Supergroups have almost become commonplace at this point. Mix together artists from at least two former hit makers and stir well – see Velvet Revolver, Army of Anyone, etc. You'd think the records would sell themselves. While the formula may sound the same for Hellyeah, it's been a lot more work than they thought it would be.
"I think it's just a really great way to be able to do something different," says singer Chad Gray, who also exercises his vocal chords for Mudvayne. "When I write for Mudvayne, I map out the record and it's calculated. This stuff is more spontaneous and 'here and now.' Sometimes you get moments -- 'Alcohaulin' Ass' was basically done in 15 minutes. You just get tapped into something where creative explosions happen and that happens in Mudvyane, too."
Gray first came up with the idea for Hellyeah while touring with Nothingface. He and Nothingface guitarist Tom Maxwell discussed forming a side project together and recruited Mudvayne guitarist Greg Tribbett and Nothingface bassist Jerry Montano.
"I think Greg and I were looking to sow our oats and just do something else somewhere else," Gray says. "We'd been writing for Mudvayne back-to-back-to-back for years. We'd come off the road, take a month off and go right back into the studio. One way or a-fuckin'-nother I wasn't going right back in to write with Mudvayne. I think I afforded myself the right to take a break for a minute. I called Tom and said, 'If you want to do this thing, now's the right time.' I told Greg he can either sit on his ass and watch TV or we can go do something with something else and another side of ourselves and explore ourselves a little bit. If Mudvayne is the heads side, Hellyeah is the tails side. It's the same coin, but it's a different perspective."
Of course, it wasn't until they got former Pantera and Damageplan drummer Vinnie Paul on board that things really took off. "(Vince) was the master facilitator -- this would have never happened without him," Gray says by phone while driving through the southern Oregon mountains. "We used his studio -- no cost there, we lived at his house, he fed us. He won't buy beer, but he bought booze. I drink beer, so I was the only guy not getting the reach-around on the alcohol thing. He just made (the record) happen."
He adds that he wants Hellyeah to have a "fresh face." While fans will recognize his voice in both bands, he hopes that the music is separate and stays that way. He says each has now been developed into its own character that he can easily step into.
As for Mudvayne, Gray says he's wrapped up the next record already while continuing to tour with Hellyeah. He also hopes to do more writing with Mudvayne in the coming months, though he isn't sure if it will turn into a longer album, separate releases or what will come of any new material. One thing is clear -- Gray will have his hands full with both bands this year.
Hellyeah will tour in the early part of this year before Gray goes back to work on Mudvayne. While he spends long stretches of time on the road and away from his wife, Gray also wants to have fun while he's young. "Right now, I've got to work and someday my wife and I will hang out," he says with a laugh. "I walk out the door and don't walk back in for three months. It's tough, but I don't want to be singing 'Dig' when I'm 55."
When asked what sparked the original idea for Hellyeah, back in 2001 or 2002, Gray says, "just a drunk night in New Orleans and me and Tom were talking." The two got along well and had so much fun together that they said they should start a new band where they could play music together.
The band released a DVD late last year, Below the Belt, to help show the process of recording the album and how the group came together. Mudvayne also tried to stay in people's minds while Hellyeah was going on thanks to the release of For the People, By the People, an album of rarities and demos released last year.
Gray said Paul was impressive in his production abilities -- getting microphones set up and having drum tones ready. It made for easier writing sessions. By the time they wrote a song, it was already recorded and they were moving on to the next one. "There's a raw dangerous edge to the Hellyeah record," he says. "I never recorded that way and it's a lot of fuckin' fun. You avoid getting demo-itis and trying to recreate what you got when you were writing."
Shortly after recording their self-titled debut, Montano left the group for unspecified reasons. He was replaced by Damageplan's Bob Zilla. Now, things are going so well that Gray thinks it's obvious the group will record a second album. "It's been a hell of a year," he says. "Not doing another record would be dicking your fans over. I don't want to rush back in though. I need to go do Mudvayne for a while -- it's the comfortable old shoe that I get to put back on."
Hellyeah will play Amos' Southend on Jan. 30 with Machine Head, Nonpoint and Bury Your Dead. Tickets are $25. Doors open at 7 p.m.