When Hellyeah formed 10 years ago, it was instantly defined as a supergroup since its members have histories with the name-brand acts Mudvayne, Nothingface and Pantera. The group began forging its own success with its 2007 debut self-titled album, which contained the hits “Alcohaulin’ Ass” and “You Wouldn’t Know.” Hellyeah has maintained a steady presence on rock radio and the road up through its last album, 2014’s Blood for Blood, and gained millions of YouTube views for that project’s “Moth” and “Hush.” Original members Vinnie Paul (drums), Chad Gray (vocals) and Tom Maxwell (guitar) remain with the band, which in the last few years added former Bloodsimple member Kyle Sanders on bass and Christian Brady on guitar.
In other words, Hellyeah clearly intends to keep at it, as evidenced by its upcoming fifth album, Undeniable, arriving June 3 on Eleven Seven Music. For many fans of Mudvayne, Nothingface and Pantera, it’s a win since they still get to see their favorite performers make music. But according to Gray, there are also fans who are irked that the latter three bands are no longer recording, even though Pantera had ended long before Hellyeah formed, Nothingface had already endured one breakup before disbanding again in 2009, and Mudvayne, which was active in 2006, has been on official hiatus since 2014.
“People want what they want — sometimes you can’t have what you want,” says Gray. “That’s been the frustration — they want Mudvayne, but we can’t give it to ’em. I tell people all of the time, ‘Dude, if you want to hear it, buy it and listen to it. There are CDs, and I am hugely proud of what we did.’
“If you want to do a reunion tour, you need all the members. Nobody’s hurt by that fact more than Vinnie Paul,” he continues, in apparent reference to how a Pantera reunion isn’t possible since its guitarist — Vinnie Paul’s brother,Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott — was killed in 2004. “A reunion tour is only a reunion if everyone is involved. All we are trying to do is create music together that is viable, that is from our hearts and souls. We don’t care about what music is doing or what anybody else is doing. We just love playing music together.”
Gray expands on those thoughts in this exclusive clip below:
Gray points out that while he released two albums with Mudvayne during Hellyeah’s early years, “Mudvayne [at that time] was basically breaking. I still love and talk to those guys, but it’s like being in a relationship and all the sudden things just start to fall apart. Mudvayne was just dissolving. It became too much for all of us. It was no one person in particular’s fault. We all have faults. It was crumbling beneath us. I chose to be an artist and continue to play in Hellyeah.”
The singer also emphasizes, “I care about our fans more than anybody could ever imagine. I think ‘fan’ is almost a derogatory term — it’s short for ‘fanatic’; almost has a negative connotation for me — at the end of the day they are friends and family. We use each other to get through life. I need the crowd to stand in front of me so I can vent, scream and perform so I can get through that day. They show up and need me screaming at them to check their problems at the door.”
He observes that as a lyricist, he writes so that fans can connect his words with their lives. “I feel like it’s my duty to scream from the mountaintops to the people who carry this baggage. Sometimes it’s nice to knock a brick off the wall. You’re not alone. It’s an empowering message when you feel powerless,” he explains. “Every day I get someone telling me that I’ve saved their lives. It reminds me of the power of honesty. That’s what I feel Hellyeah is trying to do lyrically — even if it’s a song like [Undeniable track] ‘StartARiot.’ It’s just to lose yourself in this song and this moment. This is your time to rage. There are many elements to the human experience — sadness, pain, happiness; we experience all of these things every day, and they shape-shift and move. Life is full of emotion, and I think that Hellyeah captures that and embraces that in this album.”
Gray describes Undeniable as “a little more poetic and personal” than previous Hellyeah efforts, which have all charted in either the top 10 or top 20 of the Billboard 200. “This is more of a heavy record, not that Blood for Blood wasn’t. This one just has a bit more angst, a ‘F— you,’ those type of songs on it,” he says. “We live and learn, we grow up and we change. I look at life differently than I did when I was 20. It’s just part of life. That’s always reflected in my writing and what I write about.”
One very personal element that Undeniable contains is a recently recovered Dimebag recording that, according to Gray, the guitarist made with Vinnie Paul: a cover of Phil Collins’ 1983 top 40 Billboard Hot 100 hit “I Don’t Care Anymore.” “Christian Brady was just sitting in the studio, and he said out of the blue, ‘It would be really cool to cover “I Don’t Care Anymore.”’ He kept going on about how he could see me singing that song, as it’s very me: the subject matter, the title, everything,” recalls Gray. “All of the sudden, Vinnie remembered that about 14 years ago he and his brother did a cover of that exact song.”
After digging around to locate the track, lift it off the old Radar system that was used to record it and load it into Pro Tools, “we really weren’t sure what we were going to get, but we end up getting the entire track. It was crazy.”
Producer Kevin Churko (Ozzy Osbourne, Five Finger Death Punch, In This Moment), who helmed Undeniable, also had faith that the cover would be great. Gray didn’t feel up to par when it was time to cut his vocals, but he says Churko told him, “‘Dude you’re going to be singing this song for the rest of your life.’ Such a powerful moment for me. First we start with Phil Collins and this amazing song — he fluctuates, enunciates in these weird little places. His vocal performance is beautiful. Then we have Dime, who does this fantastic job on it. Then we have Vinnie, who knocks it out of the park with his insane drumming. Christian and Kyle kill it.”
Gray was determined to sing the song his own way. “I needed to make it ours. It was unbelievable that it went from ‘We should cover this’ to ‘Hey, we have this recording’ to ‘Hey, we need to get it off of this crazy, outdated system,’ and here we are. People are going to love it. What I really hope is that Phil Collins loves it.”