NUVO Interview: Rev. Horton Heat 

In an era when most music acts - not to mention their record labels - focus heavily on creating highly produced CDs, Jim "The Reverend" Heath of the Reverend Horton Heat has a refreshing attitude about record making.

"From my point of view, recording is not that big a deal for me," said the singer/guitarist. "It's not like something that I take very seriously at all. Hey, we are good in the studio. We can get in there and do all sorts of different types of sounds ... We get in there and the guys [working at the studios] say, 'You guys are as good as the studio [musicians] we have, the guys who read charts and [all that].' But I mean, at the same time, you know, big deal."

Revival, the latest album from the Reverend Horton Heat, is a good example of the trio's studio ethic. Working at Last Beat Studio in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas - where the band started their career in the mid-1980s - the group bashed out Revival in a matter of days.

"The goal was to go in and do it as quickly and as cheaply as possible," Heath said. "If there were a few mistakes, or if sonically there was something a little lacking, I didn't care. Let's just do it and get it done. Get in there and do it and not pay too much attention to studio tricks, overdubs or all of this other stuff. The way they make albums now, it's insane. They don't even use real drummers. They just sample guitar parts and so it's kind of a shame."

Part of the reason Heath and his bandmates - bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla - don't belabor their studio work is because the Reverend Horton Heat's career has always been built around being a live act.

That situation stands in stark contrast to the way many acts now earn their place in the music business. Especially for rap and mainstream pop acts (think Celene Dion, Jessica Simpson or Ashlee Simpson), careers are made by turning albums and singles (many of which feature appearances from high-profile guests) into radio-ready events.

For many of these artists, touring seems like an afterthought and isn't viewed as the primary ingredient for promoting new albums.

In the case of the Reverend Horton Heat, the band's record sales don't reflect the group's drawing power as a live act. The band tours relentlessly and consistently sells out large clubs and theaters - something that many acts that have had radio hits struggle to do.

Heath is well aware of the imbalance between his group's ticket sales and album sales, but he has trouble explaining why the popularity of the Reverend Horton Heat has never translated to the group's album sales.

"I'm not really sure," he said. "I wish I had a better explanation, except for one thing, that radio stations are getting more and more consolidated to where one big corporate office formats all the radio for a specific style.

"I don't know, maybe a little bit of it is me, too. I've never really pandered to the radio stations," Heath added. "I have some friends in it [radio], but I don't pander to those guys. We'll go to do interviews, and some stations play us and stuff, and I appreciate that. We'll go do interviews at stations like that."

The lack of interest from radio in the Reverend Horton Heat isn't surprising. The band's music, which is an amped-up brand of rockabilly (with some country, blues and jazz mixed in), doesn't fit easily within any of today's radio formats.

And while most of the group's eight studio releases have been solid and fun, sales may have also suffered somewhat because the albums have frequently failed to capture the raw energy - and to an extent the excellent musicianship - that is on display at a Reverend Horton Heat live show.

On Revival, though, Heath, Wallace and Churilla come closer than on most of their albums to harnessing their live sound in the studio.

Revival has the kind of energetic, direct and no-frills sound that suggests that many of the songs were recorded in one or two takes. The songs also feature few overdubs, letting the tight combination of Heath's fevered guitar playing, Churilla's fast-swinging drumming and Wallace's doghouse bass licks carry the day.

The move toward this stripped-down sound is a contrast from the albums the Reverend Horton Heat recorded when the band was on the major label Interscope Records. Those CDs - Liquor In the Front (1994), It's Martini Time (1996) and Space Heater (1998) - featured a slicker, more layered sound.

"There was a lot of stuff that we did in the middle of the career, the middle albums there, where there would be a rhythm guitar part going in there the whole way through," said Heath, whose band is now signed to the independent label Yep Roc Records. "That might make it easier to mix for somebody, but part of our charm is when I go into a lead break, there's no more rhythm guitar. So some producers have a hard time dealing with that."

On a strictly stylistic level, Revival offers few surprises to Reverend Horton Heat fans. As with the band's other albums, it features a few supercharged rockabilly ravers (such as the songs "Callin' In Twisted," "Octopus Mode" and "Indigo Friends"); a couple more traditional rockabilly tunes ("Revival" and "Honky Tonk Girl"); a few songs that add a hint of jazz or jump blues to the rockabilly foundation ("If It Ain't Got Rhythm" and "New York City Girls" respectively); and a rootsy ballad or two that expand the album's variety (in this case "Lonesome Man" and "Someone In Heaven," the latter of which Heath wrote after the death of his grandmother).

Heath, to be sure, would like to see the Reverend Horton Heat enjoy a bump in record sales. But he knows that the group's abilities as a live act mean that the Reverend Horton Heat can always make a solid living by touring - something many musicians can't say.

"We're lucky we have a live act that can really, we're really almost impossible to blow off the stage," Heath said. "Great, great bands out there, who are players or are bands and acts that I just love and am just ga-ga over I love them so much, even those bands, they might edge us out a little bit, but there's really nobody who can blow us off a stage. I guess we're just lucky in that respect.

"But you know, so many people put the cart before the horse," he said. "We've got guys who can barely play three chords and they're making million-selling albums. And then you've got the best musicians in the world playing at the Ramada Inn. So I have to, when I step back and look at the whole big picture, I have to think that I'm lucky, even though there are some things that have not been really fair toward us."

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