The Reverend Horton Heat

Spendin’ a Night in the Box with

The Reverend Horton Heat

Pay attention, ’cause I’m only gonna explain this once. The Reverend Horton Heat is both a “he” and a “they.” Confused? You shouldn’t be. The Reverend Horton Heat is the onstage alter ego of one Jim Heath, guitarist and frontman for a smokin’ Texas-based three-piece that coined the term “psychobilly,” a hybrid of old school-rockabilly and new school punk fury. The band is also called Reverend Horton Heat, and features Jimbo Wallace on stand-up bass and Scott Churilla on drums. It’s a situation that can be a little confusing for both Heath himself and the band as a whole — in fact, Wallace claims, “I’m confused every day. [laughs] But I like it that way.” However, he’s managed to turn the confusion to his advantage, revealing that “when I try to order porn movies in my room, it’s on [Heath’s] credit card!”

For his part, Heath says the main confusion comes in when people expect him to perform various religious ceremonies for them. “People always want me to marry ’em, but I’m not a real Reverend,” Heath laughs. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather not do than go to a wedding, much less have to perform it and all that stuff. That’s not so bad — there’s not too many downsides to rock n’ roll.”

Aside from any name-related confusion, though, there’s a lot to love about the Reverend Horton Heat. The band’s been churning out great records for the last decade, and is at the forefront of the revival in “hot rod” culture, a movement that Heath opines, “revolves around a look. It’s all about style and a look. Kids like to have — not just kids, but anybody — a sense of artistic style. The kind of car you drive has a bit of a style factor about it. Instead of just being a metal guy — I mean, what style is that? Get yourself a black denim T-shirt and grow your hair kind of long, and get you one of those stupid Charlboro-Jackson guitars, and bam! You’re a metal guy. [laughs] There’s a lot more thought process that goes into the artistic side of the whole hot rod culture. You know, as opposed to driving a Subaru station wagon and listening to Pearl Jam and wearing a flannel shirt, you’re wearing a stylish shirt and jacket from the ’50s and driving around in a 1949 Mercury.”

The cars are a big facet of the culture, too. As Heath says, “it’s a style thing, like I said, you know, the cars, like what color are you gonna paint your car? As opposed to just automatically knowing that you’re gonna go spray paint your VW with whatever kind of spray paint. [laughs] You aren’t going to make your car artistic by just making it look crappy.”

Wallace also takes a lot of inspiration from the artistic side of the movement. “there are so many unknown pinstripe artists that are out there,” he enthuses. “I actually had a bass painted by a guy named T, in Dallas. He was like an old ’60s pinstripe artist, and he painted my first bass — put some flames on it. That culture is never gonna die.”

Heath feels that due to the “style factor,” the culture has even more to offer women. “As far as girls,” he relates, “a girl can still be kind of tough, but still look like a girl, wearing skirts and Mary Jane shoes. The punk rock and the hip hop/rap thing, girls [are] just runnin’ ’round wearing big sports shirts and stuff. That’s just really stupid.”

As far as the music side of the hot rod culture goes, Heath says, “it’s an outgrowth of all sorts of Americana music. A lot of these kids are into ’50s rockabilly, and that’s all they like, is music from the ’50s. A lot of ’em are into more of the punk bands, like maybe the Supersuckers might fit in there a little bit. There’s all sorts of things, like you see a lot of those same type of hot rod culture people at a Wayne Hancock show — he does straight country — or a Dick Dale surf guitar show. Or Reverend Horton Heat. I’m not sure what all bands all those people are listening to, they listen to a lot of different kinds of stuff, most of them without being super purist, or anything.”

When it comes to personal taste in “hot rod” music, Heath takes inspiration from artists Brian Setzer, Mike Ness and Social Distortion, and the Cramps, while Wallace has his eye on a few of the younger bands out there. “My favorite band is the Road Kings, from Houston,” he says eagerly. “Jason Burns, the bass player, is my favorite. He’s a little bit better bass player than me, but you know what? He doesn’t have the style I do [laughs].” Wallace further cites the Amazing Crowns as “another great band. I love them.”

As far as their own music goes, the band has just released their newest album, Spend a Night in the Box , on Time Bomb. The title, while open to multiple interpretations, refers to the movie Cool Hand Luke , in which “the box” was a particularly brutal form of solitary confinement. The title track, however, refers to a different sort of “solitary,” as Heath elaborated. “The song ‘Spend a Night in the Box’ is really about gettin’ in trouble with your girlfriend, ” he explains, speaking from experience. “[I’ve] spent a night in the box several times, a bunch of times, for normal relationship-type stuff. Without giving away personal things, all you have to do, really, is just say the wrong thing, or stay out too long, or something. Make a comment about how cute her girlfriend is. [laughs, then puts on angry woman voice] ‘Oh, I’m not good enough for you, huh?'”

One of the most interesting things about the band has been their ability to attract an impressive line-up of producers to work on their records. In the past, they’ve worked with Ministry’s Al Jourgenson, Ramones producer Ed Stasium, and the Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes. For Spend a Night in the Box , they turned to another Butthole Surfer, guitarist Paul Leary. Heath says working with Leary “was great. He’s really, really smart — probably in the near-genius category. He’s a studio nerd, and me and him are kind of nerds to the degree that we show up on time, and we might goof off a little bit and joke around too much, but we’re there the whole time, as opposed to being kind of flaky and not showing up on time. Like Al Jourgenson was, I think, five days late for our session. [laughs]”

Wallace, too, feels going with Leary was the right move, saying, “the good thing about Paul Leary is he made us work very hard. If we didn’t get the part, we had to come back and do it again. He has a great bedside manner.”

Another move the band made recently was to jump ship from the hulking monolith that Interscope has become for the greener pastures of upstart Time Bomb. Heath feels that this is a move that has suited the band well. “For one thing,” he discloses, “it’s the first time that we’re on a label where we’re a top priority. We were never anybody’s priority at Interscope, except maybe for Tommy Ferguson’s for a while, our A&R guy. At Sub Pop we were very low [priority]. It’s gonna be a real advantage to have a label that stays on top of where we are, and where we’re touring.”

Wallace concurs wholeheartedly, saying, “Time Bomb allows us to do what we do best. They don’t expect to hear the hits. The good thing about Time Bomb is [that they say] ‘do whatever you do, and we’ll support you on that.'”

In addition to the new album on Time Bomb, the band recently released a 7-inch, “King” b/w “The Girl in Blue,” on their own Fun Guy Records imprint. Heath looks at his own label as a way to have a little fun between albums. “[It’s] basically just going to be an outlet for us to do little vinyl singles between projects,” he reveals. “I’m not sure exactly how it’s going to work yet. I don’t really have any plans for doing any other artists right now, but if I were, it would be something along the lines of more hot rod culture type bands. Doing vinyl singles more as a merch item, as opposed to having a record label.”

Despite the band’s success, there’s one arena that’s given the band more than its fair share of headaches lately, and that’s the press. Space Heater , the band’s previous album, got some bad notices that the band feels were not only unfair, but downright hurtful. A reviewer at Britain’s New Musical Express said that if the Reverend Horton Heat made another album as “tame” as Space Heater , it wouldn’t be long before they were “flipping burgers.” Even more painful to the band was seeing the album named “one of the ten worst albums by a band from Dallas” by a writer at their hometown newspaper, The Dallas Observer . Heath has really taken these comments to heart, and feels that they’re largely due to ignorance on the part of the critics in question. “I think it’s because most music critics have to put you into a box,” he opines. “As soon as you try to do something that breaks out of it, that’s a little bit different… Also, a music critic, if he really focuses in and likes a particular album, then the next album, he’s trying to imagine how good it’s going to be, and it’s funny, it’s kind of like a really dumb answer to a really dumb question: ‘So, why did you choose to go this direction on this CD, as opposed to that direction on that CD?’ The answer being, ‘They’re different songs.’ [laughs] I decided to put new songs on this CD. It’s really funny, because music critics don’t read in to the same… most of them aren’t musicians themselves, and even a lot of musicians, quite frankly, don’t understand or grasp what’s going on. They’re just ‘strum, strum, sing, sing the song,’ and they work it up with the band, and they don’t even realize it’s a funk beat. They don’t even realize it’s a swing beat, or a rock and roll beat, or a rhumba. They just don’t know what they’re doing, so to them, they’ll have a whole album that has nothing but funk beats, and of course, they would never describe their music as funk. They don’t even really realize it is. So, we look at a lot of beats and stuff, so when I’m thinking of a song, like off of Space Heater , a song like ‘Lie Detector,’ music critics would never think of that as being a song that’s like ‘Wiggle Stick,’ off one of our other CDs, and they would never think of a song like we did off It’s Martini Time called ‘Slow’ as being in that ballpark, but I do, because [all three songs have] a moderate rock beat. So I’m thinking, ‘we need a different beat,’ because that’s what you do, you change up, you mix things up a little bit, so… ‘Oh, ‘Lie Detector’ has that moderate rock beat, cool, that’s a good song, let’s do it.’ It’s funny that they don’t really read into all that stuff, they’re looking to all this other, esoteric stuff to try to make some kind of comment. It’s a little bit disturbing when they write things about stuff, and they don’t see what’s going on there, and they have to write something negative, because that’s part of their job.

“At the same time,” Heath continues, “critics are writing great things about the new Fiona Apple record, and all the songs have a hip hop beat with a strummy strummy vocal, either that or a folk beat. They’re taking for granted that we’re bouncing around and trying to do different stuff, instead of looking for something that they can put in a category. Any time we try to break out of that category… frankly, it’s difficult to do this. You have to write songs without repeating yourself, without inadvertently even doing the same melody line as another song that you wrote on the last record. It’s not easy. Music critics don’t realize how difficult it is to write a song, I don’t think, sometimes. It’s very easy when you sit down with your guitar and start writing a song, [sings] “la-da-da-da-da,” and then, the next thing you know, someone says “Oh, that sounds just like ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,'” and you’re going, “oh yeah, it does, doesn’t it?” [laughs] They don’t realize how much goes into these songs, to have them cut me down over stuff that is way wrong. It’s hard to take, to have somebody that’s writing stuff that helps form opinions for people about music when they don’t really know the first thing about music.”

In spite of the negative comments, though, the band intends to keep at it, and are currently on the road delivering their trademark scorching live performances. As Wallace exclaims at the end of our interview, “sometimes the critics don’t like us, but we love playing, and we’ll always be there for the fans.”

For more information on the Reverend Horton Heat, visit http://www.reverendhortonheat.com.

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