Dimebag Darrell: The Rough Rider
GW When did your brother Vinnie start playing drums?
DARRELL That’s a good story. One day Vinnie came home from school with a fuckin’ tuba. My old man said, “Son, you won’t be able to make a pretty penny playing that thing. Take it back right now and tell them that you’re going to play drums!”
A year later, I tried to hop on Vinnie’s kit and hang with him, but Vinnie just blew me away. Our story is almost identical to the Van Halen story. Both Eddie and Alex played drums, but Alex killed, so Eddie decided to pick up the guitar. It was the same in our case. Rigs [Vinnie’s nickname] definitely dominated me on the kit, so I started playing guitar.
GW How did Vinnie influence you?
DARRELL Vinnie taught me a lot about timing. For example, I can remember one day we decided that we were going to try to learn “More Than a Feeling,” by Boston. We started jamming on it right before we had to leave for school. We were already late when Vinnie pointed out that I had left out one chord— that I was coming out of one section before the beat had a chance to turn around. I’m like, “What are you talking about?” So he counted everything out for me and showed me where I was missing a chord. We went back and listened to the record and, sure enough, he was right.
It’s always been like that. Vinnie is very knowledgeable. He was the one that paid attention in school! He learned all his drum rudiments.
GW That you and your brother worked closely together is easy to see. Your rhythm guitar playing, in particular, is very tight and percussive sounding—you guys almost sound like you’re playing a form of heavy metal marching drum rudiments in unison at times. What’s it like playing in a band with your brother?
DARRELL Great. We’re more like best friends. I think we have a better relationship than most brothers because we’re working for the same goal. In most families, one brother will be a doctor and the other will be a lawyer, or a street bum—however it works out. I don’t even know how to put this without sounding wacky, but we don’t have a “push/pull” relationship at all. It’s just very natural; we don’t fight and shit.
GW Was there ever any rivalry between you?
DARRELL A little bit, but not much. He always had the business sense and I had the street-level sense. We both respect our differences and, luckily, we’re able to just kind of put the two together. But now that I think about it, he did kick my ass a few times when we were growing up. [laughs] All I can say is that I’m fortunate to have a brother that can rip on the drums like Vinnie Paul. I mean, it’s hard enough to find someone that can just beat on the skins.
GW What do you contribute to Pantera’s songwriting process?
DARRELL 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 fucker— refreshing, new, and that’s what it was.
GW How do you write your riffs?
DARRELL 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.
GW You rarely hear of a band that will take a chance on improvising new riffs onstage these days. Everyone seems so well rehearsed and conservative.
DARRELL 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 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.
GW How is this album different for you?
DARRELL 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 in 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.
GW “Five Minutes Alone” is another of the album’s songs that features a pretty minimalist lead.
DARRELL In my Guitar World column, 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 eighttrack, 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.
GW 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?
DARRELL 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.