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Rockabilly Review - Interview with Ryan Davis of HairBall8 Records

<RABreview> Well to start, maybe tell us about your label, when it was started, why was it started, and was it worth it!
<Ryan> Hmm. Well, HairBall8 was officially started in 1995 while I was going to college in England. That's when I began contacting bands for a compilation we released called "Keep the Beat". That CD was released after I moved back to my hometown of San Diego and is basically a personal mix tape of mostly pop punk songs from bands that I liked like Lagwagon, Swingin' Utters, and yes even Blink 182. However, I snuck Barnyard Ballers on the compilation as well (them and another LA psychobilly influenced band called Frankenstein) and most people seemed to enjoy that contrast. Anyway, "Keep the Beat" sold well and allowed me to develop what I initially thought might be a one off compilation into an independent label. Cargo Music, who are home to the scariest band in the world, Deadbolt, gave me a P&D deal and were instrumental in the development process of HairBall8. I had no fucking clue what I was doing really and they helped guide me for sure. Touch and go. We also claim to have released the first psychobilly compilation in America ever, "Hotter than Hell". I never wanted HairBall8 to be pigeonholed as a punk label or a psychobilly label. If anything, it's all rock n' roll to me baby. Is it worth it? Every single second of it is worth it
<RABreview> What are the bands you have on your label and what have they released?
<Ryan> Well we've released full-length albums by Furious IV, Barnyard Ballers, The ScotchGreens, and Hate Fuck Trio. All pretty different bands that I am a fan of and believe are marketable in their own ways. Currently, the label's efforts have been steadily focused on compilation CDs. They are the most fun for me to work on. And I suppose I ultimately have the most control on compilation efforts (although I'm a huge believer in the value of teamwork to achieve maximum results). Now I sound like a fucking textbook and I'm sort of off topic. I think my main point is that I feel like any band we've worked with on a compilation is part of the HairBall8 team.
<RABreview> Any projects lined up for the next year besides the May 28th release of "Kicked outta Purgatory"?
<Ryan> We're pretty close to having all of the tracks for a Johnny Cash tribute we've been working on for the past two years. Dale Watson., Supersuckers, Jesse Dayton, Social Distortion, Deadbolt, Hot Rod Lincoln, Los Creepers, The ScotchGreens, Bastard Songs of Johnny Cash, Hank Willimas III, and Concombre Zombi, and 12 Step Rebels all contribute tracks to that one. We've also been contacting bands and receiving tracks for the a 3rd psycho compilation titled "To HELL with Heaven!".
<RABreview> Tell our viewers a little about what this "Kicked Outta Purgatory"comp has to offer.
<Ryan> Our current psychobilly compilation "Kicked Outta Purgatory, Psychobilly for Sinners!" offers music fans a lot of shit. 27 tracks from 27 bands, with about half the acts coming from different parts of world like Brazil, Denmark, Canada, Hungary, Switzerland, Sweden, UK, and the Ukraine. Bands like Nekromantix, Demented Are Go!, Frantic Flintstones, Os Catalepticos, Big John Bates, Deadcats, the Peacocks, Gorilla, Mad Heads, Godless Wicked Creeps, the Sharks, and Campfire Killers. The other half of the bands are from America, mostly California. Barnyard Ballers of course, Dragstrip Demons, the Spectres, The ScotchGreens, 44DD, Red Eye Gravy, Deadbolt, Los Creepers, Mr. Badwrench, Ghoultown, and a great band from Boston who are headlining the 2nd leg of the Purgatory Tour called Kings of Nuthin. The comp is an all-you-can eat international psychobilly buffet. Some hardcore psycho fans will have issues with a few of the bands on "Kicked Outta Purgatory" that are not and don't really claim to be psychobilly bands, but that is to be expected. Most music fans will appreciate the variety demonstrated on the comp, as well as the fact that it's all under one umbrella.
<RABreview>How did you get first involved with Psychobilly?
<Ryan> I would have to say that my friend Dave Wood first exposed me to real English psychobilly like the Meteors, Guana Batz, and Demented Are Go!. And of course Frantic Flintstones, who are one of my favorite psychobilly bands all together. We've got them on "Kicked Outta Purgatory" doing a rendition of Cypress Hill's "Hits from the Bong". It's fucking great. Chuck's talent balanced with his sense of humor is unparalleled in the psychobilly scene. I wish they would come over here to tour. Who knows, maybe they will. Oh, yeah, how the label got involved with psychobilly. Well, when I was still collecting tracks for the "Keep the Beat" compilation, I caught Barnyard Ballers at a club no longer around in San Diego called Velvet. It was a real nice surprise. I didn't know the band at the time and I remember just being blown away that there was a real psychobilly band in San Diego. No one knew what the fuck the Ballers were doing at that time. I remember Rich (aka Spike), who is now one of my closest friends, horsing around up on stage that first night I saw the Ballers. He was wearing these new wave sunglasses while swinging rubber chickens around and singing about drugs and anal sex. And of course Rich was sporting what I call the "mohawkadour", a trademarked psychobilly hair-style that represents the two fundamental elements of the psychobilly scene: punk and rockabilly. The Ballers were just plain obnoxious, and entertaining as hell. I struck a deal with them that produced one album and their participation on HairBall8 psychobilly compilations. I also manage the band now. The close relationship between them and the label certainly is not hurt by the fact that Rich has been a contributing part of HairBall8 from the moment I met him 6 years ago. If it wasn't for him, there would be no "Hotter than Hell" or "Kicked Outta Purgatory". Initially for "Hotter than Hell", Rich knew most of the bands and either contacted them directly or put me in touch with them. I also want to mention that Rich has also produced a shitload of flyers, ads, and CD artwork for HairBall8. But yeah, he's the motherfucker when it comes to knowing about psychobilly and its history.
<RABreview>Do you see Psychobilly having any mainstream success in the future?
<Ryan> I was asked that question after we released "Hotter than Hell" 3 years ago and my answer has changed a little I guess. To define successful: if a band can comfortably live off their music then I would consider them successful. And since you asked specifically about mainstream success, a couple of psychobilly-influenced acts have already experienced that in my opinion, namely Reverend Horton Heat and the Living End. When you have bands like these on a major label, getting a shot at commercial radio, and performing live on Conan O'Brien, then you have exposed some elements of psychobilly to the general public. However my definition of psychobilly is broad and sometimes all-encompassing. As far as hardcore psychobilly ever experiencing mainstream success, I still wouldn't rule it out. There definitely exists a loyal international underground following that is increasing in America in particular. And when I say America, I mean all of fucking America. South America and Canada included. Psychobilly is a colorful blend of music and attitude. Taking into account that rockabilly, punk, goth, and metal have all experienced mainstream success individually on some level at some point in time, why not psychobilly too? The psychobilly scene certainly draws from all of those genres in a unique and interesting way. And then of course you have Tiger Army, who are (whether people like it or not) spearheading the American psychobilly movement as we speak. Tiger Army are taking psychobilly to the same kids who listen to Hellcat and Epitaph bands in general. Some old school psychobillies don't like that very much. These psychobillies don't like to see a scene that they've been a part of for years and has been very special to them all of a sudden exposed to 14 year old kids who know nothing about psychobilly except for Tiger Army. I don't feel that way but then I'm also coming from the perspective of a record label owner and promoter of psychobilly in general. I like Tiger Army's music but I also like the fact that they are in fact enlightening kids to a new form of music. If kids who like Tiger Army end up finding out about the Meteors, DAG, Nekro, Mad Sin or any other European psychobilly band because they first heard Tiger Army, then that's fucking cool in my book. And I also do feel that when something artistic becomes popular on a mainstream level, it can lose a bit of itself in the process. However, there are no clearly defined rules in psychobilly like I routinely see in the punk and rockabilly scenes. Who gives a fuck if Johnny Punker gets a psychobilly haircut the day after he first sees a Tiger Army show? Who gives a fuck if he's never heard of the Meteors? Give him some time, help him out. It's psychobilly. Have fun. If you're not having fun, then do something to change that. Quit the goddamn whining. Start your own psychobilly band and play what you want to hear in front of the people who want to hear it.
<RABreview>Alright, here's a little game I like to do with interviews. I will list some words and you write the first thing that comes to your mind.
<RABreview>Tiger Army:
<Ryan>Large orange felines in green helmets
<RABreview>Bands limited to 50's themes:
<Ryan> Mary Lou at the Malt Shop
<RABreview>Troma Films:
<Ryan>Heads squishing like grapes
<RABreview>Viva Las Vegas 5:
<Ryan>There's been 5?
<RABreview> West Coast Wreckers Ball:
<Ryan>Just in time for the Revolution
<RABreview>One of the biggest criticisms I hear in the Rockabilly Scene is that psychobilly is just 'bad punk with a slap bass'? Any comments on this statement?
<Ryan> Yeah, I've got some comments on that statement. It's a generalization that I don't find all that general. Sure there are psychobilly bands who have no business picking up an upright bass but they do it anyway, and that's the punk rock attitude that comes through in psychobilly. That anyone can do it and learn as they go. Besides that, I think people in the Rockabilly scene or any other scene for that matter have not been properly exposed to the enormous roster of talent that psychobilly actually offers. Nekromantix, Godless Wicked Creeps, Fireballs, Guana Batz, Frantic Flintstones, Batmobile, Mad Sin, Damage Done By Worms, the Quakes, Tiger Army, Barnyard Ballers, Os Catalepticos, Bee Pickles, Calavera, Gorilla, Speed Crazy, Mad Heads. Fuck man, I can see how it could hurt a rockabilly's sensitive ears.
<RABreview> Here's an off the wall question: In your opinion do many skinheads retire into the 'rockabilly/psychobilly' underworld (i'm not talking politics).
<Ryan> I've heard that idea expressed by people before. Yes. In my experience, I've seen it happen. Sometimes it might be merely jumping from one scene to another. If a skinhead grows his hair out into a pomp, trades his Ben Sherman in for a bowling shirt or a Nekromantix t-shirt and starts following a different set of rules, then it could be called scene-hopping I suppose. But unlike a lot of punk and rockabilly, I view psychobilly as a logical extension of a lot of other music cultures. The psychobilly scene allows people the freedom to listen to many forms of music. I also think that psychobilly offers people an outlet for aggressive energy. Take "wrecking" for example. It sure as shit ain't swing dancin' and I would put its escalation potential for actual violence higher than moshing. After all, you are basically throwing punches. Whether politically active or not, one commonality I've noticed amongst a lot of skinheads is that they like to roughhouse. And there's a certain amount of roughhousing going on in psychobilly so maybe that's a factor in the music's appeal to skinheads or anybody else who likes to horse around.
<RABreview> As you mentioned in an e-mail conversation we previously had, psychobilly is exploding in the United States right now. What do you credit to this explosion?
<Ryan> I kind of brought this up earlier. Well the fact that European psychobilly bands continue to tour here for sure increases its exposure. And festival events like Spindrift's New York Rumble and the Demon Crew's Wreckers Ball generate a lot of attention focused on psycho. A lot of American psychobilly bands have also been doing it for years. The Ballers, Hellbillys, the Quakes of course, Hayride to Hell, Mr. Badwrench, TR6, and a few others have been instrumental in establishing psychobilly in America at times when people thought they were off their rockers.
<RABreview>I personally would like to see a lot more shows mixed (rockabilly and psycho bands together) in Southern California. Do you think this is possible and would it work? I know that there is an all dayer coming up on June 29th with The Guana Bats that is a bit of everything... what are your thoughts?
<Ryan> I personally would like to see that too. Guana Batz actually do kind of tread that line between rockabilly and what is sometimes considered psychobilly. There's never been a better time to mix it up like that than now. However, I have seen the mixed-show-idea bomb several times too. I would have trouble counting the number of times I've witnessed the blank stares of rockabilly onlookers during a Ballers' performance. To their credit, they can't seem to look away but they just don't know what to think or do. They came to see Be-Bopper and the Jitterbugs and they're getting songs like "Grease Up that Pig" and "On Top of a Hooker". But seriously, I do see more tolerance and even appreciation at mixed shows these days. It's all about the kids. The kids are always searching for something new and exciting as the older folks tend to settle in with what they know.
<RABreview>Well that pretty much concludes this interview. I'd like to thank Ryan & HairBall8 Records for the time to do this interview, and their dedication to keeping the rock n roll spirit alive! Any last words, shout outs, or plugs?
<Ryan> Good questions. Thanks for the interest.