HOTTER THAN HELL
Roger Moser, Jr. Grills
of Hairball8 Records
For the past decade, HairBall8 Records has been consistently churning out some of the best damn music in the entire Western Hemisphere. What initially began as an enthused experiment in promoting a melodically inspiring plethora of pop punk bands has since mutated into a rip-snortin’, pointy-tailed psychobilly beast. I’m probably not the only down n’ dirty undead hedonist to rowdily admit that HairBall8 exposed me to the frightfully fantastic, flesh-shivering sounds of psychobilly for the very first time, but I’d be pretty dang willing to bet the skin off my bones that I’m currently one of the loudest, most rambunctious supporters of Ryan Davis’s lil’ ol’ label from Texas. So it gives me the utmost of thrilled pleasure to introduce you, oh honorable horror-loving Horror Garage readers, to Count Davis and his raucously grandiose empire of spine-chilling sounds. Sit back, have a shot of strychnine, and enjoy the psychobilly sickness as it snarls and unfolds.
Horror Garage: Barreling straight outta the chute like a bull tanked on tequila, what in hot Hades is a HairBall8? And how in the heck did you conjure such a strangely unique moniker for your entrepreneurial endeavor in the first place?
Ryan Davis: Well, the name of the label took form while I was attending college at the University of Essex in England. My friend Dave and I were on an education-abroad program from UC San Diego. Pretty soon after we began school in England, we met another American, also on an exchange program. His name was Kris, and he used this term “hairball” in place of the word “crazy.” Kris was from UC Santa Barbara and apparently hung out with mountain bikers who used the term “hairball” for gnarly, unknown or dangerous terrain they encountered on their mountain bike excursions. At first we made fun of Kris for using the word, and then we eventually decided we liked it and adopted it ourselves. When it came time to name the label I was starting, I immediately thought of “hairball” but wanted a symbol or number to go with it to make it a bit more unique. I had long considered the number eight to be my lucky number, so it seemed to be a good fit. I also liked how the number eight was a mysterious number on its own. Turn an eight on its side, and it's the symbol for infinity. Eight arrows pointing eight different ways is the sign of chaos. There's the eight-sided nautical star. The eight-ball in pool determines whether you win or lose the game. There are a lot of cool, creepy creatures that have eight legs like spiders, scorpions, squids, and octopi. Then there's the eight sides of a stop sign and the card game Crazy 8s. I could go on and on; I think you more than get the picture. The name HairBall8 seemed to have its own identity for me, while at the same time, the name evoked mystery and boundless limits.
HG: What were the decisive circumstances that inspired you to take on the monumental task of forming and managing a record label of your very own? And when did HairBall8 formally come into being, by the way?
Ryan Davis: As I mentioned, I was attending college in England when HairBall8 took shape. This was during the 1994-95 school year. That's technically when HairBall8 Records began... well, more accurately 1995. My friend Dave--who I mentioned before--was a huge street punk and oi! fan. Dave had actually contacted some European bands while we were still in San Diego, asking them if they were interested in participating on a street punk compilation CD he was putting together. Bands that Dave had listened to and loved for years responded positively to his compilation idea. Bands like the Business, The Gonads, The Crack, and Frankie Flame all agreed to participate, and even kinda helped in the production process, as well. The whole thing was damn interesting to me, because my friend Dave didn't really have any experience releasing a CD. He was learning as he went, touch and go, and I was there almost every step of the way, learning how to produce a compilation CD from start to finish. Once his CD was manufactured and being distributed, Dave encouraged me to try to put together a compilation of my own with the bands I loved. I figured why not and thus came up with a label name and started contacting bands.
At the time, I was fully immersed into the whole California pop punk thing, so I went after bands like Lagwagon, No Use For A Name, Swingin' Utters, Big Drill Car, Sicko and Blink 182--when they were still on Cargo. It helped that I also now had a resume of sorts, because I got a producer credit on my friend Dave's comp. Anyway, all the bands I mentioned above ended up allowing me to use their songs for my comp. That comp was called Keep the Beat and came out in 1996. It sold a few thousand copies right out of the gate, and essentially gave HairBall8 a little bit of capital to help get the label going.
HG: Wasn’t HairBall8 Records originally based in San Diego, California? When and why did you relocate smack dab in the middle of Texas--San Antone town, to be exact, home of The Alamo and Lone Star Beer?
Ryan Davis: Yeah, I grew up in San Diego and did in fact move back to San Diego after I finished school in England. I moved the label to San Antonio, Texas, in May of 2003. There were several reasons for the move. I suppose, number one, was that it's a lot more affordable to live and run a small business in Texas rather than Southern California. My wife Paige is from San Antonio, so that was a factor, too--she has family here. I also believe that music drew me to Texas. I was offered the opportunity to book some monthly shows at a club in San Antonio--that I still work with--called Sam's Burger Joint. I had also been fighting an uphill battle running an indie label in San Diego for many reasons. Texas seemed like wide-open territory to me, full of opportunity. There were also quite a few Texas bands participating on a compilation I was working on at the time called Dear Johnny...A Tribute to CASH. It all seemed to make sense. Moving to Texas just seemed right to me.
HG: Who was the very first band that you signed to HairBall8? Why did you choose them, and where are they now?
Ryan Davis: That would be a band called Furious IV out of San Diego. Damn, I love that band. I think they are done now, though. Soon after our Keep the Beat comp came out, I caught Furious IV at The Casbah in San Diego. This was late 1996, and the whole “San Diego is the next Seattle” thing was rapidly losing steam. But that doesn't mean there wasn't a shitload of great bands in San Diego at that time, because there were! Rocket From the Crypt, Drive Like Jehu, Tanner, Creedle, Deadbolt, The Dragons, and so on. It was a good time, but when the majors came calling, nothing San Diego bands were doing seemed very marketable on a large scale. Not until Blink, of course, but that's another story. Anyway, Furious IV were kinda just starting as the San Diego scene was losing its national hype. They were really refreshing for me at the time; not really pop, not really punk, just well-crafted rock songs with on-stage chemistry to match. I always thought they were making better and more passionate rock than the mainstream rock acts of the time like Foo Fighters and Everclear. But that was just me.
HG: Why did you settle on psychobilly as the specialty sound of choice for HairBall8 Records? How and when did you initially become aware of the ghoulish, bone-rattlin’ fury of psychobilly? And what does psychobilly ultimately mean to you?
Ryan Davis: Hmm, yeah, I suppose HairBall8 is best known for the psychobilly we put out. I don't know if I ever made a conscious decision, but from the get-go, HairBall8 was releasing psychobilly. Our first release, Keep the Beat, had a psychobilly song from Barnyard Ballers even though the comp was more weighted in the pop punk direction overall. It's funny, though, because my same friend Dave, who basically encouraged me to start a label, was also the guy who initially turned me on to psychobilly, too. I had heard of psychobilly before, but Dave had records by bands like The Meteors, Guana Batz, and Frantic Flintstones, so I was now able to listen to actual psychobilly. And after I signed our second band to HairBall8, psychobilly act Barnyard Ballers out of San Diego, their singer Rich [aka Spike] and I quickly became best friends. This was about 1997. It's Rich who I ultimately credit for my psychobilly education. He was instrumental in HairBall8 becoming involved with psychobilly. Rich was a nut for all things psychobilly and still is to this day. When he and I became friends, the label was young. Rich was constantly exposing me to different psychobilly bands from around the world. Eventually we both figured out that there were enough psychobilly bands in America to put together a comp of U.S. psychobilly bands, which became our Hotter Than Hell compilation. So all of that there describes the initial stages of HairBall8's relationship with psychobilly.
As far as what psychobilly means to me? It's both a style and an attitude. Psychobilly, as a music genre, began by mixing rockabilly and horror with rock n' roll and punk. The Meteors were the first band to jump-start a subculture based on the music of psychobilly. Psychobilly, as an attitude, is individualistic and communal at the same time. I feel psychobilly encourages tolerance and unity, perhaps because it's a subculture that is inherently free of politics or perhaps because psychobilly is a relatively broad category of music on the whole. Psychobilly bands these days blend various other genres of music. It's not just rockabilly, punk, and horror, but also country, thrash metal, hardcore, goth and ska. Psychobilly can be a complex monster these days. There is also a surface level to the psychobilly subculture which caters to individuals who want to share in the group identity that psychobilly provides. Psychobilly can be satirical, and I believe that trait is important to psychobilly's survival. There's a sense of humor within psychobilly that helps keep it new and refreshing.
HG: If an uninformed young kid were about to embark on an enthusiastic psychobilly journey for the very first time, what psychobilly album would you most highly recommend? And why?
Ryan Davis: If we're talking about a young American kid who has no idea what psychobilly is, then I'd probably suggest The Koffin Kats' Inhumane album. Now, I know there may be disagreement here, and I am of course biased since the band is on our label, but in my opinion it's a perfect American psychobilly record, although you won't really find The Koffin Kats calling their music psychobilly. But to me, Inhumane is an album that reflects where psychobilly music is today. There's an urgency in the record that, when combined with the band's excellent songwriting skills, pretty much goes unmatched. But I'd also like to state that if a kid is truly interested in the roots of the psychobilly subculture, he or she should pick up The Meteors’ In Heaven, Guana Batz’s Held Down At Last, and Demented Are Go!'s In Sickness and In Health. Other great psychobilly albums are Nekromantix's Curse of the Coffin and Mad Sin's Survival of the Sickest. Barnyard Ballers' Punkabilly Invasion ranks up there at the top, as well.