Although HELLYEAH officially formed in 2006, the seeds of the group began years prior. In 2003 Chad Gray from Mudvayne approached Nothingface’s Jerry Montano and Tom Maxwell to do some work together. Chad brought along his bandmate, guitarist Greg Tribbett, and all they needed was a drummer to complete the band.
They wound up with one of the heaviest hitters in metal, Vinnie Paul Abbot, who at that time had already parted ways with Pantera and Damageplan. Montano didn’t last long in HELLYEAH, and the band quickly filled his spot with Damageplan’s ex-bassist Bob Zilla. Jump ahead a few albums and eight years; bassist Bob Zilla departs the group, and Bloodsimple’s Kyle Sanders quickly joins as the new bassist. And then on June 22nd, 2018, big Vinnie Paul exited our world courtesy of cardiomyopathy and coronary artery disease at the all-too-young age of 54.
At the time of Paul’s death, the touring cycle for HELLYEAH’s fifth album Unden!able was long done. The members of HELLYEAH were well into pre-production on what would become HELLYEAH’s sixth studio album, Welcome Home (released on September 27th, via ElevenSeven). Vinnie’s drum tracks were all finished. The remaining members of HELLYEAH chose to finish off the album together. With the album out now, their first North American tour in its support has just gotten underway. Welcome Home could prove to be HELLYEAH’s most significant commercial success to date.
Bassist Kyle Sanders took a bit of time to speak with us about Welcome Home earlier this month. That interview is transcribed here in its entirety. We start things off talking a bit about Monstro, the last band I’d seen Kyle perform in Toronto, over eight years ago.
Taken from Welcome Home, check out the latest HELLYEAH music video for ”Skyy and Water:”
So tell me, what was your biggest fear going in to join HELLYEAH?
Kyle Sanders: “There was no fear man. Even before the Monstro days, I was in Bloodsimple, and I’d toured with HELLYEAH. Monstro toured with HELLYEAH. It wasn’t like a super intimidating situation. We’d all known each other, and we’d been friends for a long time. So when the time was right, it was kind of like a natural transition for me. I was super familiar with all the guys and all the music. It was on the Blood For Blood record, so aside from physically learning the songs up to that point, it was pretty smooth.”
Going into this album with Vinnie gone, did that bring up any fears or reservations?
Sanders: “Not to start out. Because we had been working for months. We had recorded all of the bass, drums, and basic guitar tracks. Everything on the record is Vinnie. The first half of the record was just kind of business as usual. We did our pre-production and did some demoing. Then we went into the studio and just started writing. It started out just like the last couple of records. We’re thankful to have Vinnie playing on the entire record. When he passed, we all kind of dealt with it and got back together a few months later and decided that we had to finish the record. It was just a lot of writing and recording to be done. Some solos and some extra guitar work and a lot of vocals to be done. So as far as the music goes, it was a great experience. The whole meaning of everything that came when Vinnie left us.”
Have you guys all talked about what the writing process might look like for HELLYEAH moving forward? I imagine it will be a little different.
Sanders: “I can honestly say that we have not talked about it. Nobody wants to talk about it. It was hard for us to finish this record. And then make the decision that we were going to get back on tour and support this record. For Vinnie and for us and for the fans. Just to get through a touring cycle, however long that may be. It’s too early for us to think about what’s next and how to do another record and that kind of stuff. We might be in the individual mindset of ‘What’s going to happen? How are we going to get back in the studio and do another record without him?’ But as far as a group discussion, to be honest, we are just focusing on this record and this cycle so far.”
HELLYEAH’s sixth studio album Welcome Home was released September 27th, 2019, via Eleven Seven Music:
What are you going to do on the road, man? Who’s going to do the barbecuing?
Sanders: “Man, well one thing is, we’re about to go out again, and it’s fucking freezing everywhere. Because we are going to hit Canada and the North West and some freezing-ass states in the U.S. So this would generally be the time when we wouldn’t get that much of an opportunity. But I’ll tell you if the opportunity does come up, and we hit a decent spot, we’ll do one just like we always did. For Vinnie and for us. That was always such a massive part of the tours, you know? It was just such a good break, and a release for everybody that was on tour, you know? We’d pick a spot to barbecue, and everyone was invited. So we’ve got to figure that one out.”
Well listen. We had snow last night.
Sanders: “Oh wow. Did you? Down in Atlanta, everything cooled down to 32-33 degrees last night. It’s been an insane weather change for us down here. I don’t know what to expect on this next run, and what kind of weather we’ll be hitting.”
Did you have to audition five years ago, Kyle? Or did you just walk in and start playing?
Sanders: “I walked in and started playing. It was basically a phone call. Chad and I have known each other for a while. We’d always talked about it being awesome if we could play together. The hypothetical scenario of, ’If there is a chance to get you into HELLYEAH, let’s make that happen.’ We’d kind of talked about that for years, you know? Then once my other band started touring with HELLYEAH, we got to be really good friends with all of those guys. So when the time came, it was really just Chad calling and saying, ’Now is the time. Are you into it or not?’ And I said, ’Absolutely. I’ll come right out there, and we can get right to it.”
When you are stepping into a band like you did with HELLYEAH, do you try to stay true to what Bob did before you? Are you cognizant of that, or do you just do your thing?
Sanders: “To be honest, I totally do my own thing. I’ve got my own kind of style. I’ve got a heavy hand, finger playing, and no picks or anything. I learned to play the first couple of records and did everything the way they were done on the records. But even now, once we get into the studio and they get live, you even kind of change your own parts. There is a different kind of feel and vibe that we do live. And that was an integral part of me being invited into the band. They liked my style of playing. I bring that element to the table. I just do what I always do and play like me.”
”Oh My God!” Watch one of the other music videos released off of Welcome Home:
Have you talked about how many of these new songs you are going to put into the setlist once you get out and are touring this album?
Sanders: “We have been talking about it. We are about to do some rehearsals next week. We did a three and a half week run two to three months ago. It was before the record came out, and at that time, I think we had released three songs off the album. So it’s a lot easier to play music that everybody has heard, rather than play something brand new that no one has ever heard. We were thankfully able to play three on the last run. And now that we are taking this tour on, we are picking and choosing what we might do. We might swap some in and out of the sets, depending on what works better. We are hoping to play at least four songs off of the new record to start the tour.”
I think my favourite HELLYEAH song is on the new album. I really like that “Perfect” track.
Sanders: “Oh awesome. That was definitely a different kind of song for us. I remember when we were recording it in the studio, we really didn’t know what to think about it. Because with no vocals on it, it was such a different sound for the band. So vocals were going to make or break that song. We’d know pretty quickly if it was going to be a good one, or if we were going to have to scrap it. When Chad came to the studio and started putting all of those crazy twists on it, it came out to be a kind of a catchy and cool track. We didn’t even release that one early. Oh wait, maybe we did release it through SiriusXM or something like that. But it wasn’t emphasized as a single. We just put the record out and waited to see who got drawn to what songs. That was definitely one of them.”
It’s got a bouncy, happy, upbeat feel to it. And that backbeat stays on it almost all the way through the song. I can see it being radio-friendly.
Sanders: “Totally. Us too. That’s exactly right. The radio has been drawn to it. It’s a song that could be a little strange for us. It’s not really like a lot of other HELLYEAH songs, so people that get into it might be a bit taken aback by how heavy some of our other songs are.”
Yet some more off of Welcome Home. Watch the music video for ”333:”
Can you talk a little bit about growing up? All of the Sanders boys are so into music. Was that something that got nurtured from an early age? How often do you get to see Darren & Troy?
Sanders: “You know, that’s funny, my dad wasn’t really into music at all, and my mom played some classical piano. But they weren’t really trying to push us into music at all. I was into music, and some of my friends were, of course. I am the oldest of the three of us. I got a bass and started trying to learn it, and Troy would always sneak into my room and try picking about on it. But I’m a lefty, and I think my rig was pretty much useless to him. He had to get his own setup and learn his way there. And Darren just got right into music and the business end of it. He’s out on the road with Slipknot right now. He’s the busiest of the bunch of us, quite frankly.
We don’t get to see each other that often. We bump into each other on the road more than at home, honestly. Our tour routings will often overlap, and we try to find time to hang out when that happens. We do try and find time in between tours to try and take a trip or getaway and do something. It just kind of varies man. Sometimes we don’t see each other for months and then we will see each other a couple of times in one month. So it’s not super often, but when it is, it’s a damn good time.”
In your opinion, what do you think is the best Hollywood portrayal of what it’s like to be in a band? That can be a movie or television.
Sanders: “Dude, I don’t know. Nowadays, it’s hard to say because things are just so different. That movie The Dirt I thought was just awesome. I was waiting for that thing to come out. The portrayal of life in the ‘80s and bands in the ‘80s growing up. The mid-‘80s is when I first started to play, you know? That was the vision that I had of it back then. It was just all girls and partying. I thought it was awesome. I definitely wanted to do that.
Now that I am where I am at currently, I’m kind of glad that I missed that part of it. Who knows what would have happened? When you are that young and have that much money, and you are in a band, I don’t know. It’s hard to see how things might work out for you. I think I like being able to look back at a movie like The Dirt and enjoy it vicariously through all of those guys. Learn from their mistakes and kind of do things my way. Which is the right way, these days. I think that movie kind of sums up a lot of stuff for that time period.”
Check out this Hellyeah interview about a terribly turbulent takeoff:
Are you a technology guy? Do you like to have the latest and greatest?
Sanders: “Yeah, I am. Sometimes to a fault. I seem to buy things because I feel like I have to. I am into a lot of that stuff. I don’t go overboard with it, but I do like to keep up with things and keep myself updated as new things are coming out.”
Does it freak you out how much access that the public seems to have to musicians and actors now. Social media, photos, public knowledge?
Sanders: “It does. It’s so different. I always think about when I was growing up, and all the information you would have was through a magazine. Like Hit Parader or Circus. However, it would come to me, usually through the mail. It’s got its pros and cons both ways now, how people are so much more in touch with musicians. If bands are into it, and band members are into it, they can direct message. You can have a conversation back and forth. Back then, it was never like that. You were lucky enough to make it to a show and see a live concert.
I do like the accessibility people have these days. But a big downside is just how easy it is to shit-talk about somebody behind a computer. Everybody is a big man behind their monitor. If you don’t like something, you’ve got to just tell the world about it instead of keeping your opinion to yourself. I think that is kind of crappy. I personally try to not look at a lot of comments and stuff like that. A lot of people do, and a lot of people, those comments hit them hard. It just fuels their fire and anger into a vicious circle back and forth. Whereas before with a magazine, if you didn’t like a band, you just turned the page. Look at the next band and read about them. I think that is pretty cool.
Just keep your opinions to yourself. You’re not going to go out and put up a billboard somewhere and say how much you hate this band back in the 1980s and ‘90s. But now it’s just too easy. People even go on the band’s websites just to talk trash on them. What kind of person are you when you’ll waste your own valuable personal time going onto another band’s site to say something dirty or nasty about them. How much you don’t like them or how crappy of a musician you think they are. It’s pretty sad and petty, I think.”
Let’s take you back a full decade for the music video for ”You Wouldn’t Know:”
It is. Assuming you are still in a band in your 60s, what do you think is the attribute that you hope you’d adhered to the most as an artist?
Sanders: “I’m not happy when I’m not playing. The older I get, the less I want to sit around. I don’t want to be on tour eleven months out of the year, but I love touring. I still love playing with people who are all in it for the right reasons. It’s hard to be with people who are in it for the wrong reasons. If you are a long-time musician, you know there is a good chance that you are not going to be highly financially successful. But if you are into it just for playing?! That’s how Vinnie was. He had huge success in Pantera. But he moved on from that, and he put everything he had into HELLYEAH. Being with a dude like that, and everyone else in the band being the same way is great. I grew up listening to music and playing music, and I’m going to keep playing music in some way, shape, or form until it’s all over with.
In your 50s and 60s and 70s, you try and do things smarter. You tour shorter. You aren’t out there touring eight to ten months out of the year. When I don’t play live, it’s tough. It’s my only release so I can be a normal person the rest of the time. So you have to get out there on stage and let everything out that you have inside. Then let it all go and move onto whatever is next. I don’t ever see me just stopping playing. I may move onto other things, but it’s still music. In my spare time now, I just opened up a music school out here in Georgia. I put everything I’ve got into that. Helping bringing up new students and kids and turning them onto good music like we were growing up with. Showing them the way and providing something that I wish that I had when I was 12-13-14 years old. So that’s going to be continuing on my legacy or whatever you want to call it; to keep the music alive.”
Not a lot of people can do that. Spend time with people and teach them a craft or a skillset. How do you find that? Is it rewarding?
Sanders: “I think it’s hugely rewarding. Seeing all these people learning? I have all ages of kids. I’ve even got some adult programs. It’s like from 6 to 60 in here. It’s just cool to give back to the art form. I’m fortunate enough to make a living at playing music. I know that it is extremely hard to do. Some people may take that for granted. I don’t want to let myself do that. It’s almost like starting over with someone else. Showing them things and learning from mistakes that it took me years to figure out. If you can learn that early in the game? The signs to look for in different band members and whatnot? That’s big. The business can be so crappy at times. Being able to show someone what to look out for is and to try and do it the right way and be happy and successful doing it is so rewarding for me. I’m hopefully doing the right thing and doing some good for some people.”
What’s the topic that you hated the most in school?
Sanders: “Unfortunately, it was Social Studies. Now? History is the most important thing in the world. But at the time, I guess I was just so into music I didn’t apply myself. I was good at science, and I was good at math, but I was just bored to tears in Social Studies and History class. You get a little bit older, and you realize that you’ve got to go back and relearn this stuff. And I have my own kids that are in history so I can relearn with them. But at the time, I just did not give a damn about that. For whatever reason. I’m not proud of it, but I didn’t like it.”