Q: Have you always been country music fans? What are the group's musical influences?
Billy D. (vocals/lead guitarist): Oh man, we are all over the map on influences. I grew up in Florida, and played rock music for the most part, but I did hear a lot of country along the way, thanks to my dad, Bill Sr., who is a long time country-music lover. I was lucky enough to end up in college at Auburn, Alabama. My next door dorm mate was none other than Hoss [guitarist]. Well, Hoss really is encyclopedic in regards to music in general, and really rather knew country and bluegrass music quite well as he had grown up in Georgia. At the same time, he could discuss Motown, English prog rock, and jazz-rock fusion. This was in the late '70s, and for me, those four years in Alabama exposed me to bluegrass, classic country, as well a host of other sounds.
Hoss: Well, one of my older brothers was just a huge Hank Williams fan. Just played him day and night, so I heard Williams practically from birth. I'll never forget going with him to see Your Cheatin' Heart, the '60s biopic about Williams starring George Hamilton IV, at our local small town movie theater, and I mean I was just a lad at the time. I think we saw it at least twice while it was in town. So his songs are a big influence on me, and from a very early age. My father loved Southern Gospel music, and every Sunday morning he'd watch a TV show called Gospel Music Jubilee. That music has a strong country flavor and typically a percussive, upbeat sound. I'm sure that had a big influence on me also, and certainly my experience is not at all unique because generations of those growing up in the South absorbed that music into their very pores: Elvis Presley immediately comes to mind. Another older brother of mine played a lot of Charlie Pride's early albums, and I just love his voice and vocal phrasing, love that music. And all this at a very early age.
B.W. Jackson (vocalist/guitarist): No. I’d say that Zane (drummer) and I would fit right into a verse of the Bob McDill/Alan Jackson song “Gone Country.” Zane started young, in a musical family and was banging out KISS and AC/DC tunes on her drum kit as a second grader, with her older brothers on guitar and keyboard on weekends and after school, but at the same time was deep into traditional music education as a percussionist during the day and for summer camps.
Zane: Banging so hard, we even put a crack in the living room ceiling!
Jackson: [Laughs] So, Zane’s influences are set in rock & roll but with a strong foundation and training in classical music. On the other hand, growing up I got most of my music from the television, all the variety shows and then eventually MTV, which I watched religiously through high school. I played rock and pop songs in various garage bands on my way to Run 8 Rider. But I had an epiphany in regard to country music in 2006 when I finally got to see Walk the Line. I have since developed a love affair with the “realness” of country music and with the story telling that pulls you into a song. I have become a huge fan of Johnny Cash, Blake Shelton, the Dixie Chicks, Jeff Bridges, and Keith Urban, who really reminds me of my '80s rock roots. Zane came on board when she finally got to see some of these acts perform live, and she realized that the drumming isn’t that far removed from the KISS classics. So, here we are, and born again, Hallelujah!
Billy D: Later in the '80s and '90s, I made major forays into all kinds of stuff, including jazz and electric chamber rock. I was a huge fan of Steve Howe, the guitarist of the seminal progressive rock band, Yes; Steve obviously studies country guitar, and you can hear it throughout his catalog. Along the way, Nikky Beach [keyboardist], Hoss, and I really became huge fans of Daniel Lanois' original music, and we totally dug Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, and Cash. I heard these artist's music described as Cosmic American Music," which I think is a beautiful and perfect term for what they were doing.
Beach: I come from a more rock background, going back to The Beatles and '60s and '70s rock as well as post-punk and grunge. I listened a lot to Soundgarden, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, and that brand of rock.
Billy D.: So Run 8 Rider's influences are fairly diverse, and that is probably reflected in the eclecticism of the album, Tenderfoot.
Beach: I think a common thread for all of us is an early and constant interest in music. If you start listening at age six you can end up with a pretty long and potentially varied list of influences.
Q: The band's debut album, Tenderfoot, runs wild with its choice of stylistic makeovers, not just Oasis but digging into the '80s as well with Devo, George Michael, and even Transvision Vamp. Who decided what tracks to cover?
Billy D.: That was a fun process. The band developed a really scientific method of picking the songs. We submitted over 100 songs, and we were looking for material that generally had a good story and lyric, which we felt were quintessential characteristics for solid country music. We then rated the tunes from 0 to 10, perfect being a 10." So we had this spreadsheet floating around with all these ratings and comments. In the end we took the six highest scoring songs, and those are the covers on the albums. We considered everything we thought might work, and the list became quite diverse.
Hoss: It was a very anal-retentive process! Can you tell we have a few scientific types in the band? [Laughs]
Jackson: It was definitely a group effort. Very democratic and decidedly geeky stuff, but it let the cream rise to the top and before you know it we are doing “Whip It” with a steel guitar and a banjo! I’m so glad we did it that way because I got exposed to songs I otherwise might not have gotten to hear, let alone get to cover in a recording.