While the public may have thought the formation of HELLYEAH was a one-off, side project, it has been anything but such. Over a decade strong in, the band entered the studio in 2018 to work on what would be their sixth studio album, but then tragedy struck at the end of their sessions when founding Drummer Vinnie Paul passed suddenly at the age of 54.
Leaving the surviving members of HELLYEAH with very heavy hearts, fortunately, Vinnie Paul’s parts were already recorded, thus making sure the album, Welcome Home, would see the light of day and give the beloved drummer a proper farewell. A time of mixed emotions for the band, Bassist Kyle Sanders recently sat down to chat about his time with HELLYEAH, the impact of Vinnie Paul, their decision to carry on, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – Involved in Rock/Metal for many years with other bands, you joined up with HELLYEAH around 5 years ago. What has your time been like in the band?
Kyle Sanders – It’s been pretty awesome. I’ve been around these guys from the beginning before HELLYEAH even started, so it wasn’t a huge culture shock. My previous band had toured with HELLYEAH and my band before, Bloodsimple, Chad Gray got on his label. We’ve been around each other for a long time, so it wasn’t even a question if it was going to work out; it was meant to be and it was all about timing. It’s been great and super busy.
Cryptic Rock – It seems like everything fit into place with your history together. As mentioned, you have been a part of other bands including Bloodsimple, Medication, as well as MonstrO. What did you take with you from previous experiences going into HELLYEAH?
Kyle Sanders – Basically just the work ethic. In previous bands, Bloodsimple probably had the most success of several other bands, but I just always kind of took the bull by the horns and made things happen. We didn’t have the kind of budget to have full crews, so I would always kind of tour manage, keep up with the books, or work really close with our personal/business manager. Thankfully, throughout the years I learned a lot. It’s really a matter of taking things into your own hands and making it happen. I just brought all that I had to the table. It was just an added bonus to have me know what I was doing and not just a rookie coming in, not having a clue of what’s going on and not knowing how things work and operate. I was just a piece in the puzzle and knew where to fit in.
Cryptic Rock – Exactly. The new album Welcome Home comes out on September 27th. This is the last album Vinnie Paul recorded on, so it is quite special. What was the writing and recording process like?
Kyle Sanders – It started out just like the last one. I came in when they were wrapping up Blood For Blood (2014), we toured that one together, then there was Undeniable (2016). All the last three records were with the same producer, Kevin Churko. It was kind of business as usual when it started out: we got together, jammed on some new songs, but to be honest, half the record or more gets written in the studio.
It started out the same way: we went into the studio without even doing any kind of pre-production, rehearsal or writing sessions. We had a few songs down, took a break, then Tom and Vinnie got together and jammed on some riffs, worked a couple of things, and brought it back to the studio. Everything was kind of the same, but halfway through this time Vinnie passed on and it was a serious blow to everybody involved. What was a completely normal record turned out to be the complete opposite of what anyone could expect with all that happening right in the middle of it all.
Cryptic Rock – That had to be hard for everyone as Vinnie was a massive part of HELLYEAH. Is it hard for you guys to carry on or is it that you must carry on in honor of Vinny?
Kyle Sanders – It’s equal parts of both. When everything happened, I can’t speak for everyone else, but my initial thought was, “That’s it, the band’s over.” Vinnie was like the heart of the band, he was a huge part of it in every aspect, I couldn’t imagine how the band could possibly move forward. On the other side of it, Vinnie didn’t care about anything expect for HELLYEAH, he wanted this band to be the biggest band in the world and he would have done whatever it took to keep driving forward and making that happen.
As much as I thought it was impossible to move on, on the other side of the coin, it’s impossible not to move on. We have to carry on for Vinnie. It’s not like he’s not on this record: every drum beat on this record is Vinnie. The fact that he finished the record, we turned the table and said, “We have to tour, we have to carry on. We have bring this record to life and bring it to the world.”
As far as moving on in the future, we’ve taken everything step by step. We decided we would play again, we did one show in Vegas, and it went off amazingly well. So we then said let’s book a short tour that is 2-3 weeks compared to a 6 or 7 week tour. We honestly didn’t know how we were all going to handle being back on a bus and him not being there, and being back on stage with him him not behind the kit. There was just a lot of uncertainties of how we were going to handle it and how the fans would handle it. This tour was just overwhelming with how positive as well as supportive the fans were, and how great we felt on stage to play the new music. As emotional as it was, we knew for a fact we were doing the right thing for carrying on. We just keep taking it step by step and doing the right thing in honor of Vinnie.
Cryptic Rock – That is great that you are carrying on. You have some cool shows coming up with Nonpoint and Deepfall through the end of 2019, and you have Roy Mayorga from Stone Sour on drums now. How has that been going?
Kyle Sanders – I have a history with Roy: he and I played in Medication in the early 2000s. We have toured and played together. So the fact that I already had this history with him, we had that connection. It’s definitely odd looking back there and seeing a different face back there, I can’t really explain – there are a lot of emotions that run through. Roy has done such a killer job and he did so much homework on Vinnie’s style. Things change live from on the recordings, so he had to learn all the live treatments and things Vinnie would do. As far as playing together, Roy was flawless. He is the perfect combination of doing what Vinnie did, but also keeping it in his own style at the same time.
As hard as I thought it was going to be, it was kind of a smooth thing and felt really good. Roy’s so privileged and honored that we even reached out to him to step behind the kit for this touring cycle. He’s just as excited as we are and taking it just as seriously.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like things are going well considering the circumstances. As we spoke, you have been a part of the writing process for two albums now. Being friends with the band through the years, you have seen the progression of the band. In our previous interview with Chad Gray, he had said he was looking to find something somewhere in between Chad Gray, Mudvayne, and HELLYEAH. It seems like he has found that now, do you agree?
Kyle Sanders – I totally agree. People ask about the early days of HELLYEAH: these guys came together from bigger bands and they all wanted to do something they couldn’t do. Some of the songs HELLYEAH wrote on the first couple of records, Pantera and Mudvayne could never have done. It was having the freedom to do whatever you want; if it works fine, if it doesn’t whatever. It was just about having some fun. I think it was around Band of Brothers where things started to take a turn, where everyone got refocused and decided the path HELLYEAH should take. After that, Blood For Blood sealed the deal; that was a big step forward for the band in how they wanted to sound.
It definitely sounds nothing like Mudvayne now, but you can definitely hear the Chad/Mudvayne in there. It sounds nothing like the Pantera days, but there are some heavy, brutal riffs. It is a good marriage of all those things, it just takes time to kind of perfect them. We all agree that with this new record everything just came together; everything took a whole new meaning and got even deeper. It pretty much feels we are on the top of our game right now.
Cryptic Rock – It is compelling to see the progression of the band over the last 13 years. Since you have been involved in music so long, what are some of your influences?
Kyle Sanders – In the early days I was strictly a metalhead, Heavy Metal was all I cared about. I kind of had blinders on, if it was anything softer than Metal or a different genre, I just wasn’t having it. I’m not saying that was the right way to go, but I was all about Cliff Burton, Steve Harris, and Geezer Butler. Bands like Metallica, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, that’s what I was all about. I loved it! It’s the reason I started playing, and it just fueled my fire for everything I did. That was the whole basis for me for about 10 years until I realized there is actually good music in every genre. I expanded my horizons, listened to other music, and now I listen to almost anything.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, you change over time. You progress as a musician as well as a listener.
Kyle Sanders – Exactly, you have to. It makes you a better player. You can’t exclude any kind of music. It’s all about just being open to new ideas and new things.
Cryptic Rock – Agreed. That shows in your playing too because you went on to to be a part of MonstrO with Bevan Davies. Any status updates with that band?
Kyle Sanders – It’s funny because we did that one record together and we did some awesome tours including Kyuss Lives! and Alice in Chains. We did some great stuff, but then we kind of came to a stand still, that’s when the HELLYEAH opportunity came up. MonstrO never really quit or broke up, we just all got busy doing something else. It’s not out of the question that we do something again. It was something totally different, it was still heavy but a Desert Rock type of thing.
Cryptic Rock – It would be interesting to see that happen again. Last question. If you are a fan of Horror and Sci-fi films, do you have any favorites?
Kyle Sanders – I always go back to Evil Dead II (1986), it’s been a favorite since the first time I saw it. I’ve probably seen it 500 times, but just putting that on – it’s awesomely hilarious and grotesque. It’s one of my go-to movies, I love it to death.
When I was younger I was all about the early Sci-fi movies – I was into Star Wars, early Godzilla movies, etc. I am kind of out of the loop of anything current. I’m not saying there isn’t anything good out there, I just haven’t focused on it.