Ex-Pantera Bassist Rex Brown Recounts Leaving Down & Joining Vinny Appice for Kill Devil Hill Debut
Rex Brown is no stranger to the metal world. He played bass for over twenty years with arguably the most influential metal band of the nineties, Pantera. He also joined Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo in the melodious, southern-fried Down. Brown later regrouped with Down band mates in New Orlean’s most celebrated doom/sludge band, Crowbar. After three decades of playing with established acts, Brown has joined a newcomer, Kill Devil Hill.
Kill Devil Hill will release its self-titled debut on March 26th, 2012. Although the group doesn’t have a full-length recording to build its fan base, the stickers and advertisements explaining who plays on the recordings should pique interest. Rex Brown joins drummer Vinny Appice (Dio, Black Sabbath/Heaven and Hell) in the completion of a dream rhythm section. Don’t expect the two to sit on their laurels while mindlessly hashing out elementary back beats. Kill Devil Hill's rhythm section shows an expertise of craft, carefully filling in gaps and showing a tightness normally reserved for artists with a long history together.
Although carrying a lighter resume, Kill Devil Hill members Mark Zavon and Dewey Bragg possess the chops necessary to follow Appice and Brown. Guitarist Zavon has experience playing in Mandy Lion’s WWIII and with Steven Pearcy of Ratt. Pantera is gone forever, but Zavon’s tricks, melodies and groove distantly echo Dimebag Darrell. Dewey Bragg possesses a voice in the tradition of fallen Alice In Chains singer, Layne Staley, but with the occasional aggressive bellow. His harmonies have a “whistle” quality that, according to Brown, is lacking in today’s heavy rock field.
Rex Brown had plenty to talk about in the following interview. His departure from Down, relationship with Vinny Appice, joining Kill Devil Hill and his opinion of Bragg and Zavon are all topics Brown addresses with honest thought. Read onward to learn of a new chapter is the legendary bassist’s career.
Darren Cowan (Rex_84): You and Vinny have been friends for years. Do you recall when you first met him?
Rex Brown: I can’t recall the first time I met him, but I can recall the subsequent times, at different festivals, opening up for Black Sabbath back in the day. That was in ’91 or ’92. I smoked a little grass with him and Ronnie James [Dio] and watched their show. In festivals over in Europe, there are a bunch of bands. We [Pantera] were a really big draw at European festivals, so we went out and opened in front of the kings—Sabbath, Ozzy, Iron Maiden, Metallica—you name it.
Cowan: Vinny sent you a demo and asked you if you wanted to be involved. Had you two previously jammed and/or discussed playing in a band together?
Brown: No, he called out of the blue. We have a past that goes back twenty years. Down opened up for them, first in Australia and then in Canada. We would always have dinner together or whatever. We would get on stage, sit behind Geezer’s amps and watch Vinny play, so we have a really good repoire. Anyway, we had just got off the road with Down for two-and-a-half years, almost three years. There wasn’t really anything happening there and I just couldn’t turn the light switch off, so I just kept jamming with local guys or whatever. I took all the furniture out of my vacant house, put a PA in there and proceeded to jam. I always have to be playing, one way or the other. Anyway, I get a call from Vinny, asking me if I wanted to play on some demo tracks. Of course! It’s Vinny Appice from Black Sabbath! I told him, “Fuck yeah, I’ll play on them!” He liked them, so he kept sending more. I kept putting my ideas down. I told him not to put any scratch bass down. I wanted to do it on my own, all original stuff. A lot of the stuff I did on the demos were a skeleton of what I did on the record. That’s the way it started. I came down to NAMM a year or so ago, bought an extra bass and got into the rehearsal room with these guys. Mark [Zavon], our guitar player, had sent me some guitar tracks to check out that I actually played in the studio because I was kind of busy. We played about seven or eight songs. This might sound cliché’, but it all clicked. Everything sounded great, except the heavy, bottom end. And then we looked at what to do about putting the melodies and vocals over the top. Everybody is going for that Popeye, gargle crap these days. I just wasn’t into it. This guy [Dewey Bragg] could actually sing. That was a key selling point for me. I like to be able to whistle a tune. You can’t whistle a gargle tune.
Cowan: He does scream a little. He has some hard vocals on the album.
Brown: Yeah, he has his balls to him, for sure, which is cool. At the same time, I want to hear somebody really sing. He just got stronger and stronger. So that’s where we are right now. We’re putting this record out and will let the global masses hear.
Cowan: I agree. He does have a great voice. People are going to identify with you and Vinny Appice, but that’s not to take away from the other guys.
Brown: Not at all! Mark is an incredible guitar player. He wrote the majority of this stuff with Dewey. A lot of the stuff had already been itched. We came in with our mark with different arrangements and chord changes. Everyone has gotten along great. Everything is working smoothly. It was one of those things: When something falls into your lap like this, you have a choice to make. You can sit around and wait forever for something to happen or you can go ahead and put a little change in your life. It’s gone exceptionally well for me.
Cowan: Why did you leave Down?
Brown: Just to make it brief: I’ve been with Phil [Anselmo] for something like twenty-four years. It was just time for change. I was down for some of the writing of their [Down] EP that is coming out, but I just needed to change what I was doing. I’m happy that this just sort of came upon me. Everything is cool; we talk to each other all the time. It was just time for a change. It’s as easy as that. It’s not a big deal. I made a pact that we’re not going to talk about each other’s music. That’s a waste of time for fans and pens for you scribes.
Cowan: Considering that you and Vinny come from big names like Pantera, Down, Black Sabbath and Dio, do people come out to your shows expecting Kill Devil Hill to sound like those bands?
Brown: I don’t worry about that because the way I look at my career I’ve had some pretty big records that I can’t take away from, but I’m on a musical journey and I can’t do the same shit all the time. It gets very boring. With this band I was open for a different interpretation of Rex Brown.
Cowan: Your bass really stands out on songs like “Old Man” and “Gates of Hell.” Were you going for a doomy vibe on those tracks?
Brown: No, whenever a track comes up I just play what comes natural to me. What I try to do is not get in the way. A good musician knows when not to play, instead of playing all the time. Some of these tracks were designed that way, and some just come and out and it fits. That’s my role as a bass player. It’s the same with Vinny. We worked really hard, me and him, rehearsing these tracks to make each song as powerful as we could without stepping on the toes of someone else like the melodies or the guitar player.
Cowan: Did everybody have a large role writing and playing on the album?
Brown: Yeah, and that just comes with the territory. That’s what makes or breaks a good band. If you have a bass player who is playing all over the place while the singer is going for it, it’s just not going to work. As far as the rhythm section, we’ve all played in different bands. We know exactly what we want to do. It’s about keeping it as heavy as you can on the bottom, so the singer can put his melody over the top. That’s the way that Kill Devil Hill writes music.
Cowan: Dewey’s vocals are reminiscent of Chris Cornell or Layne Staley.
Brown: Right. Those are two of my favorite singers in the world. People are going to point their finger and say what it sounds like to them. You know, there was a band before that. We didn’t intentionally do that. Those singers are some of Dewey’s influences. For people to say, “God damn, this sounds like Alice In Chains or Cornell” is a compliment. That means you’re actually getting it, but he’s in no way ripping them off. He’s just influenced by them. You can point the finger at what genre this musical style that we’re doing is, but in the long run it’s just four guys getting into a rehearsal room and spitting it out.
Cowan: It’s heavy rock-n-roll.
Brown: Yes sir.
Cowan: Kill Devil Hill toured extensively back in October and on select dates in November and December. When will you hit the road again?
Brown: As soon as our record comes out, we’ll be flying into Europe first. We’ve gotten all kinds of big offers for the summer time. We’re shooting for festivals in Europe. I believe we are in talks with festivals here. That just depends on who wants to pay the most money.
Cowan: That’s business.
Brown: Nah, I was joking, dude. We just want to get out and play. We have to take the best plan of action that we can. Do we want to go to European festivals that are at least worth it? Do we want to take one of these festivals here in America first? We’ll know here in the next five days or so. There will be all kinds of stuff that will come out.
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