The Reverend Horton Heat
Although the Reverend Horton Heat have never been in danger of lapsing into some sort of angst-filled alternative rock band, the "reverend" himself -- Jim Heath -- grew to feel a bit troubled as time went on about one characteristic of the group's 1994 CD, Liquor In The Front."We've had so many fun songs," Heath said, reflecting on his band's early records. "They're just kind of gone. We didn't have that much of that going on on Liquor In The Front, so we decided to bring that back a little bit."We do kind of like to poke fun at things and have a good time," Heath noted. "When people see us live they see that, I think. It was a conscious decision to try and bring our sense of humor back in a little bit because we always had some really crazy, funny little songs."To that end, fans will notice several tracks on the new Reverend Horton Heat CD, It's Martini Time, bring the humor factor back with a vengeance.There's the title track, a snappy -- and goofy -- swing number that centers on the motivations for partaking in one of the band's favorite recreational activities -- sipping martinis.More to the tongue-in-cheek point, there is the CD's closing track, a cheesy spoken word number called "That's Showbiz" that lampoons the rigors and drawbacks of "the business" as well as the star trip attitude of some entertainers."That whole idea for that song came to me in a dream," Heath said. "Like I kind of had a whole dream of me doing that song. yeah, and I was wearing a zoot suit. It was like this zoot suit and this kind of like yellow and brown hat. It was really crazy. And I woke up and I walked right out and I wrote it in my notebook, the whole thing. I was writing for about 45 minutes, 35 minutes straight there I guess."Perhaps the most controversial of the "laugh tracks" is "Cowboy Love," where Heath croons a tale of interracial romance between a couple of gay cowboys. Heath knew he might ruffle some feathers with the song, which oddly enough was inspired by a real event. One night during a stopover on tour, the group's bassist, Jimbo Wallace, happened upon a gay country western bar where one of his most vivid memories was the sight of a black and a white cowboy smooching -- with their hats on, naturally."I checked with a bunch of my friends," Heath said, noting he had his questions about the subject matter of "Cowboy Love." That was just like a silly song that I had -- I asked a couple of my black friends about the song and everything. They all told me if anybody doesn't get it, it's their own damn fault. It's so funny. My gay friends who have heard it have told me the same way. They thought it was hilarious. They loved it. So it's kind of like, in a way, my songs don't really take a stand so much as throw out a scene or make a statement. "And the song 'Cowboy Love,' it has caused me a little bit of problems," Heath said. "But I mean that song more than anything makes fun of me and my super white trash terrible delivery of the song. If you listen to how I sing the song, see there is a method to my madness. I do think about this (stuff) subconsciously. So I mean maybe that doesn't make it as good for our fans. I think our fans would like to think of me as the kind of guy who lives out in the trailer park and has three cars and two of them don't run."The truth is, while Heath's lyrics do sometimes suggest a certain hayseed mentality -- the usual themes involve women, booze and good-time living -- a conversation with 'the Rev" quickly reveals that Heath has a sharp, intelligent wit. He also possesses a deep understanding of American music that goes well beyond the rockabilly style that has served as the group's musical foundation since the band was formed in 1987.Making Dallas their home base, the trio began as more of a traditional rockabilly outfit, before juicing up the sound into a more diverse mix Heath likes to describe as psychobilly."A lot of it was just the will to kind of just play wilder, crazier shows," Heath said, attempting to explain the group's evolution to a louder, more frenzied style. "We were still pretty crazy when we were more of a straight rockabilly thing. We used to do some pretty nutty stuff -- But it kind of just had to come out."We could have fit in with the blues scene, and probably made a lot more money, a long time ago," Heath said. "But we really didn't like it too much and we got really tired of playing those gigs compared to our more alternative places and things like that. So we decided to tour America doing the punk rock circuit. And so at the same time we're doing that, it's kind of like I'm going maybe it would be cooler if I turned my amp to 10 all the time. And I don't know, I'm influenced by so many different things, without even trying to be influenced by it, it's crazy."The group's early records -- Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em and The Full- Custom Gospel Sounds of the Reverend Horton Heat -- were released on Seattle indy label, SubPop Records (early home to now-famous grunge bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden).Then two years ago, the Reverend Horton Heat stepped up to major label Interscope Records and released the Liquor In The Front CD. That record featured an intriguing pairing between the band and producer Al Jourgensen of the industrial band Ministry.For It's Martini Time, however, the band chose a lower profile producer in Thom Panunzio."It was kind of like hey, getting our own project back," Heath said of the producer choice. "We spent a lot of time on it and redid stuff a bunch at our own pace, and Thom was there. Thom did a great job...I think Al did kind of want to put his own stamp on it. And I guess different people have a different style. He's great at what he does and everything. But I think it was kind of nice for us not to have a rock star there this time."It's Martini Time also features another significant shift for the band. It features new drummer, former KMFDM member Scott Churilla, who replaces Tax Bentley, who had been in the Reverend Horton Heat from the group's inception."Well Taz is kind of a big show drummer," Heath said, seeking to compare the two drummers. "And he's great. And another thing that's great about Taz and Scott is they both have a great sense of the song. But Scott's been through the whole music school thing. And he does the double kick thing and he does the swing thing really excellently. He does swing and jazz stuff really good. But then again, he can also do the (heavier stuff). He's just a really good overall drummer."To tell you the truth, we communicated with him really well I think on the tempos of the songs," Heath noted. "I think we always used to play everything too fast. I think our song tempos are really in the pocket right now. We're still moving right along. We're playing real fast."