Fireworks Magazine Online 81: Interview with Rex Brown

REX BROWN

Interview by Brent Rusche

His name will quickly bring to mind the bands Down, Kill Devil Hill and the legendary Pantera. However, after over twenty five years of recording and touring, Rex Brown found himself at an impasse and felt that taking a break was the only option. During his self-imposed exile, he slowly crafted songs which have manifested into his first ever solo effort, 'Smoke On This'. After a tenacious pursuit, Fireworks was awarded the opportunity to speak with this iconic and garrulous musician long associated with Heavy Metal. However, this album couldn't be further from that definition. A lively conversation ensued where we discussed the album, his influences and the people that have helped make 'Smoke On This' a reality.


Rex-Brown

Like most, Rex's musical influences focus around those nascent days as a young adolescent and provide wonderful insight as to the approach found on the album. Being of the belief that 'Smoke On This' has tremendous crossover potential, I think that fans of classic 70s Hard Rock, Modern Alternative Rock and even Grunge will find the album appealing. When asked about those influences that figured into his songwriting, Rex explains, "My influences go back all the way to when my sister left me records from The Beatles, The Stones and a lot of Turtles. I lived in a small town until I was about 11 years old and once I got to the big city it became Black Sabbath and Kiss...and this is now 1975 so 'Masters Of Reality' was on the deck. At the same time I was listening to Thin Lizzy and that progressed into this heavier Rock, like Foghat, then I discovered Humble Pie. Also, growing up in the 70s I was listening to radio in Texas, but the only thing that really 'got my goat' was ZZ Top." He then went on to mention one unlikely person in his life who was an early and constant source of inspiration. "My grandmother used to play piano for the silent movies back in the 1920s and had a little band as well that used to play in the Honky Tonks back when her county was still under Prohibition. She would tell me these stories about how they would get raided all the time. I just kept dragging her hand until she was probably in her death bed to [try and get her to] play me something. She was my musical muse."

Rex collaborated with longtime friend Lance Harvill on all songs. Being six years his junior, he brought a more modern Hard Rock vibe to the songs. The prolific pair ended up demoing twenty four tunes, with thirteen properly recorded and eleven making the final cut. When asked about his association and the writing process with his co-writer, he explains, "Dime[bag Darrell] and I knew Lance way back before Pantera was signed to Atco. He is an incredible songwriter and a Beatles fanatic, just like I am. When we do songs, I'll give him ideas that are really raw and then he'll make something cool from it. He'll then give me the stuff that is really polished and I'll strip it away. That is how we come to common ground and how we write and collaborate together. It's a meeting of the minds. His Pop sensibility is really incredible but takes on a different element when you put this raw, raspy voice on top. He knows exactly what I want and how to get it. I never have to go into rehearsal and say, "Nope, that's not the way that it goes, or nope, you're playing that wrong." Lance was influenced by his own stuff. I listen to some of Lance's music and it's definitely some of that Grunge vibe that you mentioned. He is definitely coming from that 90s sound where I'm more from the 70s and I wanted to bring those two together."

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music


When it came to recording and assembling the album, it is clear that it was anything but easy. "I took maybe a year off and then we started putting these songs together for the record right after Lance moved to Nashville. Then I met Caleb Sherman who also played on the record and is my producer. Having Caleb involved with this thing...he is a musician and he can play anything. There is a lot of lap-steel [guitar] on this, there are a lot of different types of organs and keyboards on the album that really make up the bulk of that inner sound. Once [drummer] Christopher Williams was done in the studio, then it was either me and Lance or just Caleb and I working at night on vocals. When it came time to mix, Caleb and I were just scratching our heads saying, "Well, which guitar tracks are we going to use on this?" You can only use about three or four before it really starts just crumbling the mix ΜΆ and we had up to 96 inputs of guitars on every damn song! [Laughs] Towards the end of recording, we were trying to get the vocals to sound big and loud but I didn't like my voice. Finally, we listened to Tom Petty's 'Damn The Torpedoes' album and right then I told Caleb to remove all the effects, double the vocal and see what it sounds like, raw. I think that is probably the best move we could have done for this record. I drove Caleb crazy! We must have mixed this thing eighteen times. I would say, "No, that hi-hat is just too open. Close it." I drove him insane. He wouldn't talk to me for like three weeks after we finished. He wouldn't even pick up the phone [Laughs]. I drive people crazy, but that is how you get the final product. "

Things got to a breaking point with Rex while promoting Kill Devil Hill which was the impetus for him taking a break from music. "Well, Vinnie [Appice] didn't want to tour as much so I had to get another drummer. Also, the costs of being on the road were exceeding what I wanted to do with it and I just needed a break. I needed to stop and watch the grass grow and watch my children blossom because they were [already] teenagers."

Rex is nothing short of a seasoned pro in this thing called the music business. When asked to comment, he did not hold back. "Look, artists these days don't get paid shit on a goddamn record. It doesn't matter who you are, you make your money from touring. After being on the road for all of these years, I had to go tell myself, "Well, you're going to have to do it." I had to take a fresh, fresh look at myself to see if I am up to doing this...and I was.

Rex's final thoughts are short and sweet, just like the album he set out to make and by all accounts, more music is clearly on the horizon. "I'm proud as fuck of this record. I wouldn't release something that I didn't think was 'up to snuff'. This just shows a new side of me and I've got another full record [of material] that I'm ready to go back into the studio and record."

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