Author Zac Crain Interview

Author Zac Crain speaks about writing Black Tooth Grin: The High Life, Good Times, and Tragic End of “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott



Terry Wickham:  When did you first hear Pantera?  Back in 1983, my long-time friend Andrew Krepela told me he was pen pals with a guy in Texas, who was in a metal band that recorded in his band mate’s father’s studio.  So when he got a cassette (during those tape-trading days) he played Metal Magic for me. His pen pal was Rex (“Rocker”) Brown.


Zac Crain:  I’m not exactly sure when I first heard Pantera. Best guess, I’d say I first heard them not terribly long after Cowboys From Hell came out, and I probably knew what they sounded like before I actually knew it was them. It was just sort of around, you know? When I first started working on the book, I was surprised by just how many songs I actually knew. I think I took a lot of them in by osmosis.


TW:  Speaking of those early Pantera albums (before Phil Anselmo joined the band) I feel there’s no shame in liking them.  In fact, the first thing I ever finished as a filmmaker was a music video (where I told a story to the lyrics of the song) for “Come On Eyes” from Pantera’s third album, I Am the Night.


ZC:  Oh, I think you’re right. It was a different sound, but it was a good representation of that sound. And, I think, obviously there was something there, since Terry Glaze went on to have success with Lord Tracy. When I started working on the book, I realized that one of my neighbors, Kinley Wolfe, among many other bands, had played bass in Lord Tracy. He had all the early Pantera records, and he introduced me to Terry. I flew up to Maryland and spent a day with Terry there.

TW:  What sparked you to write Black Tooth Grin: The High Life, Good Times, and Tragic End of “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott?


ZC:  I covered Darrell’s memorial service for Spin magazine, and that was probably when I had the first inkling that this was something I wanted to do. There was a ton I didn’t know, not just about the band, but especially about Darrell. I knew the hard-partying side, at least by reputation, but I started to get more of a picture of who he was as a person, and it seemed to me like it would be a great story to tell — about him, about his family, about the band, and everything that goes along with that.


TW:  How long did it take to write your book?  You’ve got a lot of people within speaking about the band and “Dimebag” in particular, which had to take some time.

ZC:  The book publishing business, I found, is kind of hurry up and wait. I finished the first draft of the book — researching and interviewing and writing — in just about a year. I spent most of that time researching and interviewing, and I was doing interviews up until a few weeks before I turned it in. The last one I had scheduled was Trent Reznor, but Vince and the family I think kind of shut that down. Which is fine. That’s their right. So, about a year for the first draft, and then maybe six months later, I did a rewrite, which it needed. I wrote about 50,000 words of the first draft in one month, writing between 11 pm and 4 am every night, then getting up a few hours later and going to work. The second draft, I was able to polish and reorganize and sort of work more of the mountain of material I had into the story. That’s when I really was able to nail the structure, and my editor, Ben Schafer at Da Capo Press, was a huge help with that. And then everyone signed off, but the book didn’t come out for another, I want to say, year or so. I finished the first draft in January 2007, and then it finally came out June 2009.

TW:  Did you ever get the chance to see Pantera live?  If so tell me about the experience.  Unfortunately, though I’ve been a lifelong metal listener and have known Pantera almost from their beginning, I never got the chance.



ZC:  I did not. For whatever reason, it just never happened. I grew up in a small town, and so I didn’t really have an opportunity, and by the time I was in Dallas, they were just about done. I wasn’t a huge fan of some of their later albums at the time, and so it didn’t seem mission critical to see them. I have a better appreciation for them now, after having spent a lot more time with them, so, you know, I probably would have done it differently now. I do feel like I have seen them — at least a little bit — because I probably watched 50 full concerts while I was writing. I found a guy who gave me a ton of bootlegs, so I saw a lot of video of live shows and heard even more.


TW:  What was the hardest part about writing Black Tooth Grin?  Did anyone give you a hard time?

ZC:  Well, like I mentioned, Vince was never really onboard with the idea, and I 100-percent get that. It’s his brother and when I started working on this, it wasn’t terribly long after everything happened. I thought it might be different, because he reached out through his manager after I wrote the Spin piece, and he relayed to me that he appreciated it. But very early on, he told me he wasn’t interested in participating or even supportive of the idea at all. So that shut a few things down. Basically every band on Roadrunner Records wanted to talk to me, but — I think it was the guys in Slipknot — they reached out to him to tell him they were going to do it, he said no, and that killed all of the Roadrunner interviews. That was in the first month or so. I just kept working, and never heard anymore from them. Just before I turned in my first draft, they put out the word to pretty much everyone in the music business to disavow me, but all that really cost me was the Trent Reznor interview. I was done by then. I had emailed a few times with Rita Haney, Darrell’s girlfriend, and it seemed like she was going to talk to me. At one time, I felt I was close to arranging a meeting. But then she cut off all contact.

That was the hardest part logistically, but that just made me have to handle everything a bit more creatively. Try to find more people, dig in a little deeper. The hardest actual writing part was the club shooting. I got video of the whole thing from the Columbus Police, and also a evidentiary video of the aftermath. I saved watching both and writing about them until the very end. I watched the videos very late at night — I don’t know why; that’s just sort of how it played out — and it was just — it was very hard to watch, and then very uncomfortable to write about. That’s an understatement.

TW:  Did you get to actually meet any of the folks you spoke to or was it all done by phone and Internet?

ZC:  A lot of it was by phone, yeah, because a lot of these folks were spread across the country or even overseas. Buddy Blaze was in Hawaii, and so I had to do most of my interviews with him sort of late at night, because of the time difference. And I did fly up to see Terry Glaze. But for as many of the local people as I could I did it in person. Tommy Snellings I spent a long afternoon going through all of the memorabilia he had saved, and several albums worth of photos. He gave me a Diamond Darrell guitar pick. Scott Minyard, Jerry Hudson — I met them at places Darrell had been, and that helped, too.

TW:  Did you ever hear what Vinnie Paul thought about your book once it was done?  If so, what was his reaction?

ZC:  No. I assume he hasn’t read it. I saw him at a Danzig show not long after it came out, but he didn’t talk to me.

TW:  What about Rex Brown or Phil Anselmo?

ZC:  I don’t know about that either. I’d guess no. But Rex wrote his book, and maybe at some point might have flipped through mine for comparison. But I never heard.

TW:  Did you ever get any feedback from any hard rock or heavy metal musicians to their opinion?  I figure his friends, like Zakk Wylde would want to read it.

ZC:  Again, I never heard. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people who knew Darrell, and they were complimentary. But that’s about it. I think Pantera fans like it. I have heard from them.

TW:  What’s your favorite Pantera album and why?


ZC:  Vulgar Display of Power. I think that is absolutely the best representation of what they wanted to be, which was like a super-heavy version of Van Halen. They were still a unit — I think it was Far Beyond Driven when Phil recorded his vocals apart from the rest of the band, in New Orleans — and everything was clicking.

TW:  What’s your all-time favorite Pantera song?


ZC:  Again, I would go back to Vulgar Display of Power and say “Mouth for War.” The way it starts off, with those machine gun drums, and then Darrell’s opening riff, heavy but sort of swinging, and then Phil just shows off everything he can do. The video is great, too.

TW:  Are you planning to follow the book with any other tomes on heavy metal or hard rock?  Do you have a website where people can follow your work?

Hm, maybe, if I found a story that really connected with me. I don’t have one now, but I certainly haven’t written it off. And I don’t have a website, but you can follow me on Twitter at @zaccrain. But you’d have to be forewarned, it’s mostly ridiculous jokes.


Interview with The Newton Brothers


Andy Gursh & Taylor Stewart a.k.a. The Newton Brothers talk about scoring Mike Flanagan’s latest film Oculus



Terry Wickham:  I think it’s very cool to have read on your website BIO that you guys were involved on
The Mothman Prophecies.  That score is probably my all-time favorite score.  As you probably know by now, in my review of your score for Oculus, I hear a similar progressive compositional approach.  Was that conscious on your part or a request from Director Mike Flanagan?

Taylor & AndyThe Newton Brothers: Taylor Stewart & Andy Grush

The Newton Brothers:  That’s really great to hear.  Thanks.  Yah, tomandandy have a great sense for creating unique scores and songs.  We spent a lot of time mangling sounds and interweaving melody on that film and we kind of just slipped into that approach with Oculus.  We went at it quite differently, but we were able to spend a lot of time creating sounds and textures to play as counterpoint to the melodies within the score.

TW:  How did you get the gig to score Oculus?  Did you pursue the film or did the filmmaker/production team pursue you?    

TNB:  We heard about the film through the music sup. Then we pursued them.   We interviewed and hit it off right away.

TW:  At what stage of the film did you become involved?


TNB:  A couple months before they had locked picture we started writing and a developing a sound palate.

TW:  I really like the way you guys scored the movie.  In my opinion, there is some terrific music scoring done in horror films that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.  Your musical approach with a focus on both the psychological and physical aspects is another example of work that makes the genre shine.  How do you both feel about it?


TNB:  Thank you!  I think scoring the emotion of the characters was key. If the audience is really feeling what’s going on then you have them hooked.  When it’s too forced or contrived it becomes stale. Mike made a really fresh and intelligent film.  We just tried to follow his lead to support the mangled psyche and emotional story.

TW:  What are your favorite horror film scores?

TNB:  Psycho, The Thing (original), Alien, Rosemary’s Baby and PoltergeistThe Omen was really effective too. 

TW:  Your music is a fantastic combination of strings, electronics and the different sounds you recorded.  Did you make a decision beforehand to go this route without traditional orchestra arrangement?


TNB:  We knew it was going to be a hybrid of sounds.  Orchestra and electronics, but we didn’t know to what degree. Going into this, the early approach looked to be tonal with some thematic elements, but some melody eventually snuck in there.  ;)

TW:  How much did you work with Director Mike Flanagan?  Did he give you any specific notes as to how he wanted the film score to be?


TNB:  He was very involved. We would meet every week or so for playback and discussion. Mike is incredibly talented.  We often wondered if he had the entire movie finished in his head before he ever shot it. He’s also one hell of a pianist…which really allowed us to communicate in those terms. Sometimes the notes would be … go to F# in this section. It was fantastic.

TW:  What were your goals in terms of what you wanted to accomplish musically and how it supported the film? 

TNB:  Musically, we wanted to create something very unique which played to the characters and story.  In parallel, while we were running with musical ideas, we were trying to support those ideas with textures and tones that felt uncomfortable, but were massaged in such a way that they flowed with the orchestra so they felt cohesive.

TW:  What is it that you each uniquely bring to the table as composers?  Does one of you have more talent with a particular instrument or stronger grasp with a particular way of scoring?  Is one of you better sound recording or leading the orchestra or choir? 

Andy Grush

Andy:  It’s really great because we’re both able to do whatever it takes to get each project done.  While Taylor is an incredible musician, he’s also a bit of a mad scientist with vintage synths, computers and crazy whacked out sounds.  It’s also great to be able to have one of us talking to the director and producers on the scoring stage while the other is focused on the recording and the musicians.

Taylor Stewart

Taylor: Andy can play all the instruments I play…But he just plays them much better. He’s a super talented musician. He could be a session player.  He’s also a much faster writer than I am. I tend to linger on scenes.. refining and refining.  We both could lead the choir, orchestra or engineer.  I’m a little bit more into electronic music than he is, but not by much. I would say we both bring similar qualities. Some of the best work we’ve done… we’ve both written on. Having too many ideas is never problem.

TW:  Was it always your goal to score movies together as a team?

(Taylor) I wouldn’t say always.. When I met Andy… I was a huge fan of what he did on Mothman. I really wanted to work with him on something.   

TW:  Are you equal fans of scary movies or is one more passionate about it than the other?

TNB:  We love all kinds of films… including the horror genre…equally.

TW:  How do you break down who goes about doing what in terms of the work needed to be done on each film assignment?

TNB:  Generally, we have a meeting after a spotting session where we talk about ideas and thoughts.  We talk about what the director is looking to accomplish and what our approach might be.  From there, we go into our own studios and spend a few days alone tackling some ideas separately.  At some point, we play things for each other and then from that point it usually becomes a mixture of swapped cues which is a really nice process.  We’re able to refine based on internal notes before anything is played for the director and producers.

TW:  Was all the music recorded in the States or overseas?

TNB:  The orchestra was recorded in Macedonia. The choir was recorded in Orange County.  Everything else we played.

TW:  How many other scary moves or suspense picture scores have you done?

TNB:  We’ve done a few.  Proxy, See No Evil 2 & Careful What You Wish For with the talented John Debney.

TW:  What can you tell us about the next film your scoring for Mike Flanagan called Somnia?

TNB:  It’s incredible one of the best movie’s we’ve ever seen. We truly love it.  Centered on an orphan whose dreams and nightmares manifest physically as he sleeps.  Mike has made something really special here. The guy is on a roll.  Can’t wait for everyone to see it.


Please visit The Newton Brothers site to learn more of their music:


5 Souls


5 Souls

Inception Media Group – 2013

Directed by Brett Donowho
Written by Colet Abedi




Ian Bohen
Steve Bacic
Allison McAtee
Samaire Armstrong
Steven Schub

What starts with a couple visually impressive skyline shots of Dallas, Chicago and a beautiful aerial city shot, quickly gets deflated by an overwritten script.

A man named Noah (Ian Bohen), soon to be married, falls into a coma after his doctor gives him a combination of vaccines in preparation for his honeymoon.  While recovering in the hospital, he’s visited by a dark man (Steven Schub), who talks too much, telling Noah that he’s going to have to kill five people to atone for his mistakes in life or else he’ll kill him.

Instead of fighting against acting out the devilish man’s request, Noah goes ahead and does it without the slightest bit of hesitation (no suspense) to the consequences it has to not only the story but the reaction the audience will hold against him.

What I mean specifically is that we (the audience) won’t feel any compassion for the lead character, because he doesn’t even struggle to stand up for what’s right.  This goes not only against basic human behavior but the character.

It is choices like this and the dialogue that is always right on the head (lacking subtly) that dooms this film.  It’s the writer’s fault for not working harder and the director for not noticing that it wasn’t working on the screen.

The movie does have some nice visual moments like the high shot looking down at rain falling onto umbrellas (almost out of one of the Resident Evil films) and some moments where the people Noah kills come back to attack him.

Allison McAtee is miscast as a police officer.  You know the moment she appears with too many buttons undone on her shirt and over glossed lips, she will be in bed with Sam (Steve Bacic) and as is expected, they go at it moments later.  That fact that he would do this so quickly after playing Russian roulette with a handgun because of the loss of his daughter, seems to go against the situation of the character.

McAtee is way too soft to come across as a police officer.  In every scene, she is following, instead of leading the conversation, which I think doesn’t make sense either.  A cop would take charge.  Plus she doesn’t ever convey the body language or speaking voice to combat this either.

5 Souls does come with a Trailer and the overall look of the movie is clean with pretty strong production values.