To celebrate the release of Pantera’s first new album in four years, Guitar World hustles down to Texas and talks with Dimebag Darrell. After a night of booze, broads and badass rock, this is what we remember.
“Come on, dude!” shouts Dimebag Darrell. “We’ve got steaks to eat, booze to drink, and tits to see.”
For the last hour Dimebag has been hanging in a Hilton suite, answering a continuous barrage of questions about Pantera’s new album, Reinventing the Steel. It’s been four long years since Pantera’s last studio effort and there has been a lot of catching up to do, but it’s a Saturday night, Guitar World is in town, and new adventures are waiting to be had.
In what seems like only seconds later, we’re speeding down a freeway on the outskirts of Dallas in a swank SUV, heading toward Dimebag’s pad. Dime pulls out a freshly mastered CD of songs from the new album, pops it in the player and cranks up the volume. Although he did a pretty good job of describing the intensity of the tunes earlier in the evening, his commentary can’t compare with the sensation of listening to the album at 120 dB while cruising at 100 m.p.h.
A four-year hiatus can be dangerous for many bands, but Pantera fans can rest assured that the band has not mellowed with age—they haven’t done anything foolish like cut off their hair or discover the “genius” of Andrew Lloyd Weber. Although the definition of metal has changed in Pantera’s absence, the band is back to show everyone how a heavy rock record is supposed to sound. “We’re the full-meal deal,” says Dimebag. “This album is fresh and updated, but it’s still us. It’s full of fuckin’ lead guitar playing, lead singing, drumming up the ass, bass lines that walk and move you, and songs, man, songs. We’re reinventing the steel.”
By the time we pull into the Bat Cave–like secret entrance to Dime’s digs, our brains and bodies have been numbed by songs like “Hellbound,” “Goddamn Electric” and “Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit.” Inside the house, Dimebag gives the CD a second spin, and it sounds even more ominous on his home system. The low end of Rex’s bass and Vinnie Paul’s machine-gun drums rumble like a sonic boom, Phil Anselmo’s screaming vocals sound menacing and energized, and Dimebag’s guitar wails, chunks and roars. Reinventing the Steel is the first studio album that the Pantera boys have produced on their own, but even without their longtime producer Terry Date behind the desk, they’ve managed to outdo themselves.
The beer is poured, the steaks are served, and now it’s time for more entertainment. Anyone familiar with Pantera’s long-form videos knows that Dime is pretty handy with a camcorder. It is in fact rumored that his rowdy backstage footage of the band had a profound influence on Steven Speilberg’s bloody battle scenes in Saving Private Ryan. But little prepared us for the guitarist’s self-produced and directed opus, Y2Gaines.
As Dimebag pops the video into his VCR he explains that “Y2Gaines is a moving story about a father who searches for milk for his baby boy, Clim.” The father is played by a striking fellow with unusually green teeth, and Clim is a plastic doll that sports a crude hand-painted goatee. As you might guess, the boy and his pappy have no trouble finding any number of ladies, who are more than ready, willing and able to deliver the milk.
After the movie reaches its climax (several, actually), we’re back on the road and headed toward the Clubhouse, a classy and comfortable gentlemen’s club owned by Dimebag and his brother, Vinnie Paul. Having “invested” a substantial amount of their hardearned income at various Dallas strip bars in between tours and while making albums, they realized it would probably be cheaper if they bought one of their own before taking their break. The Clubhouse is a classy, comfortable lounge filled to the brim with Dallas debutantes gone wrong. Besides the requisite catwalk, there’s a “secret” shower room where patrons can hose down the girls with fluorescent paint.
Settling into a plush, overstuffed chair, your intrepid and intoxicated reporter commissions a three-girl lap dance only to realize that he has just two bucks in his wallet. But before the lap dance turns into a slap dance, Dimebag comes to the rescue with a wad of $20 bills, and once again life is good.
With all of Dimebag’s extra-curricular activities, one would assume that the band just kicked back and took it easy during their down time, but anyone familiar with Pantera knows that the word “easy” doesn’t apply to them. Over the last four years they have gone out on several tours, played opening gigs for Black Sabbath and Kiss, and released a live album. They’ve recorded songs for the Detroit Rock City and Heavy Metal 2000 soundtracks, composed a theme song for the Dallas Stars hockey team, and collaborated on an album with David Allan Coe, the country outlaw legend who penned “Take This Job and Shove It.” And the band relaxes as hard as it plays: Dimebag mentions that he’s gone through three La-Z-Boy recliners over the last four years.
“My last La-Z-Boy got ragged and busted up from us getting all drunk, turning on loud music and pile-driving into each other,” says Dimebag. “I just replaced it a few weeks ago with the deluxe model that has the vibrating back massager in it. You’ve got to have that comfort rig after your belly is full of cow and cold beer and you want to watch some Y2Gaines.”
But now that Reinventing the Steel is completed, Dime won’t have much time to wear out his newest chair. The band takes off for Europe immediately after the album comes out, then they’ll return to the States this summer to play Ozzfest. After that, they’re touring Japan, and the live action will probably continue well into next year. “We’re ready to get on the road,” says Dimebag. “Everybody’s got the itch. This record is geared for live performance. We’re sitting on the best record we’ve ever written, and I can’t wait to play these tunes in front of some rabid, hungry fans.”
GUITAR WORLD Why did Pantera take the last four years off?
DIMEBAG DARRELL Let me go all the way back. Way before we got a record deal, we were playing clubs seven nights a week, three one-hour sets a night. Then we got the record deal, and we took off on the road and stayed out. On the Cowboys from Hell tour we were driving around in an RV, fuckin’ ragged out. If you’ve seen our first home video you have an idea what that was like. Then we went right into making Vulgar Display of Power and doing another tour. It’s been bam, bam, bam—non-stop. Most bands don’t make it past two albums and tours, if that. We pulled it off, and everybody’s been happy and cool, but we got to the point where we knew it was time to take a break. So we took a fuckin’ break. But we started working on the new record last summer, and we’ve been kickin’ ass ever since. That’s where our heart’s at, that’s where we belong, and here it comes. And here we go. Off the recliner!
GW What did you do during your down time?
DARRELL I met the great country-punk western legend David Allan Coe. What we are to heavy metal rock and roll, he is to country and western. I was just going to see him play, but I met up with that cat and ended up shooting the shit with him for two hours backstage. I’ve come to find out everybody loves ol’ David Allan Coe, even people like Kid Rock. I had a copy of our third home video on me, and I gave it to him, saying, “Hey man. You probably ain’t heard of us. That doesn’t matter. Here is what we do. We’re pretty much in the same boat. We’re both rebels.”
We ended up talking about all the stuff we had in common. He called me up a day later and said, “Hey, Dime. It’s David Allan Coe. I’m gambling, and I just hit $50,000 on a slot machine. I want you to play on my new record.” David had a week off, so I invited him to fly in and stay at my house. We started cutting shit, putting together this crossover project called “David Allan Coe and the Cowboys from Hell.” It’s a rebel-meets-rebel kind of thing. We’ve finished eight songs and we have two more to record. That took the whole summer, because we were mostly partying and hanging out.
Collaborating with a country and western legend like him is cool. I love the idea that he’s an outlaw and sticks up for people like Kid Rock and Pantera. He opens his show playing Pantera songs and shit like that. Sometimes he goes into medleys of our tunes. He’s always up there talking about hanging out with Dimebag, getting drunk. He reads more rock and roll magazines and owns more rock records than most kids I know. He’s on top of it.
GW Are we going to hear you do some chicken pickin’ on that record?
DARRELL It’s got quite a bit of Southern twang on it. But there are some pretty cool heavy metal moments on it, too. There’s quite a bit of bluesiness too. And there’s some Bob Seger–type rock and roll. It’s a wide spectrum. It’s good party music. It’s crazy how many country and western people love hard rock and how many rockers get off on David Allan Coe outlaw shit. We’ll be talking to these kids, and they’ll say, “Ah, dude. I saw you at the Coe show.” It’s not alien to them at all.
GW Speaking of outlaws, have you been listening to any of the new metal bands and did they have impact on how you recorded Reinventing the Steel?
DARRELL We’ve watched what’s gone on around us, and we’ve been like a steel rod in the center of it all.
All these different forms of music have come along that are cool, but the worse thing we could do is go, “Oh, wow! Maybe we’d better get a little piece of that.” The next thing you’d know is the record company would applaud us, and we’d start becoming something we weren’t. What would that do to the fans who are sitting there rock-hard waiting on the next piece of goods to come their way?
So we looked at that and said, “Up yours, fucker. This is who we are, and this is what gets our blood boiling.” We realized that we were one of the only bands that stuck to our guns, so we decided to go ahead and kill this fucker dead three times over. And we did.
If you are honest and stay true to what you believe in, you can’t fuckin’ lose. I’m still the same cat I always was. I don’t get all caught up in that rock star shit. I don’t sit at home. I go out. I’ll hang out with whoever, wherever and whenever, and probably drink them under the table, if I can. If I can’t, then I’ll have them drive me home. If you get a hold of something and that’s your angle and what you’re shooting for, don’t bend. Watch and it will pan out. Put your money in the stock market, and don’t move it because if you fuck with it you’re going to lose. Don’t try to get too much. Just take what you’ve got and let it be what it is. [sings] Let it be! Let it be!
GW Why are there just 10 songs on the album?
DARRELL Do you really think you’re getting more when you buy a CD with 17 songs on it? Kids think that, but they’re kids. They don’t know any better at this point. They ain’t getting Black Sabbath. They ain’t getting Led Zeppelin. They’re getting what they’re getting—a bunch of the same type of stuff through the whole CD. This album is only 10 songs, but they’re all good. It’s not 29, 17 or 15 songs, with just two good songs on it. We’re old school. We cut the fat off of everything. There ain’t one ounce of fat on this record. It’s 10 solid ass kickers. It was hard for us to pick the opener because there are 10 killer songs. I don’t have to boast my own band up because it will speak for itself, but we’re damn proud of it.
GW Every Pantera record is available on vinyl. Did you use a side one/side two approach when sequencing songs for this album?
DARRELL We’ll always think of our albums as records. I’ve still got a turntable and all my old Deep Purple records. But I don’t scratch ’em. The only way I scratch ’em is when I get drunk and bump into them. And, trust me, they’re all scratched. Actually, you should call that a scar.
GW How did you get Kerry King from Slayer to play on “Goddamn Electric”?
DARRELL The song is about the vibe that we get when we crank up or play loud music, when we’re in our element. Music heals the soul. It’s goddamn electric. That’s what we call it. Phil called me up with these lyrics that go, “Your trust is in whiskey and weed and Black Sabbath. It’s goddamn electric.” I said, “Dude, you hit it. You struck the nerve.” The second time that line comes around, Phil sings “Your trust is in whiskey and weed and Slayer.” Phil was calling out all these bands that stuck true to their guns. They’re our kind of guys.
It just so happened, when we were getting ready to record that song last year, Slayer was coming through town on the Ozzfest with Sabbath, and Kerry called me up. I said, “Dude, I’m bringing something out there, so get ready.” I didn’t let him know what it was. We brought a DA-88, a tape with a rough stereo mix of the whole tune on it, an SM-58 and a mic cord. I caught Kerry before he went onstage. He was warming up and I said, “Do you want to play on this tune? We rag on Slayer.”
Kerry’s always pumped up and ready to kick ass on anything. They went up onstage and played their set. The whole time I was yelling, “Kerry! Rip it!” They were tearing it up. After the set was finished I saw the Marshall stack come rolling through the door, and here comes Kerry. We plugged him up. Vinnie was back there and he had it all wired up. He hit record and the first thing Kerry played was awesome. You can hear me at the end of the take yelling, “Don’t touch that! Fuck, that’s hot!” He recorded it right there on the spot, backstage at Starplex in Dallas, in a bathroom. Kerry packed his shit up and fuckin’ flew somewhere else and jammed some more.
GW How did you get started on the album?
DARRELL I’d accumulated a shit load of guitar riffs. The ideas get inside your head, and if you’re smart enough to have a recorder sitting near you, you end up saving a lot of good ideas. Riffs just come out when I’m jacking around playing. I went back through those tapes, and there were a lot of them— more than I’ve ever had. I took it to the next step and went upstairs to my studio, which has a 24-channel Mackie board and some electronic drum pads. I started piecing stuff together, and that started to open up other doors. I had a bunch of ideas that I put together back to back, and I recorded them on a CD.
I sent one to Phil, and he had ideas and riffs that he wrote on the guitar. He’s a hell of a player. He’s in a league of his own with the death metal and black metal fast-hand rhythm playing. He’d hear a riff on the CD and he’d go, “That riff’s cool, but that note has got to be sour.” Or he’d tell me to bend a note up. He’d work on me, just like I do with him when he’s working on his pipes.
On top of that, Rex brings in his ideas. He can always make parts fit together better. He’s good with key changes. He’s the backbone of a lot of our stuff. And Vinnie Paul always comes up with those over-the-top drum grooves where we build songs around him. How many bands write a riff around the drummer? We all milk each other. We get the best out of each other and that’s how it should be. We’re all brothers.
GW This is the first record that you’ve made at your home studio.
DARRELL I built a studio in my house. It’s just a little box. It was my original dream to buy a house that had an extra barn or something that I could renovate so I could have a room to jam in with friends and with the band. I just wanted to keep my chops up while we had some down time. Vinnie dragged all the live recording gear into my practice room one night. We started doing demos and they came out pretty good. The next thing I knew I had my carpenter down there. It had already been through a three-month process of being soundproofed. All we needed to do was build a control room. I had my boys come over and build a 6x8- foot guitar box for my amps so there’s some air for the mics but the sound is isolated. We did the same thing for Rex’s bass. Everything is sitting out in this open room that isn’t even all that big. Instead of driving an hour to Dallas to go to a studio and sitting there, trying to get pumped up again after driving, it’s so much cooler to have everybody come to my house.
GW What did you use to record the album?
DARRELL We did it on a 48-track Otari Radar hard disk recorder. My dad turned me on to the Radar. He said that we could do anything we wanted with it. It’s a lot easier than rolling the old tape and splicing things together. You can do all of that inside the box. I’ve got Mackie boards that give me 100 channels of mixing, quite a bit of outboard shit, and our amps and our drums. We just have to plug it in, make sure it sounds kick ass, and then we go.
Vinnie Paul and I produced the album, and it was co-produced by our boy Sterling Winfield, who engineered 99 percent of everything. It was just we three. We did things on our own terms. It was like having your nuts on the chopping block, but that’s not such a bad place to be if you can slide your sack off the block before the blade comes down. There’s not a better feeling than knowing you beat the chopper.
GW Your guitar tone is more lively on this album.
DARRELL Dude, it’s a battle to capture the live sound on tape. The signal has to go through a lot of shit before the listener finally gets it. It’s easy to lose that live feel by the time the guitar goes through all that. It’s easy to sit there and get your guitar sound close to a final mastered sound when you’re recording it to tape, but by the time it’s gone through everything else it can end up sounding skinny or flat.
The trick is in the mastering. Mastering is the final stage, and a lot can get fucked up if you’re not careful. When you get to mastering you’ve got to find the magic mix that works once it goes through all the compression and EQing. We worked with Howie Weinberg, and he’s a fantabulous dude. We told him what we were going for, and he did what he does by his own ear. I guarantee that this is one of the loudest, if not the loudest, CDs you’ll ever hear. It’s loud and stormin’, on the verge of breaking open. We rode it right to the edge, and then a little bit over it.
GW How do you feel about the new styles of heavy rock that have become popular over the last four years?
DARRELL A lot of people think metal is metal, and that’s all it ever was and that’s all it ever will be. Let’s put it aside and just strip elements from it. Let’s rap over it. Let’s turn on the record scratcher. Let’s do all this crap to try to form some kind of new music. But it’s not really new music. It’s just ripping pieces from music that’s already been done and piecing it together in a different way. But it’s diluted.
When you get something that’s pure it’s 10 times as powerful. It’s like the difference between non-alcoholic beer and real beer. They’re promoting it like it’s beer and it’s not beer! Get the real deal.
A lot of dudes play a sevenstring guitar that’s tuned to an open chord, and they’ve got just enough strength in the first finger to chord it. There’s power in that, and I can see how somebody can get off on that. But, if you want to make the guitar sing and talk for you, grab a hold of those high notes and bend that fucker over the neck. Pull it down and wiggle it until it won’t wiggle no more. Pull that vibrato bar, feed it back and throw it through the fuckin’ amp. That’s expression. That’s speaking how you feel, if that’s how you feel. Now, if you only feel like lifting your finger up and down on the neck, that’s cool too, and you should enjoy it if that’s all you feel.
A lot of people have sevenstring guitars, yet they only play two or three strings. If you’re only going to use three strings, why not just use a three-string guitar? Scott Ian of Anthrax has a four-string guitar, so he tells it like it is.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t play a seven-string. It’s just that I’ve never needed one. Most dudes who play seven-strings don’t sound any different than someone playing a six-string that’s tuned down.
GW Pantera is making a bold statement by calling this album Reinventing the Steel.
DARRELL Every record we put out has a bold statement. Folks say, “You people from the South talk a mean game.” Yeah, but we back it up, and we ain’t even halfway where we’re going.