This interview by Paige Turner is a Baseball Beer and BBQ (BBB) exclusive.
Ichabod Hyde has been the front man for Bitchhead for nearly 25 years. His band’s music has been called anything from “techno bluegrass” to “Appalachian industrial.” Known more for their live shows, and small, mostly local and fiercely loyal cult following, Bitchhead releases their 12th live album later this year.
BBB: Your band has famously never produced a studio album. Why is this? And do you see this fact changing at any point?
Ichabod Hyde: We never thought of ourselves as a band that was for anything other than the fans, so it has never made sense for us to do anything but live albums. We see the fans as a part of the band, and it means something to us to have them be heard on the records. So, as long as people want them, we will continue to put out the live ones. I don’t see us spending money going into a studio and make a record. Why would we wanna do that?
BBB: Assuming people don’t know about the origin of the name of the group, could you educate them?
Hyde: I know people who don’t know us probably see the name and get offended. First of all, I am way too old to worry about that stuff now. It’s not meant to be aggressive or even demeaning towards women in any way. I used to kick around this certain used book store and ran across a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. And I have never called a woman the word that starts our band’s name, but Ayn Rand kind of fits that. So, Rand plus Fountainhead and there you go. Funny thing is we had friends who had band names like Blubber Pussy and Sausage Hole. I remember telling those guys, “Man, your names can’t last if you want to.” Maybe they didn’t want to, cause they didn’t. Then I heard there was band from Indiana, of all places, that had the same name as us, but they put a space between bitch and head. We just kept our name as it was.
BBB: You still tour with many of the same bands you did 25 years ago. What’s that like?
Hyde: Hell, after all this time, we are all family. Some of us, legally so. I wouldn’t know what to do without the guys from Jimmy the God or Sluglash or Judas Hitler. There’ve been years where some of us wanted to quit, but we kinda keep each other upright. What else would we do? On some of our live albums, those guys are playing with us. One day we will go all out and have ourselves a festival. I really think if the guys and girls in those bands came to us and said, “We’re done!” we’d probably be done too.
BBB: The band still has a unique sound. What were some of your influences starting out?
Hyde: We didn’t start off thinking, “we need to sound completely different from everyone else.” You start thinking that and you will always let yourself down. The best bands in the world, their sound comes from something organic and evolves. Of course, you’re gonna hear stuff and it’s going to make you want to move in a certain direction musically. There are lots of great bands that hear Bob Dylan and just know that’s what they want to be. We never went down that particular road, but we grew up in the South where there’s so much great music from the blues to jazz to rock. There’s country as well, of course, but I never got into that. And man, I hate disco. But I do like music that has a beat. So we’ve always played with drum sounds. And we’ve always had a certain guitar style, but we know if we get bored with it then the people who come to our shows will as well. And when it comes down to it, we exist to entertain them. We like to change things up every so often. But to answer your question, there have been so many people who led our hands down our musical path that I couldn’t name them all. To throw out a few I would say, the Reverend Horton Heat, the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience, Bad Brains, Kraftwerk. But it’s an injustice to all the other groups we’ve respected to name just a few bands. And we’ve never said, “Let’s put out a punk album that sounds exactly like Bad Brains.” Hell, the guys in that band wouldn’t respect us if we did that. We just hear them and love the sound and it becomes a part of us. All of the music we love gets mixed up and becomes Bitchhead.
BBB: Politically speaking, you seem to lean pretty far left and that comes out in your lyrics. Have you ever feared alienating some of your core fans with your outspoken views?
Hyde: In a word, no. People who have been coming to see us for so long know where we stand on certain things. They know what they are getting. The band shares my viewpoint on most things because otherwise we wouldn’t still be going at it. I don’t say this because I think I am better than the other guys. I say this because I know they wouldn’t put up with me spouting off for my own sake. So when I am talking about how allowing guns in national parks is really stupid, I know our drummer, Sonny Liston, has my back. Arthur (Guinness, the band’s guitarist for the last 20 years) hates guns even more than I do. You’ve got people in Tennessee, elected officials, who vote down 280,000 working poor citizens the chance to have health care. It’s insane. Whether human beings ever had it in us to care about the greater good, I don’t know, but there seems to be a lack of it now. The band seems to think collectively that people should follow some rules: don’t hurt each other, try to help your fellow person, be nice to one another. And I really hope that doesn’t sound revolutionary.
BBB: But do you think people start to tune you out or don’t listen to the band because of the politics?
Hyde: I think people listen to the music no matter what. Are there people out there who might not listen to us because they don’t agree with what we are saying? I’m sure. And they have that right, but we aren’t trying to sell millions of records and sell-out our core values. It isn’t worth it. Never has been, and at this point what would be the use? Next presidential election, am I going to vote? Yes. Will I vote for the Republican? No. But last cycle I voted for a couple of members of the Green Party. We aren’t going to suddenly try to be like Kid Rock who seems to wanna come across a certain way to sell himself first, and his music second. We don’t care about image. We care about the product. And when it comes to voting, I never understood people who say, “Yeah, I’m voting, but I am not going to say who for.” If I really wanted to know who voted for who I can go look at public records. People can find out who people voted for, sorry, but it’s a fact. That’s how political parties know who to call to try to get people to give money before the next election cycle; they get lists. But I like to have a dialogue with people. I don’t think people are idiots for voting for someone I wouldn’t, but I like to find out why they think a certain way. Discussion and communication need to be more a part of our culture, but there is so much distrust nowadays. Seems to only get worse.
BBB: Getting back to the music, your next album comes out later this year. The band pays for the production of the CDs and vinyl themselves. You refuse to have a record company involved. How have you managed to be able to maintain this through the years?
Hyde: We never set out to be millionaires, and we still aren’t. But we do ok. I have a house. I have a car. I have what I need. The other guys seem to be ok, too. And we’ve been lucky. We’ve never lost money on the band. We pay for the records, but we get it back in sales. We make money from touring. We just try to keep things simple. Once you start getting record companies involved, their whole point is to make money. It’s a business, so of course that’s what they want: money. That’s never been our goal. Plus, the record company needs this and that and eventually the band changes from something organic into some kind of Nickelback shit. That kind of music is just trash. It’s overproduced crap, really. The lyrics might as well be, “Please buy this because I want money!” But it’s really freeing for us to not have to deal with some A&R guy. We do what we need to do and basically when we want to, but mostly I think we do things that our fans respect and enjoy. That’s the real reason our band exist.
BBB: What makes the next album, “Bitch of the First World,” different from the others?
Hyde: Like the rest of our albums, we don’t do covers. All the songs are originals. This album has 12 songs. We wanted to a different sound, so we worked with some different instruments. There’s some we had never used before, hammer dulcimer, cello horn, fluba and theremin. In fact, the theremin we used on 10 of the songs. Definitely changes the scope of what we are trying to do with the soundscapes on those. People reacted well to what we were doing, I think. I know people seem to be pretty solid that it will be tough for us to ever better “Under the Bitch and Dreaming,” but we are never going to stop trying. Hopefully, people will keep sticking with us. We are really happy with how some of the songs turned out on this one. “Asymmetric Megaoruzhie” may be one of the best songs we’ve done in years. And “Nuclear Riot,” which is really about the rise of fascism and the Tea Party in America, has probably the biggest chorus we’ve ever done.
BBB: What should we expect from the band in the next few years?
Hyde: Just more of the same. Touring, an album or two, but you know at our ages, we are lucky enough to be able to take some time away and enjoy life. We’re very fortunate and very thankful for our fans. Maybe we can actually finally work on making a festival happen with the other bands we hang around with. Most likely, though, we will all get together to discuss it but end up drinking beer and playing some tunes. I think we’ve been working on that festival for 20 years. Probably, take another 20 to realize we aren’t going to ever do it. But it’ll be a fun 20 years, I’m sure.