Rex Brown: "I had to go back and do something that made me happy"

A press shot of rex brown

“People will always expect me to play Pantera songs, and this is not that,” says Rex Brown, talking to Classic Rock about his first-ever solo record. “You can’t just do the same old shit all the time.”

Smoke On This… definitely isn’t ‘the same old shit’. Instead, Brown – a former member of Down, Kill Devil Hill and, of course, Pantera – and co-writer Lance Harvill have put together an album heavy on 70s rock and packed with the grit of classic grunge.

You’re thirty-five-plus years in, and here’s your debut solo record. Why now?

I’m still goin’. I’m still writing songs, and I wanted to put out a rock’n’roll record. I got tired of painting the same picture, you know? I wanted to write a new storyline.

Your influences stretch to everything from swing to thrash. Did that have a bearing on the eclectic nature of the album?

That was a catalyst, for sure. It wasn’t going back and interpreting what my heroes had done before, though. I was sitting on the back of the bus and I thought to myself that I really didn’t like where I was sitting, and I needed to take some time off and enjoy life. There’s much more to life than just making a fuckin’ record. I’m just being honest. It boiled down to why I started doing this in the first place – it was the love of music. I had to go back and do something that made me happy. This is my solo record, and I feel comfortable in this driver’s seat. I plan on doing this for a while.

Was the transition to solo artist a smooth one for you?

I enjoyed this record so much. It was like a new-found freedom. I wasn’t up against a deadline, or what everybody paints you into a corner for what they think you should do. I felt like putting out a rock’n’roll record. That’s the way I like it these days.

Some people might be a little surprised by some of the albums’s more melodic moments.

If you took the name Rex Brown off it, took away my past and listened to the record on its own merit, then I think you might have something there [laughs]. I don’t walk around thinking: “Oh, I’m making the definitive Rex Brown record.” You’re only as good as your last note, and I will keep on moving down the road. I can’t just stop because my old band did.

Is this record an opportunity for you to escape the tag: Rex Brown, ex-Pantera bassist?

Oh, people love to do that. They want to put you right there and say: “I’m sorry, you’re not allowed to go anywhere.” I just had some good tunes and wanted to track them. Now, here comes the whole circus behind it with people saying I have this record that I’m putting out and it’s not metal. Who gives a shit? I remember when rock’n’roll was just rock’n’roll. I just think good music is good music.

I wanted to make a record you can listen to all the way through, and I made these songs intentionally short. If you look at Come Together by The Beatles, it’s only three minutes long, it gets right to the fuckin’ point and it leaves you wanting more. You need that these days, because attention spans are so short. Everyone has so much going on and they have to post everything on Facebook. I am not that dude.

Smoke On This is out on July 28 via Steamhammer/SPV.

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Rich Chamberlain

Rich Chamberlain has written for Classic Rock,, Total Guitar, Nuts, FourFourTwo, Billboard, Classic Rock Presents The Blues and Classic Rock Presents Country.