Heyyyy Bill! Catching Up with Clayton of The Lonesome Billies

Words by Chris Zimmerman
Photos by Tommy Spencer

What happens when four childhood friends from the Pacific Northwest with skate and punk influences get a taste of outlaw country music? Like a tumbleweed blowing down a ghost town road into an abandoned pool, The Lonesome Billies are born. For the last 10 years, the Billies have been playing unapologetic, dark and dusty, honky tonk music, blending their influences to create something unique, yet timeless.

Founded by Clayton McCune (lead vocals, guitar) and Jeff Gaither (lead guitar, vocals), The Lonesome Billies quickly evolved, adding longtime friends Mike Scheidt (bass, vocals) and Glen Scheidt (drums) and in the process have produced four albums, with their latest, Right On Time, being their second full-length. As a fellow busy dad, I was stoked to have a chance to catch up with my good buddy Clayton to talk about family life, work and the newest Billies album.

How did the Billies originally meet and start playing music?

We met as kids! Glen & Mike Scheidt are brothers, while Jeff and I were on the same little league team and played against the Scheidt brothers’ teams. We came up through middle school and high school together, skateboarding and going to punk rock shows. Next thing you know we’ve been buds for 30 years and playing music together as The Billies for nearly 10 already.

 

What do you think is the value of that long friendship, now that you’re all getting older, have families and busier lives?

We really are like a family that plays music together. We bicker and get annoyed at one another like brothers, but love and support each other like brothers, too. From seeds to tumbleweeds, we may slow down due to responsibilities of work and life, but I think we all intend to be doing this together for a long, long time. And I don’t know if we’d feel that way if we didn’t already have so much history together.

 

 

The Lonesome Billies play country music, but don’t necessarily have roots in country. Who are some of your musical influences and what do you think the common thread is?

Oh, it’s a solid blend of Ramones, Misfits, Wu Tang, The Pharcyde etc… Watch any skate video from the 90s, like Welcome To Hell, Misled Youth, the 411 series and that was our soundtrack. You begin to learn about the music your parents listened to—like Guy Clark, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings—and you realize, while the sounds are different, the point-of-view is very similar. Independent-minded, suspicious of the status quo and authority, and a drive to do it on your own terms. Do it yourself and you can do it on your own terms. It will take longer, and might be harder, but it’s 100% yours to own.

 

Right on Time is your second full-length alum and forth album overall. What was the process of writing and recording this album like over the last two years? Was it hard to make time for music?

We’d been playing the majority of these songs at shows for a while. There’s a mountain of songs in our back pockets (we’re gonna need another 20-30 years just to get them all out to the world) so we sort of looked at which ones felt cohesive and shortened it down to 12-15 songs. Then after recording, we used the ones that felt right. It’s hard for me, personally, to make time with work and family, so the process has been quite slow, but the actual songwriting piece comes pretty smoothly. Jeff, Mike and myself are all writers for the band, and we each bring a slightly different style.

The album is a pretty even blend of our originals, and then a couple that we co-wrote together while on the road or at rehearsals. We were listening to a ton of 70s era funky country albums at the time and were intentional during recording that this album have a different feel from It’s Good To Be Lonesome because we just wanted to show we have more than one side to the band. We tracked it live at Maproom Studios in Portland and did 100% of the production/manufacturing in Portland, too, which we’re pretty proud of.

 

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How has growing older and having a family influenced your songwriting and style since you first started?

Well for me, songwriting is something I’m still confused by. The muse comes floating around and I grab a pen or guitar and most of my tunes magically land in my lap. All of the songs I penned on this album were probably written in an hour, give or take. “Sad Old Man” came after I spent a couple days listening to Blaze Foley and was done in 15 minutes or so. Any time I’ve really labored over a song, it never seems to click. Recently I’ve started to think I should get a bit more habitual about writing, but I’ve got two wonderful toddlers at home and life is coming at full speed these days.

 

The Billies don’t play that many live shows, so what’s it like to have a couple dates on the calendar now? Do you try to get in a bunch of practice beforehand?

It’s like a family reunion! We brush up with a couple rehearsals, try to find a set that feels good, then pour all of that time and space apart in to one big party. Personally I feel like I’m giddy, nervous and laughing with excitement for most of the show. I think after this Seattle show we’re going to break again. Jeff has a baby coming in the spring (congrats Gator Bill in Mrs. Gator!) so I think we’ll be hunkered down for the foreseeable future.

But we do plan to try to get some recording sessions on the calendar and start planting seeds for album #3. We have a lot of music we want to share with the universe! Mike, aka William Surly, is playing solo a ton and playing with other twang is musicians in the Portland scene. And Glen, aka Glenessy aka Glenison aka Bill Collins, is a wild drumming animal that eats drumsticks for breakfast and plays in three or four different bands.

 

You mentioned getting radio play on KEXP was one of your bucket-list items. What else is on the Billie’s list?

Playing the Pickathon music festival outside of Portland is on there. If anyone reading this has any connections let me know! Making another handful of albums. That and opening for one of our heroes before they all kick rocks and leave this earth for whatever is next.

 

 

There seems to be a country renaissance happening right now with artists like Colter Wall, Sturgil Simpson, Charley Crockett and Orville Peck, how do you think the Lonesome Billies fit into this?

First off, I want to say hats off to all of those guys. Each one of them has something that’s totally theirs, and they’re doing it on their own terms. It’s inspiring and I admire each of those you mentioned. I also want to add there are so many more doing it. A couple folks should check out if they’re not familiar are Mike & The Moonpies and Vincent Neil Emerson, who both puth out incredible albums this year.

I like to think we fit in perfectly, sheeeit. We’ve got our own sound, but I think we sit nicely on the shelf with any of those cats. It’s like hot sauce, you can never have too many options, and each one is perfect for different occasions. We’re not out there grinding it out on the road like most, but I do think we can contribute to the cannon of country music on our own terms.

 

What does the future look like for the Lonesome Billies?

Raise babies, write and record more songs for the world to enjoy, and keep it moving while there’s still gas in the tank! Album #3 will likely head in a more psychedelic direction. We’re planning to pull out some of the songs we played a lot early on and build it into some sort of conceptual storyline.

I want to say thanks to each and every person who’s bought a ticket to our shows or paid for our music. I still trip out on that. We genuinely appreciate each and every one of you. Thanks to everyone at Wayward for supporting us on this lil push we’re making and selling our merch in the store and online, we love you guys!

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