Interview by Angela Kinzie | Photos by Alan Snodgrass
Reverend Horton Heat make a return to their psychobilly roots on Rev, out January 21st. The trio’s 11th studio album, and first in four years, finds frontman Jim Heath, bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla revisiting the hard rocking sound that made RHH a rock and roll household name.
After 2009’s “Laughin’& Cryin with The Reverend Horton Heat” steered in the direction of straightforward country, the band will debut Rev as their first release on the hard-hitting Victory Victory Records.
“I talked to Tony Brummel who started Victory …” Heath told me from his home outside of Dallas, Texas. “He’s got a lot of passion. So between his passion and the idea of what an unstoppable machine Victory has turned into, it just made sense. We were headed back into the fast, loud area with our new album, so to be on a harder edge label seemed to make sense too.”
The band produced the new material and recorded much of it on their own, using a rehearsal space in Texas. “That made it a lot of fun. I don’t know if you can sense how much fun we had, but that was one thing that was really different. And it kind of enabled us to work even harder on this album than we’ve had the chance to work on our other albums.”
A total of 13 tracks blaze through the album. An appropriate play on words, Rev gets up to speed from the opener: “Victory Lap,” then moving on through “Smell of Gasoline,” the instrumental “Zombie Dumb” and a few tracks later, Rev’s first single: “Let Me Teach You How To Eat.”
“The guy that named me Reverend Horton Heat … he was a guy I worked for a lot; I had a PA system that I would set up.” He continued, “He was kind of a Bohemian-esque guru type in some ways. One day he came in and said, ‘Jim, let me teach you how to eat.’ I was like, ‘What?’ And he started talking all about macrobiotic foods and all. You know, that’s good and everything. … But I couldn’t help but stop and think that if I didn’t know how to eat already, I’d be dead. [laughs] So, it’s kind of crazy that one random thing that somebody told me 25 years ago is all of a sudden our single.”
After a quick pause he reassured me with a laugh, “But … really the new song is about sex. It’s not about food.”
The band’s 2014 tour will feature a handful of big name opening acts including fellow psychobillys, Nekromantix, punk icon Jello Biafra, rockabilly great Deke Dickerson and country artist Dale Watson.
Getting his first guitar at the age of six, Heath played in various bands before Heath got changed to Heat, and RHH was born. “It wasn’t until the early 80s or late 70s that I really started focusing on the rockabilly thing. I went to a Cramps gig. … They did a lot of great rockabilly covers and it made me realize that the rockabilly thing was very much the original punk rock.”
Heath’s stage presence is iconic. “If I walk into a room wearing a pink and black flaming tuxedo with rhinestones, people are going to treat me different,” he answered when I asked about his suits. But I have done it where I just have a regular men’s business suit, instead of going out wearing my normal newsboy cap, dickies jacket, t-shirt and jeans and converse or PF Flyers, and just go out into the world and do my errands; it’s amazing how different people treat you! They give you a lot more respect when you dress like that. [Laughs] But the other side of that coin,” he joked, “is that people always think, ‘You’ve been to court, haven’t you?’ ”
One might not know, just from listening, but Heath is one of the most humble and sincere artists out there. He thanked me numerous times for calling and for my effort on this piece. As our conversation became a little casual, he talked to me about simultaneously being a rock star and a dad.
“I married young and was a young Daddy, and I was scrambling to make ends meet. I basically had to go back to playing in bands to make money to support my child. It’s kind of backward. You know, most people have to quit playing music to go back to regular jobs. This whole way through RHH, I’ve been a dad, and it’s been so good! My ex-wife and I got divorced right around the beginning of the band, but I was going with that thing, and it eventually became something that was really cool. It put my daughter through college, and to this day it’s a blessing for my family.
Heath is father to three girls – ages 30, 11 and 6. “It’s all girls’ stuff. It’s all My Little Pony. We just got a new hermit crab: Rosie. It’s all girl stuff: ballet, Girl Scouts. I do have one of them playing softball. Which, that’s pretty cool for me. I never thought I’d have a daughter that would wanna go play catch with me. They play piano and doing real well with that. So, it’s just fun. I have a lot of fun. But I’m really busy, and I don’t get to do a lot of the cool things I’d like to do. Being a dad the whole way through … I have friends of mine who are the coolest guys in the world. They build a new hot rod, then they fly to Japan and are part of a hot rod show, then they come back to Dallas and they’re in a band, then they go and do a big piece of a art installation in Seattle or … All this stuff, and I frankly just don’t have time for all of that. I basically have to enjoy what I do and just be a dad. … That’s very fulfilling though.”