The Highballers
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The Highballers

Washington, Iowa, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2014

Washington, Iowa, United States
Established on Jan, 2014
Band Americana Rock

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"The Highballers – “Soft Music and Hard Liquor”"

February 14, 2013 - By Trigger // Reviews

Just because something is real country, doesn’t mean it is real good. This came into sharp focus for Saving Country Music in the aftermath of Blake Shelton’s “Old Farts and Jackasses” comments when the SCM headquarters got smattered by a carpet bombing of “real” country album submissions looking for coverage. The problem is steel guitar, fiddle, and waltz beats can’t make up for conspicuous clichè. Making unimaginative “classic” country albums that rely on the same old tired modes and worn out rhymes about whiskey shots and smokey old bars is not the way to battle Blake Shelton and his ilk, it fuels their flames.

Furthermore, a good handful of the albums in the post-Blake carpet bombing were beset with bad timing issues. Lo-fi recordings or live offerings are one thing, but when you sit down to make a slick studio album, you better damn well pull it off, because nothing speedbumps a song like when the rhythm is out of whack, wobbling back and forth like your 9-year-old’s front tire on the first cruise without training wheels.

This is one of the issues plaguing The Highballers offering Soft Music and Hard Liquor, but where they break from the herd is with their songs and arrangements. A good song can drown all other concerns, and The Highballers deliver one after another on this somewhat quirky but really enjoyable anf fun album. Originating from the unlikely country music locale of Washington DC, The Higballers revive the classic country rock feel in songs that display wit, humor, and at times, heartfelt storytelling, backed by some great country licks and adept composition.

The super fun song “Doing Time In Pennsylvania” sends you back to the heart of Byrds-era California country rock with all the great little nuances that made Monkees tunes so damn infectious without any of the inauthentic baggage. “A Cowgirl Who Understands” is where Highballers singer and songwriter Kendall Jackson first exposes his funny bone, doing justice to the long lineage of cross-dressing country songs over the years. The entirety of Soft Music and Hard Liquor is laden with luscious harmony vocals, but on “Live To Let You Down” vocalist Victoria Patchen is really allowed to spread her wings and offers a super-duper performance that lets you feel the soul of the story and announces her as a vocal powerhouse.

As stereotype as “I Didn’t Mean To Get Drunk” and “I Take Pride In My Drinkin’” might look on paper, they jump off this record as songs that immediately suck you in. “Virginia” is the album’s little hidden gem, with superbly-arranged harmonies, and where lead guitarist Sean Lally–who plays some really mean licks on this album and has a great ear for the songs–just steps back and strums to really bring out the melodic nature of the song. “The Price You Pay” evokes the lonesome space of a classic Western, again driven by really good vocal harmonies and some of the best songwriting on the album.

This is not what I would call a “slick” project. The little rhythm gremlins here and there are at times noticeable to the common ear, but I really hope that doesn’t keep people from enjoying this album and its big honking badass stable of thoroughbred country songs.

Think that good, classic country music can’t originate from inside the Beltway? Well listen to The Highballers’ Soft Music and Hard Liquor and prove yourself wrong. - Saving Country Music


"Rising Acts: The Highballers"

In this sea of straight-laced politicos that is Washington D.C., there are those who row madly and melodically against the current. They aren’t afraid to turn up the volume and rock-country-style. They dare to let their suits shine and their guitars sparkle. Individually, they are four gentlemen and a lady (comprised of vocalist Victoria Patchen, guitarist Kendall Jackson and Sean Lally, drummer Drake Sorey, and bassist Michael Barrientos). Together, they are the Americana/alt-country band the Highballers.

Having just celebrated the release of their LP Soft Music and Hard Liquor with a sold-out IOTA crowd this past January, the Highballers will be taking the stage this Friday at Hard Rock Cafe. After that, it’s wheels up for a full tour in support of the new album and to build anticipation for the next LP which has already begun to take shape.

The entire band took some time to answer DMD’s questions about how they’d classify their sound, why the idea of “country” music is such a complicated one, and the secrets behind their fancy stage attire, among other things.



D.C. Music Download: How good (or bad) is life in the nation’s capital for an Americana/alt-country outfit like yourselves?

Sean Lally: It’s been improving. Mostly we just need to meet more audiences. We can usually win them over-the music speaks for itself. I’ve been in 50 bands, more or less. Some lasted a decade and toured the country. Some lasted only half a practice. This is the one I’m most proud of, on all fronts.

Michael Barrientos: D.C. actually has a bit of country roots with Emmylou Harris, one of our favorites, who has ties to the area. But it did take a while for people to catch on to us. They’d see “country” and automatically think we were going to come out with big hats and play line dance music. People are always surprised, sometimes even shocked, when they see us live. It’s always fun blowing some hipster’s mind with our rocked-up spin on a Waylon Jennings song or seeing people you’d least expect really get into it.

Kendall Jackson: People in this town do know their twang though. It’s sort of an underground alt-country haven. Think about it. A city filled with overachieving nerds with musical tastes ranging from classical to prog-rock, residing in a town that made the telecaster famous. It’s almost a rite of passage to embrace roots music when you move here, and if you’re from here you already know. Yep, D.C. is a telecaster town. The real problem, as with any town, is convincing people it’s worth their time to venture out at night to see live music.



DMD: In a perfect world (free of musical prejudice), would you call your music straight-up “country”?

MB: Our band has always been hard for people to classify. I remember a show early on where a woman from Nashville came up after our first set and said, “You guys aren’t country. You’re rock, you’re punk, you’re Americana, but you’re not country!” But she still liked us. We can’t really call ourselves country anymore because people associate it with the Top 40 stuff on the radio that I personally can’t bear to listen to. My dad was a truck driver and I grew up with stuff like Johnny Horton, Hank Williams, and Conway Twitty. My idea of country music comes from folks like Buck Owens and Gram Parsons. Have you ever listened to Buck Owens and the Buckaroos Live at Carnegie Hall Live album? It’s pretty badass.

SL: I see it as American music, in general. Country is a big tent. The music that is popular country today is not what we do; it bears more resemblance to pop music and in some cases pop-rock or lite metal. It hits you over the head more, whereas traditional country a la the ‘60s and ‘70s (which is closer to how I’d characterize us) requires more nuanced listening.



DMD: So how would you explain the backlash that the “country” label sometimes triggers? What is it about country music that inspires such heated, polarized passions?

Drake Sorey: Early country tended to be screechy and basic, newer country tends to be soft, mushy, and bland, and sounds like straight pop. I think if more people knew the history of early rockin’ country music, they would appreciate it.

KJ: For lovers of country music, it’s a deeply personal thing. The songs and melodies ease into the mind like sixty-year-old Kentucky bourbon. One identifies with the lyrics and the story becomes something of an old friend. When naysayers poke fun, calling country “hillbilly” or “backwoods,” there is a backlash, a you-don’t-know-me reaction, because fans of the music feel as though their opinions and morals are being attacked. Fortunately, we bridge the divide between hipster and hillbilly with our own brand of country music. We sing about characters with questionable (or zero) morals, and celebrate the alcohol-induced existence we would all likely be living, if not for jobs, family, and the law getting in the way.



DMD: What would you say to skeptics to convince them to - D.C. Music Download


"The Highballers: “Soft Music And Hard Liquor” (2013) CD Review"

In “Doing Time In Pennsylvania,” Kendall Jackson sings, “I was made for raising hell.” That’s a good indication of the kind of straight-forward, foot-stomping country rock you’ll find on Soft Music And Hard Liquor, the first album by The Highballers. This is exactly the band you hope to stumble upon in some dive bar along the highways in the south. Except these guys are actually based in the nation’s capital.

It’s funny – I don’t often think about there being any music at all in Washington D.C. I think of music as being honest, as a way of communicating truth about the human condition, and so on. And politicians are the opposite of music. It seems like they wouldn’t appreciate a good rhythm or lyric, and it’s hard to imagine those sad bastards cutting it loose on the dance floor, or even giving an honest smile. So I’m glad to learn there is some country in the country’s capital. Maybe there’s hope after all.

Though I suppose even politicians can relate to lyrics like, “It’s bound to get ugly/It’s bound to get loud/Because I take pride in my drinkin’” (as Kendall Jackson warns on one of this album’s tracks).

Not that all these tunes are boot-stomping drinking songs. There are some slower tunes, like the wonderful “Live To Let You Down,” with the lines “How I hoped and I prayed our love would turn around/But I live to let you down.” And there are even some sweeter moments on this album, like the song “Better Man,” an ode to a special woman. Check out these lyrics from that song: “She deserves much better than what I have given her/But still she smiles at me even when I’m wrong/So I sing about her/I can’t live without her/Try to fit her life into the words of a song/She ain’t perfect, but she’d like to be/She cusses like a sailor, wears her emotions on her sleeve/And she makes a better man of me.”

One thing I really appreciate about this band is the presence of both male and female vocals, especially on a song like “Virginia.” Kendall Jackson and Victoria Patchen sound great together. All of the tracks on this album were written by Kendall Jackson (with the exception of "Virginia," which was written by Kendall Jackson and Kimberly Halkett).

Soft Music And Hard Liquor opens with “Juneen,” a really good country rock tune with a nice, steady rhythm. Both male and female vocals tell the story of an interesting relationship, with lines like, “I keep you locked inside my home to keep temptations away/Well, I know one day you will understand all the rules you must obey.” And then: “I think anyone can see that you’re so damn crazy for me.” Though later the song presents a question we all must ask ourselves at times: “How can I have been so damn wrong?” “Juneen” features some nice work on lead guitar by Sean Lally.

There is more good country rock with “Doing Time In Pennsylvania,” a fun tune that has the required elements: fighting, drinking, jail time, and a twisted dash of optimism. “Tomorrow’s another life, lord/But I’m living for today/And the next thirty Sundays/Well, I found a place to stay/And that’s doing time in Pennsylvania.” Certain drinkers will relate to this line: “The whiskey was the only friend that never lied to me.” Yet this is a song to get folks up on the dance floor. I particularly like the way the male and female vocals sound together on the title line, “Doing time in Pennsylvania.”

Everybody loves a bit of cross-dressing, even tough cowboys, as you’ll learn in “A Cowgirl Who Understands.” (Someday I’m going to put together a cross-dressing mix CD, and try to cover the spectrum as far as different professions, different social strata, etc.) The album’s title comes from the opening lines of this song: “Soft music and hard liquor/Short leather skirts and high heeled shit kickers/Little things that help a cowboy look like a girl.” There is, of course, something delightful in a country song about cross-dressing. This is a sort of love song, about a man and his passion for shoes, and is also a song of longing. The song makes a point of indicating that the man in question is straight: “Don’t go looking for a rainbow sticker on this truck/You won’t find one, he ain’t that kind of guy.”

“The Price You Pay” is a very cool country tune about taking someone’s life. “He just whispered, why/I’d have given you all I had/Why do I have to die.” Though “I Didn’t Mean To Get Drunk” feels a bit like more standard country rock fare. That one is not as interesting, but is still a song a drunk country crowd will likely enjoy.

CD Track List

Juneen
Doing Time In Pennsylvania
A Cowgirl Who Understands
Live To Let You Down
The Price You Pay
I Didn’t Mean To Get Drunk
Virginia
She Ain’t No Stranger
Better Man
Close To The Line
I Take Pride In My Drinkin’

Musicians

The Highballers are Kendall Jackson on vocals and guitar, Victoria Patchen on vocals, Sean Lally on lead guitar, Michael Barrientos on bass, and Drake Sorey on drums.

Soft Music And Hard Liquor was released on J - Michael Doherty


"Four Play: Artists That Should Be On Your Radar, Calendar and iPod"

The Highballers
Web: www.highballersmusic.com
Album: Soft Music and Hard Liquor
Show: Saturday, January 12 @ IOTA Club & Café (CD Release)
A pleasant blend of country’s outlaw pop tradition and rockabilly roots highlight the latest album from DC residing band with New Orleans roots, The Highballers. Debut album Soft Music and Hard Liquor’s anachronistic-on-purpose sound is a healing salve for those who perceive corporate country to be anathema to the genre’s best respected and most organic roots. Attempting the synergy of Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn is a solid plan of attack for Kendall Jackson and Victoria Patchen, and in nearing that legendary sound, provide a well-worn and comforting vocal tone that invites the listener to continue listening to the album at every turn. From the Kris Kristofferson feel of album opener “Juneen” to the Creedence Clearwater Revival sound recalling “Virginia” and more raucous rockabilly fare like “I Didn’t Mean to Get Drunk Last Night,” the flexibility of guitarist Sean Lally, bassist Michael Barrientos and drummer Drake Sorey to create modern sounds within classic ideals is both notable and impressive. -MD
IOTA Club & Cafe: 2832 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; 703-522-8340; www.iotaclubandcafe.com - On Tap Magazine


"The Highballers bring their own brand of country back to Cafe Nola"

By Katie Crowe
News-Post Staff

What: The Highballers
When: 9:30 p.m., Friday, Jan. 11

Where: Cafe Nola, 4 E. Patrick St., Frederick

Tickets: $4

Info: 301-694-6652; www.cafe-nola.com

The Highballers' most recent single was inspired by an overheard statement: "I didn't mean to get drunk last night ... but I did."
"I just thought, That sounds like a country song," guitarist/vocalist Kendall Jackson said in a recent phone interview.

The Washington-based Highballers -- Jackson, Victoria Patchen on vocals, Sean Lally on guitar, Michael Barrientos on bass and Drake Sorey on drums -- do their own version of country, which Jackson describes as "dirty country" -- the type he listened to growing up in New Orleans.

"We lived in a small ranch house that had an intercom system, and my dad would wake us up every morning by cranking up this AM country station through the speaker," Jackson said. "I was just inundated with it ... and I had a bunch of redneck friends who were in love with that music ... Merle Haggard and George Jones."

But that type of music, which Jackson said was pressed into his brain as a child, unfortunately isn't the same country that is mainstream nowadays, he said. "That garbage on the radio today, like Taylor Swift ... I never thought that is what country sounds like," he said.

The Highballers aren't afraid to have a little pop in their music, but they want to tell a story, Jackson said. "We use humor a lot and sing sometimes about ... alcohol abuse," or going to jail. They're not afraid to go to those places, musically.

Jackson formed The Highballers in 2007, but the group just began playing regularly about two years ago, he said. He ran an ad on Craigslist seeking musicians that simply said "dirty country," he said.

"I had a bunch of whacked-out freaks calling me .... and I found a few of the ones that were my favorites," he said, laughing. The majority of the members come from a rock background, Jackson said, and from as far as Los Angeles (Barrientos), Oklahoma City (Sorey) and New England (Patchen).

The Highballers toured the Midwest last summer, playing bars, clubs and music venues. Currently, the group is touring its first full-length album, "Soft Music and Hard Liquor."

Although the album title comes from the opening lyrics to its third track, Jackson said, it is also sort of a tongue-in-cheek thing, "because our music isn't soft, but there's a lot of hard-liquor-infused songs in it."

The Highballers return to Cafe Nola on Friday, and will perform at Iota Club & Cafe in Arlington, Va., on Saturday with Jumpin' Jupiter and Nashville-based Americana artist Lynn Taylor; that show is the official release party for "Soft Music and Hard Liquor." At the Frederick show, The Highballers, dressed in their standard "Rat Pack-era" or '60s attire, as Jackson explained, will play tunes from the new album as well as a few new songs and traditional country covers, from artists like Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.

"It's always been my opinion that if you play country music, you have to give a nod to the last generation," Jackson said.

This summer, the group will tour the East Coast, and hope to sweep through Texas and Louisana in April as well, Jackson said. After that, they plan to get in the studio to record their next LP, which the band has already written about three songs for.

Vocalist Patchen described the songs on "Soft Music and Hard Liquor" as being "the kind of stuff you can just be out and listen to and get into right away. It's just fun, catchy music," she said. "The band doesn't take themselves too seriously."

But she and the band find that audiences relate as much to the band's laid-back attitude as the storytelling in their lyrics.

"There's a lot of different characters that emerge (in the songs)," she said. "People can relate to it -- for example, with 'I Didn't Mean to Get Drunk Last Night,' they might think, Well, I got drunk last night, too!" she added, laughing.

For more information about The Highballers, visit www.highballersmusic.com. - The Frederick News-Post


"The Highballers 'Soft Music And Hard Liquor'- Woodshed"

The title here might easily be reversed here to "hard music and soft liquor". The Highballers have a sound that throws back to the times when the term cow punk was more widely used to describe a hybrid of rock and country played with energy and drive. The band have evolved from their beginning in 2007. Chief song writer and vocalist Kendall Jackson has led the band since then and has a voice honed in honky-tonks and bars to a level of believability and bash. A key factor here is the harmony and unison singing of Victoria Patchen who does a fine job of adding depth to the vocals. Add to that the Telecaster twang attack of guitarist Sean Lally and the robust rhythm bed of Michael Barrientos and Drake Sorey. All show a love for country music as well as for elements of punk, garage rock, rockabilly and other influences which they have blended into something that feels right for them and with enough twang to make it appeal to country music fans the world over. It's not the 50/60s retro fitted sound that some bands use. Rather it's a template that's been tried and tested right back to the early eighties and with numerous bands who took their lead from Rank 'n' File and Jason and The Scorchers, but one that is still valid. The songs equally fit the bill with titles like Doing Time In Pennsylvania, The Price You Pay, I Didn't Mean To Get Drunk or Close To The Line. These are songs that are not without some humour and honesty. All in all The Highballers are an all round package. Though a lot of the album is taken at an uptempo pace they can do slower songs like Virginia and Better Man with ease and without going too soft. The album closes in the spirit (pun intended) of the album title with I Take Pride In My Drinkin'. An unashamed ode to a vocation that seems central to the Highballers sound and vision. - Lonesome Highway


"Review: The Highballers, Soft Music and Hard Liquor"

D.C. alt-country quintet the Highballers embraces its vices on its new release, “Soft Music and Hard Liquor.” The album reflects the world’s seedier side, with such songs as “Doing Time in Pennsylvania,” “I Didn’t Mean to Get Drunk Last Night” and “I Take Pride in My Drinking” touting a rough-and-tumble lifestyle.

Musically, the group churns out one catchy Americana/rockabilly tune after another. Album opener “Juneen” tells a whirlwind tale of a dysfunctional relationship through an unrelenting beat and twangy guitars. The most captivating part of the Highballers’ sonic texture is Victoria Patchen, who adds harmony and backup vocals behind frontman Kendall Jackson’s twangy croon.

Patchen’s harmonies, especially on “The Price You Pay” and “Doing Time in Pennsylvania,” are reminiscent of Neko Case’s work with the New Pornographers. Her standout moment is on the ballad “Live to Let You Down,” which turns into a heartbreaking duet with her plaintive turn at lead vocals.

But apart from a few such softer moments, most of the songs have a sense of humor. “She Ain’t No Stranger” breaks the news that a man’s wife has been unfaithful, while “A Cowgirl Who Understands” tenderly and humorously describes a cross-dressing cowboy. The Highballers’ subject matter, in addition to its high-energy songs, goes a long way toward making “Soft Music and Hard Liquor” such a fun listen. - The Washington Post


"Four Play: Artists That Should Be On Your Radar, Calendar and iPod"

The Highballers
Web: www.highballersmusic.com
Album: Soft Music and Hard Liquor
Show: Saturday, January 12 @ IOTA Club & Café (CD Release)
A pleasant blend of country’s outlaw pop tradition and rockabilly roots highlight the latest album from DC residing band with New Orleans roots, The Highballers. Debut album Soft Music and Hard Liquor’s anachronistic-on-purpose sound is a healing salve for those who perceive corporate country to be anathema to the genre’s best respected and most organic roots. Attempting the synergy of Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn is a solid plan of attack for Kendall Jackson and Victoria Patchen, and in nearing that legendary sound, provide a well-worn and comforting vocal tone that invites the listener to continue listening to the album at every turn. From the Kris Kristofferson feel of album opener “Juneen” to the Creedence Clearwater Revival sound recalling “Virginia” and more raucous rockabilly fare like “I Didn’t Mean to Get Drunk Last Night,” the flexibility of guitarist Sean Lally, bassist Michael Barrientos and drummer Drake Sorey to create modern sounds within classic ideals is both notable and impressive. -MD - OnTap Magazine


"RECORD REVIEWS - DEC 2012"

This local band is known for energized performances featuring ballsy rock'n'roll and high spirited heartland songs delivered with gusto and passion. So of course, the opening number shows careful restraint as they carefully manage intricate guitar work atop a lightly lively rhythm while showing off a great male/female vocal duet. This is Americana rock music with great balladry with gutsy heart-worn-on-sleeve songs that do not head anywhere near pretension like many other post-Springsteen bands to remain nameless. There is a touch of Smithereens, John Doe, Sadies, and many other bands in the history of rock'n'roll here. You won't get any new genres invented on this record, but you will get some sparkling playing in a highly enjoyable style of music along with some fresh songs covering some very old themes.

And for a fun filled Saturday night, you can come to the CD release party at the Iota on January 12th.

Songs to try first:

Juneen - The opener sets the tone with a light Sadies style song where the notes dance around a crowded dance floor while creating their own space.

The Price You Pay - Simply, a lovely song that I will be replaying first, when I don't have time to hear the whole album.

Better Man - I really like the extra jangle in the guitar and the playful melody.
- DC ROCK LIVE


"The Highballers - Soft Music and Hard Liquor"

Do you like songs about drinkin' and then apologizing afterwards. Does that happen to you often? Well, our favorite local old school country band, The Highballers, are sitting on a brand spankin' new album of original songs that pretty much reflect that lifestyle. Soft Music and Hard Liquor is a collection of classic honky tonk, rippin' guitar, and subtle harmonies that work as much today as in the past. No need to go past the opening track, Juneen, to hear what I mean. Sean Lally (Lead Guitar), Drake Sorey (Drums), and Michael Barrientos (Bass) provide the framework to frontman Kendall Jackson and backing vocalist Victoria Patchen country vocals. Lally takes charge in I Didn't Mean to Get Drunk Last Night, Doing Time in Pennsylvania, and I Take Pride in My Drinkin' - notice a trend? Live to Let You Down is a classic country duet - showcasing the chemistry between Jackson and Patchen. But my favorite tracks are those with the more laid back melodies: The Price You Pay, Virginia, and Better Man. These are songs where the band's cohesiveness really shines with no one member overshadowing the others. The album will be officially released January 12, 2013 at IOTA Club & Cafe in Arlington, so make sure you put that date on your calendar. - MyJoog.com


"Spotlight on: The Highballers – Part II"

You’ve been described as the “perfect fit” for The Highballers. In addition to having an incredible voice and “despite your perfectly coiffed appearance,” your band-mates say your sharp wit coupled with your ability to keep up with all the rough-edged guys in the group makes you ideal for the ensemble. When you and Kendall Jackson perform together you’ve been described as reminiscent of such classic duos as Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, and Exene Cervenka and John Doe.

How does a Connecticut Yankee girl develop a country sound?
I was exposed to all kinds of music growing up; my parents gifted me their Beatles and Rolling Stones records, I listened to main stream pop from Michael Jackson and Madonna, and my grandmother would switch the radio to country, so I’d hear everything from Kenny Rogers, Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton to Johnny Cash.
I started out singing folk in acoustic duo “Angel Fall,” then branched out into pop/rock bands ; the country/punk thing is a new adventure for me. I’m rediscovering some of the vocal flips and tones I used on my folk projects back in the day, styles that didn’t fit into the pop projects - so that it’s been kind of cool to revisit. Seems that folk and country singing have some common bonds.
SEAN LALLY – Lead Guitar

You’ve opened for the Ramones and been on the road for miles and miles. You’ve been a devotee of many of the great guitarists. How would you describe your style in terms of the country greats?
I would describe my “style,” such as it is, as way poorer than any of the guitarists I worship. That said, I do my damnedest to put my little spin on the work of the real great clean twangers: Clarence White, Merle Travis, Danny Gatton, Chet Atkins, to name but a few…..
Who has influenced you the most?
I think that Clarence White has influenced me the most, since I first discovered the Byrds back in college – that band almost single-handedly hipped me to country music, and his Telecaster-playing made me a devotee of country guitar. Plus, his personal story is just compelling. Before him, I’d only really thought about the guitar playing of Johnny Ramone and Dave Davies. And of course I still do. So I guess my style is what you’d expect from someone who loves 60s garage and surf, as well as rockabilly and country – in equal amounts.
Sean, you describe yourself as an obsessive music collector with a large collection, what old lps and 45s are you presently on the hunt for?
I frequently hunt for favorite 45s for my jukebox – anything that was written for the 45 format. ”You’re Gonna Miss Me” (13th floor elevators) and “Telstar” are two fave recent finds. And “Surfin’ Bird” is a jukebox favorite of my 4-year-old, so you know he’s cool.
It appears you’ve played and owned many types of guitars, if you could play only one brand of guitar in the band which one would you choose and why?
Ah, a guitar question. Thanks! I tend to favor my home-built Telecaster - the sound is almost perfect and I can get a wide variety of tones from the pickups. It does anything I need, and the sparkle finish adds the requisite panache. Telecasters, in general, are not perfect – they require you to work them, and most sound pretty bad out of the box. Plus, they NEED the right amp, so the shrillness can be kept in check. For a simple guitar, they have a lot of variables -different woods and pickups make the difference between a guitar that sounds like crap and a religious experience. For other guitars, I’ve recently acquired a Bigsby (BY-50) and that does nearly everything and is easier for Travis-picking. It’s a perfect stock guitar, though they ain’t cheap and they didn’t make many. Hallmark also make great guitars, but they’re a bit heavy on the shoulders for long nights. I’m a long-time devotee of Gretsches (Nashville, Silver jet, duo jet, electric 12 string), but they’re not right for what we play. If I’m doing surf and garage, it’s Danelectro (Longhorn) or Burns of London.
DRAKE SOREY – Drums



How old were you when you decided that percussion would be your musical choice?
I began taking drum lessons at about six, and played like a maniac until I was thirteen or so. When I discovered cameras, the drums took a backseat and I really didn’t play them anymore. Sold the kit at around fifteen, I think. Didn’t touch another drum stick until about six years ago, and now I’m playing like a maniac again.
What are some of the challenges for a drummer when performing with his/her band at a live show?
Communication between the players, and of course, tempo. It’s great when everyone is paying attention to everyone else, but that’s not always the case.
What advice can you offer in keeping the percussion volume from overwhelming the other performers?
Well, unless we’re playing an acoustic gig, that’s never a problem for us. The bass player is very loud. The guitar is very loud. I’m not usually amplified in small to medium rooms we’re playing, so if anything - Peel Post


"Spotlight On: The Highballers – Part I"

Songs about hard-drinking, crime, sex, heartache and the seamier side of life comprise the core of The Highballers’ music. The band’s sweet savory harmonies meld flawlessly with the twang of Fender telecasters. The Highballers’ brand of country can’t be pigeon-holed into one type of sound; their music is rough, tumble and gritty and at the same time touch the depths of your soul. The musicians deliver gnarly blues as well as blazin’ get-out-of-town honky-tonk.

Peel Post caught up with the members of The Highballers just before they hit the road for a few east coast gigs. Here’s Part I of our Two-Part interview. But just before you read what makes them rock, take a shot of The Highballers’ “I Didn’t Mean to Get Drunk Last Night, But I Did.”


**

Kendall Jackson is the man who put the band together. He is the group’s songwriter, lead male vocalist and guitarist and very engaging interviewee.

Kendall, you write songs that are mostly about hard living . . . drinking, cheating, murder. Where do you get your inspiration?

I’d like to say I had a hard life growing up with 15 siblings in a fishing village with a drinking problem in rural Louisiana, but actually I rock Vanilla Ice style: I grew up in a ranch house, with 2 siblings north of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans. My dad would wake us up every day using one of those seventies style whole house intercom system wired up to the hi fi. He’d blare music at six am and it was always this classic country am radio station WFPR. Hell I was programmed to believe that if someone didn’t die in a song, either from their own hand or from the of a jealous lover, that it wasn’t a song worth recording. Sure, the subject matter is kind of cliché, drinking killing, prison, but country music is rich with tunes that go down that road and we embrace the genre with all it’s faults and tired drinking stories of regret and heartache. In fact we just realized we can do an entire set of drinking songs. You live in the house you build.

How did New Orleans influence you?

Look, that city loves music: All kinds of music. The locals, the real New Orleanians go see music all the time, which is unfortunately not how most cities work. Maybe it’s the whole ” living on the edge” attitude that goes with living under sea level, or maybe it’s the booze, but when you grow up in that town, music is in your blood along with a ton of butter and oil residue. Shit, I’ve been watching music in bars since I was sixteen, so I ask you, how can you not be influenced by the magic of the place?

Do other members of the band write songs? How do you decide what will be on the album?

Our old band mate Hope Hudson co wrote a couple of numbers with me, but I have been the primary song writer. Of course we all chip in on the arrangements. Sean Lally, our smoking hot guitarist, is kind enough to let me know when a lyric or chord turn around is lame as hell (he will typically “meow” through a portion of songs, in key and tempo, to be sure I get the point). A song is not a song until the whole band adds their part of the puzzle.

Your band members come from different parts of the country: Louisiana, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and California. How did you find each other, what brought you to D.C.?

Would you believe that we all got pinched on the same night for inappropriate intoxication and wound up in the same jail cell? A night of musical destiny for what is to become the greatest country band in the history of all music? No? Ok, we met via the magic of Craigslist – it’s not just for random sexual hookups and getting rid of your Ikea bookcase. As to why we are all in the DC area, it comes down to money I guess, or rather our spouses money. This town is populated with an enormous amount of overachieving nerds that have come to the capital of the world to make their mark and get ahead. We’ve arrived here on the coattails of some of these nerds. We are largely unemployable and that gives us plenty of time to write songs and make music.

How did you decide on the genre?

Here’s a secret about the industry that we will reveal to you: at the end of the day, all the punk and garage rockers go country. Today’s country sounds have room for everyone’s background, and The Highballers are on a mission from God – the cool punk rock God, not the scary bloody Jesus God- to countrify the hearts and minds of America, one song and one cold beer at a time.

Most people would never consider your part of the east coast to be a bastion of country aficionados. Why do you think your brand of country so successful in D.C.?

Because twangy rock always has been popular in this town. It’s just the eight hundred pound gorilla – the federal government and all its narcissistic leaders – overshadow the artists and musicians gritting it out and making a genuine contribution to music. From Danny Gatton’s telecaster to the Seldom Scene’s balls to the wall attitude this town not only ooze - Peel Post


"Replayed: "Upstairs In The Bedroom" - The Highballers"

Off their latest EP, Under Covers (released Jan ’12), this track combines everything that is serene and dark about country music. The pace is calm throughout, the riffs non-intrusive, so you get that classic country feel that you can swing on a hammock to. Yet, the lyrics themselves at times were both haunting and evocative, going into the depths and heartbreak of infidelity. There’s ying and yang in this song, which is admirable, and mirrors a similar sound to tracks by Lou Reed.
- D.C. Music Download


"The Highballers - Ian Walters Trio - Charlie and the Contraband -- Iota - Feb 20 2012"

"This is my second time in as many months seeing this 'local' five-piece. Local is where they live but with members hailing from New Orleans, Los Angeles, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Oklahoma City, geography is a just a little stretched. But they all bring their influences together in a rousing set of honkytonk rock'n'roll. They call it country, but that does not really describe it, even as they do some Gram Parsons covers and the Everly Brothers "When Will I Be Loved". Male and Female vocals trade off while the rhythm section keeps things shaking throughout. The lead guitar stands out best with an outpouring of notes running around it all. They exude a fun attitude as well and it is hard to enjoy this and get pulled into the rhythm of it all. The crowd was enjoying the night, as many wanted one last night of their long weekend. The Highballers delivered the goods.

Quote of the Night: The Highballers singer (to me after Contraband was finishing)... "Did he just rhyme sausages and hostages?!"" - DC ROCK LIVE


"The Highballers Hit Their Prime"

As we waited on Monday night to order beers at the Club Iota bar, I asked my friend Kendall Jackson, the singer, songwriter, and guitarist for the Highballers, to explain the D.C. rockabilly band's recent run of success.
"It's Tara," he said, referring to Tara Callahan, who sang in Christian rock bands in Seattle before graduating from the University of Washington and moving to D.C., and who was playing only her third gig with the band. "Her voice is amazing," Jackson said. "We send clubs the links to the videos we have of her singing with us, and they call us right back."
But when I sat down with Drake Sorey, a freelance editorial photographer and the band's drummer for the past two years, he gave a different explanation.
"It's all Mike," he said. Mike Barrientos, who plays bass, joined the band about a year ago. He played in punk bands in L.A., then had a 15-year journalism career. At one point he was a picture editor at the New York Times.
"He's so driven, so organized," Sorey explained. "Shooting our videos, running the websites, getting our name out to bloggers and clubs. It makes all the difference." Barrientos also designs the band's eye-catching concert posters. (In this interview for The Falls Church News-Press, Jackson also credited Barrientos with turning the band around.)
When I spoke to Barrientos, though, he praised Jackson's songwriting, Sorey's rock-solid drumming, and the talents of lead guitarist Sean Lally, who joined the band around the time Barrientos did.
Tara Callahan had yet another explanation.
"They play original songs and have such a good time on stage," she said. "And they are all so talented. Did you know that Sean is a physics teacher?"
It probably makes sense that the members of a band that plays songs about hard liquor and crime would, when asked a direct question, point their fingers at each other. But it's also true that the Highballers are an exceptionally strong band. They are doing so well because they are all so good.
Jackson, who can turn a phrase in a lyric as easily as he can on the guitar, writes songs that hold their own against the Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings covers that fill out the band's repertoire. Except that Jackson's songs tend to be more whimsical, even though they are still mostly about murder, drinking, cheating, and sex.
"Soft Music and Hard Liquor," for example, is an empathetic ballad about a cross-dressing cowboy looking for love:
Soft music and hard liquor.
Short leather skirts and high-heeled shitkickers
Little things to help a cowboy
Look like a girl.
Red lipstick and a rhinestone jacket
Platinum wig with earrings to match it
And he's looking for a cowgirl
Who'll understand

"Doin' Time in Pennsylvania" is a prison song that would have made Merle Haggard proud. In "Aint No Stranger," a song with a clever double (or even triple) meaning in its title, the singer gently lets an acquaintance know he's probably not the father of his son.
"Our songs are all about two things," Jackson joked on stage Monday night. "Alcohol and murder." Then he introduced "The Price You Pay," which is about both, and may stand as the only country music adaptation of Crime and Punishment.
If Jackson writes great songs, the Highballers are the perfect band to play them. Tara Callahan has a country rock star's voice. She played her second gig with the band at the Cowboy Cafe on the night before the Grammies. As news of Whitney Houston's death spread through the crowd, Callahan offered an impromptu rendition of "I Will Always Love You" that filled the room with swaying lighters. Her cover of the Everly Brothers' classic "When Will I Be Loved?" during Monday's Iota gig was tremendous.
Sean Lally -- the physics teacher -- is simply a terrific lead guitarist. He could play with anyone. Drake Sorey plays drums with rhythm, style, and a sense of humor. A couple of times on Monday he answered Jackson's between-song irreverence with a quick snare drum flourish and high-hat crash. Barrientos plays a driven and melodic bass line and infuses the band with energy, on stage and off.
The Highballers are a great band on the brink of wider success. They are booking themselves into bigger clubs, plan to release their first original album in June, and are likely to tour the East Coast this fall. Now is the time to see them live.
- The Huffington Post


""Fear of Virginia - The Highballers - The XOs -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Jan 13 2011""

"The band warned that they would be sounding just a wee bit different than the opener and that was clear enough at the outset. They said they had a low-down sound and that came out as gnarly blues rock--thick and deep with piercing lead guitar runs and dual male/female vocals. They easily handled following the powerful opening set with plenty of volume and pace to keep the house rocking. The second song moved into a psychobilly terrain which was not as fast as say a Gun Club, but had a nice Sadies feel to it. They moved around again within these styles and varied the pace and structure in nice subtle ways. Fans of the really assertive roots bands like the Knitters or the Sadies will eat this music up. There were only a few songs that seemed a bit safe, but this 40 minute set had lots of smart and fun highlights with good guitar interplay, vocal harmonies and solid rhythms. And again, here is another fine local band to keep my eye on. The crowd had doubled by set's end and had a great time as these Friday showcases have been delivering the goods for some time now. The Highballers have a debut album coming out and are at the Jammin Java soon, along with hopefully many more shows." - DC Rock Live


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

Photos

Bio

Known for the marble facades, majestic domes and white mansions comprising its landmarks, Washington, DC is nonetheless a gritty, hardscrabble city built on a hot marshland and swamped in confrontational politics.

Like their home turf, the Highballers are as sharp dressed as any modern country act -- but go down more like Jim Beam than the Diet Pepsi flowing through todays tame, corporate country scene. In the tradition of outlaws like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, not to mention mystics like Gram Parsons and the Knitters, the Highballers spin a web of country gold rooted the in the diverse backgrounds of their members and the free-spirited abandon of the fiercest gunslinger in the Wild West.

The Highballers were born on the rock of guitarist/vocalist Kendall Jackson and vocalist Hope Hudson in 2007, forging a hard-edged, rockin country sound built on the duos male-female vocal harmonies. After several personnel shifts, myriad gigs and more than a few empty whiskey bottles, the band arrived at its current lineup of Jackson, vocalist Victoria Patchen, guitarist Sean Lally, bassist Michael Barrientos and drummer Drake Sorey.

Hailing from New Orleans, where he discovered the outlaw country sounds and swamp funk that inspire him to this day, Jackson moved to Cleveland in the early 1990s and eventually formed his first band, the Dirty Bottom Boys -- raging garage rockers not unlike the background of Lally, who hails from the rival (if youre into football, anyway) city of Pittsburgh. With bands like the Frampton Brothers and the Breakup Society, Lally opened for the Ramones and cowrote a song recorded by REM's Scott McCaughey -- tuning up his sparkling Fender Telecaster just enough to blow the doors off any club he played.

Barrientos is no stranger to loud rock n roll, either, what with his roots in the high-energy, bloodstained Southern California punk scene in various teen band ventures before his next calling -- professional photography -- took him on an exotic 15-year odyssey too detailed to go into here. But hes back in music, as is Sorey -- who also took a photographic hiatus from music before getting behind a kit again six years ago; now, Sorey pounds proudly behind an array of fine 60s vintage Slingerland, Rogers and Ludwig kits.

Those drum sets are as polished as Patchen, another veteran whose pipes have been honored in Billboard and hailed as cool and ethereal by Joe Heim of The Washington Post. The Jackson-Patchen pairing produces harmonies reminiscent of Gram Parsons/ Emmylou Harris and Exene Cervenka/John Doe, pouring out their souls like bourbon and mixing it with harmonies as sweet as cola. Combine that with the pulsating rhythms of Barrientos and Sorey and the twanging twin Telecasters of Lally and Jackson -- and you have the reasons the band has expanded its bookings beyond DC and earned acclaim in national publications like The Huffington Post.

Having recently completed their first album, Soft Music and Hard Liquor, the Highballers are poised to climb to the next level. Spit out that modern country diet soda and pour yourself some Highballers. Bottoms up!