INTERVIEW: Kill Devil Hill’s Rex Brown

rexrocker With Pantera, Rex Brown has created a legacy which serves as a sort of ‘how to’ on heavy metal bass playing. His heavy attack and his ability to simultaneously lock in with Dimebag Darrell’s guitar and Vinne Paul’s drums is as good an education on playing bass in a heavy band that you’re ever gonna get. Rex further showcased his sense of groove and power during his long tenure with Down, but it’s with his new band Kill Devil Hill that he really gets to shine as a bass player – without even trying. Rex’s playing in KDH is no Billy Sheehan-esque shredfest: rather it’s a tour de force of playing perfectly in the pocket and yet never being lost within the mix or underneath the arrangement. And with material that bobs and weaves through hard rock, heavy metal and grunge and even something close to blues-rock, Kill Devil Hill calls on Rex to be more musically flexible than ever while still maintaining his own musical voice. Kill Devil Hill are touring Australia in April with Killswitch Engage (read my interview with KSE’s Joel Stroetzel here). 

It’ll be the first time Rex has toured with KSE, at least in such a tight, one-two punch of a line-up. “I’m sure we’ve played before in a festival setting or something like that but that would have been a while back,” he says. “I’m sure we’ve crossed paths before and I hear they’re really nice guys so I’m looking forward to meeting them.” The tour will be the live debut of Kill Devil Hill’s new drummer, Johnny Kelly, formerly of Type O Negative, who is stepping in after founder Vinnie Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio) decided it was time to move on. “We have our first rehearsal with Johnny tomorrow in Los Angeles and then we’re playing the very next day! He’s really bringing in some fresh air. Nothing against Vinnie, we just parted ways, y’know? It wasn’t working out with the scheduling and he basically didn’t want to tour any more. Look the rest of the band, we just have to do this. This is what being in a band is! You play out. That’s the whole point.” Appice was quite diplomatic in his public statement about leaving the band, giving them his blessing to continue the band that he essentially started. This doesn’t feel like one of those “background fighting” situations. “Yeah, he’s just got a lot of stuff on his plate. We’ve got a lot of respect for him and it was fun. With scheduling it just didn’t work out like it should have. But the band, it’s smokin’ hot, dude. It’s as solid as it gets. I’m blessed with all these killer cats I get to jam with.”

KDH-579x630The band’s new album Revolution Rise gets its official Australian release on April 11, and it finds the band building on the power of its self-titled debut but with more attitude and more of a unified band sound. “The way we recorded things was kind of monotonous because of the scheduling. We used Jeff Pilson (Dokken, Foreigner) but he was on the road a lot, so we’d do three songs then take a break, do four then take a break. And in hindsight it gave us more time to focus on the songs. The first album was kind of raw and we thought we’d like to get back to that raw kind of sound. This is a little more polished but at the same time the songs really take on their own life. It’s a little badder, a little bolder than the first one. It’s just one of those records that came out at a really good time and look, you can put genres on it all all that stupid crap but I had genres. What it comes down to is it’s rock n’ roll, man. That’s the way I look at it. Hard rock, metal, whatever, it’s just a good fuckin’ rock n’ roll record. I’m pleased to death with it.”

Rex-4-Pro

Rex is a Spector bass endorser, with a whole line of signature models, including a Telecaster-based version. “The first signature model is something Stuart and I came up with back in the days of rolling fax paper! He would send me designs and I’d just curve around it and we came up with this crazy shape. And I had another design which is like a Telecaster. It’s just a bigger version of a Telecaster for bass, and I’ve got a couple of new ones coming in. I really like those. And I switched over to Hartke amps this past year and I’m really digging on that tone. It’s something different. It’s solid state. I’m always used to tube amps but my thing with Ampeg went a little south Hartke were pursuing me for about a year. I still have my tone, it’s still me, but it’s different, y’know? Playing with a solid state amp is totally different to the millisecond delay before you get that punch with a tube amp. So I’m getting used to it but it’s stompin’, man, it’s stompin’ hard.”

fbdThis year Pantera’s 1994 classic Far Beyond Driven celebrates its 20th anniversary (with a deluxe reissue via Rhino), and it remains the heaviest damn album ever to debut at #1. “It’s funny, I was talking about how we did the three songs and then four songs with Kill Devil Hill, and we did the same thing with Far Beyond Driven. We toured in 1989, and as soon as we put out Cowboys From Hell we had exactly 38 days off that year. We went right back into the studio and did  Vulgar Display Of Power, and toured on that one for another 300 dates, and then took a little bit of a break and went in and did Far Beyond. It was a completely different thing for us because we had moved out of the studio we had been so comfortable in recording with for years, when we moved to Nashville. So it was a different vibe. Dime had just discovered the Whammy Pedal and was coming up with stuff, and Vinnie was coming up with stuff like the end of “Becoming.” Like with the Whammy Pedal, I remember we were sitting around experimenting with that drum beat and we came up with something right off the cuff. We were just sitting there going ‘Okay that’s pretty cool.’ And [producer] Terry Date goes ‘No, you need to come in here guys… you’re onto something.’ I’d say maybe a third of the record was written like that. That was the thing about Pantera: we had magic inside of a box, and any time you opened up that box with the four of us, that’s what it was. We had a really good intention of what we wanted to do with that record. People were expecting us to go more mainstream and put out the Black record and all that. And we just said, ‘Y’know what? Fuck the world, man.’ And look, we didn’t ask for the critical acclaim, and the masses came to us. That’s more vindication than you can ever ask for. For that record to go to #1 in 26 countries is incredible. It changed everything for  us. It put us on the map and that’s when the big roller-coaster happened, and it was a fuckin’ hell of a ride.”

Killswitch Engage Australian Tour (with Kill Devil Hill)

FRIDAY 11 APRIL – BRISBANE, EATONS HILL – Lic A/A
SATURDAY 12 APRIL – SYDNEY, UNSW ROUNDHOUSE – Lic A/A
SUNDAY 13 APRIL – MELBOURNE, THE PALACE – 18+
TUESDAY 15 APRIL – ADELAIDE, HQ – 18+
WEDNESDAY 16 APRIL – PERTH, METRO CITY – 18+