By Alan Sculley
Since coming together in 2006, Hellyeah has been known as a good-time party band.
The group originally brought together members of several respected and established metal bands – Mudvayne (vocalist Chad Gray and guitarist Greg Tribbett), Nothingface (guitarist Tom Maxwell and bassist Jerry Montano) and Dallas’ own Pantera and Damageplan (drummer Vinnie Paul).
Those bands hardly were known for upbeat music, but in Hellyeah it was a stated goal from Day 1 that the band was going to be all about fun – both in the songs the band wrote and in the lifestyle the group members led together.
But Hellyeah’s latest album, Blood for Blood, shows the band has more on its mind than where to find the next party, barbecue, bar or anyplace else where a good time is waiting to be had.
“It’s a heavy record from a heavy (musical) standpoint and it’s a heavy record from an emotional standpoint,” Hellyeah vocalist Gray said during a recent teleconference interview with reporters. “Even some of the more mid-tempo tracks are, you know, a little deeper lyrically than what Hellyeah is kind of known for in the past.”
One of the elements that brought some extra emotion into the Blood for Blood project was the departure of guitarist Tribbett. For Gray, seeing Tribbett leave was especially notable because they also were key members of Mudvayne, a group that went on open-ended hiatus earlier this year after releasing six albums over a 12-year span.
“I’ll always love Greg, you know what I mean?” Gray said. “Done some of my best work with him. I’ve worked with him for however many umpteen years. And it (his departure) was an emotional process. But people re-evaluate their lives every day. And I think that one day Greg just woke up and this wasn’t at the top of his priority list.
“It (making Blood for Blood) was really emotional because of that change. And, you know, we leaned on each other to get through it,” he said “And I think ultimately, even for Greg, this is probably a better situation for him…I wish him the best, man.”
With Tribbett gone, Hellyeah became a four-piece band, (with Bloodsimple bassist Kyle Sanders also joining the band in place of Bob Zilla, who had joined Hellyeah in 2007). And while it took some work, Gray thinks the band may be better in its new configuration.
“I think (guitarist) Tom (Maxwell) really stepped up,” Gray said. “I think that (before) we’ve been – it’s almost like setting up a shot in a camera and like looking, you know, at the horizon and like just where it’s just kind of a little out of focus or whatever. And I think we just tightened up that focus on this record and made it a little more seamless than it’s been in the past.”
In fact, the band members have called Blood for Blood the defining album for Hellyeah, which is no small statement for a band that has gained plenty of respect for the hard-charging yet grooving bluesy hard rock/metal that typified its earlier albums.
The group established its sound on its self-titled 2007 album, which gained enough pre-release attention largely because of the pedigree of the band members, to debut at No. 9 on Billboard magazine’s album chart.
The second album, Stampede, arrived in 2010, followed by Band of Brothers in 2012, an album that started to hint at more of a metal element coming into the Hellyeah sound.
Working as a four-piece band wasn’t the only change that came with the Blood for Blood project. After self-producing its first two albums and working with Jeremy Parker on Band of Brothers, the group brought in producer Kevin Churko (known for his work with Ozzy Osbourne, Five Finger Death Punch and In This Moment) for the latest project.
“We felt like it was time for us. We had done as much as Hellyeah could do being self-produced,” Gray said. “You know, we needed that sounding board, we needed to invite that new member in, so to speak, which is what you do when you have a producer.
“It’s in everybody’s best interest to put out the best songs you can have. But sometimes it’s hard to get out of your own way. So you need that sounding board.”
The direction Hellyeah pursued on Blood for Blood with Churko’s help took the group in more of a metal direction (note songs like “DMF” and “Demons In The Dirt”) with plenty of intensity to go with the more introspective tone of some of the lyrics.
Gray said he feels the more prominent metal edge stemmed in part from allowing the individual musical influences of the band members – whose other bands all had a harsher, more metal-based sound – to come through in the new songs.
“You know, we always strove to separate what we did in the past to what we do now,” Gray said. “And it’s funny because like now we’re not trying to steer Hellyeah back to (Pantera) or Mudvayne or anything like that, but we do want our own personal identities back. You know what I mean?”
The album was recorded in Las Vegas, which Gray admitted might not have been the most obvious place to go for a group with a revamped lineup that wanted to buckle down and prove it could create and focused and powerful album.
“I thought to myself like, really? Vegas? No distractions there right?” Gray joked. “But it turned out amazing. I mean, I couldn’t believe it. I mean, when you can be as focused as we were in Vegas, in a town like Vegas, I think that says a lot to the focus of the band and how bad we really wanted this to be a great record.
“It’s all killer, no filler was kind of the headspace we went into with it. You know, just let every song breathe and be its own thing, whatever that thing is, and just make it the best you can.”
Hellyeah will get a chance to showcase its new songs and new musical direction on its headlining tour this winter.
Gray looks at heavy metal as music that gave him a purpose and a direction in his life, and enjoys the idea that fans coming to Hellyeah shows are getting the same release and thrill he felt going to concerts when he was growing up.
“When I look out over the crowd, it’s just like I remember being that kid,” he said. “And you know, it’s therapy. You know what I mean? Like people pay money to go lie down on a couch and talk to psychiatrists. Or you can buy a concert ticket and go, ‘you know, you have the pit, let out your aggressions, you could sing along, you know’…I think it’s just an awesome thing from the concertgoers/fan point of view.
“I mean we just pretty much – we just bring as much intensity, I think, as we can. That’s just kind of where we’re at in the Hellyeah career.”