“Now, no, it’s full on…you know musically, I want to go in to a gun fight with a fucking razor blade and win. And with Chad [Grey, vocalist] it was time for him to be Chad. ‘Who are you? There’s a lot of fucked up shit in that head of yours. Let it out’.” -Tom Maxwell, guitarist/co-founder Hellyeah
By Carl C. Sundberg
There was a time when the band Hellyeah, the supergroup of sorts featuring Vinnie Paul, drummer of Pantera and Damageplan and Chad Grey, vocalist of Mudvayne, conjured up visions of partying, getting tore up on a Saturday night, getting a little ass, a little alcohol, a little weed, hell, maybe a fight, who knows. Basic “Hell Yeah!” Behavior.
But what happens when a band sheds that good times mentality and goes a little deeper, a little darker? You get one of the most powerful albums of the band’s career. For Hellyeah that’s just what went down on their latest release, “Unden!able”. The album features, in addition to some of the most powerful songs the band has ever written, a cover of Phil Collin’s “I Don’t Care Anymore” that also happens to have the guitar work of Vinnie Paul’s brother – the late, great “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott.
A few weeks back, we caught up with former Nothingface guitarist and co-founder of Hellyeah, Tom Maxwell at Rock on the Range 2016 in Columbus, OH before their set. We talked about the genius behind the band’s name, the diehard nature of their fans, and how they left the party behind to get down and dirty on their new album, “Unden!able” featuring “Human”, which is currently #12 on Mediabase’s Active Rock charts.
Q: We’re here at Rock on the Range 2016, tenth anniversary, big damn deal and I’m here with Tom Maxwell of Hellyeah!
Q: Has that gotten old, when people are like, “Hell Yeah!”
A: Nah. Everybody says it. I say it. You know what I mean.
Q: It’s a genius name.
A: Best never ever, man.
Q: Everyone says it and they don’t realize it until…
A: Wait til you hear the crowd today when they chant it and how badass it sounds.
Q: Yeah, I was gonna ask you, what’s some of your favorite things to witness from the crowd?
A: Ah man. I obviously like to see action. Bodies flying around. Like last night, I saw this poor lady get out of the pit, man, she had her eye bashed wide open. Probably had to get stitches. They took her outside, and she was like, “Huh-uh, I’m going back in there and finish watching this fucking show and then we’ll go to the hospital.”
Q: My old band opened for you guys in Eugene, OR a long time ago and there was a guy in the pit who had a compound fracture in his leg and he wouldn’t go to the hospital because he wanted to watch the show.
A: I mean, c’mon!
Q: That’s rock n roll.
A: That’s it man, that’s what it’s all about.
Q: Hellyeah seemed to start off almost like a side project in the beginning but it’s definitely evolved into it’s own thing. What’s been the path like for you?
A: Personally, it’s been a weird one in the beginning. This was kind of me and Chad’s baby. I had a clear vision for what I wanted to do musically, as he did lyrically. Now when we all got together, there was a lot of excitement. A couple other people were brought in. It was great. Then the second and third records, for me, I don’t have much imprint on those [albums], because I didn’t get the music too much. It was getting “Alcohol and Ass-y” and “Drink, Drank, Drunk” and “Helluva Time” and all these like, to me, just like, shitty hillbilly rock. So fast forward to a couple, a few years ago and we parted ways with Greg [Tribbett, guitarist] and Bob [Zilla, bassist] and the whole sole responsibility of writing fell on me, I was like, ‘fucking it is on now’. I get to do what I want to do without any other cooks in my goddamn kitchen. And that’s what happened. “Blood for Blood” showed up. And now we’re doing the same thing with “Unden!able” that’s coming out. It’s taken four records, nine years, to get to this point. But I’m happy and we’re happy and everybody else is happy. Everybody’s coming in, radio’s coming to us. You know, we didn’t write music for radio. We write for us. And the fact that they’re coming to us is a good sign.
Q: The band’s vibe has changed over the years and recently, it’s become very serious. It’s not that party rock that it started off as, it’s more of a, you know, this is a song that speaks to my gut, not my beer-drinking head.
A: Yeah, you know it’s a great novelty, you know what I mean, for like a one-time thing. But it pigeon-holed us. It really pissed me off and it annoyed me. But now, no, it’s full on…you know musically, I want to go in to a gun fight with a fucking razor blade and win. And with Chad [Grey, vocalist] it was time for him to be Chad. Who are you? There’s a lot of fucked up shit in that head of yours. Let it out.
Q: Do you think he was saving some of that for Mudvayne?
A: I just think all the pieces of our puzzle finally came together. You know, I write music for him and for his life and he writes lyrics for me. I’ve been in a band with my favorite singer ever, we’re best friends and what he does in his other band is what he does in his other band. With me, it’s fucking Chad and Tom, Vinnie, Kyle [Sanders, bassist] and [guitarist Christian] Brady. It’s transparent, it’s real, it’s organic and it’s fuck all.