Rex Brown On Moving On, Kill Devil Hill & Smoking Dope With Dio

To fans, bassist Rex Brown was always a bit like Pantera's answer to "The Quiet Beatle," typically overshadowed by the more outsized personalities of his bandmates. Nevertheless, his contributions to the group's groundbreaking metal groove were undeniable, and as a founding member of the band, he was involved in every high and low of Pantera's 22-year career.

Since the group disbanded in 2003, Brown has kept busy, serving time in both Down and Crowbar and collaborating with artists including Jerry Cantrell and the Cavalera Conspiracy. Now he's back with a new supergroup, Kill Devil Hill, put together by legendary ex-Black Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice and featuring former members of Ratt and Pissing Razors. The band put out its debut album in May and is scheduled to tear Concert Pub North a new bunghole on Saturday.

Rocks Off caught up with Rex earlier this week to discuss his new project, his thoughts on the changing music industry and the legacy of Texas metal gods Pantera.

Rocks Off: So, how did this group, Kill Devil Hill, come together?

Rex Brown: You want the long story or the short story?

RO: Fuck it, let's have the long story!

RB: OK! Vinny had just finished Heaven and Hell, and Ronnie (James Dio) was very sick. Vinny had all these song structures in his head that he just wanted to play drums on and put 'em on tape. Anyway, he had to take a break to have surgery on his arm. You know, he plays backwards and sideways and all that kind of stuff! So he was sittin' on these tracks and looking for a guitar player, and he called somebody he knew in L.A. that always had good guitar players.

Somebody brought up the name Mark Zavon (ex-Ratt, W.A.S.P.). So, they hooked up, and they live -- in L.A. standards -- just right up the road from each other. So, Mark started working on these riffs that would complement some of the stuff Vinny was doing, and Vinny asked him if he knew a singer, and Dewey Bragg (ex-Pissing Razors) came up. Mark had played in a band for a short time with Dewey, and he said, "Yeah, I've got this singer, man, you really got to listen to him," and when Vinny heard it, he just loved it.

I, at the time, was playing in Down, and we were basically on hiatus. And you know, I played with Phillip (Anselmo) for 24 years. I was kind of looking for a change. You know, 24 years is a long time! We're still best friends, but it was just time to kind of move on, you know, in what I call my musical journey. So Vinny sent me these tracks, and he actually came down... I was doing some movie-soundtrack stuff, and he played drums on some stuff that I had. I thought he'd stay for a couple days, and he ended up staying a week.

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Really, I've known Vinny for a long time, playing the circuits over in Europe, and I've always been a huge fan -- he's just such a nice guy. He says, you know, "I've got this thing, would you mind putting some bass tracks on it? I don't know where you're headed or what's going on, but would you at least like to hear it?" I said, "Sure, just send me the stuff." They sent me the track "War Machine," and I think it took me longer to figure out the actual tuning of it than it did to put my bass track on there!

They just kept sending me stuff, and it just kind of snapped. So they said, "Well, do you want to come down, and let's plug up and see what's going on?" I didn't want to commit to anything unless we all got along, and it sounds cliché as fuck, but basically we all plugged in and just got along like we've been playing together for a long, long time. That's the history of how we started with the band.

RO: So they're in L.A., you're in Texas. How did the songwriting process work?

RB: I would go down there for three weeks and stay with Mark Zavon, the guitar player, and then come back home for a little break and we'd write over the phone. It's just so easy now that you can go back and forth and just send somebody something and add on your different parts.

Of course, being there in person and rehearsing is totally different, but we kept everything on tape that we saved when I was in L.A. Everybody put their own spice into it, and it just kept growing and growing into this monster. We'd just send it around until we had final tracks, and that was the staple of what we'd use in pre-production.

That's basically how it worked. You know, I have this little voice recorder, probably like the one you're using right now, that I can plug into and send whatever to Mark just right over the phone, anytime I like. I'll send him these little-bitty riffs or whatever.

We have a whole lot of brand-new material, actually, but we've gotta tour off of this record a lot first. I don't want this thing to go to waste! We have a lot of territories to hit, starting with Houston on Saturday night!

RO: You've been lucky to play with some incredible drummers in your career. How did your chemistry develop with Vinny Appice?

RB: My chemistry with Vinny goes back to the festival days, when he was playing with Black Sabbath. They had just put out Dehumanizer in '92, and that was about the time that Pantera was coming up. So, we did a whole lot of festivals like the Monsters of Rock.

I remember this gig like the back of my hand! This Monsters of Rock in Italy was in the middle of this fuckin' dirt field, and me and Phillip and Ronnie James (Dio) and Vinny smoked a joint before they went on.

And so Phillip and I sat behind Geezer's stack, so your back's to Geezer, who's my favorite bass player. I just kept watching him interact with Vinny, and then 15, 16 years later, here Down is opening up for Heaven and Hell in all of Canada, Australia and Japan, and I would just sit every night and watch what Vinny was doing.

He's just one of those drummers that you just can't take your eyes off of. He clicks, but he also moves. He doesn't move against the song, he moves with it, and kind of lays on the backbeat a little bit. I really enjoy the way that we hook up together now and make it as tight and as solid and heavy as it is. But I love the melody on top, with Dewey singing all the harmonies that go along with it. That was what I was looking for for a while.

RO: What's your favorite song off the new album to play live?

RB: It depends on any given night. That's like saying, "What's your favorite book?" I like playing all the songs: "War Machine," "Rise From the Shadows." I just dig playin', man, that's all there is to it!

Kill Devil Hill plays with Hindsight, Aramite and Wellborn Road, 8 p.m. Saturday at the Concert Pub North, 2470 FM 1960.

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