“I don’t know, it’s just one of things,” laughed Rex Brown when asked why he had been holding out on the world with his newly unveiled singing voice on his debut solo album, Smoke on This, due for release on July 28.
“I think timing had a lot to do with it. It was one of those things. I sang in the early Pantera days, even on Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display of Power there was a lot of harmonies with Phil Anselmo. I always sang the harmonies live and it was the same in Down and Kill Devil Hill. I was a background singer and the hardest part in putting the record together was finding that voice and seeing how it was going to fit. Once we got that formula it was just a day at the fucken races. I haven’t been holding out, it’s just timing in everything.”
Brown is best known as bass player for Pantera but has also had stints in Down and Kill Devil Hill as well as collaborating with Jerry Cantrel, Crowbar, Cavalera Conspiracy and Rebel Meets Rebel. But until now has preferred to shun the limelight instead of fronting his own band.
“I thought it was time,” he shrugged. “I beat metal to death. I was kicking a dead horse. Even though you can take the farm away from the boy you can’t take the boy far from the farm. That was something that I wanted to strive to do with this one. I wanted to sonically make it a huge fucken rock and roll record. It was a process man. It was something that was fun doing.
I had to look back and get off the road and take off became off because I’ve been doing this for so fucken long and everybody needs a break. Every once in a while you have to step back and for me I went back to the whole principal of why did you do this in the first place? You have to find that point of why did I start and it’s because I have a love of music.
So we just started writing new songs and we tore those songs apart and bastardized them. We turned them inside out. I was just trying to make a really good rock and roll record and this is just me getting my feet wet. We had so much more I wanted to put out a double record but it was one of those things where I sat down with friends and said what do you think of this direction and they were all like fuck yeah dude what are you on (laughs) and I was like, nothing, I’m fucken sober as shit and it’s cool. You know when you hit on something and it strikes a chord with somebody.
And these friends I surround myself with aren’t the ass kissing tools that say ‘oh yeah Rex, sounds great’. They were more try this or you should fuck with this or whatever. The whole time I was giving it to my buddy Scott Givens and showing him the process and how it was going. It wasn’t because I was trying to sell, it was just trying to figure out how it was going. I didn’t wanna put my music out without throwing shit against the wall just to see if it stuck”
Brown is putting out a more rock based record which is more personal to him as opposed to the metal style which has defined his life. He says he knew he was stepping out of his comfort zone and perhaps confusing long time fans in the process but also maintains that at this stage of his career his focus is on what makes him happy musically.
“That’s the whole thing with this business these days,” he sighed. “You have to be in this genre or it’s gotta be this or that. No it doesn’t man. If you go back to the fucken 1970’s it was all about rock and roll. There were no different classes like prog rock or whatever category. Why a lot of people have to put music into categories I have no idea. I guess it makes them feel better. That or they just don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. One or the other.
For me, it was more about finding ones true self and then deciding on what I wanted to do for the next however long. This isn’t a fluke man. I’ve been planning this for a while. I’ve got an insane band behind me. These guys are just fucken top notch. This whole thing has been… I just feel blessed with it. Here I am talking about it and the record isn’t even out. I’d rather talk about it after the record and let the music do the talking (laughs).”
Starting out as a jazz bassist before discovering his musical identity with the phenomenon that was Pantera, Brown has continually challenged himself as an artist, performing in a plethora of bands as well as writing the book ‘Official Truth 101 Pantera‘. It gave a comprehensive look into the band and the many controversies and successes that followed it. Now into his fifties, he says the challenge of creating music and finding fresh ways to harness his creativity is pivotal to his musical existence.
“As a musician you wanna keep striving to find something different without taking the soul and intensity out of what you learned over all those years. Just do something different. If you don’t take those challenges or those steps you’re never gonna fucken do anything. Trust me I could sit on the couch the rest of my fucken life but I don’t want to. I’ve just got so much more music in me and this is what I enjoy doing now. It’s nothing socially… I don’t give a fuck, I just don’t. I made a rock and roll record and that’s the way it should be. The way I see it, the way I look at it, the way I interpret it. I’m a musicologist and my beginnings go way, way back. It’s insane man.”
At this stage of his career, Brown stresses that he doesn’t set goals for himself. Instead he just does whatever feels right and trusts his instincts to win through in the end.
“I live every day on a day to day basis,” he insisted. “My expectation level on a scale of one to ten is five. If you’re kicking ass one day and it’s up to an eight then you’re doing something right and you should roll with it. If you drop down to a two you gotta pull them fucken bootstraps up and get after it. Look, the suns gonna rise every morning and there’s only two things I can control with that. My attitude and my effort and that’s it. That’s just the way I look at life these days. It’s not about… for me it was never about the fucken party it was always about the jam. It was always about the music.
I sat in that corner for a long time and didn’t say anything because I just didn’t feel like saying anything. I just wanted to jam and I still have that feeling today. I probably worked harder on this record than I have any record in my life because it’s mine so it’s personal. I don’t… I’m not trying to defend myself either. If I can turn two or three heads onto this then the work is done. But I have a feeling with all these accolades I’ve been getting this thing is gonna be a little bigger than I thought. This is something I wanna pursue. This is my next chapter.”
As well as handling lead vocals for the first time, Brown also played guitar and laid down all the bass tracks on the record, making this truly a Rex Brown project. He is excited and grateful that he has finally given himself the opportunity to explore this side of his persona.
“Playing guitar was a major thing for me,” he revealed, “because I went back and… I played all of the bass on it. I think I only overdubbed on two songs. The rest of it is all live, four on the floor. Even when we went back and re -recorded the demos the drummer played to the bass. It was one of those things where I’ve been playing guitar for a long fucken time and I wanted two guitar sounds on this thing.
I got incredibly lucky with a fucken gifted songwriter and really good friend of mine Lance Harvill and he’s got the guitar down pat. When I went back and I looked up what I thought it needed for a different sound and texture he was there. It needed to be bastardized and have a bit of rock and roll and soul put into it.”
Brown says he let the music dictate what musicians he needed, rather than write to any one particular individual.
“When it came down to basic tracks I kept it to a bare minimum,” he explained. “And then I took a little break. We bought this house and we gutted the whole fucken thing, put in new floors and that kind of shit so I took a little hiatus and stepped away from the record for almost five months and then I went back and kinda had to reassess what I was doing and we sang some different stuff. It was a labor of love man, it was really fucken fun making this record and it’s all mine.”
Brown maintains that while it will undeniably have glimpses of his past, Smoke on This is, at its core, a record from the heart that fuses together elements of everything that has come before it.
“I’ve been influenced and influential to all kinds of musicians. I was in one of the biggest bands of all time for Christ’s sake and we still sell as many records today as we did then. The beat goes on man. It’s not rocket science. It’s just a rock and roll record. I wanted to make something that was heartfelt and real. I’m not trying to rip anybody off.”