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Reverend Horton Heat: New label, Same Spirit

Reverend Horton Heat have returned with their first album in four years, Rev and it’s business as usual. Rather than try to branch off into something cutting edge for the radio or make a country-leaning album like their last one, Rev finds the Reverend – aka Jim Heath – and The Heat (which includes longtime bassist Jim “Jimbo” Wallace as well as drummer Scott Churilla) in the comfort of the barnburner style that have made them a cult favorite to thousands around the world since 1985: a wild blend of punk, rockabilly, psychedelic rock and a little surf rock to boot. Heath is a song-oriented songwriter and like previous albums these songs have a wide range of topics: from the conspiracy theory tackling “Never Gonna Stop It,” to the twisted food-themed “Let Me Teach You How to Eat It” and to the surf rock old school movie humor of “Zombie Dumb.” On “Scenery Going By” he laments that the notion of freedom of the open road has its limits as touring doesn’t allow to fully explore places. Here Heath talks about making ends meet, how Johnny Rotten influenced the album and a experience with Motorhead’s Lemmy he doesn’t want to repeat.

This album is your first for Victory Records. What was that transition like and getting back into the studio after a few years?

Well there’s actually a lot of transition. Before we had signed with Victory we were knocking around and, you know, the money is just not there like it used to be for bands in general. Not only us but for bigger bands, giant bands, because they’re not selling as many CDs as they used to. So that coupled with the fact that a lot of bands are just recording themselves because they have access to these same studios use, ProTools and pretty much a lot of the same microphones, that I decided that we were just going to record ourselves so a lot of this album we recorded completely ourselves. There’s some of it we did in a commercial studio [Universal Rehearsal Studios and Modern Electric Sound in Dallas, Texas]. But it’s amazing how you can’t really tell [laughs] the difference between the commercial stuff and what we did.

In the liner notes you noted that this album is a recording and you strived to get something real.

Right, it’s a recording, it’s one moment in time. Music is an art form that is streaming, it goes by like an album but music is an audience-driven thing. The audience breathes with the band, the audience breathes back and forth with the band. You will never capture that in any studio. You can go into the studio and you can set up chairs for twenty people in there but I’m sorry but twenty people is not the same as when all of a sudden two thousand people roar when I play a solo. Live is what music is. So recording is just one moment in time.

While Laughing and Crying has a largely traditional country sound, Rev seems more diverse. Why did you feel it was important to be more open this time around?

Yeah Laughing and Crying initially was going to be straight country but it kind of got to where I was doing different stuff so there is some rocking stuff as well. But it still leans country and I decided for this next album to just get back to the full-throttle Reverend Horton Heat, edgy thing that we’re more known for. It maybe wasn’t what we were doing at the beginning of our career but I think we’re known more for our edgier stuff. So this is what it’s getting back to.

Was there anything specifically that helped lead you to that decision?

A lot of the guys I know that are country guys they wish they could do shows like Reverend Horton Heat does. [laughs] They wish they could do shows that have a giant mosh pit and hot girls and throwing up in the barricades. [laughs] Crazy stuff, you know. We do some pretty big wild rock and roll shows. A lot of these country audiences are great. They’re very loyal and go to a lot of country shows. And even our rock shows have a lot of country people. Country is an aspect of Reverend Horton Heat that’s always been there, even in our edgier times. But us doing a full-on country thing it might not be the best route for us to go.

In the liner notes you mentioned you’re more of a song person than album person. This album has songs that come from various time periods and seems to support that song-oriented approach.

Midcentury America is more what I’m into. Back then there weren’t a lot of concept albums. There were but the concept album wasn’t as big of thing as just having a great song. So you focus on the songs and that’s what I do. I write songs and put together what my best songs at the time or what I feel are fun and the most fun to play. Those make the album rather than “Oh this song isn’t about crashing your car” or whatever you’re going to have.

That’s where I’m coming from and it’s nothing against, like I said in my liner notes, Pink Floyd. And that’s the era I grew up in but it’s not the era that influences me. I’m more influence by Henry Mancini than I am Pink Floyd. But I wanted to explain as it’s still to this day that it’s all about the album. Like “when you wrote this album,” I didn’t really write this album. I wrote a bunch of songs that are on this.

One song, “Longest Gonest Man,” came from your first demo from 1986.

It was the first song on the first demo Reverend Horton Heat ever did. And it’s crazy that it’s never made an album until now. We always just had another song that had the same type of tempo. There’s various reasons why it never made it in. I’m glad it did as it’s a fun song to play.

Johnny Rotten brought it back to your attention after a tour with the Sex Pistols. What was that like revisiting something you wrote a long time ago?

I didn’t know that he had gotten a copy of that demo. George Gimarc shared it. He’s a early 80s DJ that was one of the first guys to promote punk and new wave on radio, based out Dallas which is where I’m from. So I’ve known George for a long time and I guess he was friends with Johnny Rotten so he sent the demo tape to him. Johnny Rotten told me he liked it. This was about 2002 or 2003 when he told me how much he liked it.

It was good, it was nice. I’ve got older fans that remember the Reverend Horton Heat from that era. They would send me an email, “What about this song blah blah blah.” And I’d be thinking “Man, I completely forgot about that song.” It’s a song that I had written so I guess the good news is that I have a lot of songs and some of them that are good enough for people to remember 25 years later. It’s gratifying because frankly that’s how songs like “Longest Gonest Man” are added back, if someone will remind me of it and send a YouTube video of me 25 years ago playing some song.

Maybe a good lesson not to throw away songs.

I’m not really keeping the songs around. A lot of the songs my fans remind me of, old friends and stuff, I’m like “Oh God I couldn’t play that song if it killed me.” I would remember the lyrics. I have a file of all my old songs that I wrote so sometimes I’ll go through that and find the lyrics or the original lyrics or sometimes it’s the rough draft of the lyrics. But yeah that can be helpful. But honestly I’m going to keep writing. I like writing new songs and keep going. If some of the older songs get in there it’s kind of cool. You just never know.

Besides this band you’ve been busy with Motorhead’s Lemmy on his solo album. How does that experience compare?

He came to town to rehearse and record and I started drinking with him. He drinks a lot. And that was a big mistake. I ended up going to the hospital and I missed the first day of recording. I was in the hospital because I was trying to drink as much as Lemmy. So that’s dangerous, people should not try that.

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