Back in the mid '80s, you couldn't find a more fun experience than catching Southern Culture on the Skids. Rick Miller's psychobilly/surf rock creation could turn even the most modest of crowds into a seething, food throwing collection of fools that seemed to feed on the music's trailer park charm. Nearly thirty years after the fact, these guys just keep on rolling.
From outside a movie theater in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and in anticipation of tonight's show at the Sons of Hermann Hall, Miller spoke with DC9 about his love of Zombies and Doug Sahm and how he's still waiting for a gold record to come in the mail.
Isn't the band is about to celebrate its thirty year anniversary?
Yes, I think that is correct. We started in October of 1983. It will be our anniversary soon, but we're not there yet.
Could you ever conceive of the band staying together so long?
Are you kidding? We were doing it just to get some beer and meet chicks. We wanted to have a good time while we were all in school. And then, all of a sudden, we started to make a little money. I had no responsibilities so we kind of stuck with it. It was funny that the first line up, we kind of went our own ways after graduation. Mary [Huff] joined in 1987. And Dave [Hartman] joined in '88. They had played in bands together in Roanoke. We kind of went into the woods and reemerged as a three piece that you see today.
If when you started, it was all about drinking beer and meeting chicks, what's changed today?
Not much, but there is definitely less beer. People asked me what the band's biggest achievement was. I say that it was the day we quit our day jobs back in 1991. I still think of that s as the greatest day, the highpoint of my career. It was a good feeling back then. We just couldn't stay on the road and make the money we needed to if we kept our day jobs. We were booking ourselves. We reinvested all of the money we made touring back into the band. We ran it like a business and I think that's part of the reason we've been able to stick it out as long as we have. Part of it is art, the fun part, but it is also a business. That might not be as much fun, but it is necessary.
Kind of ironic that these days, the only way for a band to make money is to tour.
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And that's tough as you get older, because you want to spend time with your family. But instead of being able to fall back on the catalogue, you got to get out there and beat the bushes. And it keeps getting more and more competitive. Everybody seems to be hitting the road, all bands, all shapes and sizes. The odd thing to me is that the venues, a lot of them are going under. We are booking into October now and we've never had to book that far in advance.
You playing Sons of Hermann Hall and that's been here 100 years. So, at least we have one club that is hanging around.
We love Hermann Hall. We love Deep Ellum and that whole scene is an example of what I am talking about. It seems that all the clubs just shut down. I know Trees reopened. There was a time when we would play Dallas and everything was great and then things seem to go flat. It would look like a ghost town down there. We've always enjoyed playing there, but there was a time when it would be deserted on a Saturday night. Now, Sons of Hermann Hall, that place deserves to be there for another hundred years. There is so much history there. I like going there and wandering around. The promoter there, Mike Snider, he knows so much about Texas music. I love talking with him about Doug Sahm.
Are you a huge fan of Sahm's music?
I have everything he's ever done from his Sir Douglas Quintet all the way to the Texas Tornadoes and his solo stuff. I love that song "Nitty Gritty."
In 1998, you put out the album Zombiefied. With the success of the show The Walking Dead and the upcoming film World War Z, I guess it's safe to ask will zombies ever die.
Of course not, that's why they are zombies. I don't know what it is about zombies. It's so easy to feel like a zombie myself. Maybe people kind of relate to how the zombies kind of meander around with a distant look in their eyes. Vampires seem to come and go, but zombies never go away. I love George Romero's zombie movies. Now, the zombies are getting faster and faster.
Your band spent some time on Geffen Records. Was that a bad experience?
We had a relatively good relationship with them. David Geffen was kind of gone by the time we came along. The only reason we got signed to Geffen was that they had signed Sonic Youth and they had brought a guy to do publicity. His name was Ray Farrell and he was a big fan of ours. He convinced the label to take a chance on us and get us signed. A lot of the people at Geffen were really nice to us. A few people on the top floors never understood us. Both of our records on Geffen recouped and we still get royalty checks to this day.
Yes, Dirt Track Date has sold a quarter of a million copies.
I know. I keep hoping that I will get a gold record in the mail. I think the success surprised the label more than it did us. We just kept on working and working. We didn't keep track of the sales. I remember when we sold the first hundred thousand, we were on a twelve week tour. Ray came out to a show and said that we had sold a hundred-thousand records and he was going to take us to dinner. It was like a bad episode of the Beverly Hillbillies. We had a good relationship with Geffen and we could have resigned with them, but things started to decline after the release of Plastic Seat Sweat. They started to demand a lot of things. They wanted to tell us who we could tour with. They wanted input on everything and we just said no. I felt like giving up our freedom to make our own decisions would be the end of the band.
It's been a couple of years since the last album, The Kudzu Ranch. Do you have something new in the works?
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Yes, we've been working on getting our back catalogue back together. We've had to rerecord a few records just so that we could get all the publishing, so it doesn't go to these label guys; Geffen being one of those. Now, we are working on new material. I think we are going to get a label to put out our next record. We've done two on our own and I have to say that I've learned a lot and I have a lot more respect for the people in the record industry. It's too much work and it's the wrong side of the brain. I had a hard time balancing the creative things with the business things.
Southern Culture on the Skids performs with Boys Named Sue tonight, March 28, at Sons of Hermann Hall.