Back in January, out at the NAMM convention in Anaheim, CA, I connected with my bud, Rex Brown, bass player of the legendary Pantera and most recently Down and Kill Devil Hill, and he had this glow about him. I said to him, “Rex, you look so happy! What gives?” He told me that he finally put the finishing touches on his solo record. Then he gave me a few of his bass picks with the name of the CD on it. He asked me not to leak the name back then, but I guess it’s out now. The bass picks said Smoke On This. What a great name!
Rex wanted to add yet another chapter to his already storied life. As he’s told me in the past, “I’ve got so much more in me. I’m just getting my feet wet.” I promised Rex that as the release of Smoke On This got closer, we’d chat to promote the CD. Well, guess what drops on July 28? And as promised, here’s the chat with my friend and one of my favorite bass players of all time, Rex Brown.
So, Smoke On This sounds amazing! I couldn’t wait for this CD to come out after hearing “Crossing The Lines.” Was a solo CD in your plans for a while? Or was it more of the case that you had a bunch of songs written that you wanted to put on CD?
I’m tired of talking about it. I just want to take the damn thing on tour! (laughs) Well, it was a process of elimination. Where did I want to be? What did I want to do? What’s the next step for Rex? And it wasn’t really calculated.
I went down to Nashville and in my brain I started coming up with these songs, and one thing led to another, and then we had four, then before you knew it, we had eight, then we had 12 and then we had 24, then we went down to 13, then we tracked 11, and it went in spurts, where I’d like go down and come back and we’d fix stuff. Then I had to take a break, I bought a home, and we’d gutted walls, and just redid this home. And I was funding this record, it was one of those things where we weren’t necessarily sold on the drum sound, so we went back and recorded that. Then I had to come up with guitar on me. So, basically, we started working on that really hard in August, and I came back and did the guitar.
At the end of October into December, we just kept tweaking stuff, and there was just too much and we kept going back. We were kind of just overproducing. It was one of those things where you just strip away the element and get to something that’s real, that’s honest, something that’s gonna be your first little outing. I wanted to put together 10 good songs that were gonna fit perfectly together, and that’s what we did.
Why did you choose to handle all of the vocals and instrumentation minus the drums, rather than maybe have guest musicians jam with you on this CD?
Well, there are a lot of guitars played by Lance [Harvill], my songwriter. He played the majority of the guitar. I came back and played. I was there for three weeks and putting in 16-hour days and puttin’ Tellies over this and just trying to get that guitar on me. And we ended tracking a whole bunch of stuff off of their. But down the line if we ever wanted to tear that apart, and really make a record that was just guitars and hear the vocal way in the background, I mean, there are so many guitars on this fuckin’ record it’s ridiculous!
So, I was having fun, man. I mean, it was just pure fun. And going back and just having fun for the sake of playing music again is something I hadn’t done in quite a while. It was always, “Well, you got a deadline!” or, “You have this to do!” This record was my time, my leisure. It was just me singing and playing bass and doing some extra rhythm guitar work on the side. But I’m playing a lot of guitar.
Now, you just mentioned guitarist and songwriter, Lance Harvill, and you credit him as being a major contributor on this project. How did you hook up with Lance?
Oh, me and Dime have known Lance since way back in the club days with Pantera during Cowboys, around that time. So, he’s been around for a while, but he had some other responsibilities called children and he just never got his time in the spotlight, but he’s going to now. Hopefully! He’s just a really gifted cat. He would send me this one little line and say, “Rex, I just want to give you this one thing and then take it from there.” And I took that one thing once we figured out how it was working and then I made the whole freakin’ song, and that’s how it pretty much worked. It’s nuts! There’s two songs where I play the majority of the guitar and he just plays slide on, which was “One Of These Days” and “Best Of Me.”
Now, I have my favorite songs like “Fault Line” and “Train Song,” which, and I hope this doesn’t insult you, but I think you sound like Gene Simmons on…
Look, I’ll take that as a compliment. I listened back to some of the CD the other day, and I hear the comparisons, but never did I ever go and listen to a Gene Simmons recording before I actually sang.
Right, I didn’t think it was intentional. It was just the way your voice sounded on certain songs…
It’s just kind of a scratchy voice and that song [“Train Song”] was one of the first ones we did also. I believe that was the second one we put vocals on and that’s one that stayed. So, we were still looking and trying to find it, but once you have that kind of performance, you don’t just want to take it off of tape. And that’s the one thing I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to go backwards with this. It was more like, “Okay, is that good enough?” Yeah, but it took me a while to get use to my voice. No one likes to hear themselves sing, but once I started to get into it. It was like, “Okay, cool!” But we had put all this distortion on it and all this processing and at the end of the day, I told the producer, “Let’s just take it off!”
So, “Fault Line,” we did that in the demo stages. So, once I got to try on that voice, it all became a totally different story. There was my storytelling. Like “Buried Alive” and stuff like that. It was really cathartic, and I didn’t really think about “Buried Alive” until probably a month after I wrote that. It was just pen to paper.
What’s your favorite song on Smoke On This?
I think probably “Buried Alive”…Then again, it’s hard to tell. I’ve listened to the thing so many times in and out. I just like the way it all flows. I think you need listen to it beginning to end and then make your decision on it. Instead of Spotifying one track or this other track because there’s a lot of thought process going into how these are going to work together. And we still have so much stuff in the can it’s stupid! I wanted to make this one short and sweet and leave people hanging, or do we put out a double record? Maybe the next one will be a double record. There’s still so much more I’ve got to say and do.
It’s like a painter painting something, man. If you keep painting the same painting over and over again, you’re going to get stale. You’re going to get burnt. You’re gonna get fried. You gotta go find something else. That was me on the back of a bus one time. I said to myself, “This is going fucking absolutely not where I want to be going.” I needed to go smell the roses, man. I needed to watch my kids grow a little bit. That’s life. That’s priceless. And this record was just for fun. But then it became this insane monster that I couldn’t stop, ya know?
Did these songs just flow out of you? Or were there any challenges that you can remember when writing these songs? Because after listening to “Grace,” it’s definitely not something I would’ve expected to hear from you…
That song was brought in at the very end. Lance had about 60-70 percent of that song written completely and I loved what I heard of it. At the same time, you’re right, it’s one of those songs that you wouldn’t hear with the rest of that collection, but it works. I wanted to show a different side that it doesn’t have to be that way. And it’s so funny because I kept asking my daughter about the song, who’s one of my biggest critics, and she plays guitar and in fact the very last chord on the album, I stole it from her. But we went back and forth about the song.
So, anyway, the “Grace” thing I wanted to take a little bit further. We just didn’t have the time to do it, but you’d be surprised how many people I’d given this to say this that it was their favorite track from [Phil] Anselmo to my buddy, Justin [Chancellor] from Tool, but there’s something for everyone on this record.
You’re obviously going to be taking this band out on tour, and if you’re going to be taking on the rhythm guitar duties, do you have a live lineup in place yet?
Oh, Jesus! It’s insane. I’ve been down to Nashville to jam at least four times and this thing keeps getting better and better. It’s one of those things where I put six guys in a room including me, and about 30 or 40 minutes after we’ve gotten through the whole record, and we’ve played more than half of it, and I would excuse myself to hit the bathroom, but I’d walk out into the parking lot and started screaming with excitement! So, we have a showcase down in Nashville on July 14 and we’re going to play the whole fucking record beginning to end.
One last question before I let you go, my brother…Where do we stand with Kill Devil Hill? Is that project on the shelf or will we be hearing more music from them?
For now, I’m going to do this. I gotta see where everything is going. Look, I’ve been on the road for how many fuckin’ years since I was 17 years old. Jesus Christ! Give a man a break! I don’t have to do shit, but I’ll be damned if I’m just gonna sit there. You know, life is bigger sometimes than just making a record or making money. It depends on how you touch people regardless if it’s through your song or through just being nice to somebody, or doing something for a charity. Life’s much bigger than that! I don’t have to appease anybody but myself at this point without sounding arrogant because I’m just not like that. I’m always about the song and the jam. That’s just the way I do it. I’m just putting a wide hat on and that’s all there is to it. If you took my name off this record and listened to it, you’d probably think, “Who is this?” maybe. Just because it has my name on it, everybody put this assumption that it’s going to be this heavy fuckin’ record. Well…no! Pantera has been over all these years. It died when Dime did, and that’s a shame, but they didn’t bury me when we buried him. I have to keep moving.
Rex Brown releases Smoke On This on July 28 wherever CDs are sold, or you can download your copy on iTunes, Amazon.com, Google Play, or listen on Spotify. For more on Rex Brown or to find out when he’ll be play a city near you, visit Facebook.com/Rex.Brown.92.