Guitarist Christian Brady is a proud man. Proud of how far Hellyeah have come musically. Proud of their new album, Welcome Home. And proud that he and his bandmates — vocalist Chad Gray, guitarist Tom Maxwell, and bassist Kyle Sanders — were able to summon the courage to complete the recordings while grieving the loss of their drummer, Vinnie Paul Abbott.
“There’s so much attached to this album,” says Brady. “As I’m sure everybody knows, we were in the middle of it when we lost Vinnie, and so it was a very heavy time, of course, and it still is. It’s very fragile, a lot of emotions, but we do obviously have a little more distance from it. We’ve been able to grieve.”
The band was in Las Vegas with producer Kevin Churko, in the midst of recording Welcome Home, when they learned of Vinnie Paul’s passing. News of his fatal heart attack at age 54, on 22 June 2018, shook the band, and the music industry, to its core. With the drummer’s tracks already recorded, the group were determined to reassemble and finish the album in honour of their beloved friend and colleague.
“If Vinnie’s tracks hadn’t been done, it would have been a different story,” says Brady. “But this was his last work, the last piece of his life, and we felt a responsibility to put that out and be able to give it to the fans, the people that loved him so much, loved what he did, and were touched by his talents and generosity and the way he lived his life.”
Welcome Home is the band’s sixth album. As they prepared for its release and wrapped up a series of summer dates, with Stone Sour’s Roy Mayorga on drums, Christian Brady spoke to MusicRadar about the new music, exploring and rediscovering his metal roots in Hellyeah, and life in the after-loss of a best friend.
Talk a bit about your role in Hellyeah and your working relationship with Tom.
“Kyle and I joined Hellyeah in 2014, right after they had finished recording Blood For Blood. We toured that record, and then we were a part of Unden!able, which I love. Every record feels like growth with this band, because we get closer and more musically comfortable with each other, and it shows in the creative process.
“Tommy and I are tight, real tight. I love Tom. He’s become like a brother to me, and I think there’s a natural chemistry between us as guitar players. We both bring different things to the table, but it just works. The friendship is there, the love is there, we have a connection, and I think you have to have that closeness offstage in order to have it onstage.
“I couldn’t imagine playing with someone I didn’t want to hang out with. It works for some people, I guess, but for me, you’re living in a tin can with the guys, and if you don’t want to be around them, that’s a hard situation. We all genuinely get along and care about each other, and I think that adds so much to the music as well.”
You bring quite a musical vocabulary to the band. Uberschall, Franky Perez & the Truth – could Hellyeah be any more of a leap?
“I have such a love for all kinds of music. I was born and raised in Las Vegas, and I started playing covers early, so I learned a lot of songs. I know a lot of songs! Doing gigs like that helps your vocabulary because you have to play so many different styles.
“It also taught me a lot about writing, because you learn these songs and you learn structure, you learn what makes them great, what about this is grabbing people. You learn about lyrics and progressions and arrangements and the way things work. It taught me so much about playing and writing and emotions.
“I grew up listening to Van Halen, Mötley Crüe, Led Zeppelin, and then Pantera exploded and I found those guys. I was into Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer. So I come from a hard rock/metal background in my playing, and I did that for a long time.
“As I got older, I started playing with Franky, and that’s bluesy rock, but the common thread for me in all of it is that no matter what style of music I play, it always comes from the heart. I think that’s the most important thing. You have guys that play a million notes and are technically incredible, and I listen to a lot of them too, but those that really have something to say have so much emotion that you can’t deny it. It can be three notes or a thousand notes — if you’re speaking the truth with it, that’s where it’s at.”
Different bands, different rigs. You’re a Dean man with Hellyeah, but more of a Gibson man with Franky Perez.
“I’ve had my Les Pauls for a long time and I play them with Franky, but Dean is my guitar in Hellyeah, and we’re working on a model right now. I love Dean, I love what they do, and they’ve been so good to me and Tommy. I do want to stick with my Dean family and support them, because they support me and I love their guitars.
“In Hellyeah I’m using a Kemper Profiler. Hellyeah is a much heavier sound, and what I love about the Kemper is that it’s very consistent. Tube amps can be a chore on the road because they get jostled around, the power differs, every room is different, so it’s a challenge to always get a consistent tone and keep them in good condition. So the Kemper is great for that."
“When I’m at home and playing with Franky, my favourite amp is an ’84 Marshall JCM800 2203. It’s one of the best-sounding amps I’ve ever owned. I bought it in a mom-and-pop shop in Boise, Idaho, when we were on tour. Tom came with me, we checked it out, I plugged into it for a minute, we looked at each other and we were like, “This is a good one!” I grabbed it, took it home, had my amp guy work on it, and it just sings. It’s amazing. Marshalls have that tone, but they’re not super-heavy; they just have a beautiful overdrive to them.
“I don’t think it would be the right amp for Hellyeah, but it works for Franky because I go for a bluesier tone there. In that band I’m the only guitar player, so I go for a bigger sound because I have so much real estate to cover. Over the years, that band has morphed too, and now it’s just a three-piece — bass, drums, and guitar — and Franky singing, so I use a bigger rig and I have a lot going on to fill the sound and make it thick.
“In Hellyeah there’s Tom and I, and we both cover a lot of territory together, so I don’t have to go as crazy-big. I don’t have to have multiple amps and cabinets. We can get away with a Kemper and a cab, and we run a direct also to go to the house for a clean signal. We have cabinets onstage to fill the sound, so there’s quite a bit of stage volume. I’m on in-ears as well, because the volume over the years beat the old eardrums up a little bit, so I’m trying to save what I’ve got.”
Which in-ears do you use?
“Ultimate Ears UE-7 Triple Drivers. They’re moulded, so the way they fit, they block out so much external sound. That’s the age-old battle: rock and roll is loud, and you don’t think about it when you’re younger and you’re just going for it, but you get a little older and you notice that ringing in your ears doesn’t necessarily go away anymore. So I have to take some steps to preserve my hearing.
"I have tinnitus; it’s there every day. I have friends who have it really bad, and I’m fortunate that I’m not there yet, but if I’m not careful, it can get worse, so I have to watch it. I get the in-ears to where it sounds good, and then I turn it down one or two clicks to back them off. That’s the game now, and the in-ears have definitely helped.”
You mentioned a signature model with Dean. How far along are you with the design?
“It’s pretty well conceived. It’s going to be based around the Z’s that I play now, but with a few mods to it. The pickup configuration is going to be different. I use a higher gain pickup with Hellyeah than I do with Franky, so with this guitar I’ll probably have a couple of options with different pickups because I want to be able to use my Deans for everything.
“I use a Fernandez Sustainer and I love that thing. It brings such a whole other aspect to the table for what you can do, so I’m definitely going to include that.
“I love having a Floyd Rose. I don’t need it for everything, but in this band for sure. When I was younger, my early guitars always had Floyds on them. As I got older, I started getting into Strats and Les Pauls and things like that, and I didn’t play with a Floyd as much. So playing in Hellyeah has been great for a lot of reasons. Getting back to my metal roots is really fun because it’s where I started, and then getting the Floyd back on a guitar and exploring all those aspects of playing again, because I always loved using them, and also having an amazing connection with the guys.”
What do you have in addition to the Deans and Les Pauls?
“I’ve got a killer Fender Strat, a ‘Frankenstein’ that I built with a builder — Strat-style body, maple neck, one pickup, a Floyd, the body finish is black — it’s amazing, it’s a great guitar. I’ve got different acoustics. I’ve got a cigar-box four-string guitar that someone built for me that’s so cool. It’s beautiful when you play it with a slide. I’ve got a five-string banjo, an old one that a friend of ours gave me. I need to explore it more.”
I want to close with a personal question, and there is a reason for this. You were very open about your grief, in written words and on video, which you shared on social media. Society tells us to buck up, be strong, move on, and for men and boys, “Be a man. Don’t cry.” First, were you hesitant about being so candid, and second, why was it important to you to do so? I ask because of fans, young men in particular, who may be internalising their emotions in a time of loss, and who look up to you. Your words could have impact and help them.
“Losing Vinnie was probably one of the hardest things in our lives, and in my life for sure. He was one of my best friends. We were really close and we hung out all the time. We talked and texted every day. A huge part of my life was taken away when he left us, and I was just speaking from my heart because that’s what he deserved. He was such a wonderful human being, just awesome. He cared so much about his friends and his fans and his band and everybody close to him. He took such good care of everybody because that’s how he was. So he deserved the love and the words and the tributes, and he deserved so much more.
“I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is to not grieve. You have to grieve. You can’t hold that inside. It will make you physically sick and it will ruin your life and your mental state. Bottling all that up creates this thing inside you that’s unhealthy. It’s absolutely OK to grieve. And if you have friends who tell you it’s not OK, fuck that. That ain’t a friend. Your friends are there for you when you need to grieve, especially when you lose such a presence in your life. People need to know that there’s always someone you can talk to, there’s always someone you can reach out to, to express what you’re dealing with and going through and feeling.
“I didn’t think twice about putting that out there. It was the way I felt and it needed to be said, just because of who Vinnie was. He was a brother, a bandmate, a business partner — he was everything and such a huge part of all of our lives, and I miss him every day. The moment I got the phone call about Vinnie passing, I fell apart. I didn’t know what to do. None of us did. If people tell you it’s not OK to express that, or it’s not OK to grieve or feel sad or cry, one thing is for sure: you have to let those emotions out. You can’t keep them inside. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
You can now pre-order Hellyeah's forthcoming album, Welcome Home, here: https://hellyeah.ffm.to/welcomehome