Dimebag Darrell Discusses His Roots, Gear and Pantera in 1994 Guitar World Interview
What do you contribute to Pantera's songwriting process?
Every song is different. There are no plans, no formulas . We know it's got to jam, and that's about it. When we started this album, I didn't have as many riffs written as I've had in the past, but I had a vision of what I wanted. I knew it was going to be one bad motherfucker -- refreshing, new, and that's what it was.
How do you write your riffs?
A couple of songs were actually written in concert. If you improvise a riff and the crowd immediately reacts to it, you know you're on to something.
You rarely hear of a band that will take a chance on improvising new riffs on stage these days. Everyone seems so well-rehearsed and conservative.
Ah shit, you know us -- the most dangerous band in heavy metal! Let me tell you a story. We wrote practically all of "25 Years," off the new album, in concert. One night, in front of a packed house, we just started jamming and came up with the main riff in the song. Phil was really getting into it and he started making suggestions while we were playing. At one point he told us to stop. So we stopped. And he said, "Dudes, go into a straight chug right there." This is in front of hundreds of people! We just put the crowd on hold for a few minutes while we put the song together. I don't think anybody minded, they just sat there and checked us out while we worked things through.
How is this album different for you?
We've been getting into the band thing. I've been trying to look more at the big picture -- trying to figure out what's appropriate for the tune. For example, we were working on this very aggressive song called "Slaughtered," and at first we decided that we were going to insert a slow, melodic lead guitar part into the middle of the tune. But while we were working on the slow section, everyone was just sipping on their beers and staying kind of quiet. Then I realized that the tune had lost its momentum and its power, so I said, "Fuck the lead." The big picture, man, that's where it's at.
"Five Minutes Alone" is another of the album's songs that features a pretty minimalist lead.
In my Guitar World column ["Riffer Madness"], I'm always talking about getting on one note and holding it, feeling it. So one day I was out in my garage, just dicking around on my eight-track, trying to figure out what "Five Minutes Alone" needed. Since I was only going to take a short solo, I started asking myself, "Do I need to burn something real quick for the sake of burning?" "Never," was the answer. Then I thought, "Why don't you take your own advice?" So I hit that one note and it really felt good. At first I was going to hop off of it, but then I thought, "No, the one note, dude." And I hung, and hung, and hung. Then I started bending the string up and down until it sounded like a siren, and that is all that song needed.
I noticed an experimental edge on the new album: "Good Friends And A Bottle Of Pills" has an almost industrial feel. "Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks" is epic in length and mood. And your cover of Black Sabbath's "Planet Caravan" even features bongos and acoustic guitars. Did you intentionally set out to broaden the band's vision?
We never plan anything; we just let nature take its course. But if you ask me, we did broaden our vision on this album. Actually, when I presented a demo of "Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks" to the band, I thought I'd get mixed reactions, at best. But everybody dug it, and Phil saw the possibilities right away.
Musicians tend to get bored playing the same thing over and over, so I think it's natural to experiment. On "Good Friends," for example, instead of playing a traditional solo, I just opened my guitar up all the way and let it feed back for effect.
That's a cool section, but it sounds like the feedback is being effected somehow.
Good ears, dude. I discovered the pure feedback wasn't quite enough, so I added a Digitech Whammy Pedal to the equation, which helped produce a sound that was completely fucked up!
I hear the Digitech Whammy Pedal on several other tracks. You used the pedal's harmonizer feature on the solo for "Strength Beyond Strength." How did you have it set?
I don't really know! Like I said before, I don't really have any training in theory, so I just kept turning knobs until I found the most wicked sound. Actually, there are two guitars playing that lead. One is playing the lead without effects, another guitar is doubling it with the Whammy Pedal, and both are going through one of those little 10-watt Marshall heads to produce what I call my "fry sound." It's the sound that I get on my eight-track demos.
Is that the Whammy again on "Becoming"?
Yes, sir. I'm using it on the rhythm part. I depress it on the third beat of every other measure to produce what Phil calls the "step on the cat" effect. It's too bad that you noticed it was a Whammy Pedal, because we were going to tell people that we were abusing an animal to produce that sound -- you know, "We were jumping on a cat, then we simply plugged a cord up its ass and threw a little eq on it." That was one of the songs that started with Vinnie's incredible drum groove.
Because I used the Whammy Pedal on the rhythm part, I decided to use it on the lead as well. The only thing I had between my guitar and my amp was my Dunlop Wah and the Whammy, so like an idiot I decided to try and play my solo using both effects simultaneously. I figured it was going to sound horrible, but everyone started saying, "That's cool, dude, that's cool." So I kept it, and then I doubled it and it was done!
I know some of your readers are going to rag at me and say, "Aw, dude, anybody could've done that." But let me tell you, I'm the kind of dude that would do that. And on the record, not at "show and tell."
When I first heard "Becoming," I thought, "Someone is actually corning up with some new sounds."
Noises, dude! Tones and noises!
While we're on the subject of rude noises, what's going on at the beginning of "Good Friends And A Bottle Of Pills"?
I was standing next to Vinnie, who plays drums really hard, and I was slowly moving my volume knob to see how far I could go before the guitar started feeding back. I had my guitar running through an old MXR flanger, and my intention was to just make a little bit of racket in the beginning of the song. Just by chance, the pickup started picking up Vinnie's snare drum and it popped the gate open. So the drum is actually triggering the guitar, and that's what you hear.
Are you playing any chords?
Naw, I'm just standing there drunk, fucking around with my volume knob. [laughs]
Since we're interested in details, what were you drinking?
Coors Light, dude.
Let's talk about a solo where you do let your fingers fly. The double-tracked lead on ''I'm Broken" sounds like an homage to Randy Rhoads.
All right! You heard that? That's right on the money. People always ask me about my influences. I learned about double-tracking leads from Randy -- especially the way he played them. He played them tight but loose, so they would flange just a little, and that's what I tried to do on ''I'm Broken."
Was Randy important to you?
Fuck, yes. If he was still around, there'd be no telling what that cat would be bustin' off. To me, Eddie Van Halen was heavy rock and roll, but Randy was heavy metal.