By Steven Farkas on December 30th, 2013 at Englewood, Colorado via Telephone
Rockabilly legends Reverend Horton Heat are about to drop their 11th full length, aptly titled Rev, later this month via Victory Records and are currently on the road across North America promoting it. We were fortunate enough to speak to the Rev himself, Jim Heath (JH) about the holidays, producing the new record and whether its a good idea to meet your heroes.
Reverend Horton Heat’s new record, Rev will be released on 21st January via Victory Records. Pre orders are available here.
SF: So I wanted to start with where you are right now if I could, I understand you’re in Englewood Colorado?
JH: Yeah, that’s where we are today
SF: So you’ve got your last 2 shows of 2013 in Colorado, is there any particular reason why you ended up there for New Year?
JH: Well New Years Eve is always the biggest night so our manager is always constantly looking for where we could play on any particular year and you know, part of how this tour is that we ended up in Colorado so here we are and we’re heading up to the north west after this.
SF: Any surprises planned for the New Year show?
JH: Well nothing big or any major surprises but we are playing more songs from our new album (Rev, out January 21st) than we’ve been able to do in the last little while our new songs are going over pretty well so we’re kinda fitting those in here and there through the set. So that’s fun for us and its a little bit different than our normal thing.
SF: Does the obligatory cover of Auld Langs Eye come out on New Years Eve?
JH: Yeah yeah, we’ll probably be doing Auld Langs Eye, I’m pretty sure. Guess we’ll have to go over that today or tomorrow.
SF: Yeah, everybody is really enthusiastic for the first few bars and then it kind of fades away, ha!
JH: Yeah, nobody really knows all the other verses, there’s a bunch of others but there’s no point singing those.
SF: Definitely! I also saw that the few shows you did in December leading up to Christmas were close to home in Texas, I take it that was deliberate to ensure you were home for the holidays?
JH: Yeah, we’re always home for Christmas, but to varying degrees. We did do a run of dates right up to Christmas this year but we were basically home from Thanksgiving onwards.
SF: That’s not too bad!
JH: Yeah, you know we’re all over the map – you can plan out where you’re going to be all you like and then it ends up being totally different.
SF: So have you ever actually been touring over Christmas, and what is a Christmas on the road like?
JH: Well yeah, we’ve played over the holidays before, not Christmas, but I remember one time playing San Francisco on New Years Eve and for some reason the guy decided to have a raffle – he was raffling off all his stuff, I think to pay for the show (laughs). This promoter was raffling off all the stuff from his apartment.
SF: Just to put you guys on? That’s fantastic!
JH: I guess so yeah (laughs) and it was really weird because he was like “The Reverend’s coming right up, but first we’re going to raffle off my TV” (laughs) “and here, I’ll plug it in to make sure it works” and he turns it on and it was the pope on the TV!
SF: The timing couldn’t have been better!
JH: (laughs) Yeah, the pope and the Reverend.
SF: Its interesting though as throughout your career you’ve been able to float between such a wide space of genres, country, rockabilly,punk rock, why do you think there’s this universal love for what you guys do?
JH: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know if everybody loves us (laughs). I’m just glad that we have our degree of popularity that we do and I’m grateful every day that we’re able to go and play these shows and do this. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we’re pretty high energy, there’s a lot of fast songs, we don’t do too many slow ones or get schmaltzy and reflective or all that kind of thing you know? Its pretty much balls to the wall with us but we do have some good slow songs, and we may do do 1 or 2 slow songs a night.
SF: You mentioned earlier the new record you’ve got out in January, aptly titled Rev. On this one you took the helm as producer, what made you want to take up a different role in the process, or was it something you always did and now just formalized it by getting credit for it?
JH: Well that’s a good point because I’ve kind of always been there. Even when we had a main producer it was me that was there making sure that, you know, doing the arrangements and all that kind of stuff. I’m writing the songs, I’m doing the arranging, I know what they should sound like before the producer even gets there. One thing that is kind of indicative of the times is, before we had the deal with Victory, we were still on Yep Rock and it was kind of getting obvious that the money we were gonna get for doing the new album was going to be negligible and that’s kind of the way it is now. On one side of the issue you’ve got how the internet downloading has reduced the number of physical CD sales and record companies just don’t offer the same big budgets they used to offer to do an album. Then the other side of that is that recording technology has gotten so good with the advent of these programs like Protools and Studio One and all that stuff is that young bands can record themselves.
I’ve been collecting mic’s and studio gear for a long time before this and since the money was negligible I just decided to go ahead and record it ourselves. I got some pretty nice companies to give us some sponsorship so that I could get the gear that I needed to do it right and we kind of hauled off and started doing it. It was at that point that Victory came in and we started working with them and so the thing was kind of going in that direction before we did the deal. We just kind of kept doing it and most of the stuff was recorded in our rehearsal space in Dallas and then some of the stuff, 2 songs and bits and pieces of others were recorded in a good commercial studio in Dallas but by and large it was kind of all me!
SF: How did that tie up with Victory happen?
JH: Well, we have a good manager and he’s always kind of knocking around and talking to labels and I mean in all honesty if the label isn’t giving him the stuff that he wants them to do, like if he asks them to make posters for the new tour and they turn around and say “Well I don’t know” (laughs) and he’s constantly weighing up options like should we stay on this label now or should we move on so that honestly sits in his realm. There’s issues there that I’m glad I don’t have to deal with!
SF: Well if you wanted to get involved in that stuff, you’d be managing bands and not leading one!
SF: So the first single and video released from the new album is for “Let Me Teach You How To Eat”, an interesting title, incorporating your trademark sense of humour. Was there a particular incident or moment that inspired it?
JH: Yeah, actually it was the guy who named me Reverend Horton Heat (Russell Hobbs), he’s this club owner guy that all of a sudden got on this kick of telling everybody how to eat! One day he came in and he said “Horton, let me teach you how to eat”. Then he started talking about all this microbiotic food and all this kind of stuff but then I was talking to some other people and they were saying that Russell’s walking around saying how he’s going to teach people how to eat (laughs). Anyway I just thought it was kind of funny and here now 25 years later its really more a song about sex than about food. (laughs)
SF: In terms of where you pull inspiration for the stuff you write, I did read in a previous interview that you have had songs come to you in dreams. Are there any dreamed songs on the new record?
JH: Oh wow, let me think about that for a minute, well Zombie Dumb was kind of one of them but that’s just kind of a surf instrumental, let me try and think of something else. No, I can’t really think of any others that came to me in a dream just offhand right now.
SF: Ok, no problem. You were also out in Australia earlier this year and you’ve said that its your favourite foreign country – why is that?
JH: Yeah, I love Australia – its clean, its organised and although it is super expensive. But you know, usually the promoter is taking care of hotels and the flights and all that stuff plus a meal a day so the expense doesn’t bother us too much but I don’t know, its just a really fun place to just go walk around and see cool stuff and anything you might need is just readily available and that makes it really comfortable.
SF: So I’m based in England, do you have any plans to come to the UK or Europe in 2014? We’d love the opportunity to convince you its just as good if not better than Australia over here?
JH: (laughs) Well we currently don’t have any plans to come over to Europe next year (2014) but I’m sure we’ll be back over there soon, or at least I hope so.
SF: I’ve read before that you said a Cramps show in Dallas really cemented your desire to ‘do the rockabilly thing’. Can you share that story with us?
JH: Well yeah, I grew up with rockabilly you know, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and then as I went I started to get more into the more obscure stuff and realized how big it really was. The Cramps played Dallas and it was promoted as a punk rock show and it was basically a punk rock crowd. I was going, but punk rock was still pretty new, this was 1979 so it was still fairly new in Dallas. Then The Cramps were playing all these song like The Way I Walk by Jack Scott and then twang guitar licks like Duane Eddy and Surfin’ Bird by The Trashcans and all these retro rock and roll songs and that made me realize that this stuff was right in line with punk rock. It kinda made sense to me that the rockabilly retro rock and roll thing was going to fit in with punk rock in certain ways you know so it was kind of an epiphany for me, but gosh it was crazy because you had the metal guys there too. It was kind of a metal club most of the time so you had a lot of these metal guys in their Cameros and there was a big rumble out in the parking lot because the metal guys did not like the punk rock kids. The metal guys all had knives and guns and shit and it was pretty scary and this big fight broke out in the parking lot and the cops came and I talked to Poison Ivy years after that and she remembered that gig and said that the Dallas cops came and made them leave town right then. They got escorted straight out of town after that gig. Man those were the days.
SF: Never mind that the metal guys had knives and guns in the car park and kicked off the riot, it somehow was the bands fault?
JH: Yeah, yeah (laughs)
SF: So you’ve shared a stage with so many greats over the years, is it safe to assume that you don’t agree with the old adage of never meeting your heroes?
JH: Well the thing is I love to meet ’em, but just meeting somebody is a little bit anti-climactic and its so rare that you get a chance to actually talk to somebody. I’ve had the chance to talk and hang around with Willie Nelson and got some great stories from him, but probably one of the best ones though was when I did a gig with Carl Perkins and after the show he was just sitting there by himself and I went over there and sat down and he was so nice. He started telling me stories from back in the day in the 50’s and they were just mind boggling! He just sat there talking to me for at least an hour, maybe an hour and a half. It was great because somebody would come up and thank him for the gig and he’d talk to them for a while and then go back straight back into the story with me (laughs). It was great. You know, stuff like that rarely happens, but I’ve got to meet Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash and a lot of the unsung heroes of rockabilly from back in the day who all have great stories and that’s really fun, but you don’t get the chance to do that too much.
SF: Going back to the songs on the new record, you’ve just premiered Spooky Boots on Billboard, another interesting title, can you tell us where the inspiration for that one came from?
JH: Well this biker guy that I knew sat down with me as we were doing our soundcheck in this club and he started telling me this story about a girl that had left him, how she was the best girlfriend that he ever had, about how she took care of him as he was kind of crippled and so I figured that he just really appreciated that she was helping him you know? He was saying how she helped him get dressed and other stuff and then one day she just left in the middle of the night – he woke up and she was gone and he’s never seen her again. So then he tells me that he’s been going to the town square in Sante Fe every Saturday hoping to see her, and I was just about to tell him that he needs to just get over it you know and so I ask him how long its been going on, and he says, well since 1969 (laughs). So he’s basically been going to this town square every Saturday since 1969 and at that point its way beyond me telling him to get over it because its already been like 40 years (laughs) and so that’s what the song is about as he said her name was Spooky Boots, which was the the only name that he knew her by. He never actually knew her last name or anything and evidently she was a native american and he never found her. Its just a pretty sad tale, so I wrote the song about it.
SF: Thats a fairly epic tape of lost love!
SF: Finally, as we’re so close to the end of 2013 I’ve got to ask if you have any resolutions for 2014?
JH: Well I quit doing them a long time ago because it just seemed like something I could never keep up. But one of the best ones I did do though was to promise to wash my hands more and that one actually stuck! Eventually it just worked out that I don’t get sick as much and all that so that’s been the best one I ever did.
SF: Fantastic advice! Well I just want to thank you again for taking the time to speak to me, best of luck with the new album and the tour and really hope to see you over in Europe at some point in 2014.
JH: Well I’d love to do it, we’re kind of planning that out right now and we’re already through the first half of 2014, and we’ll see what will happen with the other half but I sure would love to come back, so thank you!