Eleven Hundred Springs have been kicking around the Texas Music scene for a decade or more. Led by Matt Hillyer, the group from Dallas has carved out their own niche in this crowded scene. They have managed to combine all the best elements of the Bakersfield, Red Dirt, Texas, rockabilly, and even a smidge of punk to create something all their own. With the release of their latest and most buzzed about album, Country Jam, I took the opportunity to pick Matt the Cat’s brain about their career and music in general. Check out the latest edition of 20 Questions with Eleven Hundred Springs!
1. What’s new and exciting with 1100 Springs?
We just released our new record produced by Lloyd Maines. We’ve been traveling the country extensively playing to new and exciting audiences. Just got back from the west coast two weeks ago. That was lots of fun.
2. Your musical style has a definite throwback sound to it. How did you develop that sound? What are you main influences?
Everyone in the group shares a love and knowledge of classic country music. For me personally, Buddy Holly and Hank Williams were the two most influential artists. I dissected rockabilly and country for what they were – hillbilly blues. From there, I dug deeper into country, blues, jazz, rock and roll, etc.
3. Name association:
-Dale Watson-Classic country guru.
-Jason Boland-My friend.
-Billy Joe Shaver-A prophet.
-Jack Ingram-Fun to hang with.
-Doug Moreland-Renaissance man.
-Pat Green-A man of the people .
4. You and your bassist, Steve Berg, have been friends and collaborators since your teen years. Did you envision making a career out of music as teens? Or, is it something that just evolved and one day you realized “Hey, we’re pretty good at this?”
I always knew music was it from day one. I can’t speak for Steve, but I sure am glad we’re still playing together. Having your best friend to share your love for music on stage creates miracles every night.
5. The Dallas-Ft. Worth area has a number of radio stations that support this kind of music. Do you think that has helped cultivate your large Dallas area fanbase? If you were in charge of one of the stations for a day, what would you play?
Without radio support, our lives would be much more difficult. There are some great people supporting great music out there. I won’t pretend for a second that I could do any better than what local stations are already playing. I would probably get fired my first week, as Texas pyschobilly doesn’t quite fit the local airwaves. (laughs)
6. In your early days you did quite a bit of touring with rock bands like the Toadies and Tripping Daisy. How did the rock crowds react to rockabilly music?
We were always like a breath of fresh air to those audiences. We fit right in. It might have sounded a little different, but we rocked just as hard as anyone out there.
7. Later on, Mark Reznicek of the Toadies would become your drummer. How did his addition influence your music and songwriting?
Believe it or not, it made us more country. He can play so straight ahead and simple. That’s what we wanted. He approaches it the same way Phil Rudd of AC/DC would. I love it, and I love Mark.
8. In addition to Mark, the band includes renowned fiddler Jordan Hendrix and steel player Danny Crelin. Is this the best line-up you’ve had in Eleven Hondo? And, how is this line-up different from past groupings?
I won’t even start to say anything remotely disparaging about any of the excellent musicians who have honored us by gracing the stage and studio to make music together, but I do feel that we’re very focused now. These are some great guys. I’m proud to know them and jam with them.
9. Your fans are very passionate and dedicated. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen one of them do?
I’ve seen more than one with an Eleven Hundred Springs tattoo…enough said. (laughs)
10. Favorite touring memories of the following towns and clubs:
-New Braunfels-The first time we ever headlined Gruene Hall is a memory that will always stand out. We had a big party back at the hotel with all our friends.
-Houston-There were some friends in from California one night at the Armadillo Palace. They came back to the hotel. We sang and drank and told jokes â€˜til the sun came up.
-Lubbock-Ryan Bingham and Doug Moreland were in town for a gig at another club, but we were all at the same hotel. We passed around the guitar and messed up the rooms rock star style. (laughs)
-Stephenville -We tried to go to an after hours party but wound up driving in circles.
-Denton-There have been too many legendary house parties there to pick just one…but if I have to…(laughs). The one that stands out the most was the one that broke my marijuana cherry. I was an embarrassment, but I sure had fun! (laughs)
-Austin-I had a really fun birthday party at Antone’s a couple of years ago.
-Oklahoma City-We had hotel jam there that no one should have been playing music at. Nobody was together enough to sound good, but we thought we were doing great at the time!
-Kansas City-We did a really cool show there with Wayne Hancock recently. He’s one of my favorites. The people there love Texas music too. They make you feel so at home.
-Continental Club-Backing up Ronnie Dawson at the Continental Club in ’94. He was amazing.
-White Elephant-Last year, in 2007, was the first time we’d been there in years. The crowd was on fire and we took so much from that. It was a lot of fun. We had dinner at the Lonesome Dove beforehand. We ate like kings and did a really fun show.
-Golden Light-We were coming back from a west coast run, and no matter how much fun you have traveling out of state it always feels great to come back to Texas. The people at the Golden Light have always been so nice. It was just the welcome home we needed. Pass that Thunderbird up to the stage!
-Floore’s Country Store-Everytime we’ve played there before our river trips has been a blast. People are in such a fun mood in preparation for the river.
11. Related to that question, you guys have a huge following outside the state of Texas. How long have you been touring in other areas? How long did it take you to make headway in other regions? What are the differences in the audiences here at home versus abroad?
People love Texas music everywhere you go. Out of state, crowds are hungry for our flavor. Depending on which market you’re talking about, we’re still trying to make headway. You have to continue to work these places to see results. There’s nothing like the feeling of looking into an audience and seeing somebody who’s witnessing something they’ve never seen. That’s the difference. People here at home grew up with it. Out there it’s something fresh.
12. Last Valentine’sDay, you became a traveling sing-o-gram across the DFW Metroplex. What was that experience like? Who developed that idea? Do you plan to do it again?
That was a lot of fun, and a lot of work for one day. I had the idea as I was trying to figure out what to get my valentine. I thought of slipping a little bread to one of my singing buddies to surprise her at work . Then a light turned on. Maybe I could make the money. I actually did this in high school. They called it a Val-0-Gram. You had to audition in the lunch room andthen people bought you to go around to different classrooms and serenade their valentines. I did anything to get out of class! (laughs) Anyway, I had my doubts, that it might have been too cheesy of an idea. Maybe it was, but people loved it. Place your orders for 2009 now!
13. In 2004, you signed with Palo Duro Records after doing the independent thing for so many years. How has having label support helped? Do you have creative freedom or is there a label exec giving notes?
In today’s music world, we will see if having a label helps. This new record is our best yet and radio all over has expressed nice interest in it. We will see…
14. You’ve been hitting stages since you were a teen, starting with Reverend Horton Heat. And, Eleven Hondo’s calling card is your blistering live show. What makes a good gig for you? What makes a bad gig?
When the crowd is dying for you to entertain them it’s really good. The love back and forth can’t be matched. When for reasons unexplained you can’t connect, it’s frustrating. It’s still good though. The worst day on this job is still pretty damn good.
15. Stories behind the following songs:
-Gina From San Jose -Steve came to me with most of the lyrics finished. I added some things, but that was mainly him.
-Why You Been Gone So Long -Mickey Newberry wrote it, but it was introduced to me by Ronnie Dawson. He used to warm up back stage with it. The first I heard it, he and Mac Curtis were harmonizing on it backstage. It was a magic moment between two Texas legends, and I was a fly on the wall.
-See You In the Next Life -I wrote it after my high school girlfriend and I broke up. The details are specific to my experience, but the sentiment is shared by many.
-Thunderbird Will Do Just Fine -I was in full party mode then, and I pretty much documented any given day for me. I recommend chilling Thunderbird before drinking it (laughs). I could have also substituted St. Ide’ s Malt liquor in that song if I’d wanted to.
-Can’t Win For Losing -It’s about money getting in the way of friendship. I had an argument with someone over money and that’s what came out.
-Long Haired Tattooed Hippies -I wrote it after we did a support slot for Pat Green at Gruene Hall. We were just getting started and Pat was really cool to us, but no one knew who we were. So, when the first saw us they didn’t know what to think, and probably still don’t (laughs).
-Kick Me When I’m Down -Our old steel player, Aaron Wynne wrote that one. We recorded it at Chris Claridy’s house. It has always been one of my favorites.
-A Straighter Line -Aaron, Chris and I wrote it in southern California. I woke up early with the hook in my head. I went out on the porch and worked it out. We had it finished by breakfast.
-Northside Blues -Steve and I wrote this after someone stole our gear in San Antonio. He mentioned that it would be cool if we had a song that talked about all the cool Texas towns. We took it from there
16. You attended the same high school as Norah Jones and Erykah Badu among others. That’s a lot of talent coming from one place. Were you in school with anyone that just blew your mind away with their talent that didn’t make it?
I was blown away everyday by the talented kids there. I learned so much more from them than I ever did from the teachers. I haven’t kept up with everyone. I will say that it takes more than talent to make it in this business. You’ve got to have a thick skin and a serious drive to get by. Most people don’t stick with it. Even some of the most talented drop out.
17. What’s the worst day job you ever suffered through in order to support your music?
I worked in a warehouse doing shipping and receiving…it sucked! (laughs)
18. Rapid fire:
-Frisco or Soutlake? Do you mean San Francisco? It’s a beautiful city. (laughs)
-Favorite bar to hang at?-A Step Up
-Toadies or Burden Brothers?-Why must I choose? I’ll stand with my bandmate and say Toadies.
-Favorite Mexican food joint?-Casa Navarro off Marsh Lane in North Dallas. It is amazing.
19. Favorite George Strait song.
20. What do you see as the main difference between the music you’re making and the stuff you hear on mainstream radio?
We’re trying desperately to get back to the heart and soul of country music. You’ve got to get the blues back in to it. That heartfelt feeling that rings true for everyone. We’re trying to keep the formula simple in hopes it will be classic, or at least pay tribute to something classic.