A never-wanted-to-be-a-rock-singer metal vocalist and a still-wet-behind-the-ears journalist walk into a bathroom…
Yes, a bathroom—okay, a shower room—Metal Descent has pictures in technicolor. I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chad Gray, frontman of HELLYEAH, on their newest album Blood for Blood. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the interview. Usually, I ask questions a to coax my subjects into revealing their inner, artistic workings. Not with Chad. He conversed with me with little to no prompting creating a revealing and poignant picture of how Blood for Blood came into being.
[I.O.s aside: I tried to be as true to the recording as possible. The acoustics in the room created some serious reverb as Chad spoke. Any contextual errors are mine and mine alone. Other edits were for clarity and reference.]
I.O.: The new album Blood for Blood, is awesome. It’s almost like a one-eighty, lyrical content and everything, not for you per se but for HELLYEAH.
CHAD: Yeah, not for me, that’s very important. We tell people all the time, when we started HELLYEAH, we started [it] as an experiment. We started [it] because there was something artistically I think that was being unfulfilled. We intentionally went into HELLYEAH writing songs that would have never been able to fly in MUDVAYNE, PANTERA, DAMAGE PLAN, and NOTHING FACE. I mean come on, “Hell of a Time” [off of Stampede] as a MUDVAYNE song? It’s not going to happen. You know, you just kind of want to put on your different hat and by the time we started, MUDVAYNE got a lot more corrupted, you know what I mean? It’s like music turned into work. I still was passionate about it but the day-to-day, it was just tough. It was really tough for all of us. We went through a lot of shit. [HELLYEAH] was kind of that refreshing thing where we’re like, “let’s try on a different hat—let’s see if I can write Rock songs. Is that even possible? I’ve never done it.” But I’d written mellow stuff, more brooding stuff and shit like that so, it worked out and it was fun and then we hit the second fucking record and I was like, “I never aspired to be a rock singer. This is not my shit, and I want to play a heavy metal record with my favorite fucking drummer [Vinnie Paul].” And one of my favorite guitar players, because Tom [Maxwell] is one of my favorite guitar players ever. His fucking right hand is ridiculous.
In our Band of Brothers, “War in Me” set the pace for that record. That’s the first song we wrote. It’s kind of a pretty clear direction of what we were doing but I think with metal it’s almost like fucking turning the train around. I mean you’re going to try and change jockeys mid-race? You don’t want to just go “Aph! Left turn. Khrrrrr!” Where everything just comes off the rails. So Band of Brothers was kind of like that slow turn. Getting us on the right path. Getting us playing metal.
It was so weird because it was so emotional to start Band of Brothers, so fucking emotional because of Greg [Tribbett]. I’ve known Greg for eighteen years and he was [with me in MUDVAYNE]. It was going to be an adjustment to get used to not having him there. It was emotional anyway because of everything [I had going on and stuff]. He needed to go. He needed to go find himself again and I was all for that. I was like, “Be happy. Fuck it, be happy. You’re never going to be happy until you know. I mean, if you’re not happy here, you got to make a move and it sucks and it’s difficult.” It’s hard, but that said—I went to Phoenix to get my truck [while we were making this album].
[Blood for Blood] was written pretty much. I didn’t have any vocals for it, except for maybe half of “Moth.” I was like, “I’m not going to do this shitter car bullshit and you’re on someone else’s schedule. I’m only five hours away. I’m going to fly to Phoenix, pick up my truck, and drive it back.” So I had my truck [in Phoenix] for the whole time. It’d been there for a couple of months. I get down there on a Monday and I’m going to drive back on a Tuesday. I get down there, it’s Friday and I’m not going back and I can’t motivate myself to go back. I was in a really dark, dark place and was freaking the fuck out. There’s this sort of Churko guy [in the studio], you know, and all this shit is racing through my mind. And then Tom gets me up and he’s like, “Bro’, call me.” Well he texted me and he was like, “Hey, what’s going on?” I’m like, “Nothing.” And he’s like, “When are you coming back?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, maybe Monday. I haven’t figured it out yet. I’m in a fucking weird place. Call me.” And he’s like, “Dude, I know. I know you, brother.” And he’s like, “I need you. I fucking need you to do this. Get up in the morning, get in your truck, and drive the fuck up here. Seriously, I need you, bro’.” And like that, well you know, I still stayed for a couple more days.
I left on Monday. But I processed that for a couple of days. I wanted to make sure I was ready to [go fucking full tilt boogie]. I processed that call and I realized … that he needed me and how hard it was going to be and everything. Like families lean on each other in hard times and he was leaning on me. And if I would have fucking let him down, I never would have been able to live with myself.
I got in my truck and I drove back. I went in and I started with “Moth.” That was the first song and Kevin [Churko]’s like, “You want to come in and hear it?” And I’m like, “Sure.” So I walk in and listen to it. And we talked about it and he hits the [pause] bar, turns around and says, “I want to tell you two things. Number one, that’s a fucking great track. Number two, you just raised the bar really fucking high on yourself to go forward with this. This is a great song. I was really surprised that you came up with this. I figured you’d come in with something heavy just knowing kind of a little about where you’re at emotionally.” I’m like, “That’s where I’m at emotionally.” Emotion in metal isn’t always <hisses> angst and anger. Sometimes it’s that helplessness that really kind of scratches you where you itch.
I.O.: Exactly. I love the song “Hush” because I thought, “Here is someone who knows what he’s talking about.” I experienced abuse as a child and I find myself now saying, “Don’t touch me. Get away.”
CHAD: You can’t stand the touch/ affection weighs too much.
CHAD: The affection is the touch.
I.O.: You just shy away from it.
CHAD: Well, I don’t know it. You know, I didn’t come from a fucking life of hugs and kisses and shit. Mostly, if any hand was on me, it was not good. So, I don’t understand affection fully. My girl right now, she’s very clear about that. My ex-wife wasn’t. She couldn’t understand. Most of that was my fault. Well, it wasn’t my fault but it was my life I lived. This is my fault having lived the life. I didn’t do it but I’m a product of my environment. If you love someone [like] that you maybe want to be sympathetic. Instead of going “me, me, me,” you’re like, “God damn, that’s fucked up. Really?” And I’m not like that all the time. I’m a really warm, caring, loving, compassionate person. Not to be arrogant or sound like a fucking douche-bag, but the only way I can deal with all this is on my terms. When I want to be that way is when I want to be that way. I can’t force it or it’s fucking fake and I hate fake. I hate faking that.
I.O.: You’re blowing my mind.
CHAD: I’m a very passionate person about a lot of things.
I.O. And that’s the thing: just because you had that go on doesn’t mean that you don’t have passion for things or that you are not sympathetic or compassionate or loving or a great person. That whole album was written from a very dark and honest place. It was so evident to me. I listened to Band of Brothers. It’s not my thing. But Blood for Blood just transported me.
CHAD: It sings to you.
I.O.: It does. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is amazing.” I was converting people.
CHAD: There are many emotions to the human existence. I think it’s our job, my job as a writer and your job as a journalist, the conduit basically between me and [the audience]. Music is a conduit too [and it’s my job] to explore [all the emotions.] It’s cathartic. I mean it helps me. I fence with myself a lot. I’m like, “Do I really want to put this out there. I don’t know man, it’s kind of big. Do I really want to do this? Man, fuck it, just do it!” If I’m going to earn somebody’s trust, I’m going to have to be honest and in honesty is vulnerability. People recognize that vulnerability. They see it. They’re like, “Oh my god, really? You just fucking put that out there for me?” You’ve got to respect it or you’re going to stab me in the heart. But, I’m rolling the dice with you. I’m never going to be embraced if I don’t put it out there. Fuck it. Let’s face it, there’re plenty of people stabbing people every day.
I.O.: And you don’t have to offer anything for them to do it, either.
CHAD: No, and if it helps me too? I realized a while ago, and I think it’s kind of why we got onto this, I realized that my role is as role model. I realize that my life experiences and [being] older and wiser is based on my memory. We’re created from our memories. One of the big things going through that really dark time of my life back in the day, I always felt alone. It wasn’t socially acceptable. There weren’t ways of sharing, you know what I mean? I didn’t really have close friends. I wasn’t allowed to. I was in isolation therapy but the one thing that made me feel not alone, and I must have told this fucking story a thousand times but people still listen to it, I had this mono-speaker tape player and I put [MOTLEY CRÜE’s] Too Fast For Love record in it. And that was the first time the fucking music like scratched the surface even though I grew up with music my whole life. Something in that music I could connect with. I could connect with Too Fast For Love. I connected with Shout At The Devil. I connected with [METALLICA’S] Ride The Lightning and Kill ‘Em All. I connected with [SLAYER’s] Haunting The Chapel and Show No Mercy and Reign In Blood—you know, all the fucking great things. That experience and memory and those things helped me through it. That’s like that line in “Hush,” If this reminds you of home, you better know you’re not alone. That’s a big line.
I.O.: Yes, it made me cry.
CHAD: A lot of people don’t have the facility to [reach out] or they don’t have friends. I mean, it’s a dark world we live in now but people are really recluses because they can be. They all play fucking video games and live [their lives] on social media. Sometimes people don’t have friends, I mean face-to-face friends, where they feel like they want to bro’ down, like put it out there and talk about their situation. So they really do hold it in. Why do they do it? Because it’s easier. It’s a fucking mushroom cloud just waiting to happen. I mean, seriously, it’s going to blow.
I.O.: The whole social media thing?
CHAD: No. Feelings. Emotions inside of you. Not sharing and the loneliness that you feel. Sometimes when you’re going through hard times and you don’t have anyone to share it with. You push it down because you have no outlet or you feel like you’re alone. That’s the mushroom cloud. It’s going to blow. Like I said, [those records were] something that made me feel I’m not alone. Fuck it, I’m going to say it. If this reminds you of home, better know you’re not alone.
I’m not a fucking martyr, I mean because who would, it’s just ridiculous. I’m not putting myself on a pedestal. I’ve had a fucking tough life, but there are millions and millions of people out there with a lot harder lives. People that have to fucking walk forty fucking miles for a bucket of dirty water. I’ve had it rough, but I’m not saying I’ve had it worse than anyone else. I’m just saying that people that do have it as bad, almost as bad, or twice as bad, recognize that heavy metal will save your life. It saved my life many times. Many times I was like “Fuck, this is ridiculous. What? Really? What was I Hitler in my last life? What the fuck did I do to deserve the bullshit that I go through every day?”
I.O.: I ask myself the same question.
CHAD: I swear to god, I used to believe in karma and now I don’t fucking believe it anymore. Be a good person and fucking whatever. Be a good person and get fucked your whole life. I don’t know, maybe that’s karma. If that’s karma, then I’ve got it.
I.O.: No, that’s the luck o’ the Irish.
CHAD: Then I’ve got it.
I.O.: Do you think metal is in decline? Do you think—I mean, what’s going on?
CHAD: It’s always there. Always there. Dude, think about it: there’re bands out there with fucking thirty-plus year careers.
I.O.: I just saw CROWBAR.
CHAD: Yeah. SLAYER. Thirty plus years. Still together. Still fucking ripping it up. It’s funny, the fad or the trend and metal becomes cool and like, it kind of rears its head, and then it goes in and out of mainstream. It only goes in and out for people who are just staying current. When it’s cool it’s cool and they’re into it. For a true metalhead, it’s always there. I still lean on my staples. When I’m having a hard day or whatever, I listen to METALLICA or fucking PANTERA for that matter. I listen to SLAYER, ALICE IN CHAINS, fucking SLIPKNOT. Fucking SUICIDE SILENCE is one of my favorite new bands. I love those guys. You know, it’s always there and there will always be a market for it.
[Someone asked me] if I pay attention to the charts. If you pay attention to that shit, you’re really missing the point. I don’t write songs for radio. I just write what comes out of me. If we can get it on radio, I guess that’s a positive because I want people to hear it. My goal is to get the most ears on my music. If radio helps, radio helps. I’ll tell you what, if you start writing for it? <makes a rude noise> I know good songs. Maybe not when I write it, but you call a spade a spade.
…and that’s the punch line.
I.O. Kirkwood is a Metal Descent contributor. You can read her personal blog HERE.