Boasting a traditional country sound à la Johnny Cash, filtered through four punk–loving skaters, Portland’s The Lonesome Billies release their first full-length album It’s Good To Be Lonesome this Saturday.
Despite this being the foursome's debut, they go back a long way—to middle school in Hazel Dell, Washington, in fact. Clayton McCune (lead vocals) and Jeff Gaither (lead guitar) were even on a little league team together—where they played against brothers Mike and Glen Scheidt (bass and drums, respectively). Even wilder are the colorful fictional backgrounds of their stage characters, the same-named outlaws that make them into a western Spice Girls: Ornery Bill, Gator Bill, Whiskey Bill, and Bill Collins, who narrate their history in songs.
“We’re creating a world around these guys,” says McCune, aka Ornery Bill. “Part of it might be a train robber in the 1800s; part of it might be a guy in 1971 with a pick-up truck driving down a country road listening to AM radio, and you’re not exactly sure where they come from—well, except that they come from the mythical place that is "Useless Bay", where all the outlaws and prisoners and ne’er-do-gooders were sent.”
“Useless Bay” was the band’s first song, released back in 2012, and it set the stage for the theatrics to come. The Billies were just a two–piece then, begun when McCune and Gaither (Gator Bill) started slowing down old tunes and adding a little twang to find their unique sound. Their live shows became performances of outlaw stories, like the tale of Gator Bill and Ornery Bill, who hated one another but buried the hatchet, becoming friends after both refused to die at the others’ hands.
When the Scheidt brothers joined the band, the Billies became four and recorded with a rotating cast of “Hired Guns” as contributors. Another boyhood friend then came on board to produce the new album: Brandon Eggleston (Modest Mouse, The Mountain Goats) who worked with McCune at their local Wendy’s when the two were teenagers.
Finally finished and produced with the help of a successful Kickstarter fund, the Billies’ 12-track record It's Good To Be Lonesome is ready to drop, featuring “Lawman,” a saloon-style ballad written by Gator Bill that nods to the band’s skater roots and punk–style distrust of authority. “We’re gonna do whatever it is we need to do," McCune explains, “Which in this case is drinkin’ whiskey and singin’ songs, and ridin’ off into the sunset.”
We've got the track "Lawman" below, for a taste of what's coming up from Portland's wild westerners.
The Lonesome Billies play their release show at Mississippi Studios on Saturday, August 29. Their debut album It's Good To Be Lonesome is released on September 1.