December 29, 2014 Interview – Chad Gray of Hellyeah & Mudvayne
Honesty in music can have the most striking effects on people, provoking individuality and acts from the heart. For better or worse, that type of sincerity bleeds from the very fabric which is Metal band Hellyeah. Having come together nine years ago when Mudvayne’s Chad Gray and Greg Tribbett teamed up with Vinnie Paul of Pantera, along with Tom Maxwell of Nothingface, Hellyeah has grown musically, as well as a family. Through some internal changes, most recently the departure of Tribbett and Bob Zilla, in 2014 the band served up their fourth and most intense studio album titled Blood for Blood. Armed with experience and staring adversity in the face, the band is prime to make their biggest move in their career, solidifying that they are a force to be reckoned with. Recently we sat down with lead vocalist Chad Gray for a no-holds-barred look into his world, what makes him tick, his passion for music, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in Rock/Metal for the better part of two decades now. In that time with Mudvayne, and now Hellyeah, you have established yourself as one of the most distinctive vocalists in Metal. Tell us a bit of what the ride has been like through the years for yourself?
Chad Gray- I do not know if I agree with all that (laughs). I know I have been around and I know I have seen success, but I have also seen starting over; it is tough. If you have seen success and then you just kind of change gears, I think you almost expect that because you were successful at something else that you are automatically to be successful at the other. It is just not that way. It has been a grind. Hellyeah has been going for seven years. It has been crazy to look back on this ride. Mudvayne happened so much faster. Granted, we took our lumps, we played the local scene, and all that. We had kind of an understanding between all of us and we said, “You know what, fuck it, we were gonna go full tilt boogie,” we were going to go in the hole to write good songs, we did not care about playing out, and we put our energy in the right place. We had never seen any success in Mudvayne, we just did what we were supposed to be doing. Mudvayne got signed, we toured with Slipknot, and just kind of blew up and there it was, so we rode that out. We dealt with all the turmoil, learned the business, and being green and having people take advantage of us. It is a corrupt business and people prey on you.
There are a lot people out there that literally do not care. They will fucking tell you exactly what you want to hear and you do not know what you are supposed to be hearing. They are just making it up as they go along and you are so overwhelmed with everything that is going on and they prey on that. The next thing you know you have signed everything away because you want to be a fucking musician, you want to do it, it is your dream. You could be anything and you have been working your whole life for it and someone said, “If you sell your soul to the devil right now we will make your dream come true.” You have been working your whole life for it, what do you ? You would sign right? That is what you do. There are all these devils that are out there literally saying if you want it, it is right here. If it looks like shit and it smells like shit, it is not fake, it is shit, and you see it later down the road. It really destroys the band from the inside out and it is horrible. Although, we are all cool now and we are in a good faith.
Hellyeah, we have worked our asses off on. We have put so much into it and when we started the band we wanted it to be different from everything else. I wanted to see if I could fucking write different songs. I wanted to see if I could write Rock songs and try and do things that would not fly in Mudvayne. Tom wanted to try doing things that would not fly with Nothingface. When Vinnie came on board, he wanted to try things that would not have flied in Pantera, the same with Greg. That is what we wanted for the band and I think that people were just really confused by what we were doing. I do not know if it was really put out that way. I do not think that we really put it out and said, “Hey guys, by the way, we are all from these bands and going to put this out and it is going to be completely the other side of anything we had ever done.” How do you prepare somebody for that? I think we started looking around and realizing how special it was for each of us. I think there was a kind of growing pain of Hellyeah trying to figure out our identity.
I think that I put Mudvayne in one box and Hellyeah in another box and I was missing the whole point. Art is an extension of yourself and that is the way I look at it. I look at music as full blown art. I have always looked at it that way. I do not look at like art snobs do. Classical music, that is art, and Opera, that is art. Renaissance painting, that is art, but so is modern art and Heavy Metal. I wanted to be an artist. I just wanted to fully give everything I had to it. Doing that whole I am going to put my Hellyeah hat on one day and then I’m going to put my Mudvayne hat on another day did not work for me.
It was around the time of Band of Brothers (2012) when it started coming around and I said, “We are all Heavy Metal dudes, that is what we should be doing.” I never aspired to be a Rock singer. We just started going and it came out great; I love Band of Brothers. That record is a little more dissident and it is a little more dark. It started to get us back to our Metal roots. The new record, Blood for Blood, I feel has even brought us closer back to that and god knows what is to come. I think the leap from Stampede (2010) to Band of Brothers was out of this world. I think the leap from Band of Brothers to Blood for Blood was a pretty big jump as well. You always hope that people respect you for what you did. It was a little bit of a slap in the face to me from people coming up to me and saying, “You saved my life,” or “You helped me,” and I believed that. I totally believed that and I always shake their hand or give them a hug like those people telling them the world is better with you in it. I would tell them you fought the good fight and your still here. You have to face the fire to get through it and grow as a human being.
I felt like there was a little bit of disrespect when some people said, “Well if Chad is not in Mudvayne I do not give a fuck what he is doing.” It kind of hurt me a little bit. You tow the line and you did your thing though. I am not selling anything, I am not selling out. I took all the hats off, threw them in the fire, and then I walked through that mother fucker. I faced the fire for the millionth time in my life and said, “Am I going to do this?” Fucking right I am going to do it. I took all those hats off and said, “This is Chad Gray. This is not Chad from Mudvayne, this is not Chad from Heallyeah, this is just Chad Gray.” I wrote Blood for Blood absolutely with no suit, no uniform, no armor; this is my soul. When I wrote all the Mudvayne records before Hellyeah even got into the mix, that is all I ever knew how to do. When I started writing the Hellyeah records, people could not wrap their heads around it. I do not want anybody to have a misconception that Chad was writing with his Mudvayne hat on for Hellyeah; that is not the case. The case is I took all the uniforms and the bullshit off. I am just writing how I write, period, and that is the bottom-line.
CrypticRock.com – Right and that definitely shows on Blood for Blood. One could imagine the frustration as an artist and it seems as if you really have put everything in the right perspective. Many fans may have speculated that Hellyeah was going to be a short term side project, but that clearly has not been the case as the band has released four studio albums. When you initially began with Hellyeah, did you envision the band would last as long as it as?
Chad Gray – I never knew what it was going to be before we started playing, but when we started playing I thought, “This is too cool.” The first record, it was not Mudvayne, Pantera, Nothingface or Damageplan; there was kind of a dangerous element to it like a garage band. Not punk, but kind of a low budget, low-pro vibe, and I really loved it. I think that the next record, we did not know what we were doing; we were excited about it and we did not realize what we were doing at that point in time so we put the Stampede album out. It sent a sign out; I think people said, “We do not want this, not from these guys (laughs).” It is about looking at a landscape before you even have the camera. You are holding the camera in your hand but you have not put it to your eye with the viewfinder yet, you are just kind of looking at the landscape. You take a mental snapshot and then the next record was like putting the camera up to your eye then twisting it just a little bit out of focus where you can almost make out what it is but its not tight. The only way you can describe it is slightly out of focus. Then after a little, everything is sharp and crystal. I think that is kind of like Band of Brothers; just a little bit out of focus, but we were in the right direction and Blood for Blood is just focused. All the sharpness was there, all the edges were there, and we understood what we were doing.
You have to understand Mudvayne went through a lot of trial and error. Pantera did too before they did something worthy of being considered a band that would ever be able to be on a label. Hellyeah had to have those couple of records. There is an understanding that comes with familiarity of playing music. People do not look at it that way, especially bands that have already seen success and forming something new. There is going to be growing pains and you are probably not going to hit it out of the park on the first one. I do not really see anybody ever do that, even in the biggest bands put together. That is one thing with us that we realized that we would never let our egos hold us back. We always check our egos at the door and that is what you see a lot of the time with these put together bands to write music. They cannot get out of their own way to write a good song and they are such fantastic players. It does not matter if you can do it individually, a band is a collective. If you want to get to that sharp focus you are going to have to fall down a couple of times. Falling down is a level of vulnerability, that builds trust, because vulnerability is honest. It is all about the process.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly, everything seems to have come into full focus with Blood for Blood. This record is excellently put together with a slew of hard-hitting Metal tracks and vivid ballad-like pieces as well. What was the writing and recording process like for the album?
Chad Gray- It was awesome. We got together for a couple of weeks in Texas. Tom was working really hard and Vinnie was working really hard, but Greg just was not really in it. I was not into it because I saw Greg drifting away so to speak. That made the process really fucking tough. Kevin Churko was awesome. When you get a good producer, it is basically in their best interest that the songs are as good as they can be. So you literally make them a part of your band. Greg took the side door and exited. It was me, Tom, and Vinnie and we went in; it was a scary time for me and crazy time because Greg and I had been working together for eighteen years.
I am just an emotional person; I am just naturally that way. Not that I am a crazy pissed-off mother fucker, because I am, but that is an emotion too. I also feel pain and I hurt. I can be emotional on the other side, I am not just hard as nails all the time. When it comes to real true emotion, I totally believe that there are many emotions to the human existence and I try and exercise them all. Pain, I do not really like to dwell, but it always seems to find me. I feel like you have to walk the fire. You have to experience those emotions to get good results, and what I am going through with Greg, I believe really fueled me to do what I do because I was not even sure that I was even going to be able to do this record at first. I kind of ran away from it at first. I was just really in a maddened headspace.
Did I have a hard time writing a song ? Absolutely. Not everything is like God touches you and there is your song. One of my favorite quotes is by Aleister Crowley; “Even if you work poorly… Work.” Several years ago I realized what that meant. You might feel like you suck and you are working poorly but you are working. You are giving your time to the song. Nothing is going to come to you if you do not give your time to it. I went through all that process and the first song I wrote was “Moth.” I sang it to Kevin, kind of with the volume down, so we went and tracked it, then came back in the room and we listened to it completed. Kevin said, “You set the bar pretty high.” Something in Kevin’s voice really drove me. I just kept that in my mind the whole time, like nothing was good enough; I was second guessing everything. I probably could have let things go two days ago and it probably would have worked out fine, but I kept working on it.
Are there songs on record that are weaker than others? I guess there are and has to be, it felt relative to the person. No matter what I have done with Hellyeah, people have to trust that I am being honest. You can judge me and you can say what you will but I am giving you what I got. Whatever I put down is what is coming out of me. I felt that whatever was coming out of us was right, you might not agree, but that is part of being an artist. You have to put it out there, but while you are trying to work on the composition, lyrics, and melodies, you are not thinking, “I cannot wait until this is heard and judged (Laughs).” That is not what is driving us. What is driving you is that is an extension of your soul and self. What are you going to do, lie to yourself? I am not going to lie to myself. I am only going to put out there things that I believe in. When someone disses what we do it, kind of hurts me. Just because you do not agree with it or it does not touch you or scratch where you itch, it does not mean it is not right. That is the kind of the world we live in now though. Everybody has got a platform and can say whatever they want to say and they can say it with complete and total anonymity (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – That is the right attitude. That sort of sincerity and that honesty in the music is what makes the artist and the music better. You have to be honest with yourself otherwise you are just going to be placating to what other people want, not to say that you do not care what other people think, but placating to people, then your art is not going to be good. It seems that you have the approach with your going full on with what you believe in that is what makes the best art.
Chad Gray – I absolutely agree with that. It makes me wonder if people say shit just to say shit. Did some people one day sit down and say, “I can say whatever I want?” (laughs) I do not put myself above anybody and that is something I have always done; is keep my feet on the ground. I do not believe in that shit. Just because I have a cool job I am better than you? Fuck that. That is not me, but there are people that just rip and rail off people for no reason. That just drives me crazy. I just want to make a living. I do not want to make millions. I do not want Ferrari’s parked in the garage of my mansion. I do not need a private jet, but I would like to be able to work and make a living. I do not want it all, I just want something.
CrypticRock.com – That is a very realistic approach to have and people really relate to that because of your sincerity. Blood for Blood certainly is evidence of that.
Chad Gray – I think we wrote a great record. I think it is a very honest record. I think it is a record that people can get behind. We are very excited to play it live as well. Everything has been good and it has been a nice change. There has been a lot of people on the fence from the last album, but it has been a fun ride. It has been tough and emotional, but I believed in the record. Every bend in the road, every off ramp and obstacle, everything that we have cleared, and all the fighting that we had to do, I think we did it so we are pretty proud of it.
CrypticRock.com – As you should be. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Chad Gray – I am not a huge fan of Horror films. I remember my parents taking me to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) when I was three; they took me to see that movie at a drive in and I remember it. I remember the part where he is cutting on the door of the Semi-Truck. That scene has haunted me. Thanks Mom and Dad (laughs). Then there was Halloween (1978) which gave me nightmares for a month. I remember in the end, when they were looking over the balcony, and you just see the imprint of where Michael Myers was and he was gone. My mom told me he just turned to dust and I did not buy it for a second, I said, “Bullshit.” (laughs) It is hard to mess with the classics. They want to remake these things because of all the CGI and all the the things they can do today. There is something to be said about a really good story, just like there is something to be said about a really good song. Like the early Beatles; the most crazy recording equipment the Beatles ever recorded on was a 4-Track. They were huge then and people still go back to those records. People still love Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Peter Frampton, and the Eagles. You cannot fake a great song. You can take all the bells and whistles in the world to throw at it, but if you do not start with the nuts and bolts of a good song it, does not matter what you do to it. Back to movies, there is something to be said for a great screenplay and a great cast of actors versus CGI nonsense.