Dimebag Darrell: Animal House
Pantera holes up in Dimebag Darrell’s beer-soaked home studio and emerges with The Great Southern Trendkill, its loudest, rowdiest album to date.
A man’s home may be his castle, but for Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell, it’s also a fully stocked rock and roll playground. Part crash pad, part recording studio, part wet bar, Sir Dime’s palace is littered with Gold and Platinum records and a hard liquor collection that would make a Hooters bartender blush. A large Seagram’s 7 display plaque hangs behind the television, a Coors Light keg sits in the living room, and Washburn Dimebag signature series guitars lurk, ready for action, in every room. There’s even a cheap nylon-string acoustic in the bathroom.
“Yeah, nothing feels better than knowing that I can put a guitar in my hands at any time and rip—even when I’m taking a crap,” laughs the purple-goateed cowboy from hell. “I guess you could just call me a shithouse poet!”
Located in a sedate Arlington, Texas, suburb, Darrell’s home on the range is clearly a source of pride. And despite dorm-room atmosphere, the house represents the twentysomething Dimebag’s first tentative step into (gasp!) adulthood.
“I’ve always wanted a place to jam,” he says. “So, when we had some time off after our last tour, I’d decided that I’d do myself right for a change. Instead of spending all my money on beer and tattoos, I thought I’d buy something that’s worth a shit for once.”
Decked out in an Ace Frehley T-shirt and baggy shorts, Dime leads me to a converted RV garage in his backyard. Everything but the vocals on Pantera’s new album, The Great Southern Trendkill, were recorded here. (Vocalist Phil Anselmo tracked his parts in Trent Reznor’s New Orleans studio.)
“It started off as a jam room,” explains the guita rist as we stroll across the brown, unmanicured lawn toward the makeshift recording complex. “But then we decided to do our demos he re, so we brought in so me gear—three Tascam DA-88s and a little Mackie board. The demos were so tough and lethal sounding t hat we were like, ‘Man! That’s almost it, right there.’ Then we got hold of an M CI500 console—the board we’ve used to record all our albums—and we were set. It’s a full studio!
“At any time, we were looking at having to record in Dallas, which is 45 minutes from my place. And I’ve gotta tell you, bro, I wasn’t into that idea at all. Y’know, you wake up, you get your dick hard, you jump in your hot rod. But by the time everybody’s made it to the studio, somebody’s hungry so you go out and get a bite to eat. That leaves you all tubbed up and unmotivated. So you sit around and watch the big screen TV, play pool and drink beer. I didn’t want that to happen, so we just did it here.”
As expected, Dime’s studio has a dark, homey, practice-room vibe. The tiny control room is packed with state-of-the-art gear. But, ominously, in the middle of the floor there is an eerie chalk outline of a body. Was this the scene of a grisly murder? Did a recording engineer cross the line?
“Naw, that’s just where I collapsed one night after a heavy session.” Darrell laughs. “I’ll sleep anywhere!”
After pointing out some of his favorite toys in the humongous pile of beat-up effects pedals he “dicked around” with while making the album, we walk back to the house and settle down in the game room. Darrell sticks a rough-mix tape of Pantera’s eagerly anticipated fourth album into his stereo system. “I’m sorry that I don’t have any final mixes yet,” he grimaces as he hits “play” and cranks the volume. “I only finished recording the last of my lead shit yesterday.”
As the music kicks in, Darrell pours each of us the first of many Black Tooth Grins we will imbibe during our talk. It is Pantera’s official drink of choice, consisting of a healthy shot of Seagram’s 7 and a tiny splash of Coke.
“Our fans know that we ain’t gonna let them down and we haven’t,” he bellows over the music. After 11 tunes and as many shots later, all I can do is stagger and agree. Yes sir, once again, Pantera has delivered the goods.
GUITAR WORLD Describe Pantera today and how the band has evolved since the release of Cowboys from Hell seven years ago.
DIMEBAG DARRELL Right off the bat I’d say that all of us are more in tune with ourselves and each other than ever before. We’ve been evolving as Pantera the band—we’re not just another one of these groups where one or two guys are in the spotlight. We’re a fuckin’ band in the truest sense of the word. It takes all of us. We all go over each other’s parts together and make sure that we think it’s the shit. We give each other a flame—we rile each other up.
GW How would you describe The Great Southern Trendkill compared to your previous three major-label releases, Cowboys from Hell, Vulgar Display of Power and Far Beyond Driven?
DARRELL It’s almost like a “best of,” man. Some of the riffs on it date back to our Cowboys from Hell and Vulgar Display periods. Hell, a couple of ideas even go back to before we got signed. For example, when we were still playing small clubs, I used to play a 20-minute solo that consisted of everything from Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” to Randy Rhoads’ “Revelation (Mother Earth)”—plus whatever else I felt like throwing in. A regular part of my solo featured a long-assed, “singalong” type lead section, which has ended up in a new song called “Floods.”
GW Speaking of lead work, my only grumble about Far Beyond Driven was that it didn’t feature enough guitar soloing.
DARRELL Well, there’s definitely quite a few solos on this one! But beyond quantity, I think that I’m developing more of my own identity, lead-wise. My solos are more focused. Some of ’em even have a melodic, theme-like vibe in places—like the one in “Floods.” Also, I’ve gotten into doubling my leads, like Randy Rhoads used to do. I’m not panning them right and left in the mix: it’s two right on top of each other. To a lot of people’s ears it might sound like I’m using a chorus or a similar type of effect, but it’s just me doubling my parts.
Yeah, there’s definitely some guitar playing on this bitch, and once again man, there’s a real live vibe in my rhythm work. If anybody wants to learn how to play these songs right, you can’t just learn the main riffs and then merely repeat ’em, you’ve gotta listen real close to catch all the little techniques, slurs and bends that I put in there. I think it’s the subleties that really add to the depth of our material, much more so than having some outrageous lead guitar jack-off in every damned song!
GW While there’s definitely more leads on Trendkill than on its predecessor, there are still areas where most bands would throw in a solo, but where you opt to lock in tight with the rhythm section and drive the riff home.
DARRELL Hey, I love wailing out leads as much as the next guy, but, as I’ve already said, only if it complements the track. And sometimes, that means not taking a solo. I don’t want to come off like I’m trying to take away from playing lead, though, ’cause I play fucking lead, man! I’ve worked hard on my technique, and it comes from the fucking heart, y’know. To me, though, playing what works best for the song is much more important than trying to impress other guitarists by jerking off all over the neck.
Sure, you can express yourself by stepping out as a lead player, but it’s always truly something to see a live band jam together on a riff and hump
it and ride it—it’s a jam session and that’s impressive right there, regardless of what type of music they’re playing. And we do that kind of shit a lot. When we work a riff, it’s not a lead break, it’s a band break.
For example, there’s a part in “War Nerve” that was originally gonna have a lead break over it, but we weren’t happy with the section I was supposed to solo over. Then, while we were working on improving the part under the lead, we came up with a riff idea that kicked so hard we said, “Fuck the lead, let’s ride on this instead—it’ll kill people when we jam on it live!” Basically, provding it’s a bad-assed part, you’re not gonna miss having a lead there. Pantera’s a machine, and when we all throw down on a wicked part it sounds real fucking tough.
GW Is there slide work going on during the title track’s solo?
DARRELL Yeah. That’s my favorite lead on the record. There’s some nice stuff that shifts from speaker to speaker and, like you spotted, I even broke out a slide at the end, which was a completely spontaneous thing. I’ve done a little slide work on our music in the past to add some extra brassiness to a part, like on that riff in “Strength Beyond Strength,” [on Far Beyond Driven] but I’ve never really tried to use one up on the higher register of the guitar until now.
GW What made you decide to do it?
DARRELL Riggs [drummer Vinnie Paul, Dime’s brother] was cutting and producing my lead on “Trendkill,” and toward the end he said, “Hey man, I could hear some slide in there.” So, just for the hell of it, I cranked up the strings on my ax about half an inch off the neck, flipped it on the blues pickup, grabbed a slide and went for it. I totally winged it, but I’m a huge fan of Billy Gibbons, so I’ve heard enough slide work to know how it should go. Using a slide is totally outta control because the frets won’t save your ass if you’re not in tune and right on the money! I have nothing but intense respect for people who can really take that fucker and keep every note in pitch.
GW Your solo on “Drag the Waters” also caught my ear.
DARRELL Thanks. That lead’s kinda like an old Van Halen thing where the band breaks to feature the solo. Actually, on this one I ended up keeping a lot of the original guidetrack stuff I laid down while we were cutting the drums. It’s funny, man, sometimes you record something that you plan on re-doing later, but then when you listen back to it you decide to keep it because you realize that it’s gonna be real tough to beat! In other words, it’s good enough. Hey man, like the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
GW You mentioned earlier that a lot of your rhythm work is spiced up with subtle little slurs and tricks. How tough is it for you to double a part when there’s so much going on?
DARRELL It’s just a question of kicking back and taking the time to double the part properly. Sometimes it may take a while, but it’s definitely worth it. I always go for that live, honest feel when I’m going for that first rhythm track. I’ll never hold back on a part just so it’ll be easier for me to double it later on—to my ears it sounds sterile if you do that. I always want to get that initial track kicking and full of slurs, squeals and feel. I’ll worry about doubling it later!
And how many rhythm tracks did you record per song on Trendkill?
DARRELL Just two. I used to try four, 12 or whatever. But less is definitely more, man. If you do too many it just gets cluttered up. The best thing to do is get two guitars doing a tight double and then turn the fuckers up!
GW As your music is so physical, I’d imagine that you record your parts standing up.
DARRELL Yeah, I’d say that 97 percent of what I did on this album was done standing up. It just feels right that way. I mean, you don’t go to war sitting down!
GW Do you record using headphones much?
DARRELL I don’t mind ’em, but they can make you too particular sometimes, and they also get in the way if you’re really fired up and going for it. I mean, it’s difficult to throw down hard when you’ve got these big fuckin’ cans on your head and a huge-assed cord dangling across your back! So, most of the time when we’re recording, we use live floor monitors instead.
GW You’ve got a killer, brittle rhythm tone on this album. Have you changed your basic setup at all since the last record?
DARRELL Kinda. I ended up using the old, carpeted Randall RG-100 head I recorded Cowboys from Hell with.
GW What happened to the Randall Century 200s you’ve been playing through for the longest time?
DARRELL When we were jamming around and doing the demos I didn’t bother to hook up my normal rig; I wanted something that would do the job. So, we dragged in a bunch of my old shit and set it up. In addition to my RG-100 stack, I used an old Furman PQ-3 parametric EQ, which has a different gain structure from the PQ-4s I’ve got in my main rack, my blue MXR six-band graphic EQ and a cheap little Boss Noise Gate. Then, when we did the demos, I was liking the way everything was sounding, so I thought, Don’t fuck with it, there it is!
GW You’ve got a huge pile of effects boxes in the studio. Aside from the ones you’ve already mentioned, what other units did you use?
DARRELL I hooked up my MXR Flanger/ Doubler every once in a while and I used an E-Bow for a real smooth, continual sustain on “10’s.” I also used one of those little Korg Pandora boxes for a weird, fluttering sound on a short passage in “10’s” and a Lexicon Vortex for the shimmering, breathy tone on my theme-like lead in “The Underground in America.”
I also used a Roland AP-2 Phase II pedal, a Korg AX30G, a DigiTech Whammy Pedal, of course!, a Boss CE1 Chorus with a bunch of old Electro-Harmonix shit—a Small Stone Phaser, an Electric Mistress Flanger/Filter Matrix, a Little Big Muff and a Soul Preacher Compressor/Sustainer. I also used a Korg G1 on the demos and some of that made it on the record. If I can’t beat a part of the demo we’ll just extract that small section and use it. The G1 is a bad-sounding little unit, man.
GW There’s some wah on the record, too.
DARRELL Shit, I almost forgot about that! I used my Vox Wah on the earlier part of the recording and then Jimmy Dunlop sent me one of his rack-mount units [Crybaby DCR- 1SR]. Man, that thing is incredible—you can literally get whatever you want out of it. I also really like the idea that you can run a bunch of Wah pedals all over the place onstage with it so you’re not always tied to that one spot. The only uncool thing about it is that Rex will be dicking me off every night ’cause he’ll be jumping on my pedals all the time!
GW I take it that your main axes on this record were your signature model Washburns.
DARRELL Definitely. I didn’t even think of trying out “old faithful” [his blue lightning-bolt Dean]. That guitar is in a coffin right now! I’m real proud of how my Washburn guitars play and sound. I couldn’t be more happy or hooked up better.
GW Your chops always seem razor sharp. Do you still practice a lot when you’re not writing, recording or touring with the band?
DARRELL Yeah, I’ve always worked on my chops and shit. Nothing feels better than knowing that, no matter where you go, if a guitar is put in your hands then you’re ready to rip. I’m never not playing the guitar. Every different type of guitar I pick up—electric, acoustic, 12-string—brings something different out of me. That’s how “Suicide Note Pt. 1” was written. Washburn sent me a 12- string acoustic and all of a sudden there it was—another influence and another piece of inspiration. I wrote that riff the very first time I pulled the 12-string out of its case.
GW Considering that Pantera is obviously a tight, family-type unit, did it bother you at all when Phil Anselmo went off and did the Down album and tour?
DARRELL No, not at all. Phil’s a musical guy and he likes to stay busy. That’s what he does, he jams all the time—just like me. Hey, when I’m not making records, touring, doing interviews or getting jacked-off in a fourhour photo shoot for a Guitar World cover, you’ll find me jamming in my four-track room here at Camp Strapped or jamming with my friends. That’s the fun we have, just staying musical and shit
GW Speaking of musical endeavors outside of Pantera, can we ever expect to see a solo Dimebag album?
DARRELL One of these days I should probably put out my own record and call it Dimebag: The Original Four-Track King! I was the first dude to buy a four-track that I know, and I’ve been abusing that fucker daily ever since I got it! I’d write a song about anything and everything that happened to me. If I got ripped off at the liquor store, I’d come home and record a song about it. If a close friend had something crazy going on in his life that he was tryin’ to keep low-key so he wouldn’t get busted—like cheating on his girlfriend or something—then, of course, I’d have to bust his chops by writing a song about it and then blowing it up in front of him and a crowd. [laughs]
I always take the thing on the road with me, and I’ve got a library of literally thousands and thousands of four-track tapes. Some of the stuff is hilarious to look back on ’cause they are pieces of my life that I’ve completely forgotten about but are stuck in stone on tape. If I ever did release a record of this shit, it would have to come with a booklet explaining what was going on and have a glossary in the back for all the fucking lingo! Joking aside, though, Pantera is it for me right now, and I’m looking forward to going out on tour again.
GW Despite its sales, Far Beyond Driven was pretty much ignored by radio and MTV. The chances are high that The Great Southern Trendkill will suffer the same fate. Does that bother you?
DARRELL Fuck no! We’ve been around and we will be around regardless of that shit. We’re an honest band that just does what feels right to us and tries to do our best at everything we do. And hey, if you wanna play our music, then play it. If not, that’s fine too. I was never let down by the fact that Vulgar wasn’t played a lot on radio or on MTV. I thought we made some pretty good videos last time out, but fuck, MTV ain’t gonna make or break Pantera.
GW Has the success of your previous albums put extra pressure on you?
DARRELL It depends. It kinda comes and goes. To an extent it’s almost up to me how much pressure I feel because I’m the type of dude that always expects more from myself all the time, anyway. I have a certain idea in my head of where this band is heading and for me to be satisfied I have to hit that mark. I guess that’s where the real pressure is. It comes from within. So, it’s up to me to screw my head on and get serious with myself and my music, because no one else is gonna do it for me. No one outside of this band is gonna come up with those bad-assed riffs, no one else is gonna do shit for us from a musical standpoint.
GW Do you pay much attention to what is going on around you in the Nineties rock world?
DARRELL Yes and no. I’m aware of what’s going on around us musically, but it doesn’t really concern me because it ain’t gonna affect us in any way, shape or form. I’m into what I do and I know what’s right. I don’t know how to put it any other way, except to say that I feel confident that we can hold our own and move forward.
GW A lot of so-called “experts” have declared metal dead. As you’ve often described your music as metal, I take it you don’t agree.
DARRELL Fuck no, man, it’s definitely not dead, at least not for us. I know for a fact we can sell out a concert anywhere in the world right now and I know that we have diehard fans that know we ain’t gonna let ’em down. Unfortunately, metal as a whole definitely ain’t on top right now. I can remember when heavy metal was flamed up and boiling but it just comes down to the fact that there’s not a bunch of bands putting out good shit right now. It’s been a long time since something new has come out and blown me the fuck away, that’s for sure.
GW What was the last thing you heard that blew you away?
DARRELL Old or new, man? I keep on going back to my old records and getting a nut on. Like Go for What You Know by Pat Travers—good God, that’s the shit right there! That’s what I’m into. A band that can get up and do it live. Pat Travers and Pat Thrall [the two guitarists on the live LP] complement each other perfectly on that album. And, of course, I still jam on my old Judas Priest and Van Halen records. I’m trying to think of the most recent thing that beat me down in the dirt. It was probably Master of Puppets.
GW And that album is a good 10 years old now!
DARRELL Like I said, man, there’s just not enough ass-kickers out there tearing it up right now! But metal—or whatever the hell you wanna call it—ain’t all used up. I don’t know why everybody thinks they need to make their shit sound like somebody else’s and follow what’s currently considered cool. Try playing with some new ideas, dude. Go buy a new pedal or one of my guitars or something. [laughs] Get a new attitude on and get inspired. Fuck what’s “hip,” brother—trendkill!