Home Page

The Band Schedule The CD Photos Email List Contact Us
The CD: Town and Country
Country Music People
"Thoroughly Modern Hillbilly"
Country Music People
June 1999
Duncan Warwick chats to Paul Kovac of Hillbilly IDOL

On the liner notes of Hillbilly IDOL's debut album, "Town and Country", the band's electric guitarist and vocalist Dave Huddleston describes the release as "country music from the hearts and dreams of city slickers...think of it as a moonshine martini, shaken not stirred." Which nicely sums up the band's vision of a sound that is rooted in the past yet freely embraces the next millennium.

The other "city slickers" in question are all seasoned musicians : steel guitarist/ vocalist Al Moss, bass player Bill Watson, drummer Scott Flowers and sole country boy ( he still lives on his family's farm ) Paul Kovac who supplies guitar, mandolin, and vocals.

Sitting down with Kovac, following the band's showcase gig at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, one is immediately struck by the eloquence, professionalism and determination of the man as he explains the roots of Hillbilly IDOL and how the band came together in the distinctly un-billy setting of Cleveland, Ohio.

"We started in '91 as an outlet for various musicians to play the kind of music we wanted to play. I really love the Louvin Brothers so I started exposing Dave (Huddleston ) to all these Louvin songs. He says, 'Well, that sounds like the Everly Brothers', and he played me all these Everly Brothers.

"We began singing duets together and that started the whole thing. Then we started to work in some other kind of cool George Jones and to sift through the wealth of country music that was really going on during the rock n' roll years, '57, early '60s. Then kind of broadened it out by going into the '60s when some of these country guys, to get a hit record, would do almost anything."

"This was our outlet to do it. We played once a month, or once every other month and it slowly started to become more important to every body, to where we ditched our other bands and made Hillbilly IDOL the first priority. It got to where we were gigging more and we started thinking, we've got some of our own song ideas and they fall right into this area.

"We wrote an album's worth of stuff and recorded it last winter ('97-'98 ) sent it out for review and in mid-summer, released it to radio in October, and it entered the Gavin Americana chart in the middle of December and it got to be #21, which is pretty good."

Hillbilly IDOL's original material on "Town and Country" comes from the pens of Kovac, Huddleston and Moss and reflects the diversity of their respective backgrounds. "I was in a bluegrass band," states Kovac. "Dave was in a Beatles cover band, an extremely good one. He learned about Ray Charles through the Beatles, he learned about Buck Owens through the Beatles.

"Being the historian type of guy he is, he went back and researched and listened to Buck Owens. He learned his first songs by being a Beatle freak. He would sing the Paul parts and play the George parts. He takes whatever he does pretty seriously. His guitar playing, it's what I like about it, comes from a different place. He knows what the country emotion is about, but he comes from a different place."

"Al's take on things, he's been a roots player but he's more of a contemporary musician. Bill the bass player and Scotty the drummer, they're well steeped in roots. Bill, he's not one of these guys that use the bass as a comedy instrument, slaps it and spins it around. He makes the music interesting in a way that's not right in your face. He knows what he's going to play but it's always a constant surprise because he just switches notes in the places good musicians do with a contemporary sound while remaining true to a rootsy tradition."

Although their overall sound is steeped in tradition, Hillbilly IDOL are keen to retain their overall identity and avoid falling into the retro trap that affects some artists.

"We don't live in the past," declares Kovac. We're not trying to not accept all the things that have gone on in our musical lives, but who's to say you can't love old Buck Owens records in 1999? From the standpoint of playing them or writing songs in a vein like that, music is music, it shouldn't fall into genres and time warps. We like the old stuff but we're modern musicians.

"The whole reason I like singing with Dave and Al is because they have unique voices. So rather than try to say 'now we're going to sound like George Jones because we're doing a George Jones song, we're going to sound like who we sound like, and the more we work at that, the more we'll have a sound of our own."

"It's not to say you can't do a little Buck Owens inflection in your voice, or a little George Jones, because he was a stylist, but there's no future in trying to sound like George Jones. There's only one and he's still around, God bless him. We're trying to be honest musicians, honest to ourselves."

Not only are Hillbilly IDOL true to themselves musically, but their onstage image portrays them as regular Joes, devoid of flashy suits and the retro styling one might expect for a band that sounds the way they do.

Kovac says, "I think there's a certain amount of respect that your audience is due from a standpoint of how a band looks. As far as having outfits that represent a vintage or an era, we talk once in a while about it, but we never really say, 'Let's wear gold lame' jackets because ultimately this band wants to present its music.

"If you show up with Manuel jackets or Nudie suits, then people are going to have a certain expectation from you to be a certain thing, and I hate to put that thought into somebody's head."

"Town and Country" ably represents the many sides of Hillbilly IDOL, demonstrating the band's lush harmonies and ear for a catchy tune as they work their way through shuffles, stone country and bluegrass inspired numbers more deftly than most. Yet, having witnessed the band live, it turns up short of doing them justice.

Kovac admits with a laugh, "It's like two different things. In a way, I guess it's good that we didn't go into the studio and make a record that's so good that we can't live up to it! We took an approach in the studio to say, 'Let's present these songs and leave the really hot licks out of it and make the music support the songs and singing.

"Live is a different story. You play a little harder, there's a spirit that it's very hard to get in a studio. That's why people make live albums. The studio record is a little more methodical, not as high energy. I have to say the record that came out is not the record that we thought we were going to make. Things take on lives of their own."

Not only was "Town and Country" self financed, it has also been self-marketed and promoted. Although it's difficult for so-called "alt-country" artists to find suitable exposure for their music, Kovac remains optimistic.

"The thing that keeps bands like this going is you find radio stations in nearly every market that will play your record. They're small, not big commercial stations. You have, like, the underground, and the word really spreads through the underground. It's refreshing in a way because it's nice to find out that there are people all over the country that own your record.

"That little network is what this kind of music has. In a way, I would rather be the underdog working at getting a really honest kind of music out to people and see if people get it. Some will and some won't, but I wouldn't want it to change or become a fad where it's going to die at some point."

The DIY methods of Hillbilly IDOL are to be admired. These guys know where they're at and have soaked up their respective influences to create a unique brand of 21st century downhomieness. The music does speak for itself.

Site designed and developed by WRIS.