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INTERVIEW – Vinny Appice, Kill Devil Hill – December 2013

| 14 January 2014

INTERVIEW – Vinny Appice, Kill Devil Hill – December 2013
By Shane Pinnegar

Vinny Appice 01

This story was first published in an edited form in X-Press Magazine’s 8th January 2014 issue.

Vinny Appice’s is a name synonymous with heavy metal drumming, having played with Black Sabbath in their post-Ozzy Osbourne period, and in their Heaven And Hell phase, as well as providing the foundations for Dio for their classic 80’s period.

Having teamed up with Pantera & Down bassist Rex Brown to form Kill Devil Hill in 2011, they are back with album number 2 – the enormous sounding Revolution Rise, a masterclass in modern metal, all underpinned by Appice’s incomparable power and groove behind the drumkit.

Kill Devil Hill 01

Appice laughs at the suggestion that he has extra thick drum heads, saying that the secret of hitting hard is knowing HOW to hit.

“I just know how to hit ’em! I even play with the butt end of the stick – never use the other side of the stick. So I play really hard, but when you know how to hit ’em you don’t kill the drum heads so much.”

The drummer goes on to explain how the band formed.

“I started the band myself, I had some drum tracks on my studio computer, and Jimmy Bain came down, [who was] the bassist in Dio for years with me, so he played some bass on it and we started fooling around.

Vinny Appice 02

“So we needed a guitar player, somebody recommended Mark Zavon, he came down and we worked together well, nice guy, I like the way he played, so it was ‘well this is kinda really good – we need a singer, man!’ But I didn’t want somebody that sounds sorta eighties, you know – I wanted somebody a bit more modern, a little more rough, you know.

“Then he gave me a tape with Dewey [Bragg] singing on it, and I said ‘That’s the guy!’ ‘Cos I didn’t want lots of vibrato and stuff – I wanted kinda more Alice In Chains kinda stuff, where the notes hang out a little longer and are drawn out, some strange harmonies and stuff, and as soon as I heard him I said ‘that’s the guy!’

“So he came down and we started laying stuff down, and then we really started hearing a sound, you know. Then eventually it didn’t work out with Jimmy, and we started looking for bass players, and I called Rex – I heard he was maybe lookin’ for something, then he came down and it was all complete once he added that big baddass bass sound of his, it was like, monstrous. It came together well!”

Revolution Rise features a crunching sound that sometimes harken back to the 80’s days of Sabbath and Dio, and Appice isn’t afraid to admit he occasionally caught himself thinking what his old bandmates would do with the material.

Black Sabbath - Geezer Butler, Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Vinny Appice

Black Sabbath – Geezer Butler, Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Vinny Appice

“I would say maybe more with Tony, with the riffs,” he admits, “not so much [about] Ronnie with the vocal lines, because Dewey is a kind’ve different singer than Ronnie is. Dewey doesn’t use a lot of vibrato and things like that – but there ARE some little places where it reminisces of Ronnie, [and I go] ‘wow, that’s something that almost Ronnie would do!’

“And then Tony, Tony is the riff master, so it’s a real delight to go ‘what would Tony do?’ That would be a good way to figure out some things. But you know, we do what we feel is right and what feels right in the song, you know, and we try to keep it nice and tight and heavy.”

Appice doesn’t hold a grudge against grunge, unlike some in the hard rock and metal community – rather, he actively sought an Alice In Chains style singer for the band and has nothing but praise for Bragg.

Kill Devil Hill - Dewey Bragg & Vinny Appice

Kill Devil Hill – Vinny Appice & Dewey Bragg

“Naw, I like it.” He says, “And Dewey’s stuff is straaaange, man – you listen to it, it’s unexpected – I LIKE the unexpected in music! Ronnie liked it like that too. Otherwise it’s typical and when you’re listening to it you go, ‘I know it’s gonna change right here…’ and it does, and it’s less interesting, you know. So we try to keep it more interesting and that’s why there’s some drum fills and things that might start in the middle of a bar, crazy stuff like that. And Dewey comes up with great hooks, and he’s got some crazy ass harmonies – it’s great.”

Starting the band with two experienced and successful musos and two less publicly known guys hasn’t resulted in any problems, says Appice, though the new boys had a learning curve to adapt to.

“No, it wasn’t a problem at all,” he explains, “there was some ummmm… eye opening experiences, when we were like, ‘well, this is what we do.’ But that’s natural – when I went into Sabbath I was a kid and I was like, ‘WOW’, I got my eyes opened a LOT, you know! So that happened a little bit, but the cool thing was I put it together and we wrote songs together, Mark & I a lot, and Dewey the vocals. Dewey would play bass – so we had a lotta songs written before Rex came into the band, so he knew what he was getting into rather than starting completely from the beginning. So there was a little more focus when he came in, and he fit right in, so it was easy – all smooth sailing.”

Despite the presence of Appice and Brown, the drummer is quick to refute talk that Kill Devil Hill is a ‘supergroup’.

Kill Devil Hill 02

“I don’t think really that this is a supergroup. A supergroup would be four or five guys who are all from amazing bands, you know? Maybe if there was Robert Plant singing and somebody like Eddie Van Halen playing guitar – THAT would be a supergroup, everybody came from a major band and stuff. This band is not really a supergroup, it’s just a great band, that plays together well and its for real – we go out there and get it together as one, and we believe in that.”

Appice says Zavon suggested the band name themselves Kill Devil Hill after the actual place in North Carolina where the Wright Brothers first flew an aircraft.

“Mark had a list of names,” he explains, “he’s into aviation, he took flight lessons and stuff, and that one sounded really cool. And it kinda described the music with the words ‘kill’ and ‘devil’ in it, and it kinda describes the music as heavy and aggressive and dark – so we liked the way it sounded! It’s hard to think of a name now, you know… that’s why you see all these names like, they’re almost like a sentence, you know – Three Doors Down One Door Up First Floor Room 305… fuck man, they’re running outta names!” he laughs.

Vinny Appice 04

After such an illustrious career, Kill Devil Hill means a lot to Appice for one very personal reason – finally, this is HIS band.

“It’s been a pretty good career and I’ve played with some major people,” Appice expounds. “The difference is, I played with people who were already established, you know. Even when I started, I played with Rick Derringer – I even played a little bit with John Lennon. Then Black Sabbath – they were pretty freakin’ known when I joined the band! So I just added to it – I wasn’t a major part of it.

“Dio I was a major part of ‘cos we started the band together, Ronnie and I – [but] Ronnie was a major rock star, you know, I wasn’t as big as him! So I’ve always had to work under the umbrella of ‘this is already a built in success’. I’m grateful I did – I got to play with two amazing bands, you know, but this thing, it’s like building the house right from the beginning.

“If it becomes successful, then I can pat myself on the shoulder and go ‘well done!’ It’s been a dream of mine my whole career to have my own band and I always respect the people who had their own band and started from nothing and built it up – it’s an amazing thing.

“This will be the last dream of my career, you know.”

Vinny Appice 05

Album opener No Way Out features the instantly recognisable guitar work of Zakk Wylde, who Appice says lent his talents as a favour to Brown.

“Rex knew him very well, [they] hung out a lot more than I did. I knew Zakk just from here and there. We never really played with Black Label [Society, Wylde’s band], as far as Sabbath or Heaven & Hell or Dio goes, so I didn’t run into him much at all at shows, but I did at social things. But Rex knew him well and we had something for him to play on, and he agreed, and he really had a good time – it was fun man, it was really cool, and the perfect song for him too man, just to shred.”

After thirty years of making records, and with a relatively new original band, Appice still revisits his past and has been playing with other ex-Dio band members in Dio Disciples and The Last In Line, as well as, a few years ago, touring as part of Big Noize with the likes of Joe Lynn Turner [Rainbow, Deep Purple], Carlos Cavazo [Quiet Riot, Ratt] and Phil Soussan [Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol, Johnny Hallyday]. These bands all pay homage to the classics recorded by him and his bandmates – is balancing the new band and the older songs a yin and yang thing to him, or a financial necessity?

“You know what, the Last In Line thing we just started doing some gigs – we must have done 6 or 8 gigs so far. The reaction has been incredible. We pack the places, we did a big festival in Europe, big festival in Japan – there was a LOT of people. It’s just amazing to play… I love playing those old songs – especially with Vivian [Campbell] on guitar and Jimmy [Bain] on bass, it’s just been fantastic, so musically I’m just loving it, and so are the rest of the guys.

“We do it for fun – yeah, we wanna do it to make some money too, you know, it’s always good to make some money! But that’s not why we did it – we did it ‘cos we wanted to play these songs again and make it work. And it’s really amazing to me that these songs are thirty years old, and people react to them like we just brought out the record, that’s amazing!

Heaven & Hell - Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio, Vinny Appice

Heaven & Hell – Vinny Appice, Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler

“We didn’t think anything when we made these records – like, Holy Diver, Last In Line. We thought, yeah it’s a cool band, we’re gonna write some stuff, record… so we just had a good time and recorded those songs and we never thought that in time they would become – especially Holy Diver – such classic albums! It’s like, WOW!

“So it’s fun to play this stuff – because we wrote those songs, we played on those albums – so to go out and play ’em again, it’s not like selling out or doing anything like that. I look in the audience and they’re going CRAZY – and these songs are that old, you know. So it’s really a thrill to do this.

Vinny Appice 03

“Big Noize, that was something we did a long time ago, and we kept it going here and there, so every once in a while we did gigs. I like playing this stuff too man – I like playing the heavy stuff with Kill Devil Hill, but nowadays a lot of people multitask, for financial reasons or musical reasons.

“Kill Devil Hill – unfortunately we can’t make any kind of money right now. With any new band, it’s a wash. There’s not a lot of money until you build it up, so you can’t rely on any one thing, or keep putting money into it and nothing’s happening, so… I like playing ALL this stuff, I just love playing – I do something with my brother [famous Classic Rock drummer Carmine Appice, a veteran of Vanilla Fudge, Rod Stewart and Ozzy Osbourne’s bands, Blue Murder and more], called Drum Wars that’s just really cool. Me and him playing music from our history, and then we do drum duets and drum battles – it’s a really cool show we put together and it’s really fun and we have a great time doing it, so there’s no problem with playing music – that’s what life is all about for us.”

Carmine & Vinny Appice

Carmine & Vinny Appice

The financial realities facing musicians in the internet age are well documented, and Appice says even a band like Kill Devil Hill are struggling.

“Back in the Day, Rex & I putting a band together, we woulda got a half a million dollar deal – and we probably woulda spent half of that on a recording studio! Now people don’t get anything like that – a new band is lucky if they get twenty grand! And then they go do the album in their basement and maybe it costs them 5 grand! So it’s different – it’s a whole different animal right now, with the music business.

“The record companies don’t have as much big money as they did. T-shirts and merchandise, it’s really small potatoes right now. So it’s hard to make it work – that’s why a band like us, even with me and Rex in the band, we’re losing money. We can’t go out and make money ‘cos we need to build the band up and need to be pulling in a lot of people at shows and selling records. It’s a hard business right now but it has to be marketed too, whether that’s through the internet or however, you need marketing and you need some good music, and then you need to be out there playing shows as a real band. But hey, I’m sitting here with my eyes open but I can’t tell anyone what to do nowadays – I don’t even know!

“No-one does! I mean, you might as well put the album out and tell everybody, download it, it’s free! Get all the songs you want, send ’em to your friends – but come see us live, that’s the thing! All sorts of crazy things – who knows, it’s a crazy business…”

Dio - Rudy Sarzo, Vinny Appice, Ronnie James Dio,  Claude Schnell, Jimmy Bain

Dio – Rudy Sarzo, Vinny Appice, Ronnie James Dio, Claude Schnell, Jimmy Bain

Having done guest spots with a variety of acts over the years, Appice chuckles when asked what’s been his most bizarre or out of place request.

“I get a lot of emails saying ‘hey will you play on my record’,” he explains, “and sometimes I’ll respond, and say ‘well, send me some stuff’, and I’ll listen and think ‘well that’s pretty cool’ so I’ll play on a couple of songs. But I got one a while ago which was just SO soft music, all the songs were just really mellow. I played it for my friend and said, ‘why would they want ME on this song, other than a name thing?’ I mean, I don’t fit that stuff at all! It was almost like church music, I was thinking ‘this just ain’t gonna work!’ There have been some strange requests like that”

Having been a member of history-changing bands means he has made the pages of a succession of rock n’ roll books, but he insists he is not obsessive about checking them for accuracy at all.

“Nah, not really – I mean, there’s so many books I don’t even know half of them that are around. I read Tony [Iommi]’s book, and it’s cool. Actually it’s cool reading some of these books [from people] you’ve played with for 30 years, and then going, ‘wow, I didn’t know that!’.

“But you know, there’s SO many Sabbath books, and sometimes I see books & I KNOW who wrote them – I KNOW THEM, and there’s a picture of Bobby Rondinelli, and it’s got my name underneath it. It’s total lack of information – dude, if you’re gonna write a book, make sure all the information’s right and correct and pictures are right. That’s just some crazy shit.

“But Tony had some nice things to say, I appreciate it. Ronnie had a book he was writing BY HAND! Wendy [Dio] has it, she was totally finishing it, so it’ll be interesting to see what that has in it… he actually wrote it in a book by hand!”

Ironically, before joining Black Sabbath in 1980, Appice was asked to join their former singer, Ozzy Osbourne’s band – but his elder brother, who had already done a stint on drums with Osbourne, talked him out of it.

“Yeah – it was like, 1980, and I got a call from Sharon Osbourne – before she was Sharon Osbourne – and she said ‘Hi Vinny, this is Sharon – Ozzy’s putting a band together and we’d like you to come to England and hang out with Ozzy’, and I was like, 22 years old, [so] okay.

“I got the information and then I call my brother, and said ‘I just got this offer from Ozzy’ and at that point I knew he’d been thrown out of Sabbath and was doing crazy shit, and just heard crazy shit about him all the time, drink and drugs… so I said ‘what do you think – is he crazy?’ And Carmine says ‘yeah, he’s pretty nuts, man’ – so I turned it down!

“So that was weird. Then a couple of months later I get a call from Sabbath, and they said ‘we’re in town, we’re looking for drummers and your name came up. We’re in town, you wanna come down and meet Tony…’ so I went down and everything went well, then the next day, went down and played with the guys – and the rest is history!

“I got to play with just, major shit right there! Sabbath and Ronnie James Dio – it doesn’t get much better than that!”

With our time rapidly running out, I squeeze Appice to see if there’s any chance Kill Devil Hill will tour Australia.

“Ahhh, yeah, we hope to finally get down there some time this [coming] year,” he says. “We’re really excited that we’re finally getting the first album released down there also – the same company is releasing both albums and we’re starting to get [noticed in] Australia.

“The funny thing is, in 2009, I was down there with Heaven & Hell – and Down opened, so Rex was there too! So it’d be great to come back with this band, and kick some ass!”

Kill Devil Hill 03

Finally, our favourite hypothetical question – if you could magically travel back in time and be a part of the making of any one record in history, which would you choose?

“Mmmmmm, man… ahhh…” he ponders briefly. “I think I would probably choose one of the Zeppelin albums… 1 or 2. Probably 2… a little bit more dark. My man – that’s my inspiration, right there! John Bonham!”


Category: Interviews

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