wanna do. I did another project called Arms of the Sun just to keep my chops up, and we did some really good songs with that, we did some soundtrack stuff, and anyway, when these guys called it was just time to step up to the plate. Yeah, so this is my full time job, very excited about it, really, really cool – wait ‘til you hear it!