If you were to mention the name “Rex Brown” to any avid heavy music listener over the last 25 years, they would most definitely recognize the name; he has played bass for Kill Devil Hill, Down, Crowbar and Pantera.
Quite recently, however, Brown has taken a step back from working in the band environment and focused on creating a solo album that expresses not only who he is as a musician; but more importantly, who he is as a person.
OVERDRIVE was super privileged to get the opportunity to speak to Brown about his upcoming debut album Smoke On This and we hope you get as much pleasure out of reading this interview it as we did doing it!
Brown opened the interview with something not many people would know about the man himself:
“I played guitar on a bunch of albums that you don’t even know about. I played guitar on “Cowboys From Hell”, the actual track. I’ve been playing guitar for a long time; since I was 9 years old. It just went on the back burner because I’ve been playing bass a long time.”
Brown was able to record “Smoke On This” alongside long time friend and primary collaborator Lance Harvill. Brown recalls about his trip to Nashville to visit Harvill:
“So basically what happened, is that I had a friend down in Nashville; they have these big conventions called “NAMM” and it’s a really laid back place! We’d go out to different places and all the cool guys from Rock ‘n’ Roll have lived in Nashville. It’s just this incredible vibe and scene of music of all different times. You go to any venue and it has anything from you know, country to straight-up hard-core rock ‘n’ roll!”
Regarding the recording process, Brown states how “we worked on and on with the guitar and writing these songs. Once we had them down to a certain extent, then I could take it and brash it out a little bit; make it a bit more rock, add a but of “Rex-isms” or whatever you want to call it. If I was gonna be singing about something, I wanted a diverse rock ‘n’ roll record. It still has the element of a little bit harder rock ‘n’ roll which I like.”
Brown explained how not long after working with Harvill, they came across Christopher Williams; who’s musical talents have been utilized by Accept, the reconstituted Blackfoot and even Lee Greenwood. Brown had nothing but high praise:
“He’s one of those guys that can play anything you want; you know I just told him what I wanted. We actually re-recorded the drum tracks once we got to about the halfway point, which was last summer. We started with certain drum tracks that we did and just went from there; basically we kept the original bass that we had on the whole record and Chris replayed to that.” Brown concluded with “I’ve had the blessing of playing with some great drummers!”
If it wasn’t for Williams, Brown would never have been introduced to producer Caleb Sherman. Sherman is a New Yorker who now calls Nashville home, as well as being a multi-instrumentalist who’s worked on records by Little Big Town and Porter Block to name a few.
Brown went on further about Sherman with nothing but praise and the upmost respect:
“Some of these guys who I have worked with in the past; yeah they’re musicians sure, but Caleb is one of these guys that can play anything. It was an instant friendship like I’ve known this cat for twenty-something years.”
It didn’t always sound like smooth sailing in regards to recording this album though, as Brown explained.
“Once they saw my position and what I wanted to do with this, they all kind of shut up a little bit. Everybody was throwing their two cents in and I was like “Wait a second; I know how to do good. I know exactly how I want this to sound and I know exactly what I want to do with it.” Once we got over that little stump, it just another day off to the races. It was refreshing having him (Sherman) in that position, also he’s a brilliant engineer!”
Brown mentioned to OVERDRIVE how much life on the road can take it out of you:
“I just needed to take a break; watch the grass grow, watch my kids grow a little bit. I’ve been on that road for 25 years; you need to stop and smell the roses. This is the direction that I’ve taken, it’s a personal record of course but at the same time I think that fans that have followed me all the way through can identify with.”
Brown also stated that “If you’re looking for a Pantera record, this is not it; you will never, ever hear another Pantera record. We just have to move on in life. I’ve just got to the point where I need to move to another direction in life. I’m just getting my feet wet with this thing; there’s so many more songs and so much more that I want to do with this. It’s just been a labour of love; it’s also been a blessing in disguise. I just want to let the music do the talking; I’m proud of it. I don’t live in the past, I don’t dwell on it or inspire to be there; I’ve already lived that, already done it. There was just some stuff that needed to come out and this is my way of expressing that.”
“There’s always a genre for everything, they put you in this genre; but whatever happened to just music? That’s what I was trying to go after with this.”
Brown went on to tell OVERDRIVE how recording “Get Yourself Alright” (a Strawberry Fields Forever ode) “was just crazy; when I was doing that song I wanted to make a tribute/Beatles-esque kinda thing. It’s got the weird chords and all that kinda stuff.”
Going into more detail about the fusions created in the intro to “Get Yourself Alright”, Brown explained how “We found on YouTube; we were looking for this guitar sound because we couldn’t find it in the studio; I played with this 6-string but it has the 12 strings on top; I think it’s called a “AirLine Stringer” or something like that. I was doing some weird reverse stuff and my producer goes “check out this; I know exactly what should go there and it’s called a Tandoori. We fooled around on YouTube; you can get stuff like that, it’s free. It fits the track perfect and it goes through the whole song in the back ground; it’s kinda weird. I just wanted to make something different and that was one of those tracks.” Brown also informed us that “there are plenty more tracks like this that just didn’t make the album.”
Brown went on to comment how “it’s just a real kind of humble song. What are you waiting for; it’s life, get yourself alright, get alive!”
Brown touched more on the experience of recording vocals, starting with “Fault Lines”; the first track he recorded vocals for:
“Once I found the voice to that track that we had written, that’s where the starting ground was. Now I know where I need to go with this, we kept pursuing that and pursuing that sound and how it was going to play out against the multitude of sounds that we had on the record. Bottom line; we had so many tracks for this record and we decided at the last minute to pull it back and make it raw and real. That’s what I wanted; I wanted to make a raw, real record!”
Brown also added how “I wanted to hear a bunch more distortion on the vocals but my producer was like “You need to get over the fact you’re a great singer. you can actually sing, just be yourself!” Once we did that, it was just running to the races. Nobody likes to hear themselves sing but I started to enjoy it; it was good and it all fell into place.
“Buried Alive” is a very emotional song that sends a chill throughout your body; unfortunately it has also been labeled as a tribute to “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott and Brown was quick to clear the air about that.
“It’s about my own emotions that I went through at a period of my life. It’s not a tribute to Dime and I don’t want to live off a dead man’s coat ever! It’s just a beautiful song and I could have sang about anything. This album was pretty synthetic for me in different ways. It is my first record and there are so many emotions there. I’ve got notebooks upon notebooks of fucking lyrics; I was going back through, I write all the time. It was kind of going back over the lyrics that I had, but at the same time I didn’t intentionally try to make it about Dime; I was more speaking about me.”
Brown let OVERDRIVE into some of the thought process behind the album: “Let’s get the essence of the song; I didn’t want to make five-minute songs, which I could have easily done. There’s only one song that’s close to that which is “Destiny” but it HAS to flow like that. It was one of those “Don’t bore us, just get to the chorus” kind of things that organically happened. You can’t change that; it’s called destiny, it’s called fate and you just don’t want to fuck with it!”
Brown also touched briefly how he felt before getting signed to a label: “It just started progressing; I was checking out labels and there was a fucking bidding war for this god damn thing! I’m still pinching myself; i just find it hard to believe being my first solo album after all this time.”
Most importantly, Brown has this to say: “I’m blessed to be doing what I’m doing; I’m just very grateful to be able to express myself the way that I can. That was from years of working my ass off. I’ve worked my ass off harder than I ever have. It’s not rocket science; it’s just a rock ‘n’ roll record and I just wanted to put a bunch of different tones and layers on it, it was fun making that music.”
And if there were any fans reading this hoping to find out some good news about Kill Devil Hill, I hate to be the breaker of bad news but unfortunately “We’re over for right now. I never say never, but it got to a point were I had to go do my own thing so I made my solo record. We’ll see down the road but I’m doing this for right now I’m doing the Rex thing for next one or two records; this is where I’m heading for the next five years.”