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Friday, 4 October 2013

In conversation with The Ballachulish Hellhounds

Is it a source of pride that very rarely anyone manages to spell the bands name correctly? Is there any weird and wonderful versions that you read and wonder how they could get it so wrong?

Ah, the name.
Its a double edged sword sometimes.
On the one hand we're not too precious about folk getting it right, particularly if they've made the effort to come and see us play.
It's a memorable name, if a little hard to pronounce for some people.
I do get a wee bit annoyed when someone’s booked us and they cant be arsed spelling it right on a poster or promo. We live in a world of 'copy and paste' so there's no excuse really.
On the other hand we got booked to play the Grand Ole Opry in Glasgow a couple of years ago and the promoter had us down as The BallaHELLISH HOLEhounds. That tickled us, even thought about changing it permanently, for about ten seconds...

I hear you received an interview request due to the band being young and up and coming. Do you want to share with us when you actually formed?

Yeah, that was funny and a bit sad really. Symptomatic of the lazy amateurs running about today’s music scene, but that’s another conversation altogether.
We actually played our first gig in 1989 as a psychedelic blues rock band, complete with a harmonica playing army deserter as our front man (seriously!) and a drum machine.
We played like that for a couple of years, then life got in the way.
Myself and Zander met up in Glasgow 7-8 years ago and started jamming again, played a few gigs as a duo and discovered that folk seemed to like what we were about. The turning point was getting booking for The Wickerman Festival in 2007, things seemed to take off after that.
Since then, we played the length and breadth of the UK, put out 2 well received albums and an EP and amassed over 300 gigs and counting.

So it's been a rapid ascendency in popularity for you all?

You could say we're an overnight success, if a night lasted 25 years...

To be serious though you guys have been pushing a hard bluegrass sound for a while now.
Do you feel that sometimes the americana/folk scene can be accused of being a bit clean and your sound could be described as a tad more authentic, as apart from it having a frayed blue collar there's a great deal of dirt under its nails?

We're kinda outsiders on the scene, but that’s ok with us, we like it that way.
It can be too 'clean' as you suggest, our roots are in noisy rock and punk, so I think that comes across in our live shows. Sometimes I think you can give roots music too much respect, we like to mix it up and play it with a bit of edge, particularly at our live shows.
We have more of an 'up and at em' approach, which isn’t really how a lot of UK Americana bands do it.
We're the real deal though, anyone that comes to see the Hellhounds will know they've been to see a band that’s honest about what they do, hopefully they'll think we can play a bit as well and come back for more.
Where we come from in the Highlands, Kinlochleven and Glencoe, used to have an Aluminium factory right smack in the middle of the mountains, so we grew up in a curiously odd place. Heavy industry and everything that comes with that, set to a back drop of mountains and a small village lifestyle.
I worked for ten years there stacking Aluminium ingots and working shifts, my collars are still frayed and blue and I can still remember the dirt and the grime from working there, Zander was the same. I think has given us a good work ethic along with a bit of a fuck you to the man attitude. Nothing worse than some middle class boy or girl singing about 'working on the rail-road' 'drinking moonshine' or how bad it is in jail.
I usually find it pretty crass and think to myself “if that fella/lady ever seen a hard days work, then My name is Johnny Cash....”

What do you think about the rise in popularity of roots music over the last few years? Pros and cons?

Personally, I think its great.
As with any genre, if you stick to playing well and honestly, you last the course. We play what we like and if folk like it, that's grand. We've been doing it for a few years now and it comes and goes. The first wave in recent years was when the soundtracks for O Brother Where Art Thou and Brokeback Mountain came out.
That piqued some interest.
If I'm being honest, I don’t really see any cons, anything that can get folk listening to some music they might not have discovered otherwise is fine with me.
Any genre specific music always attracts scensters, Americana music isn’t any different.
If it means they buy a tickets to see us and maybe even a CD, that's cool. Although, I’m a wee bit pissed off about the amount of checked shirts on the go these days,
I used to wear them because they were cheap, now every fuckers got one...

You are a self released band. Is that through choice or necessity?

Its a bit of both really. There's another band on our label called Dixie Fried, I've played in bands and been friends with their drummer John Murphy for years. Both of us have been working in and around music for a while running gigs and helping our other bands. We decided that the best way to go was to set up our own wee label called Big Rock Candy Records and self release our own music.
Its been a good learning experience, but very worthwhile.
There's 4 acts on the label now and we wont have any more than that on it. The best thing is that we have complete control over what we do. Everyone involved in the label does a proper shift when they have to, its a pretty good collective of like minded people. It goes back to the work ethos I spoke about earlier, there's far too many really talented folk that aren’t prepared to put in the extra work to get themselves to the next stage.
We have the label at a level we're comfortable with, playing music is our priority, but running our own label makes us to push ourselves a bit more.
And apart from anything else, being in control of our own destiny has made us find out more about the pond we swim in. I’m sure you won't be surprised about the amount of musicians that don’t actually have a clue how the business works.
We're no experts, but we have a bit of a clue...

You played recently as part of the No Mean City festival in Glasgow. It was a far reaching run of dates and you played the opening night. How did that go?

That was a great gig for us, although I’ve played there in a couple of other bands, this was the first time The Hellhounds had played the ABC and to be playing as part of No Mean City was great.
We got a cracking reception, always nice to be invited to these sort of things.
We played King Tuts for the first time this year as well, never too old and all that...

While some acts seem to be rooted to one geographical location you appear to do as many gigs in the north of Scotland as you do on the west coast if not more. Are the audiences quite different as I have this idea in my head that the further north we go the more they would get what you guys are all about. Is that a fair view?

That's true to a certain extent. When we play up north folk seem to be right up for the night out and usually get right on board with the craic.
That’s not to say we don't enjoy playing in our home town (Glasgow), there are just far more opportunities for a band like us to actually get paid and looked after by travelling to far flung places outside our comfort zone.
Definitely sharpens your tools by hitting the road, that's for sure.
We're a bit old school in our approach, we sell most of our CD's at gigs, so it makes good sense to play in as many different places as we can.
I get bored really quickly playing the same venues in Glasgow, in fact over the last 2-3 years, we've only played 2 or 3 gigs a year in Glasgow.

Festivals. Of course I was there at Eden this year and I had a ball, as you all obviously did to, as we bumped into each other often enough in ongoing degrees of intoxication. Was that one of your favourites and what others did you play and how did they measure up to it?

Eden was great! That was our 3rd year in a row there, top festival and always a grand gig for us. Proper party people.
This year we also played Belladrum amongst others, headlining The Potting Shed Stage for the 2nd time, that’s a right home gig for us and always a good weekend.
The crowds there are mental, in a good way.
Probably, playing festivals is when we really thrive. We can play a 45-60min set and really go for it. Not forgetting we're usually playing to a crowd that in the most part, haven't heard us before.
That's a challenge we like, bringing a bit of mayhem to the uninitiated, always fun.

And finally what's next for the band. Have you more recording plans, live dates, supports?

Well. We've just finished a run a dates from April-September which included a pile of festivals, King Tuts, No Mean City and a whole heap of places in between including our first gig in Mull, which was a lot of fun.
At the moment we have a couple of gigs in November and that's us for the live stuff for the year, unless we get a decent offer for something good.
In 2014 we're celebrating 25 years of The Ballachulish Hellhounds, so we're making plans for that.
I can say, there will be an album simply called The Ballachulish Hellhounds with all original songs. Along with a big party in Glasgow and one in the Highlands.

I cant say much more than that at the minute, but if you follow us on Facebook, that's the place to watch. We also have our website where you can keep up to speed with any news and stream all our music to.

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