New Bern, NC – INTRO - Two recording sessions about a dozen years apart that both initially went nowhere provide the source material for the new CD by Chapel Hill's Southern Culture on the Skids. George Olsen spoke with band's members about the new release "Zombified" and has this.
Whenever I recommend Southern Culture on the Skids to a friend I inevitably lead off with "how can you not like a band that has a song about banana pudding?"
(music "Banana Puddin'" from "Doublewide & Live")
But if Southern cuisine doesn't grab your taste buds or ear drums, how about this the Chapel Hill-based trio can seriously get ahead of a trend.
The title track from their latest release "Zombified." If you're thinking "trendsetters what about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and AMC's The Walking Dead zombies are so last year," dig this "Zombified" was originally issued a good decade before all that. Toward the end of a brief association in the mid-90s with Geffen Records the band recorded the first eight tracks of the new "Zombified" and there the tracks sat, unreleased, with one exception.
"I think it was a fluke that it got released in Australia and I don't even know how that happened."
Rick Miller, the band's guitarist and chief songwriter. Following that sort-of 1998 release he says the band sold what copies it had at live shows until they ran out, meaning "Zombified" never enjoyed an official U-S release until now.
"Well, we had gotten a call from a producer who had done a re-make of Herschel Gordon Lewis' Blood Feast called Blood Feast II: Buffet of Blood, and he wanted us to do some incidental music and soundtrack music for it, and we did with what we had in the can. One day we came in and did some instrumental takes and sent it to him, then we actually wrote some songs for some specific scenes, but those took a little longer, and in the meantime he had kind of disappeared off our radar and we got back in touch with him with some of these extra songs for specific scenes he said "oh, the movie is already out." We thought let's just stick them on the end of Zombified now that we have our own record label Kudzu Records and just kind of treat it like a new record."
And what was once old is now new again... though the disc is decidedly NOT meant to sound new. Rick describes the original eight tunes as their ode to 50s & 60s exploitation B-movies and the music they produced for that ode was to have a decidedly time-specific feel. Bassist for Southern Culture on the Skids Mary Huff and drummer Dave Hartman.
"Well, the whole thing sounded like it was from 1968 anyway."
"You can get some of the soundtracks to those old horror films and biker films and genre films of that era and they all kind of have the fuzzed-out guitar and they have that 60's garage type sound, the original soundtracks. (MH) Daisy Allen and the Arrows, Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, all that stuff."
(Music - "She's My Witch")
While the new tracks were written for a film called Buffet of Blood, they're not particularly gore-filled again, this is a band with a song about banana pudding. The songs on Zombified are more funny than scary with the title track less about eating brains than about work-related brain freeze. Rick Miller.
"But when I wrote Zombified I was thinking more about is my girlfriend dead or is she just overworked. Just, anyway, because I feel pretty Zombified after I get off the road too. We had been on the road for a while too for a long time before we wrote that song and I think that probably had something to do with why we wrote it."
(Music - "Zombified")
Likewise, "Bloodsucker" is less about the life-altering effects of vampirism than it is about work issues among colleagues and with its Caribbean lilt it's probably the most feel-good song about the draining of bodily fluids you'll ever hear.
"Well, yeah, I started strumming it and when I was writing the lyrics it seemed to work with a Caribbean feel and take on it and then I saw Interview with the Vampire and all that took place in New Orleans and the creole stuff (MH) I think you were drinking a 7-Up at the same time. (RM) It just all kind of came together. I think of vampires and the voodoo and that kind of swampy stuff is Caribbean although most people kind of do it with fuzz guitars and tremolo or things like that. I thought this is kind of creepy too."
(Music - "Bloodsucker")
But there is some actual horror and North Carolina lore to be found on "Zombified" with a Southern Culture on the Skids take on a Chatham County phenomenon the Devil's Stomping Ground.
"He supposedly walks in a circle down in Chatham County thinking up his misdeeds or whatever and that anything you put in the circle will be moved out of the circle the next day because he kicks it out of his way as he's walking along, but that's an honest-to-goodness part of North Carolina folklore."
"I'll tell you who has been there Greg Bell of the Chickamar Gang who actually used to play keyboards in SCOTS and he swears to me he said they, as an experiment, they all slept in sleeping bags inside the circle and went they woke up in the morning everybody and their sleeping bags had been moved outside the circle."
(Music - "Devil's Stomping Ground")
But does all the local lore and B-movie homage add up to a good listen? You betcha. I've never listened to a Southern Culture on the Skids disc and not at some point if not several points reached to determine the upper limits of the volume knob always a good sign of a quality disc. And the self-deprecating humor that inevitably works its way into their original songs is hard to resist. But if my opinion isn't enough, take it straight from the head zombie's mouth.
"It's timeless. (RM) Just like a good horror film. I thought it sounded quite good. We had it re-mastered and re-did the artwork and we put it out as a vinyl LP so we changed it a bit. We upgraded the sound with re-mastering and got it so those other 5 songs and the first 8 songs matched up well sonically and, but, hey, I love listening to it. I can't say that about all my other records but I really like listening to Zombified."
(Music - "Eyeball You Later")
The new CD from Chapel Hill's Southern Culture on the Skids is entitled "Zombified" and is available on the band's own Kudzu Records. I'm George Olsen.