“REX BROWN” INTERVIEW By Dillon Collins
A man’s legacy is more than the sum of its parts. It is not dictated solely by past triumphs, or past failures. The future is forged thanks in part to honouring that legacy, all while keeping a watchful eye to the here and now.
You cannot speak of Rex Brown without referencing the iconic groove metal juggernaut Pantera, nor would it be favourable to refer to his career without tips of the hat to the sludgy stylings of Down or slick riffs of Kill Devil Hill, but for a man who has never coasted on coattails of decades worth of success and good-will, Rex Brown is tireless in his pursuit to craft a legacy independent of hashtags, staples or stigmas.
The iconic bassist steps firmly into the spotlight on his debut solo outing, Smoke on This…, a record that sees Brown pull double duty on guitar and, more notably, serve up a smokey rock and roll stylings in his major label foray as a lead vocalist.
“I’ve set everything up, everything is the way it’s supposed to be,” Brown shared with Metalheads Forever days before Smoke on This… was released to the public. “I’ve done all the work I can do and I need a break. I’m burnt.
“I think you need a re-charge,” he adds. “I was on the road for how many years? I just kept going and going for 25. I tell myself Rex, you’re going to take two years off for yourself. Go do what you want to do, see the grass grow. It wasn’t about eight months into it that I started writing songs. I had a good friend in Nashville and from there we started putting music together. Finding the voice was the first thing and then it was all that other stuff. It just got crazy and it got really good. The chemistry was there. I’m thrilled.
Brown turned to a small team of dedicated, trusted musicians when it came time to piece-together Smoke on This… Longtime friend and reputable guitarist Lance Harvill lent his talents to the respected metal stalwart, alongside studio maestro Christopher Williams and producer to the stars Caleb Sherman, whose touch has been applied to notable names across multiple genres like Little Big Town and Porter Block.
“With Lance and I, there’s always a little bit of oil and vinegar and you need that in a relationship when you can bounce ideas off of each other,” Brown explains. “Lance heard it this way and I heard it the other and I won. It’s one of those things, but some stuff that Lance came up with on this record, it just f***ing wouldn’t be what it is without it. The same thing with Caleb. He put a lot of ear candy on this record. Christopher Williams is just a talent onto himself, just an amazing drummer. I’ve just been blessed and I’m grateful, happy to be alive and still rocking. That’s all it boils down to. It’s just writing songs. I’m sitting on plenty of material.
“This isn’t the end of the chapter yet because this is just beginning,” he says. “It’s just putting songs together. When somebody calls to jam you take those opportunities. It was totally in the back of my mind that I’d always wanted to do a solo record. It’s not rocket science, it’s a very easy thing to get the chemistry of the three or four guys in the studio. Man, I wanted it to be small. I wanted it to sound like a big five piece band, but that you don’t need all the players. I tried to keep it to a minimum. I found the perfect opportunity and time to do it and I made the time to do it. I believe in destiny. It took a little bit of time, but I’ve been sitting on this record since December. Here we go. It’s rolling. It’s just making a rock ‘n’ roll record, man.”
The end results of the labours of an album that has a stripped down and back to basics feel is a true rock record. While Brown is known to a generation of music fans as a pillar in one of metal’s undisputed titans in Pantera, he is clear in his understanding that he has constructed the album he has been striving towards his entire career. Those who have issues with a perceived change in style or approach? Well, Brown has a message for those as well.
“I don’t care. I could care less, it’s a f***ing good goddamn rock ‘n’ roll record, and I think anybody with a half decent set of ears on them will understand that when they listen to it. You know what I mean? It’s just music, man. It doesn’t matter. You take the moniker off of that front cover and you put those songs up and it doesn’t matter. You don’t know who’s singing or playing whatever, but you probably want to find out. That’s the way I went about doing this music because it’s me. I wake up every day in this motherf***er. This is me. This is not a land of pretense of fake belief. I don’t get on Facebook and make all kinds of posts about stupid shit. It’s either positive or nothing at all.”
Perhaps most surprising to the uninitiated to the long-spanning career of Rex Brown is his prowess as a vocalist. Of course, longtime observers will know Brown for his backing vocals in various projects spanning 25 plus years in the business, but his debut solo outing allowed him to hone and cultivate a sound all of his own.
“In Down and Pantera you have these brilliant lyricists and frontmen so you can’t touch that.” he says. “I’ve always been behind these strong guys up front and I just felt it was time for me to go ahead. Finding the voice was the hardest thing, and once I found that voice I knew exactly where everything else would fit. It just happened naturally. I think we did “Train Song” first on vocals and once you had that one down the rest of them were pretty f***ing easy. I wanted to use the studio as a pallet, so that said we did to our fullest. At the end of the day we ended up stripping all of that stuff and leaving the vocal clean as it can be. It makes it real, it makes it raw, it makes it the essence of what the f**k it is. You can polish it as much as you want, but we got to the point where we were just looking at each other saying now we’re starting to polish turds. Let’s get rid of this, get rid of that, and strip it down, I don’t want to bastardize these f***ing songs.”
As for what’s next for Brown, designs point to a slew of live performances in the fall of 2017. He’s been wise to the highs, lows, wants and woes of the music machine for long enough to know that landing a hit record is a crapshoot. Whether Smoke on This… takes the rock world by storm or not is inconsequential to Brown, he just hopes longtime fans and a new generation of listeners will find a connection to a record that has come out of passion and drive, not need or obligation.
“Let’s see where that wind blows, that’s been my motto with this whole thing,” Brown explains. “In this business, who f****ng knows, man. Someone might dig one track and it hits the radio and it’s off, but then again, if it doesn’t I’ll still be making music. It doesn’t matter to me, I’ve never had mainstream radio, but I’ll take it, I ain’t scared of it. The more people the merrier. I don’t put a record out to sit on the shelf.”
So what does he think Smoke on This… says for an artist who rarely pulls punches and wears his heart on his sleeve?
“It’s statement that I ain’t dead, a statement that I’ve still got plenty of rock ‘n’ roll left in me and this is just the f****ng starting ground of where I want to take this thing. I got plenty of songs to write, plenty of s**t to do and I’m still very passionate about what I do. I just took a little detour and took a little time in the studio and got off the radar for awhile, and it felt good and it felt f***ing wonderful. At the same time I’ve got to keep making music, man. It’s all there is to it. I’m not going to shoot fire in my ass, I can’t do it.”
Smoke on This… is available now digitally and in physical formats wherever music is sold.
Dillon Collins/MHF Magazine