Latest release: Stampede (Riot!/Warner)

Sydney has turned on the perfect wet winter’s day but in the bar of their hotel, the guys from Hellyeah couldn’t care less. With their new album Stampede hitting the Top 50 and after doing only a small number of shows on their current world tour so far, the band is back in Australia on their second visit, albeit only briefly. Vinnie Paul, in his snakeskin boots and black cowboy hat that makes my trilby look positively retarded and the goatee’d, bandanna-wearing Chad Gray ease into a couple of sofas in the lounge and give me a warm welcome. Six weeks earlier, I’d spoken to Vinnie on the phone prior to Stampede’s release and he was excited about how it would do. Having smashed into the US Top 10 at #8, I ask him if it’s lived up to his expectations.

“Well, you set the bar here,” he says, and raises his arm up to shoulder-height, “and you aim for here [arm up over his head], and anywhere in between, you gotta be happy. You always want more. You always wanna take it to the next level whenever you can. But given the economy and the way record sales are these days, we’re pretty excited. I mean, being in the Top Ten in the US… that’s huge man. There’s only ten bands in the entire country that can be in the Top Ten man. And being in the Top 50 here in Australia is huge. We love playing here. Metal is definitely a style of music that has to take a backseat to a lotta things, so for us to come in like that is a big deal.”

Vinnie and Chad may have enjoyed the last couple of decades as extremely successful and influentual musicians, but neither takes that for granted. Both understand how hard it is to break through in metal and how difficult it can be to stay ahead and sell records in a world where downloading music for free is so easy.

 “People that listen to hip-hop, people that listen to country, they buy a lot of records,” Chad says. “Kids that listen to metal, maybe don’t have as much money as them, they’re on the internet a lot, downloading a lot. It’s hurting metal. Downloading… I support it to a point, I always have. I think there’s a lot of shit out there, so if you want to preview something before you buy it, that’s great. But if you like it, buy it! If you like it, support it!”

He is quick to agree, however, that metal seems to be a beast that will not die.

“Metal has always been there,” he says. “One minute it feels mainstream for a while, then it goes away. But it’s always there. Just because it isn’t at the forefront, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Slayer’s been there 25 years, selling out shows… they’re in the paper one minute, gone the next. But they’re never gone. I love metal! I love the aggressiveness of it. Everybody needs that release. The need to be self-indulgent in these hard economical times… go out and have a good time. And that’s the band that we want to be. We want people to know that when you come to a Hellyeah show, it’ll be a great fuckin’ show and you’ll have a great fuckin’ time!”

None of the band has ever had any pretensions that Hellyeah’s music is anything more than what it is, and according to Vinnie, that’s just honest, straight forward good times.

“When we put the band together,” he says, “we looked around at everything that was around us, and there was a lot of negativity in music. What happened to the good times? Music used to be about having a good time. Getting fucked up, partying with your friends, rockin’ out. And that’s missing, man. We kinda fill a void. We do something that not too many people do to these days.”

“And it’s fun!” he says, roaring with laughter. “We enjoy doing it!”

Chad chimes in with some insight into their creative process.

“The new record is so diverse because we don’t question what we do. If we get stuck somewhere, we work that problem and we move on. We don’t sit around and say, ‘Oh man, why does it sound like that?’ or ‘What does this song sound like?’ or ‘What band do we want this song to sound like?’ We don’t give a fuck. We don’t wanna paint with anybody else’s brush. It’s comin’ outta us, and if you’re honest with yourself and true to yourself, you’re not gonna lose it. You might not be able to please everybody, but who can? We’re puttin’ it out there for the people that want to hear it.”

“It’s a roller coast ride,” says Vinnie. “Peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys. Takes you around it circles, loop the loop. We wanna give it all to ya. And in an eleven song period, we do that pretty well on this record.”

On their first Australian tour in 2007, Hellyeah played concert halls. On this week’s quickie promo jaunt, they’re sticking to club-sized rooms. Some might see that as a step down, especially when you consider how huge Pantera and Mudvayne were and are, but not these two.

“I think it’ll kick ass, man!” says the drummer.

“I love it, dude,” Chad says, in a way he seems to say everything – as if there’s an exclamation point at the end of every sentence. “Playing big festivals and playing arenas and playing small nightclubs is really like apples and oranges. Two completely different flavours, but they both taste good. I love being there right in the front, feeling the humidity with people going off… but it’s also great to look out over 50,000 people at a festival. It’s not as intimate, but it’s still cool. I love these intimate shows!”

“We just experienced all that in Europe,” says Vinnie Paul. “We played Donington in front of 110,000 people with Rage Against the Machine and the next three nights in a row we played to 1100 in Germany and it was just as kickass of a vibe… might have even been more intense at the smaller ones. But it’s fun to be able to run the gamut of them all.”

Hellyeah arrived in Australia the day before this interview, and the first show isn’t for yet another day. Chad Gray looks like he can hardly wait that long.

“We got so fuckin’ excited to get back down here,” he says. “I think in order for you to do something, you have to go to your fans. Like, this is a long fuckin’ plane ride for us to do it, but hopefully people appreciate that we are coming here just to play three shows and then we’re out. Australia is that important to us, we come back down here to service the fans. And we wanna come back down here in February. On our last record we played a lot of shows, but we only played one show…” He pauses for a moment as Vinnie appears to be about to correct him, before going on: “One show, apart from here, outside America, and that was Download. And I’m like, fuck that! I don’t want that. That’s not what Pantera did. You’ve got to be an international band. America’s no more important to us than Australia, Japan, South America, South East Asia… We want to go around the goddamn world. We want to take this everywhere. Because we think that people need this. We’re not standing up there bitching and fuckin’ complaining about this and that… I mean, there’s moments of it… but we bring a good time! And everybody needs a good time whether it’s Bangkok, Thailand or Sydney, Australia or Chicago, Illinois.”

Vinnie chimes in: “Every night is Friday night at a Hellyeah show. Doesn’t matter if it’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, it’s Friday night, it’s fuckin’ beer-thirty, it’s time to get ready to get rocked. This is one of the first countries that embraced us, dude, and we came here… we did 18 shows in the States and then we came here and it was awesome. We didn’t know what to expect, and it was awesome. They were awesome shows. Now we’re back again early and we’ll be back again often.”

“We’re a travellin’ weekend!” Chad Gray says, and seriously, what the hell’s wrong with that?