Getting Down with the Reverend Horton Heat

New album, new tour, same awesome sound from Reverend Horton Heat leader Jim Heath (far left) drummer Scott Churilla and bassist Jimbo Wallace. Photo Courtesy: Gene Ambo
New album, new tour, same awesome sound. Photo Courtesy: Gene Ambo

By Alan Sculley

Fans of the Reverend Horton Heat haven’t exactly been flooded with new music from the band lately. After cranking out eight studio albums over the first 13 years of a recording career that began with the 1990 release Smoke ‘em If  You Got ‘em, the group’s new CD, REV, marks only its second studio release from the Dallas-based group since  2004.

But frontman Jim “The Reverend” Heath figures people haven’t been bothered by the reduced musical output.

“When we were coming out with albums every two years, it really kind of pissed off our fans,” Heath said in a recent phone interview. “It was just too much, too much coming at them. And it always worked out that about every time we released a new album that was right at the exact same time they were finally starting to get and request the songs from the previous album.

“After Revival it was like we better slow down on this,” he said. “And there were some other life issues that happened all in that time and it just kind of made sense to hold off on new albums for awhile.”

In a sense, though, it’s been even longer since fans have gotten a fresh batch of prototypical Reverend Horton Heat songs.

The group’s previous album, 2009’s Laughin’ & Cryin’ with the Reverend Horton Heat, was a departure from the group’s signature high octane roots rock sound, as it spotlighted the group’s country influence.

“Going back to the Laughin’ and Cryin’, I really wanted to make a straight country album,” Heath said. “Every album that we’ve ever had has had a country song on it, and this one (REV) kind of does, too….But it (Laughin’ and Cryin’) was fun to do. It didn’t turn out to be a straight country album necessarily, but it leans very much country.”

Heath, though, admits that Laughin’ and Cryin’ didn’t register with some of the group’s fans, and having scratched the country itch with “Laughin’ and Cryin’,’ it became apparent that a return to the familiar rocking sound would be the next move.

“It (Laughin’ and Cryin’) almost just kind of didn’t do as much good, and it kind of seemed like we haven’t had an album that had some good fast rock tunes since Revival, Heath said, mentioning the group’s 2004 album. “So it just made sense that we would get to some more harder edged, fast tempo, rocking stuff.”

And that’s just what the REV album delivers. As is usually the case with Reverend Horton Heat albums, rockabilly rooted songs figure prominently in the mix – as Smell Of Gasoline, Spooky Boots and Scenery Going By all fueled by the full-throttle swing generated by drummer Scott Churilla. A healthy dose of surf rock gets mixed with a cheesy horror motif on the largely instrumental tune, Zombie Dumb. On Never Gonna Stop It and Let Me Teach You How To Eat the Reverend Horton Heat puts more of a punk accent on its otherwise early rock-influenced sound. The country influence, meanwhile, pops up on Hardscrabble Woman and Longest Gonest Man, although the latter tune in particular is as frisky as about any song on the CD.

If the sound and style of REV feels familiar to fans, one thing that was different was the recording process itself. Many of the group’s 10 previous albums were recorded quickly – sometimes over the span of just a few days. But singer/guitarist Heath and his bandmates, bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Churilla, took their time in making REV.

What contributed to that change in methods was that after making Laughin’ and Cryin’, the group put together its own recording studio/rehearsal space. This brought a new level of freedom to the recording process.

“Some of it (REV) was recorded in a commercial studio, but most of this album was recorded at our rehearsal space,” said Heath, who produced REV. “The hard thing about having a producer in an expensive studio, is that you have five…10 days a month, you have limited time and that’s it. So we’ll go in there and do all of those songs, and then we’ll be out there playing them (live) and then a few months later listen back to what we did and go ‘Oh God, we want to re-record the whole thing.’

“And it’s too late,” he explained. “You’ve already blown $50,000 or something crazy on that commercial studio-slash-producer deal, and what’s really important, the most important thing at that point to us, is getting the chance to go back in and re-record it the way we are playing it since we’re playing it better.”

With its own studio, the Reverend Horton Heat didn’t get locked into a single recording session with a tight deadline. And Heath said the trio took full advantage of being able to play the new songs, see how they developed and then revisit them in the studio.

“There are several songs on this that we scrapped completely, (sometimes) four versions of the songs before we finally hit it on the fifth version,” he said. “So we’d be working and tweaking and doing all of this, and then go ‘Nah, let’s just trash it and start over.’ So having the flexibility to do that, that’s really, really awesome.”

With the REV album having been released in January, the group has gotten right to work touring behind the CD (which by the way, is the group’s first release under a new deal with Victory Records). But that didn’t mean fans will be inundated with new tunes during the Reverend Horton Heat’s live set when the band returned to its home base for a May 3 appearance at the Suburbia Music Festival in Plano.

“We’ll be playing new songs off of the new album,” Heath said. “But gosh, it gets harder and harder the more albums you come out with, the harder it is to get the new stuff in. People pay their ticket price for the live show to hear a lot of our standard stuff. But we’re definitely going to try (to include new songs). We’ve got three or four of them that work really well live. So there’s going to be at least four, probably what we’ll have to do is we’ll have to alternate them on different nights.”

What fans won’t hear during the live show is much in the way of ballads – no surprise for a group that is known to play one of the most energetic shows of any rock band. Still Heath said the group has calmed down a bit in a few ways over nearly 25 years of touring.

“We still play a lot of fast, high energy songs,” he said. “Our slow songs don’t usually make the set. We’re usually going, pile driving from one fast song into another to keep the crowd energetic and going.

“That’s kind of what we do. That being said, it has changed. In the early years, around the time when Jimbo first joined the band (around the time…in 1989), we would always do a bunch of crazy stuff. I mean, we were climbing up on scaffolding, on top of speaker boxes, jumping off into the crowd. We were walking on the bar and jumping off it,always jumping and falling and hurting ourselves. We don’t do that kind of zaniness anymore, but we still have our general zaniness.”