INTERVIEW: Tom Maxwell of Hellyeah (July 2012)

Hellyeah’s newly released third album, “Band of Brothers”, is the kind of heavy, aggressive record many fans have been hoping for since the news of a band featuring members of Pantera, Damageplan, Mudvayne and Nothingface first broke. Guitarist Tom Maxwell feels that way, too. Prior to the last show of Hellyeah’s tour supporting Volbeat, Live Metal’s Greg Maki sat down with Maxwell to discuss the new album, Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe’s incarceration in the Czech Republic and more.

LIVE METAL: This is a hometown show for you. What is it like? I’m sure it’s fun, but are there also headaches that go along with it?

TOM MAXWELL: Everybody—your family and your friends—is hitting you up last minute, which I always accommodate—it’s cool. It’s not even really a headache. I know that it’s coming whenever I come home. Everybody’s gonna be hitting me up. It’s cool, though. I love playing at home. It’s awesome.

It’s also the last show of this tour. From previous tours, do you have any good stories about pranks you’ve played on other bands or bands have played on you?

Yeah, sometimes I’ll take the water bottle and I’ll replace it with white vinegar. (laughter) They’re up there, wait about five or six songs deep, they’re huffing and puffing—just kind of sneak up there, turn it around and watch ‘em. It’s pretty horrifying. It’s happened to me, and that’s where I got it from. It’s the ultimate prank. You tend to piss people off, though, so you gotta kind of just scurry off quickly.

So how’s this tour gone?

It’s awesome, man. Probably one of my favorite tours we ever did. Volbeat guys are great. Iced Earth guys are awesome. We’re all different. Iced Earth’s got that old-school metal, then you have us, then you have Volbeat, which is like a new, kinda Johnny Cash meets punk rock meets Metallica. A lot of people think, “Man, that’s kind of a weird tour.” It’s actually pretty badass, man.

The new album just came out this week. You’ve been in this business for a while now, put a lot of albums out. Do you still get excited on release day?

I do, man. We were in New York doing press, and I went down to Best Buy and bought our record. It’s like religious. I’ve done it with every record I’ve ever done. I think it’s a show of good faith that you believe in it, too.

It’s getting harder to find places to buy them, though.

It really is, dude. What’s really trippy is we went up to Long Island, New York. We did an in-store signing at a place called Looney Tunes, and it was actually a real mom-and-pop record store where they had vinyl, like a lot of collector’s item type of stuff. It blew me away. Everything’s digital now. I went on iTunes to check, and we were inside the top 10 of overall bestselling and number four on the rock charts, which is cool, but that shows you what everybody’s doing. They’re going to iTunes and putting it on their phones and iPods and whatever else.

I don’t know, man. I have a strange suspicion that CDs might become what vinyl was—totally extinct. Ten years from now, people will be like, “Oh man, I found a CD, dude.” It’s just the way of technology, the way of the world, dude. I don’t mind that. I think it’s totally fine as long as they can find a way to stop piracy. There’s a lot people out there that are like, “Fuck you, I’ll just download it. I don’t care.” I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that there’s a lot of shitty music out there and people don’t want to take the chance on buying a record for one song and having a bunch of crap around it. I think we just have to have some kind of anti-piracy thing, where websites—there’s a couple of ‘em left. A lot of ‘em are getting shut down. Something’s gotta happen.

I definitely was a fan of the first two Hellyeah albums, but when I hear “Band of Brothers,” it sounds like the album I’ve been wanting to hear since I heard that this group of people was getting together.

Yeah, a lot of people said that, and I really appreciate that, because the first record we wrote in the very first 20 days we were together. We never played together, nothing, and it was kind of like that spark of energy. Then the second record we kind of took a little time off, and then everybody wanted to try to do something outside the box, a little differently. Me being full-blown metal roots, I was hesitant, but at the same time, I wanted to support what everybody wanted to do and try to go somewhere outside the box. But with this one, I think we’ve developed. We’ve become that band now. We’ve toured the world quite a few times, we did two records, and now we’ve harnessed it. So yeah, I think this is actually more like our true first record. So yeah, you’re right about that.

There was a much shorter gap between albums this time. After the first one, you all went your separate ways.

Chad (Gray) and Greg (Tribbett) had to go back to their obligations with Mudvayne, and they had to finish out their last record. They actually had two records left, but they recorded both of them at the same time, so they could get it out of the way. So then we didn’t have that bridge to cross when the “Stampede” cycle was over.

How did that affect the new album?

For me, I was excited about it. I mean, I wanted to go home first for a little while after touring for 16, 18 months. And we did. We took a little break but kept a window open, kept the momentum going. We were already fired up. We knew we wanted to write a fuckin’ heavier record, so I was really excited about that.

With the music getting heavier and darker, was the vibe in the studio any different than usual?

No. I think we just knew what we wanted to do. The first song I brought to the table was “War in Me,” and I was like, “Here it is.” And that kind of set the tone. Once we got that away, we were all like, “OK, I guess this is how it’s gonna go.”

The album title, “Band of Brothers,” that’s kind of been the mindset of the band from the beginning, right?

It really is. We’ve always considered ourselves the underdogs, because when groups like us form, there’s a lot of bands that have these little project bands—but that’s all they are. We wanted to make this our band. I think a lot of people were looking at us like this project band. So it was kind of like our thing of being the underdogs, fighting through, having adversity, going forward, battling with record labels that don’t believe in rock ‘n’ roll anymore. That’s why we’re not with Epic anymore. They don’t believe in rock ‘n’ roll. They’re more interested in selling dead Michael Jackson records. So it just felt appropriate.

You worked with a different producer this time.

Sorta kinda. He was kind of like more of an engineer. We were gonna work with Sterling (Winfield), but we would’ve had to wait about six months because he had another project. Chad and Greg worked with Jeremy (Parker) with Mudvayne. I like Jeremy’s work. He did the last Slipknot record, Godsmack, Evanescence. It was his technical skills that I was really interested in—his ear and engineering. He’s very quick, and that’s kind of how I like to work in the studio. I don’t like fucking around. Just get in there and do it and hash it out. I don’t want to overanalyze stuff. Sometimes you’ve just gotta keep that rawness. But yeah, he brought that, a fresh set of ears, good direction. I think it fired us up.

Switching gears, the big thing everybody is talking about—


Yeah. What are your thoughts on that?

I think it’s a really bad situation all the way around the block. I think he’s being made a scapegoat in this post-Dime era. I was one of those kids who used to jump on Slayer stages when I was rocking out. Now, ever since what happened to Dime, you don’t know what people’s intentions are. I’ve had shows where drunks are running up, they have that glare in their eyes, and you don’t know. I think with him, it’s really a sad situation. Of course, you feel really bad for the kid who died. There’s so many holes in it, though. The fact that they posted his bond and then they rejected it, and now they raised it, and they have the right to refuse that and contest it. It just seems somebody’s trying to make some money out of it and/or make an example of him. It puts a knot in my stomach, man, because the guy has a family. He’s the nicest dude. Gentle. He’s a wild guy like we all are when we’re doing our after-show stuff. But I’ve been onstage with him, watched him, and he’s just all about the crowd. He doesn’t have a malicious bone. He wouldn’t intentionally hurt somebody.

And if that video that’s online, if that’s it, then I don’t understand at all.

I don’t know, man. And then there’s like a couple of his friends who were witnesses and they’re saying something else. You can clearly see in that video that there was no maliciousness there.

He barely even touched him.

He was singing while it was happening. Barely touched him—exactly. And plus, it just weirds me out, the fact that it was two years ago and nobody has contacted our embassy or tried to contact him or their management to say, “Hey, a kid died.” Despite what the extradition laws are—I don’t know—but for me, if it was my kid, despite whether he will ever get tried for it, I would still try to reach out and say, “Look, this is what happened at your show.” It’s just weird, dude. And I feel bad. It’s just a shitty situation, and I really want him to get home.

Well, as we said, this is the last show of this tour. What’s next for Hellyeah?

We have another week. We’re gonna do a bunch of shows through Texas, and then we’re gonna take a little time off, man. We’ve been going hard since February. We’ve had a couple options, but I don’t like touring just for the sake of it. It really has to be a cool tour and mean something, and a couple of the things that they offered us, we weren’t really interested in. I know it’s weird because we just released a record, but we need to wait for the right thing to come. We’ve got some stuff lined up; we just obviously can’t talk about it till it’s set in stone.


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