Interviewing Rex Brown, the bassist from bands like Pantera, Down, and most recently Kill Devil Hill, was not something I was especially looking forward to. Not because I don’t respect the guy; he’s a fucking icon of heavy metal. And his new memoir, Official Truth, 101 Proof, is wildly entertaining. At times it reads like a more cuddly Hammer of the Gods — there are stories about water gun fights and double-chocolate fudge cake eating contests — and it occasionally veers into Spinal Tap territory. “Not long before Far Beyond Driven‘s release,” Brown begins one chapter, “there was an issue with the cover art because, of course, we couldn’t put a picture of some chick with a big steel fuckin’ drill up her ass, you know?” (As Nigel Tufnel once asked, what’s wrong with being sexy?)
The reason I was nervous about talking to Brown is because he mentions on page four of his book how he once threw a journalist down a flight of stairs for asking “stupid questions.” ON PAGE FOUR! So even the laziest writer, just skimming Official Truth before talking to Brown, would get the message. “I took his helmet,” Brown writes of the unlucky journalist, who for some reason showed up for an interview in full motorcycle regalia. “Threw it down the fucking stairs, and then I decided to throw his leather jacket, too — while he was still wearing it.”
My interview with Brown happened by phone (which for some reason didn’t make me feel any more relaxed). Brown, to his credit, was entirely pleasant.
I think we should start by talking about Ozzy Osbourne’s balls.
Ah yes. The sugar gum, as I call it.
I really, really enjoyed that story.
It went down like this. He sends his boy Dave over. You know, Big Dave. He comes to me and Big Dave says, “Rex, Ozzy wants to talk to you.” So me and the rest of the guys go to his dressing room.
This is during Ozzfest in ‘97, right? You’re on the tour with Pantera?
Right, yeah. We bring a joint over, and there’s Ozzy in this robe, and he’s sitting there and he goes, “Come on in, boys.” Ozzy’s nothing like he was on that show.
Yeah, that show was all bullshit. He’s sharp as a tack. So we’re sitting there, and he’s in this bathrobe, without even any fucking shorts on. Oops, I said the f-word. You can always bleep that out. Or is this live?
It’s an interview for a website. Swear all you want.
So he’s sitting there with his fucking sugar gum out. We’re just sitting there talking, getting high, just like any normal person does. And I looked at him and said, “Oz, can you please just fucking put those things away?”
I love that. It’s not like he was trying to seduce you or something.
His balls were hanging out from sheer laziness. He was like, “Eh, who has the energy to shove ‘em back in?” It takes a certain innate coolness to pull that off.
That’s Ozzy. If I was Ozzy and my balls were hanging out, I wouldn’t give a fuck either.
Have you reached that level of self-confidence yet?
To let your balls hang out. You’ve been making music for 30 years now. Do you have the scrotum-exposing bravado of Ozzy in a bathrobe?
I’ll just sing it as a song. [Sings.] “Do your balls hang low, do you let ‘em flow, can you tie ‘em in a nut, can you tie ‘em in a bow.” You know what I’m saying?
I don’t think I do.
That’s just, fuck, it’s normal life, man. Being on the road and doing what you’re doing. I had to ask him politely to put the shit back in his pants. But we were already good friends by then.
Why write a memoir now?
Is there ever a good time to do it? Really? I’d been thinking about it for awhile, and I was always like, “No, I don’t want to talk about this shit.” It took me awhile to really get my shit together. I wanted to keep the memory of (late Pantera guitarist) Dime(bag Darrell) alive. But this is not about Dime, this is more about me. This is my truth, how I saw it, and I had really good seats for the fucking thing.
Did you read that Dimebag bio that came out a few years ago, Black Tooth Grin?
I hadn’t read any of that crap. There were only four guys in this band who knew what went on. All the rest of that stuff is just some blogger. You understand what I’m saying? My book is from the guy who was one of the founding fucking members of the band. So, this is not some bullshit tale of what went down. It’s the absolute goddamn truth.
Is it possible you wrote the book because you needed the money? I read something in USA Today last year that you owe $449,567 in back taxes.
That’s not true?
That’s all bullshit. Dude, I didn’t write a book for the money. I think we all owe a little bit in back taxes, but that’s just bad management skills. You’re the first one to ask me that. I’ve done 40 or 50 interviews for this book and nobody’s asked about taxes.
Maybe they forgot to Google you.
You know why I think it is? I think kids start blogs and they write what they want and people actually believe it. Which I don’t subscribe to. I don’t read the blogs. I could care less, man. This is my truth.
There’s a lot more violence in the book than I expected. In one story, you found out that a tour truck driver had been stealing your beer, and you apparently beat him so badly that he “almost lost his jaw, and his eye sockets.” What the hell, man?
Well, it’s real.
It’s real that somebody steals your beer and you gouge out his eye sockets? You must really, really like beer.
I’m not sitting here to tell you a surreal tale or make anything up. That’s one thing my mother always taught me. Don’t ever be a thief, a liar or a cheat.
You also write about spandex in the book, and how it’s apparently an aphrodisiac. Can you explain why that is?
I was a good-looking son-of-a-bitch when I was 25 years old.
But what is it about spandex? During the ‘80s, why were heavy metal performers required to dress like homeless ballerinas?
It’s just the way it was, man. In those days, if you wanted to be somewhat successful at what you did, you had to look a certain way. You had to look like Ratt or Mötley Crüe. We weren’t trying to emulate their music. What we were wearing didn’t matter. It was about the riff, man. It was about getting up onstage and putting a smile on people’s faces. That’s all there was to it.
You’re a fan of KISS, right?
A huge fan.
You describe Gene Simmons in Official Truth as your idol. But you also say that his bass playing is bland. If it’s not his musicianship, what do you admire about Gene?
I don’t really think I said his bass playing was bland.
You did though.
I don’t think so.
I’m looking at it right now. Page 103. “Someone like Gene Simmons always sounded really bland to me.”
If that’s what it says, it’s a typo. All I can say is, Gene has always been a friend and a fan of this band from day one. Here’s an anecdote I didn’t put in the book. We were playing the Santa Monica Civic Center over two nights, and once Gene came out and strapped my bass on. He played a couple of songs with the boys. I just stood in the back so I could hear what he was doing. The cat’s just got it.
What about the KISS marketing machine? There’s a picture in the book of you and the other Pantera guys smoking from a Gene Simmons bong. Do you appreciate that stuff ironically?
No, man, it’s cool. Gene is the king of branding. I learned a lot from him.
It’s all about the brand, man. What does Pantera mean? Does it really mean anything? No, it’s just a brand. When you say Pantera, they know what the sound of the band’s gonna be. I’ve tried to do that with every band I’ve ever been a part of.
But can’t you establish a brand without putting your face on a diaper bag?
KISS has 2300 trademarks. It’s just one of those things that you have to do.
You don’t really.
Yes, man, you do.
Radiohead is a brand, and they’ve never sold one lunchbox.
It’s not about lunchboxes, man. It’s about getting your name out there. If you don’t trademark your name and put that name as big as you can in bold letters, then people aren’t going to get it.
But if you get too addicted to seeing your name in big bold letters, that’s how bands end up making TV movies like Phantom of the Park.
[Laughs.] I loved that movie! That was a huge deal when I was a kid, because I was such a fan. And now I look at it and I’m like, “I can’t believe that I actually watched that when I was 11.”
What would Pantera’s Phantom of the Park have looked like? Would it have been as campy and silly?
You don’t want to know.
I really do.
It would blow your mind, man. I’ll leave it at that.
Is a Pantera reunion ever going to happen?
[Long pause.] I’ll put it this way. I never say never to at least grasping the opportunity to be brother to brother. Phil (Anselmo) and I have that. And Vinnie (Paul) just hasn’t gotten on with the picture. It’d be great for us to sit in a room and figure out if we ever want to do that again. But I don’t really think there’ll ever be another Pantera without Dime in it. So, it’s a very complicated story. At the same time, it’d be nice to maybe play a couple shows and have a bunch of guest stars. But as far as reunion, there’s no reunion, man. Dime’s dead.
Was there anything you didn’t want to share in the book? Any stories that were too personal or raw?
Nothing. I went down to my skivvies on this one. It’s too late for regrets. It’s out now. It’s on bookstands. I don’t regret anything from the past, except that Dime’s not on this planet anymore. And I had nothing to do with that.
It must’ve been difficult writing about Dime’s death.
It was, man.
Was there at least some comfort in knowing that he left doing something he loved? As gruesome and terrible as his death was, his last memory was wailing on his guitar.
Yeah, that’s one of the things I cling to. It’s just the timing that was completely fucked. The guy who killed him, he didn’t just want Dime, he wanted the whole fucking band. He was that delusional. I had it from police reports, which I don’t carry around with me but they’re in my office at home, this guy thought he wrote all of our songs. He was really out of his fucking mind.
Does that make you paranoid?
Naw, man. I never look over my shoulder. How can you live your life like that?
But are you at least prepared? Could you take a guy down if you needed to? Do you know judo, kung fu, anything like that?
[Long pause.] Judo? What the fuck are you talking about?
If a crazy fan came after you, would you be able to stop him?
Dude, I weigh 140 pounds. I could take care of a 280 pound man in a second.
That’s all I’m asking.
Somebody hits you in the fucking back in the middle of a fucking alley, what would you do? Would you fight back or would you sit there and scream like a pussy?
Me? I’d probably scream like a pussy.
See, I don’t think that way. I’ve got twins that are 13 years old. Somebody breaks in my house, I’m not just going to shoot them in the kneecap. That’s all there is to it. Somebody gets in my house, you’ve done fucked up. And it ain’t gonna be my fist, I can tell you that much. Ain’t gonna be no judo chops. Why are you even asking about this?
Because you lost a friend to violence. I’m just curious if that changes you. I’m a big pacifist, but if I had a friend who was murdered, I don’t know. I might be carrying a gun with me everywhere. I might be less trusting of everybody.
As I told you before, I don’t look over my shoulder. You have to get on with life. I’ve got to move one step at a time, day by day, and keep my expectations to a bare minimum. If the day ends up great, well cool, you had a great day. But I don’t look over my shoulder. You live your life that way, you’re going to be scared all your life. Let me ask you a question.
Kill Devil Hill has a new record coming out and it’s going to be major. The songs that we have are just amazing. If I get the record to you, will you play it on your radio station?
My radio station? I don’t…
Would you play my new stuff on your radio station? For this interview that I just did with you?
I’d love to, if I worked for a radio station.
But you’d be willing? You’d be willing to go ahead and put us on the radio?
Um … I’m not sure how to answer that. We could put a video up on MTV Hive, which is where this interview is going. It’s a website, so…
But if the songs are really, really good.
I’m sure they’re good. I believe you.
I’m not trying to toot my own whistle or pat myself on the back, but the new Kill Devil Hill is the real deal. If you like good hard rock n’ roll, that’s what it’s all about.
I’d expect nothing less from you.
It’s not really rocket science, dude. All you have to do is play a track. Put it on spin and put it on your radio station.
Yeah, but I don’t…
Just try it out. See if the kids like it or not. It’s easy.
If I had any connections whatsoever to radio, I would totally…
I’m doing this for you, this interview. Do me the favor and put me on the radio.
[Sighs.] I’ll see what I can do.
Official Truth, 101 Proof is out now on Da Capo.