Rex Brown needs no introduction, as half of the power house Pantera rhythm section alongside the one and only, Vinny Paul. Pantera were not just a metal band, but a metal band who built a following and a success projectory during the nineties, when other metal bands were going under and struggled to sell records and fill small venues. Pantera had an aurora of power, aggression, intense focus and musicianship that no band could come close to during this period. However, what needs to be noted, is Rex Brown as a musician, and a very, very, focussed individual. For those who have read his autobiography, Official Truth, 101 Proof, they would be familiar with his ambition, his often left unnoticed contributions to Pantera, and his work outside of the Pantera bubble. Rex, as well as an amazing bass player, is an accomplished guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist, who has a rich foundation in musicology, both written and unwritten.
Outside of Pantera I would like to draw attention to two pieces of his work, amongst his vast discography. First with Jerry Cantrell, on Cantrell’s solo album Boggy Depot. Rex played on five tracks and his bass work on this album is nothing short of astonishing. Fast forward now to 2011 and he formed his own project, after numerous other collaborations, Kill Devil Hill, releasing two albums and touring in support of both pieces. Kill Devil Hill, essentially was a metal band with groove, with undertones, in my opinion of Corrosion of Conformity. Now, in 2017, Rex is on the verge of releasing his first full solo album, Smoke on This, where he is lead vocalist, guitarist, bass player and songwriter. This offering is quite laid back with a heavy crunchy sound, catchy melodies and a refreshing sincerity. I was fortunate to catch up with Rex to talk Smoke on This through, however, it was definitely not your plain sailing question answer interaction. Rex is an articulate, eloquent and philosophic musician. He changed the course of our interview and challenged me to think as an interviewer. This was an absolute honour and privilege.
Rex, how did your album, Smoke on This come about, essentially meaning, why a solo album now?
“Why not, you know. Why the fuck not! I have a bunch of songs that I wanted to people to hear, you know, that I wanted to hear. You know, they take you to a different place sonically. This is infused rock n roll and it comes from inside of me, who I am. I have been playing metal all of my life. I was on the road for twenty five years living it and breathing it. And I needed to slow down and take some time, a different direction, and you know something more rooted in what I am, you know. So the minute I did this and with a buddy (Lance Havrill), you know the jamming thing, we started to put tracks together and you know from there it came together. There is nothing contrived or any agenda, this is rock n roll in its purest form and it is a part of me. So you know, why not now, this album is ready for now and is who I am and what I am a part of.”
Has it been difficult, reinventing yourself as a solo artist?
“The songs came so easily man, it was ridiculous. You know, I have so many riffs taped on phones and lying around, and things musically sitting around for so long and it was time. So Lance and I just started listening and working on them. Playing through the sounds and extending them out to where they need to be. It was one of those things where you get to a point you know. I have done all I can at this point, in direction is was heading, and I need a DIFFERENT PATH!
You know, why did I start doing this in the first place? I got into this for pure fact that I love playing music and I got lucky with the people who worked around me and we just nailed this album. It was a real organic record and it was something that needed to come out. You know I’m not sayin that it’s the best album in the world but it is where I am and what I want to be and that says a lot. No one has control over this, I own it, or we own it as the musicians who played on it, and nothing else.”
Now to Smoke on This, as an album, it has a real groove with a sense of purpose, how does it feel for you, now looking back on the finished product?
“I got so close to it and I had to take breaks away from it. You know, every note I either played or whatever, it was a labour of love. I fought with it, played with it and I lost myself in it. My heart and soul and the reasons I am a musician are on this album and you can feel it. I put on my acetate of the album and I hear all different things every time I listen to it. It is a personal record and I am only just getting my feet wet. This is just the start, the door is open but I have got a lot more of this in me that needs to come out.”
I have read about your collaborator on the album, Lance Havrill, and you have mentioned him earlier, but what is his relationship to you and how did he contribute to the album?
“Lance had some songs and we took them. At first we played them safe and them we bastardised them. It as a fifty fifty split you know. It all just mashed together through jamming them and bringing them out. We have done another record before so I know him and he knows me. We know our strengths and weaknesses and you know we were just doinin it for fun. We have enough for a double album you know, because it is who we are and what we do, things just came out and it worked. I think these songs work so well together. The way we put them together and what each of us brought to the table. Lance was my ears for the sound you know, he knows what I want to hear and I know what he can do, and do well. It’s not rocket science you can take the boy away from the farm but you can’t take the farm away from the boy. And this is how it is, this just comes out of us, it is from the heart.”
Is your solo project going to be something that you are building a career around, or will it be albums that as a musician you just have to release, for you and that different path you were talking about?
“This is something that I can pursue and this product is the start of this. I want to make this and develop this as this keeps me alive and drives who I am. You know, every album that I have out has had integrity. Shit I could have made so much money with working on other projects and offers that I have had over the years but I haven’t. This is where I am, and I see myself in a number of years. My effort and my attitude is all I can deal with, you are only as good as your last song and last gig and I keep this close to me. You know I don’t think too far down the round, I need to live now, live it now, and make the most of what I have and make sure that what I do has integrity and it’s real. So we will have to wait and see but I am plannin on having this around for some time.”
I wanted at this point to explore some history around his integral role in Pantera, Rex had other ideas. But at the same time, he was respectful and answered with a real sincerity and a maturity that you don’t see often in this business. My questions was as follows – Focussing now on Pantera, what are you most proud of with regard to the bands success?
“That story tells its own thing. Period. We worked so long and are proud of what we did but just because Dime got shot that doesn’t mean I was put in that coffin. I am still here. That doesn’t have nothing to do with what I am doing now. They have nothing in common except for that fact that I was always a rock n roll guy. But to a certain extent I am a kid of the 70s you know Humble Pie and Zep. My sisters who were older had all of these albums and these things really made me who I am and so where I am now. I have had a lot on my plate lately and so with this I was just tryin to get songs to the point and get to the chorus and do my thing. I don’t dwell on the past like some artists do, I can’t do that. Even though I am proud of our history, it is history”
At this point I really had to refocus the course and direction of my interview. Not many artists would have approached this question in this way, so my following two questions were scrapped; if you are interested – Now Pantera is a band that all metal heads are familiar with and love, but what do you see as the bands legacy? There has been a lot in the media of the last few years about a possible Pantera reformation with Zakk Wylde on guitars, can you comment on this for us? Rex is a really interesting character, straight from the heart and no rubbish. It would be easy for him to just take the line, give the interviewer what they want and gain the accolades from his history to build the buzz around his new album, but that wasn’t going to happen. Rex is a musician focussing upon his future, letting the music speak for itself, as he said earlier in the interview, “you are only as good as your last song and last gig and I keep this close to me.”
Rex I really enjoyed your contribution to Jerry Cantrell’s solos album Boggy Depot, can you talk me through how this collaboration came about?
“There were certain things that I wrote on this album. With Pantera I was an arranger. With Jerry I camped out with him for a month before we started the album and we just worked through sounds and riffs and we made some great music. But it was about the time we were putting the Official Live album out so you know I had to bail. But my intentions were to play on the whole record it was a true collaboration. That was another time where I needed to do something else and challenge myself differently. You know if you don’t do that, challenge yourself and work with other people and really listen to other music and embrace it, you aren’t a real musician. This was great album.”
So how is Smoke on This, a real rock album?
“You know I wanted to go back and kiss the essence of what I could do on a rock album. You know it has been a blessing in disguise and something that I am getting tons of accolades over even before it is released. It seems like you burn yourself out before the album comes out and then you go out and play it for whoever is going to listen.
At this point Rex asked me if I had listened to the album. I replied that I had only listened to it in parts and obviously hadn’t experienced the whole package of the album.
“You know what I say let the media listen to the album, live the album and really get a feel for what it is and then call me! This is a total album, one that you need to get in to and listen from the start to the finish, there is a lot of colour and difference in there and I urge people who give a damn, to really listen to it. Listen to it as an album should be.”
Here again Rex was pushing and pulling the interview, not in an aggressive way, or even confrontational way, but as a way an artist should. He was challenging the conversation and engaging on a level that was embodying the many facets of his piece of work. In essence, he was being what an album needs to be, engaging, questioning, challenging and sincere. My interview was coming to a close, but I had one more for him –
I know that you toured Australia a few years ago with Kill Devil Hill, is there any chance of touring her in support of Smoke on This?
“I was thinking that I would love to start here, you know. Australia and New Zealand remind me of one big Texas. People are laid back but they are tough and I have always enjoyed touring Australia. With Kill Devil Hill we got a great reaction considering all the stuff around at that time and the line-up I had. You know so many fans wanted to hear old Pantera songs but as I said, I live in the present and not in the past, that’s just me. We had a great album to support, but you know we did that and I love it down there.”
Rex is so focussed and at ease with himself, both as a person and musician in 2017, and it was great to have a chat with him. I have never had an interviewee challenge the course of the interview, as I stated, but this is the core of who he is, and what I can see, what he is doing with Smoke on This. His solo album is released on the 28th of July through Entertainment One Music and it won’t disappoint any heavy metal or hard rock fan. Let’s just hope that he is true to his word and will make his way to Australia on the back of Smoke on This soon.
Thanks to Mark Snedden for the words