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"When it originally crossed my mind," Berg says, "I was kinda thinking about recording--since Chris has a studio--just recording some covers and stuff, just for the hell of it. And then it kinda went from there. You know, thinking, well, if we're gonna record stuff, why record covers? Let's make some new songs."
"We had a whole bunch of songs that we'd written that we thought, well, we could put this on our next studio record, but nah, it might not go with the rest of this stuff," Hillyer adds. "Some songs that I've written that are on there that I wrote four or five years ago, that I played in different bands or something like that, I said, 'You know what, I always thought when I wrote it that it would be better as a country song.' It was the kind of thing where there were also some songs that we thought, OK, if we don't record this stuff this way, we're probably not gonna record it. They're good songs. They'd just fit better on something like this. Quite honestly, I think we're more pleased with the end result than we expected to be."
They had limited time as well, since their schedule keeps them so busy. It's a Tuesday evening as they sit in the back room of Hillyer's house, one of the few open dates on their calendar. Alford says he's not happy if Eleven Hundred Springs isn't booked Thursday through Saturday, at least, and most of the time, he gets his wish and then some. The group has worked out a touring circuit around Texas that doesn't just include the usual stops like Austin, Houston and San Antonio. They play everywhere, even weddings; the group was the house band at B.J. Thomas' youngest daughter's nuptials. A gig's a gig.
It's a circuit that's found them sharing stages with everyone from Willie Nelson to Reverend Horton Heat, as well as frat-boy fave Pat Green. "The first time we ever played with that dude was right when we started," Hillyer remembers. "And we were going, 'Man, this isn't going to work. They aren't going to like us.' But they know a good show when they see it. Some of them are cool, and some of them are not, you know what I mean? There's so much of that sort-of fraternity mentality that just doesn't go with what we do at all. But, at the same time, I couldn't tell you how many people that actually have come up to us and said, 'Oh, yeah, I saw you open for Pat Green. I went and got the CD the other day.' So every time you sit there and think, 'We just don't match up with all that,' then somebody will come along and say something like that."
"It seems the Pat Green audience, to me, is shifting, too," Claridy adds. "It's like they're not the same as they were two years ago. It was really college back then. I mean, he gets more airplay on bigger stations, so you get a more diverse crowd than you ever have."
When the audience is less diverse, that's when fun really starts. At the smaller clubs in, say, San Angelo for instance. That's when audience members get onstage without being asked, or jump up on a table and dance, occasionally breaking the no shoes-no shirt-no service rule. Just bringing up the sights they've seen in less-traveled corners of Texas starts a 15-minute discussion where words barely squeeze in between laughs.
"You guys just started yelling at that girl that got up onstage, man," Hillyer says, laughing, referring to their most recent gig in San Angelo. "Yelling at her, man."
"You know how sometimes, at some of the smaller bars, people get up onstage to ask for something?" Alford explains. "We opened up for Pat Green, and within four or five songs of the set it seemed like, she started to walk up the steps, and I was like, 'Get the hell out!' And Steve turns around and yells at her, too."
"Yelling at her, man, like right in her face," Hillyer adds.
"If you don't yell at 'em, man, they don't get off," Alford continues. "They go, 'Huh?' 'Hey, can you move?' 'What?' And then they come closer to understand you."
"She was right there," Hillyer says. "It's not like you were yelling at her five feet away. I mean, she was right in Steve's face, and he's just yelling at her face, you know? And she's just standing there like she doesn't speak English."
"Did she?" Wynne asks.
"She spoke wino," Berg says, nailing the punch line.
Berg and the rest of the band will have to get comfortable speaking wino, because they don't seem to be taking any time off from the road anytime soon. There's always a new record to promote, new songs to play, another gig somewhere. If they don't look like the kind of country band you expect, that's fine. And if they don't sound like it either, that's fine, too. As long as they sound like Eleven Hundred Springs, Hillyer and the band are happy.