Interview: Former Pantera and Down Bassist Rex Brown on His New Band, Kill Devil Hill, and Upcoming Book
Rex Brown was always the mysterious member of Pantera. While Vinnie Paul and Dimebag brought the balls-out metal party every night, and Phil Anselmo was the charismatic, if controversial, lead singer with a million side projects, Rex Brown was more of enigma. Obviously his input was present in Pantera's power groove—few groups relied so much on the thick, propulsive bass at metal’s core—and later, in Down's southern sludge, but at the end of the day, Rex seemed more content to stay largely out of the public eye. However, with Kill Devil Hill, his new hard-rock outfit featuring ex-Black Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice, and his forthcoming memoir in the works, Brown has taken a step into the spotlight, showing the world why he deserves his place in the hall of great metal players. On a break from tour, he took the time to let Revolver in on what’s going down in Rex’s world.
REVOLVER How’s the road life with this new band, man? Is it routine for you after all these years?
REX BROWN You kind of get used to it after a while. I think I’m a gypsy. People are happy you’re playing. The old ones know you from bands way back when. For me, this is fun.
How did Kill Devil Hill come about?
Basically, Vinny cut these drum tracks, and had 'em ready, and he approached Mark Zavon, who’s just an incredible guitar player, and he knew Dewey [Bragg], who’s an incredible singer, and they put these songs together. They were looking for a bass player, and Vinny just happened to have my number. I’ve known him for all these years, playing festivals and stuff like that. They gave me a call and sent me a tape. I laid down some bass and, apparently, they dug it! I was looking for a change anyway. So I went up in January and played with them, and I know it’s cliché to say the band clicked, but it did. Everyone in the band, we’re all on the same page. I would go down about every three weeks, and we jammed a lot. Very heavy on the bottom end, very melodic on the top end--it’s perfect. Something I’ve been wanting for a while.
The band's sound reminds us a bit of Alice In Chains...
Well, I’m not sure I like the comparison. Of course, anyone who’s playing melodies over heavy music is going to get compared to Black Sabbath and Alice in Chains, but we have our own identity. We’re aware of what we can do. For me, personally, I hate hearing the grunt from every singer on the planet. I’m tired of the Popeye shit. It just gets old after a while. Dewey’s a really, really good singer, and that’s a part in our musical that’s continuously growing. That’s why we’re out on the road now—we want to break ourselves in and introduce the music to people. That’s how you have to do it. That’s how we did it back in Pantera, and how we do it now. So at the end of the day, come to the show: You’ll hear what I mean. We have our own identity.
How have the live shows been so far?
Good, but we’re still getting everything together. The more we play makes us a much tougher band. You need that lug work to become a band. So we haven’t been selling out every venue we play, but we get some good crowds, and they’re really into what we’re playing. We played Houston the other night, and there was a kid in the back with an Eyehategod shirt on. He was skeptical, he didn’t know what to think. I was watching him the whole time: At first he had his arms crossed…and then you’d see that one arm come out…and then his fist goes up, and uh-oh, there’s the horns, and then Bam! he’s got to sets of horns in the air! That’s our barometer for how we’re doing.
You split with Down earlier this year. What caused you to leave?
Phil has a lot side projects that he does, so he spends a lot of time focusing on them. And after a while, I decided I needed something new. There’s no animosity there, but I need to jam, I need to keep moving down the road. I mean, Phil and I go back 23 years, so it’s all good. We talked recently. That’s fine. I just needed a change. I’m working on the book right now, so you’re going to have to wait to hear about it.
We’ve heard about the book—is there a focus to it? Pantera? Down? Or just Rex over the years?
I try to be really honest and genuine about how my life’s been these past years. I have a co-writer, and I’ve got over 60 hours of tape, and I want to talk about my experiences during this time. With Pantera…when all of that went down, I didn’t really talk about anything in the press. I didn’t want to take any part in the he-said-she-said bullshit. So this is my perspective on the whole bit. It’s about the good times, really, not the bad stuff, because that’s out there in the press, and it’s something I hate. But hey, it makes good copy.
Has it been difficult calling up these old memories of Pantera and Down?
Not really. I just wanted to take my part in it. This is my side of the story, and I want to own it. This isn’t a chance for me to turn it around and point the blame at someone else, because you’ve got to own your own life. I think this is a story that needs to be told. It’s gotta come from the gut. You can’t be making up stories, and…we had such a fucking great career. Most bands last five years—we last 15, 16 years. I started playing in that band when I was 17, and it was great, hanging out, playing in clubs. That’s what I want to portray in this book…and if it gives some kid the inspiration to do that, too, then great.
You said things with you and Phil are good—how’s your relationship with Vinnie Paul?
There’s really not anything there to speak of. He shut the door, you know? He’s got a real problem with Philip, and that’s something they gotta deal with. I really try to stay out of it. But at the same time, there’s a lot of history there…but that’s just par for the course, man. You gotta keep living on. Life’s too short.