Devil in the Details
"If you see us again, we will definitely be doing it for the money," announced Tom Reardon, bass player and vocalist for Hillbilly Devilspeak, in a recent press release. After more than 11 years of playing shows, Reardon's killing off the band that's been his primary artistic endeavor, at least as far as we here in the 'Nix are concerned.
"Basically there's no animosity when it comes to the ending of the band," he tells me recently over several pints of beer. "I have yet to say the band is done; I just don't want to play Phoenix any more -- unless people pay us a lot of money. If anybody calls from now on, I'm going to tell them, I need a thousand dollars just to have a conversation. Maybe somebody will pay, but probably not. There's a sucker born every minute."
Perhaps, but Hillbilly Devilspeak's never been a band that pulls dollars, and I don't see that changing in the future.
Hillbilly Devilspeak has been a fixture of the punk scene since I moved here a decade ago, churning out noisy, contrary punk rock akin to bands like the Jesus Lizard and the Butthole Surfers. Hillbilly's not a flavor of this millennium -- the band is from an era when weirdness was more hip than rage or moping. So, with the current lineup of drummer Claire Griese and guitarists Ray Love and Steve Landos, as well as former Hillbilly members Shane O'Cell (drums) and Casey Brooks (guitar), Reardon's putting the project to bed with a three-set final performance at Hollywood Alley on Saturday, October 15.
The show's three sets will span the three self-released records Hillbilly Devilspeak dropped over the years: 1998's Colorized, 2001's Kiss the Brown Star, and last year's Lies . . . As Told by the White Man. Reardon, who's nearing 36 years old, is far from retiring, though. He's also playing bass in two bands that are better-known and more popular locally than Hillbilly Devilspeak -- Northside Kings and Pinky Tuscadero's White Knuckle Ass Fuck.
Actually, Hillbilly Devilspeak has always had a reputation for turning people off, a talent Reardon not only shared with his heroes like the Butthole Surfers, but one he also encouraged. "I always told people all along I'd rather people felt something than sat there and went, 'Oh, another band, great.' Too many bands aren't memorable. If somebody flips me off and walks out the door, that's all right. I want people to feel something when they experience my art. I've always tried with Hillbilly to write socially conscious lyrics, and have it say something."
Take, for instance, Hillbilly's song "Courtney" from the Brown Star album, where Reardon sings, "I feel sorry for Frances Bean/She killed her daddy, she killed Kurt Cobain." Or, from the same record, "Paparazzi Smashi," where he declares "Prince Charles is the Antichrist," and asserts, "He shut her up, fucked her good, in a Mercedes, nobody understood," about the Princess of Wales' death.
Moral outrage seems to come naturally to Reardon, whose day job is educating school kids, mostly teenagers, about rape prevention and sexual harassment. He works in classrooms doing workshops to educate kids about what healthy relationships are, versus abusive relationships. He doesn't use his musicianship to establish credibility with the kids, though. "When I go in the classroom, I don't want to be the dude from the band," he told me. "They would want to ask me music questions -- that's not what I'm there for."
And he probably wouldn't want to explain his lyrics about Farrah Fawcett's nipples being the hardest-working nipples in show business.
On the most recent Hillbilly Devilspeak record, Lies . . . As Told by the White Man, Reardon wrote in the liner notes, "In the end, if this is the last Hillbilly Devilspeak record, or the third, or the best, whatever it is, it has been an amazing ride." That statement's proved prophetic, though honestly Hillbilly could have called it quits a few years ago. The band's persistence has been despite the fact that, really, it's a throwback of sorts to a punk-rock legacy that doesn't remain in the minds of the youth who fuel the music scene -- bands like Cows, the Jesus Lizard, and the sort released by record labels like Amphetamine Reptile and Touch & Go, who had their day in the sun in the '90s.
"There's not many bands we could open for at the Marquee that would do us justice with a younger crowd. I think there's younger people who would dig what we do if they were told to pay attention to it," Reardon tells me. "The underground/weirdo/hipster scene has to be more spoon-fed things than the mainstream even. That's my opinion."
And Reardon's opinions are exactly why it's sad to see Hillbilly play its last show in the 'Nix. The band was always uncompromising and abrasive, and never lost its values in a quest for popularity. The best-case scenario is that 50 younger kids who've never heard Hillbilly Devilspeak will show up to the last gig and take away with them some of the magic that made the band incomparable in the Valley.
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