Rock supergroup Kill Devil Hill hits the road
Kill Devil Hill is a modern heavy rock band that formed in 2011. With members Drew Bragg (Pissing Razors), Vinnie Appice (Dio, Black Sabbath), and Rex Brown (Pantera) in the fold, they’ve often been called a heavy metal ‘supergroup’, of sorts. They’ve just released their second album, entitled Revolution Rise on Century Media Records. Their guitarist, Mark Zavon, recently spoke with me about the new album and being on the road, and creating music with rock & roll icons.
Graffiti: Thank you for taking the time to talk. Getting right into it, how is the tour going thus far?
KDH: The tour’s going great, man. It’s been building and building and we’ve been dying to play for a while now. We’ve been pent up doing studio stuff, so now we’re out and bringing it to the people. I’m loving every minute of it!
Graffiti: I’ve seen the name Kill Devil Hill associated with several different tours. I’m sure you guys aren’t going on three or four different tours, but all of these bands seem to saying that they’re going to tour with Kill Devil Hill. Who do you guys have out with you right now?
KDH: Right now it’s us, Eyes Set To Kill, Black Water Rising, and I actually think that’s gonna be it. There was gonna be another band but I think it’s just gonna be three bands for now.
Graffiti: I was just curious because I’ve seen different press that said some other bands were going to be out on the road with you guys as well, at some point.
KDH: Yeah, the original intention was to go out with Bobaflex but there was a scheduling thing with that, I think, so we’ve kind of switched gears and went with Black Water Rising. Black Water Rising is a great band, man. They play really good music and they’re a really good match, stylistically, for what we’re doing. They’re cool guys. We’re sharing a bus and living arrangements right now, so we’re having a good time with that as well.
Graffiti: That’s cool, as long as everything’s copacetic.
KDH: Oh yean, man! We’re rock & roll brothers.
Graffiti: Let’s talk about the new record, ‘Revolution Rise’. It’s your sophomore album. How has the reception been as far as the fans go and the live material from the album?
KDH: It’s great, man. We played up in Seattle and I swear to God, kids were sining the songs to the new album! I mean, I’m talking about it coming out last Tuesday [Nov. 5th]! They’ve been going online, checking out the songs. They were into it, man. I mean, it’s a great compliment and totally flattering to see that happening.
Graffiti: I’m sure it is. To see that happening from the stage; the music and words that you’ve put your heart and soul into has to be cool anyway. But this early into the journey has to make it that much better.
KDH: Oh, absolutely, man.
Graffiti: So, how have you departed from the first album, and how have you stayed the same? How do they compare side by side?
KDH: Well, the biggest difference is that we had more time to work on this one. Last time we did it all in about a month, a month and a week, and we just had to kind of get it done. We had songs basically written, even before Rex [Brown] got in the band. So we just got in there and just tried to make it happen quick and dirty. On this one, we had a lot more time. We did it with Jeff Pilson (Dokken), who is an amazing producer and a great songwriter. So he was involved from the start, even in the songwriting process. He had some really great input. He’s a really positive guy, and has a lot of really good skill in the studio. He was able to bring all of that, and helped make one hell of a record, I think. The thing that really helped out was that we were all in it from the beginning. We were all able to put our creative energy toward the end and not have to necessarily depend on the songs to have already been written or anything like that. It was more of a collaborative effort on this one.
Graffiti: What’s the dynamic like when you write? Is there a primary song writer, or are there ideas that everybody collaborates on? How do you guys go about doing that?
KDH: Well, every song’s different. You know, Rex brought a particular idea in and we wrote a song around that. Two of the songs were written around Vinnie’s drum lines from ideas that were in place from the last record, and wound up on this one because we had too much material for the last record. I had a bunch of riffs and demos, so I brought those in as well. We had some melody ideas and some song ideas. So it all came together and was kind of like a big melting pot on this one. It was actually really refreshing to have all of those different inputs all at once.
Graffiti: The material has a modern sound, but you manage to stay away from the trends that tend to make modern heavy music cheesy.
KDH: Oh, cool! Thank you!
Graffiti: It’s definitely a heavy record, but is it a conscious effort to stay away from the a lot modern pitfalls and trends that are going to make a heavy band ultimately sound dated?
KDH: Well, I mean, I don’t follow that stuff, and we don’t try to sound like anything. We just do what we do. We play how we play, you know. We’re just a product of our influences. So whatever music we grew up on is what we learned from and that’s the style that we play. There’s four of us with four different sets of influences stepping in to write the songs. So you’re gonna get all of that into one melting pot. Rex calls it “everybody throws their spice in the chili”, so I think that’s a great analogy. At the end of the day, it’s just a product of all of our influences combined. You know, we don’t try to sound like anybody. We just try to sound like us.
Graffiti: You mentioned influences, and you’re in a band with some pretty influential personalities, and you’ve all been around. Does that ever play a part in your writing?
KDH: Yeah, obviously Rex and Vinnie have done all of the stuff that they did and the irony for me is that they’re my influences! I grew up on Sabbath and Dio and Pantera is one of my favorite bands, so it’s such an honor to be in a band and working with these guys. I pinch myself all the time, you know. It’s like a f*cking dream! I’m just really glad that these guys are so down to earth and easy to work with.
Graffiti: Was there something that you guys were trying to accomplish with ‘Revolution Rise’ that didn’t get some with the first album? Has it been a gradual progression?
KDH: Basically all we were trying to do was take it to the next level. We knew after the first record that we hadn’t reached our potential in any way, shape, or form. So we were just trying to take that next logical step. You know what I mean? We’ve all got a vision, so we just wanted to take that next step.
Graffiti: Has ‘Revolution Rise’ done what you wanted it to do?
KDH: Honestly, I haven’t read a bunch of reviews. I’m not one of those people who goes out and reads a bunch of reviews right away. Really, it does what it does; the chips will fall where they may. I’m just proud of what we did. The record’s really strong and the songs are good. It was the next step for us, so if people like it, great. It’s been my experience that there’s an overwhelmingly positive response to it. I’m really happy with that.
Graffiti: In the live show, do you guys ever throw any surprises in like throwing a Dio song or a Black Sabbath song in there?
KDH: We don’t really do that, generally, because we want to band to stand on its own merit. Though we did do “Lady Evil” one time! We played the ‘Dime Bash’ out in Hollywood-a big tribute to Dimebag Darrell-a while ago. But usually we don’t do the covers. You know, I’m not gonna rule anything out because it would certainly be fun. Again, those bands are my influences and I grew up listening to that stuff, so playing any of those songs with these guys would be an honor.
Graffiti: Has it been a problem for Kill Devil Hill to transcend some of the experience that some of the band members have had and setting it apart from what you’re doing now?
KDH: Only if there are unrealistic expectations. Truthfully, we’re a new band with new music. You can’t really say “It’s gonna be like Sabbath”, or “It’s gonna be like Pantera”, because it’s not. It’s its own thing.
Graffiti: Of course. The album stands alone.
KDH: Thank you! That’s what we’re going for, and to do that you’ve got to be realistic and you’ve got to build from the ground up; start small and build it up. You don’t have a foundation, you don’t have a house.
Graffiti: What is the next step for Kill Devil Hill?
KDH: Well, we always write. You never stop writing. If I’m sitting there practicing and something comes along kind of cool, I’ll record it on my phone. But there’s no plans to go back into the studio right now. We’ve gotta get out there and support this record. So the plan is to tour the hell out of this record [laughs]! So, we’ll see how many weeks we can stay out.
Graffiti: Where does this tour take you guys?
KDH: Well, on this run we’re going down south, up through Illinois, Minnesota, and I believe Ohio. We’re not gonna hit the east coast on this run, but after the holidays we’re gonna go back and hit it hard. And all of the rest of the states as well.
Graffiti: So, you’ll be out into the new year then?
KDH: Oh yeah! Everybody’s got their holiday things going on, but come January we’re gonna go back out and hit it hard. And we’re gonna be doing it all year long, too. We ain’t gonna quit. That’s for sure.