Vinnie Paul and HELLYEAH! Find Their Rhythm
Vinnie Paul Abbott is a guy who knows what he wants and how to get it.
"When I walk into a strip bar," says the Arlington native, "I don't want to have a bunch of stupid strobe lights in my face and a bar girl bugging me."
Rather, the iconic drummer for Pantera, Damageplan and, most recently, HELLYEAH!, wants pretty much what you'd expect him to say: more rock 'n' roll. That's the thought process behind the gentlemen's clubs he owns, at least.
He owns a few—two in Dallas (The Clubhouse on Mañana Drive and Chicas Bonitas on Harry Hines Boulevard) and a few others throughout Texas, Nevada and Arizona. But that's only part of what keeps Abbott busy these days. Much of his focus, he says, speaking over the phone from a tour stop in Tampa, Florida, is spread out among those businesses and his Big Vin Records label, which last year released the debut full-length from Seventh Void, a band that features former members of highly regarded New York City-based metal act Type O Negative.
Recently, though, another project's come into focus. It won't be released until July 13, but for the past year, Abbott and his HELLYEAH! bandmates—Mudvayne's Chad Gray and Greg Tribbet, Nothingface's Tom Maxwell and Damageplan's Bob Zilla—have been working on Stampede, the follow-up to their 2007 self-titled debut.
But the new disc isn't an exact copy of that first release. Not at all, Abbott says. Unsurprisingly, it's more rock 'n' roll. Or Southern rock 'n' roll, to be exact.
"There's a void for that kind of Southern flair to metal-rock, so to speak," Abbott says. "We're kind of picking that up and running with it."
So, how does a band with three of its five members hailing from north of the Mason-Dixon Line figure out the Southern cowboy attitude of HELLYEAH!? Abbott chalks it up to his bandmates' working-class backgrounds.
"Where they come from are workingman kind of places," Abbott says. "A lot of Chad's lyrics are about the common, workingman kind of thing."
It shows: Stampede's first single, "Cowboy's Way," which was released as a free download last week, brings a homespun, good-times semblance into its hard rock form.
Funny, since once upon a time Abbott wasn't sure if joining the band would be a good idea at all. Originally, the band began as a collaboration between vocalist Gray, guitarists Tribbet and Maxwell and bassist Jerry Montano of Nothingface. While they were scouting around for a drummer—among the names they originally sought out were Morgan Rose of Sevendust—Abbott's name came up. But the offer came at a rather unfortunate time, just more than a year after his brother, guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, was murdered on stage at a Damageplan gig in Columbus, Ohio, in 2004.
"After what happened to my brother, I really had no idea whether I would get back to playing music or not," Abbott says. "The biggest part of my heart went out of me when he left."
But the new act was persistent. And, eventually, Abbott gave in.
"I was kind of scared about it at first," he says.
Things worked out quickly enough, though: When his potential bandmates came to Arlington to finish Abbott's recruitment, the iconic metal drummer found himself among kindred spirits. The next day, the band started writing and recording the songs that would appear on the band's debut, completing seven songs in eight days—after starting from scratch.
"There was a magic chemistry going on," Abbott says. "I knew it was something I had to get back to doing. I knew that was what I was supposed to do in my life."
And his life would soon join him: In 2007, Montano left the band, and in his place the band added Dallas resident Bob "Zilla" Kakaha, Abbott's friend and bassist from Damageplan.
Pleased as he was with the first effort, Abbott expects bigger things on the band's new release.
"The first record was almost like an experiment," he says. "Now that we knew that fans liked it the first time around, we could tighten things up."
They did so in Arlington, at Abbott's home studio—and the rest of his home, too, like an invasive species to a forest. The band set up its equipment in different rooms, staying connected during recording sessions by setting up cameras and monitors in each room.
"I sort of did it Rick Rubin-style" Abbott says of the sessions he co-produced with former Pantera producer Sterling Winfield. "I think it's something they needed after being involved in such a technically deep project like Mudvayne. HELLYEAH! really gives them an opportunity to branch out and show a whole 'nother side to themselves."
That same advantage is at play for Abbott as well. Without question, his most successful act was with the landmark metal band Pantera. 1990's Cowboys From Hell put the Arlington band on the map as one of the heaviest of the decade.
"It was four unique, special individuals," Abbott says. "It was a great thing and we had 14 great years together."
Sales-wise, Pantera's most successful album was 1994's Far Beyond Driven. That disc debuted at No. 1 on the charts. Its next biggest success was 2000's Reinventing the Steel, which also debuted in Billboard's top five. All in all, not too shabby for a band that started out playing glam rock in dives around Dallas.
"We were the biggest and heaviest metal band at the time," Abbott says. But mainstream taste changes eventually overran the band. "Everyone went to the Limp Bizkit rap-rock thing, and we stayed true to what we did."
More than anything, what finished Pantera were personal issues—the Abbotts on one side, frontman Phil Anselmo on the other. In 2003, the band officially disbanded.
These days, proud as he is of Pantera's accomplishments, it's clear that Abbott has put that band's glory behind him.
When asked how much of Pantera shows up in HELLYEAH!, his reponse is pretty blunt: "Me," he says. "And that's it. Everything I know, I learned along the way from Pantera and Damageplan. I like the fact that HELLYEAH! stands on its own two feet."
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