“It wasn’t planned out I just let the wind blow on this thing, like I was saying, taking one note at a time. Like I said before also, it’s not rocket science, it’s just eleven pretty fuckin’ killer songs, that’s it. I’m not one of those arrogant bastards I’m just a musician and I’m no different to anybody else.”
From release: Who is Rex Brown? To the industry, fellow musicians, and a legion of fans around the world, he’s the bassist for Pantera, one of the biggest hard rock and metal acts of the past few decades, alongside Nirvana and Metallica. They had Number One albums with minimal support from traditional commercial outlets and went platinum several times over. Pantera rode a groundswell of underground loyalty, earned through several years of blood, sweat, and road beers. Five major label albums, countless international tours, and a series of carnage-filled home videos cemented a legacy as large as their massive riffs and the band’s insatiable appetites for mayhem, authenticity, and brotherhood. Now Rex’s solo album is full of mojo and the force of character, determination, and nerve. Smoke On This…
While at home in New Mexico we gave Rex Brown a call to talk about his killer new album ‘Smoke On This’, its creation, it’s sound, the songs, touring, a look back at 25 years since ‘Vulgar Display of Power’, and much more…
We last spoke three years ago when you were heading over with Kill Devil Hill, but let’s catch up how have the last three years been for you?
It’s been a kind of a rebirth of what I’ve been wanting to have had in my head for a while, doing this solo record and I told myself sitting in the back of the bus as I got towards the end of the tour I go you know what? I need to go take some time off, I need to go watch the fuckin’ grass grow, go pee on it, and I need to take two years off, you’re burnt, you’re not gonna come up with any good ideas or anything and about eight months later I was already back into it. More bricks were hitting me over the back of the head that I could throw a stick at, my buddy Lance Harvill had moved to Nashville about four months prior to me coming down for a Summer NAMM. Dude, I’ve probably got a hundred different ideas on my phone, he’s got a library of fuckin’ songs that are more Beatles-esque kind of stuff he’s more in the pop vein, but you put the two of us together and it’s kind of like oil and vinegar, I’ve got that real swagger in the way I wanna do it and once we found the voice we started fitting these riffs back in and forth and just kind of trading off from one another and we came up with these and we recorded thirteen songs and eleven made it to the record.
When putting songs together for a solo album what’s the process like where in a way you are essentially introducing yourself to the world with them?
Number one, when I first started I was just making music, man, and that was it, period, It wasn’t even about what’s it gonna be called, how are we gonna do this, how are we gonna market it, how are we gona do this? I just wanted to make music, man, and I wanted to try this new sound that I had in my head and with Lance and through a photographer buddy of mine found this drummer that was a big Pantera fan and became one of my good friends and became one of the hottest cats in Nashville to play on the session. I thought I was gonna be there about three days and it ended up being about three weeks of tracking all this stuff and the chemistry was just there immediately, it just came together, man. When you run into something like that you just let the wind blow you don’t kinda fuck with it you know what I’m saying? And that’s what we tried to do with this record. If you take the moniker Rex Brown off and listen to the songs what would you think then? You understand what I’m saying? It’s not about this marketing ploy that’s out there, it’s about the songs, I’m all about the jam, always have been, I’m a child of the 70’s and grew up with 70’s rock and roll and that’s gonna be in your forever, I just never had the chance to step back, take a look and make a record like this and I was on no deadline, I had no outside influence except kind of shipping this back and forth to a few friends. It’s just a fuckin’ rock and roll record that’s all there is to it, just cut the bullshit and just fuckin’ if you like it go for it, I’m really proud of it. I worked my ass off on it.
You talk about the 70’s stuff and there are so many different vibes and grooves on the album with a mix and feel of bands like Thin Lizzy, Pink Floyd, The Beatles and more which will be unexpected for what people may think they’ll get from you, but was it a planned departure from the norm for you?
Totally, totally I wanted to do something different man, it’s kinda like reinventing yourself in that weird way and I needed that, look I’ve done metal as much justice as I possibly can, I’m one of those cats that’s got a guitar sitting by his bed and if I wake up at three in the morning I’ll pick it up and take it to one of the rooms I have in this house and put together a riff or two and then go back to bed, finish it up in the morning that’s just what I do. Number one I’m a musician, man, and that’s just it we happened to find my voice on this thing and we made the best of it and I’m still searching. That’s the whole point, I had to stop and look and say alright Rex why did you start this in the first place you’ve been incredibly successful, and I could sit on my couch for the rest of my days and be fine but I’ve still got this rock and roll blood in me and it had just reached a point where these songs were starting to really take shape and there was something magical about them and I said I don’t want to hear these songs just for me I want people to hear it and what are we going to call it? So we named it The Rex Brown Band or just Rex Brown, that’s just it, no band. It’s just me, man, this is what I want to do right now and we’re gonna tour off this thing extensively and go show people how to rock again, man.
I always like to pick one track that stands out for me to ask about, on this one it’s ‘Buried Alive’, when writing a song like that and putting those feelings into five minutes does it become an easy task that just flows or harder due it being so real?
I think with ‘Buried Alive’ and that’s one of my favourites too by the way, Lance had the first couple of lines and then he had a different part and I wanted to hear this big huge army come in when it first started, first you have this acoustic play like a dozen fuckin’ acoustics on the front of the thing *laughs* and the keyboards in the back leaves this kind of haunting feel, he’d had like the very first two lines and then I changed the second two lines and the middle, that’s how we kind of work together, I take stuff and we both work together on how this thing works out. So when I was writing “Drowning in black water” after Dime died I was fucked up, I was trying to find out why, I was trying to find out wow and this has been a long time ago but pen went to paper at that point you know? I didn’t realise until after I recorded it and looked at passion really I wasn’t fucked up, I hadn’t smoked too many joints for the day it was just one of those things that came out and I listened back to it and the guys came in and said “do you know what you just sang about? Do you even realise it?” and I said “Nope” and then I started thinking about it and then it was like oh shit, now we’re onto something really good. It’s not a tribute to Dime it’s just about what I went through and its one of those songs and the lead work that Lance does in that song is simple and I told him on this record Lance, just play something that people can fuckin’ hum. Some of my favourite guitar players like Jeff Beck you can hum their melodies and that’s what I wanted to do with the leads on this thing, Lance making this memorable as you can, if I hear one swoop on here I’m gonna knock it off the record, one arpeggio that doesn’t need to be there, it’s all about the feel of one note, man, that’s all it is and I take one note at a time.
Of course I have to ask if we’ll see you heading down to see us in Australia and play some shows?
Absolutely , I’m already talking to promoters now.
In terms of touring what have you got planned off the back of the new record?
Well right now I’ve got a bunch of promo stuff I’ve gotta do, start rehearsal and then we head to Germany for ten to twelve dates, then have like a week off then we go back to Spain and Italy and play some festivals then from there I believe we’re going out with somebody big but I can’t say.
Obviously over time a lot changes but what would you say is the one thing that’s stayed the same in your time making music?
Just the attitude, I would wanna say. With everything I put out I’m proud of everything I’ve done and it has to have that integrity to it, I just got to the point where I want to do and look I’ve always taken care of this and taking care of this band and this band and that band, so it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with how this kind of works, I just wanted to get away from that while product cycle bullshit, live your life a little bit, man, you deserve it, this is as much as I’ve done in however many years, I really haven’t taken time to just really, really, really focus on me and I think that’s a reflection in the music. It wasn’t planned out I just let the wind blow on this thing, like I was saying, taking one note at a time. Like I said before also, it’s not rocket science, it’s just eleven pretty fuckin’ killer songs, that’s it. I’m not one of those arrogant bastards I’m just a musician and I’m no different to anybody else.
I always say you’re just a normal person with just a really cool job.
Exactly *laughs* and I’m not bitchin’. I think I’ve just talked about this album so much I should let the music do the talking for it, I hate to just take it apart because it’s not supposed to be taken apart it’s supposed to be listened to and that’s my main point.
‘Vulgar Display of Power’ turned 25 this year, still to this day such an amazing album. What are your best memories of releasing what would become such an important album in the world of metal?
Oh shit I could go on forever and you ain’t got enough ear *laughs*. That’s one of my favourite records we ever did and the craziest thing is when we did that record everything just started falling into place and that was exactly what happened with this last record that I just did, it was just one of things that just fell into place, and you really can’t try to scientifically figure out why, if it’s happening fuckin’ go with it that’s all I can say. You know with ‘Vulgar’ we never in a million years thought it would have the impact that it did, we knew that after we finished it and had a copy of it that we were like little kids in a candy store walking around with this thing for four months playing it to everybody that we knew and looking back at it now I guess it really was a game changer. We were just four guys putting it together and that’s the way I’ve tried to stay, when you start trying to put too much shit in it or overthink stuff that’s when it really gets in the way of the whole creative process you know? If Vinnie had come up with a drum beat or Dime had come up with a riff or I came up with a riff you know Dime and I worked real closely on all of those riffs, I don’t like to speak much about it now because he’s not here to say yes that’s true but we worked everything together. So when he passed it was like losing your while right side of your body and it’s one of those things I’ve had to get over and I think I used the road as just covering up some of those feeling you know? I had to do a lot of deep soul searching. The recording of my own shit and not listening to someone else helped me kind of cathartically do it.
Lastly let’s look ahead to the future, finish this sentence for me, by the end of 2017 Rex Brown wants to…
Rex Brown wants to take a vacation *laughs*. Rex Brown wants to go rock some fuckin’ heads off, man. That’s it, plain and simple.
Latest Release: Smoke On This (Out Now – eOne Music)