In the midst of rapidly changing musical trends, bands breaking up and re-uniting, there’s been one thing you can count on over the last 15 to 20 years. The Reverend Horton Heat will be passing through your town at least once a year, bringing the wildest, rockin’-est, Texas psychobilly freak-out you’ve ever seen to all corners of the country. You can bet on some bass-surfing, plenty of grease and sweat, and a different set each time. The term “hardest-working band in showbiz” has become a bad cliché, but it really applies to these guys. As the bumper sticker says, “I was a sinner before I saw the Reverend Horton Heat, but now I’m going straight to hell!”
I caught up with the Rev, otherwise known as Jim Heath, where else but on the road. He took some time in San Francisco to talk to me about the trials and tribulations of record production, the state of music and of his sanity, and, of course, classic custom cars. He says “Thankyouverymuch” just like Elvis, but I’m hoping he keeps rocking even longer than the King.
Kaffeine Buzz: You’re on a new record label now, right? How is that going for you?
Revered Horton Heat: It’s going pretty good. They eventually just handed us some money to do whatever we wanted to do, and they’ve been really helpful with getting interviews and stuff like that, even before the album came out.
KB: I noticed you’ve been on three different labels for the last three albums. Has that been making you crazy?
RHH: Not really. It’s just the way it goes. It’s kind of amazing to me, record labels don’t last as long as a band does, and everybody thinks that bands, they’ll be around, and then they’ll break up, whatever.
KB: Well, a lot of them do, though.
RHH: Yeah, I guess a lot of them do, but the labels are just as bad.
KB: It seems like you guys have been together a long time with only one lineup change, though.
RHH: Well, not exactly. Reverend Horton Heat’s had eight different drummers and two different bass players. But Jimbo’s been with me forever and Scott’s been with us for years.
KB: That seems to be rather long, although lately it seems like lots of bands are getting back together, so. . .
RHH: Yeah. Well I just love to play music, so it’s a great thing to be able to do. I’m really grateful that these guys have been with me this long.
KB: I’d never known before that Al Jourgensen produced an album for you. How did that happen?
RHH: Well, he came to one of our shows, and came backstage and said he wanted to produce us. The thing about producing us is that I’ve got the songs written and arranged before a producer even hears the song, so all they’re going to do is do something with their studio equipment and you know, honestly, there’s really not a whole lot to do unless you’re really, really nitpicky. We don’t get too crazy with that. As far as I’m concerned, put the mic in front of me and let’s go. Also, Gibby Haynes from the Butthole Surfers was friends with Al, and he had produced the record before that, so I guess that’s why Al decided “I’m gonna produce them.”
KB: It’s one of those little fun things, “Well, I did this and that, and produced an album for the Reverend Horton Heat.” When I think of the Reverend Horton Heat, I think of the sense of humor and the amazing musical talent. You combine the silly, fun songs, almost like a novelty act, but with obvious serious consideration of everything that goes into the music.
RHH: If we could achieve that, that’d be the best. You’ve got to entertain people, no matter how good you are or not good on guitar, or drums or whatever, you have to be entertaining. There are a lot of bands; they don’t play very well, so they compensate for that by acting all serious. That makes me sick.
KB: These days it seems like everything is either taking itself soo seriously or it’s a complete novelty act, and I think you guys have found the balance.
RHH: Thank you very much.
KB: You listen to it because it’s fun, but you also listen to it because it’s really good music, and that’s why I think you’ve got this audience that has lasted this long. You’re obviously musicians first.
RHH: I still try to work on it constantly. I’ll go buy a guitar book or work on something, trying to get better. I have to do that because there are so many great young bands that come up, so many great players in the world that if I’m not just trying my damnedest to get better myself I don’t really stand a chance.
KB: I think the first time I saw you play I was eighteen. I’m twenty-four now, and I’m already starting to feel really old at a lot of shows. Do you feel like you’re surrounded by kids?
RHH: Uh-huh. But you know, I felt that way when I was twenty-five. I was hanging around the scene when I was twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, a lot of these stupid punks used to treat me like I was ancient. Now I’m still rockin’ and rollin’ and those people all have kids. I think one thing that has kind of helped is that I didn’t start the Reverend Horton Heat until I was about twenty-five, twenty-six. People were already treating me like an old fart, so now that I really am an old fart, I’m used to it.
KB: One of my co-workers and I were saying that the Reverend Horton Heat is the band we’ve seen the most in our lifetime, that you guys are always on the road. Don’t you ever get sick of it?
RHH: It’s too much, really. We need to take a break. We love playing music. From my point of view, a lot of bands have it backwards. They don’t feel valid unless they’re recording artists, and to me being a recording artist is not as valid an art form as just being a musician. Play music, you know, that’s what it’s about. It’s a vibe, a stage, a crowd, applause, feeding off each other, doing stuff that we’ll never do the exact same way ever again. You work off the crowd. In the studio there’s none of that.
KB: One of the things I’ve noticed too is that the last few times you came to Denver, you’ve played at a few different-sized venues. Which is more fun for you, or are they just different things?
RHH: We still play bars. The majority of the shows we play are the old theaters that have been renovated into rock ‘n roll venues, but a lot of smaller towns, we’ll play the bars. But that was a deal where we got the idea that when we first started touring, we played a lot of small clubs. So what we’d do is we’d go into a city like Denver, and we’d stay a whole week and play three, four, five different places. It was a lot of fun, it was a lot less driving, and we could stay in one place and have a chance to actually see something. We’d call it the Tour of L.A. or the Tour of Denver. So last year I got the idea that we’d try and do that again, go and play three or four shows in an area and then go somewhere else. We tried to play a different set list each night. We were actually trying to play a completely different set list, because we have so many songs. We got close, but we’d still have to throw in some . . .
KB: Everybody’s always yelling for “Bales of Cocaine.”
RHH: Oh yeah. They yell for it. But we’re at the point in our career where people pay the money to come see us play now; they have their favorite albums, so just to blow off all of the old songs and play all new songs is just not really the right thing for our career. People want to hear that, they pay to see us; they should get what they want. But we’re having fun playing our new songs off the new album.
KB: I noticed the press kit said you banged that out in like 20 days or something?
RHH: Well, with the mix-down, yeah. We played it in about 10 days and mixed it in about 10 days. That was nice, because some of these sessions seem like they’re going to go on forever–that session with Al Jourgensen seemed like it lasted years. It was more like months, but it seemed like years. There’s a lot of stuff Al did on our album that I didn’t really agree with, but he tried hard, he’s a smart guy and he was doing the best he could to make it what he wanted to hear. It’s cool when people are trying. When they quit trying, that’s when it’s not any good.
KB: The album’s title is Revival. Do you think you need a revival or is that just the state of music in general?
RHH: Yeah, I think I do. I’m really overworked right now. My mother passed away in December, and I had to take over all of the bookkeeping for the band. So I lost my mother, and then had to learn to be a bookkeeper, and record a new album. So during that album I was completely overworked, and it really hasn’t stopped. I honestly think
I’ll get a little pocket here where I’ll have a firmer and firmer grasp on the business side, the paperwork side of it, but it’s just a lot of B.S. We’re a successful band, and there’s definitely a price to pay for success. I need a vacation. Should’ve called it Vacation.
KB: Like the GoGo’s.
RHH: Yeah, the GoGo’s. But I can’t complain. I’ve got a dream job, and I have worked regular jobs in my life. The majority of the good people everywhere in the world have to get up and go to a job that they don’t necessarily love or even necessarily like that much, but you’ve gotta do it to live, to put food on the table and pay your rent. So I can’t really complain too much, but I’ll still try [Laughs].
KB: How about the term Revival in reference to music these days? I feel like maybe it’s getting a little bit better, but I still think rock ‘n ‘roll in this country needs a revival.
RHH: Yeah, it does. But you can complain about it, and then it gets worse. I heard KROQ in L.A., one of the main rock ‘n roll stations, and now they’re basically all hip-hop. Rock ‘n roll could easily just completely die off. Honestly, I don’t have time to spend. The stuff that I really like usually eventually filters to me. It might take me a while, so I don’t know all these bands, their songs, really.
Basically my whole career I’ve been stuck in the fifties, so I still just listen to that stuff. But the stuff does filter to me, and I’m on the scene a lot, seeing a lot of bands play live and still enjoy doing that. I’ll hear one friend say “Oh yeah, I really love this band,” and I’ll go “Hmm, O.K.,” and I won’t do anything about it, and then I’ll hear another friend say “Oh, have you heard this band? They’re really great.” So I’ll say “Okay,” and then it’s in my consciousness, and I’ll go get the CD or see them live.
What the music business is doing, I’m just completely oblivious. I’ve got so much of my own thing going on to keep up with all that stuff. And sometimes when I do it just pisses me off. I’ll watch the Grammy’s or something and just get pissed off at all these terrible bands.
KB: I find a lot of people these days are just total scenesters. You know, the ’80s thing is in now, so everyone’s dressing ’80s and listening to ’80s music, and I like to just go hang out at the rockabilly bars because the people who are into that are usually into it for life.
RHH: It’s not like they’re just jumping from scene to scene.
RHH: I think you’re right. I think that’s really pretty true. A lot of those people, they’re lifers. And they’re usually really open to new people who are into that, whereas in a lot of the scenes aren’t that way, they can get really snobby really quickly, like “Oh, we dress ’80s at this club,” and it’s like “Oh, okay., last year you were dressed hip-hop.” But you know, that can happen, I think that happened to the swing movement. The swing bands came out and all of a sudden there were all these young kids dressed in perfect swing clothes, and I was thinking “Wow, this is great,” because I love swing music, we do a lot of swing rhythms in the Reverend Horton Heat and a lot of stuff that’s influenced by that music. But then the next thing you know none of the swing people like that anymore.
KB: Okay. One last silly question and then I’ll let you get back to what you need to do. What kind of car do you have these days?
RHH: I have a 1950 Ford two-door custom. And I’ve got a ’96 Lincoln Mark 8 [Laughs].
KB: The practical car. For when gas prices are too high?
RHH: That, and I’ve got a little daughter, so I’ve got to have the nice, safe car. I can’t imagine strapping her into that Ford.
KB: Not until she gets a little older.
RHH: Yeah, not until she can get out of the car on her own. That thing is like a step above driving a motorcycle. That one’s for sale, actually. I’m going to have a ’32 Ford, actually. It’s been in a buddy of mine’s garage for years now; I’m still buying parts for it. I’ve been buying parts for that car for six or seven years, so I’m at the point of no return now, going to have to sell the 1950 to have the 1932 now.
Reverend Horton Heat plays with The Forty Fives and The Detroit Cobras Friday, July 23 a the Ogden.