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The Reverend Horton Heat Return to Psychobilly

Road warriors prep first album in four years

Jim Heath, a.k.a. Reverend Horton Heat, performs in New Orleans.
Erika Goldring/Getty Images
December 13, 2013 9:30 AM ET

To make Rev, the Reverend Horton Heat's first studio album in four years, the band forced itself to redo songs as many as five times in a row. But that wasn't because the guys in the veteran rockabilly trio are exacting perfectionists. It was because other musicians were at the Heat's Dallas rehearsal studio at the same time.

Photos: Rockabilly Around the Clock

"We'd have to show up early in the morning and start rocking out before anybody else came in there. We'd really be getting it, and all of a sudden, boom! boom! boom!' The guy next door's giving drum lessons," says Jim Heath, the band's singer and guitarist. "It was hard, but magical."

Rev, due January 21st, is a throwback to old-school, psychobilly-style Horton Heat, after 2009's Laughin' & Cryin' with the Rev. Horton Heat was more traditional country. "We wanted to get back to rockin' on this thing, and that's why we really wanted to stack the faster songs on the beginning, and really get it all heated up," Heath says.

The new album begins with a fast instrumental, "Victory Lap," which songwriter Heath envisioned as "a NASCAR going around the track," according to his elaborate liner notes. After that come three fast rockers in a row – "Smell of Gasoline," about a girl he knew whose brother was always working on his car; "Never Gonna Stop It," built on a Chuck Berry riff and inspired by Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It"; and a surf instrumental, "Zombie Dumb," which approximates undead movement in old movies.

The Heat, including bassist Jim "Jimbo" Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla, don't lessen the volume until the end, with a couple of loping, Johnny Cash-style honky-tonkers as well as "Longest Gonest Man," a song Heath wrote in 1986. The sped-up country anthem was a mainstay of the Heat's early sets and landed on a demo tape; through a mutual radio-station contact, it made its way to the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten. When the Reverend opened for the Pistols during a 2003 tour, Rotten unexpectedly told Heath: "I got your first demo tape, I think." Says Heath: "It's basically a straight-ahead rockabilly thing, and that's kind of indicative of what we were back in the beginning."

Formed in 1985 as a sort of punked-up Stray Cats with more gonzo songwriting, the Heat rode Heath's fast rockabilly guitar style and crazy-eyed charisma to cult fame on the indie-rock theater circuit. The band's commercial peak was in the early Nineties, when "Wiggle Stick" landed on MTV's Beavis and Butt-head, but the Rev's commercial strength was in relentless touring. A few times, the Heat played 275 shows per year.

"Man, there was definitely some alcohol involved," Heath recalls. "One summer in particular, we had to have a band meeting. We had to give up tequila. Because it was impossible to keep going that strong. It was a fun time."

In those days, the Reverend's membership were in their early 20s and had yet to have steady girlfriends or families. (Although Heath was just 22 when he had a daughter, forcing him to give up college and pursue music full-time.) But the band maintains its youthful attitude: the new video for "Let Me Teach You How to Eat" is filled with tattooed models cooking up hot dogs and eating strawberries and various cuts of meat as sensually as they can. Heath and his two bandmates appear, gray-haired, in performance clips.

"Those years actually did have an effect on my long-term health that are just now hitting me," he says. "No, no – I feel fine. I'm just kidding. But passing out and puking in the bushes is not that good of a thing for our long-term health moving forward."

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