Buffalo, NY might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of hotbeds of American blues music. Robert Johnson never lived there, nor does the Mississippi River pass through its city limits. However, this hasn’t stopped a trio of twenty-first century bluesmen, known collectively as The Heavenly Chillbillies, from forging their own unique spin on the time-tested genre. Aside/Beside recently caught up with Chillbilles frontman Gabrial Mayer (known affectionately as Gabe) to discuss all things blues, Buffalo, and believe it or not, hot sauce.
1) It is evident from your live show that the blues and early rock ‘n’ roll are huge influences on the Heavenly Chillbillies sound. How did the three members of the band come to agree on this as the sound for the band, and do you find that there are any limitations associated with playing within the confines of this genre at a time when electronic dance-oriented music appears to be the prevailing norm, at least in the mainstream?
When I replaced the original guitar player in the band I was actually pretty stubborn about playing only blues music… But over time early and mike opened my eyes to playing a broader spectrum of music…rock-a-billy, country, straight rock, even some bluegrass. Not only do I really enjoy these other styles now but our original sound has become a fusion of all of these styles which lends to being much more accessible to the audience. We constantly hear things like ‘I don’t usually like blues bands…but you guys are great’. This combined with a lot of fun and universal themes lends itself to a broad appeal.
2) Since forming as a band in 2008, the Chillbillies have toured Buffalo, NY and the surrounding area quite extensively. Now that you’ve taken possession of the Jambulance (i.e. ambulance turned tour van), do you have your sites set on taking the Chillbillies live experience elsewhere in the U.S., or perhaps even into Canada?
We absolutely plan on touring as far away from home as people will have us. This is our retirement plan. We have recently signed a management/booking deal with Greg Jackson the chief editor of Upstate Live magazine. He is currently helping us develop our press package and other things so we can start to do some more extensive traveling.
3) Head Stone Heat recently released, of all things, a hot sauce in your honour! How did BHT Chillbilly Sauce come into existence, and were the members of the band fans of Head Stone Heat product prior to the release of your sauce?
Our hot sauce is still in development…we had a preliminary batch a few months back and it was pretty fantastic. Headstone Heat is owned by a friend and fan of ours here in buffalo (Valerie Meli). She believes in us and we believe in her product…so it’s a mutually beneficial and satisfying arrangement. The details of the inception are fuzzy…but it involved Jameson shots…several of them. Buffalo has a very strong support system of local business and artists…if one person does well they should bring as many others with them for the ride as possible!
4) I gather that there is a full-length recording in the works at the moment. How was the experience of trying to capture the energy of the Chilbillies live show in the studio, and when do you anticipate the album being released? Have any independent labels shown any interest in releasing the LP, or do you plan on self-releasing the album upon completion?
The finishing touches are being put on our first full length release as we speak. So far the working title is, appropriately, ‘Long Time Coming’. We should have it in our hands in the next few weeks and have it officially released by the end of this year. We haven’t really given too much thought to a record label…everything is so DIY now that we don’t see a lot of value in taking on a label right now. We’re probably going to keep in simple and launch it via BandCamp.com…with a Creative Commons License. At our level we don’t think that there’s gonna be much money selling CDs…the money will come from live shows and other merch. The whole process of making the record was really fast and strange…we did all of the tracking on two days due to a personal tradgedy. We barely remember recording most of it…so hearing the final result will be as much a surprise to us as it will to you guys.
5) Sharing a bill with Tab Benoit and Carl LeBlanc has been a huge accomplishment for the Chillbillies. What other artists or groups have been most memorable to play with over the last three years? What other Buffalo-area bands do you feel the closest musical kinship or friendship with?
Playing with Tab was definitely a great show for us. He was a personal idol of mine both from his playing and his environmental activism…so it was pretty special to share the stage with him for a few songs. In the local scene with have a few bands that we are kindred spirits with: Big Sauce Trio, Ten Cent Howl, and The Poor Boys. Great groups of guys who just want to play their asses off and have a good time doing it.
6) What does the rest of 2011 hold for the Heavenly Chillbillies? Are there any upcoming shows on the horizon that you care to divulge?
After a pretty busy summer we are slowing down a little bit to get the record done, and integrate Greg Jackson in to our family so we can be ready to fry some bigger fish next summer. Greg has a lot of festivals and shows planned for us and is going to help us get on..and hopefully stay on the road. Again…for us this is the 401k and the Social Security…if you play music…you don’t retire…you just fall over one day