Since forming five years ago, The Highballers have been trying to find their place in the country music scene in Washington, D.C. The quintet plays a brand of music influenced by the honky-tonk greats of the 70s like Buck Owens and Waylon Jennings, along with a healthy dose of rock and roll.
Kendall Jackson formed the group, bringing in musicians from across North American to join him in making his brand of rough-and-tumble country music. With Hope Hudson and Jackson delivering harmonizing vocals in that bygone country fashion, Drake Sorey on drums, Sean Lally on guitar, and the recent addition of punk guitarist Michael Barrientos on bass, Jackson is calling 2011 the year The Highballers came alive.
The group has plans to record its first album – with a tour to follow, Jackson hopes – and will be performing some of its original songs and unique covers at its Saturday show at The Cowboy Cafe in Arlington. The News-Press spoke to Jackson about bringing the band together, and keeping the project going into the recording phase.
LP: Your bandmates hail from across North America. How did you all get together?
KJ: It was Craigslist, to be honest with you. I knew I wanted to form a country band, with people that are not rockabilly people, so I ran an ad that said I’m looking for ex-rock musicians that have turned to country. The responses just poured in.
LP: Does growing up in many different parts of the world affect the band’s musical influences?
KJ: Yeah, because Mike is from Compton, in L.A., and Sean is from the Midwest, so he grew up listening to a lot of punk bands from the New York side. Drake and I are from the south, and Hope grew up listening to gospel music. But the tie between all of us was our love for that honky-tonk outlaw music from the 70s.
LP: Why was now the right time to start recording?
KJ: I think that we were sort of in a weird place for about a year where we really weren’t sure if we were going to continue with the project. But we found Mike and got inspired, and we said now is the time to record. We were putting it off because the whole band was in a state of limbo for a long time, but now we really got it together. It will be in two phrases. First, we’ll put some favorite covers on a record that we’ll give away, and then we’re going to get into the studio and do all of our originals.
LP: What can listeners expect from those upcoming albums?
KJ: The covers we are going to do on our cover album are pretty obscure. If you’re a real aficionado, you can recognize some of these songs, but if you have a passing interest in country music, you won’t. The other record is a combination of songs that I’ve written as recently as a couple of months ago and some that I’ve written several years ago. It’s hard to categorize what we are. We are country, but with the infusion of these rock guitarists, it really takes on an alt-country, country-rock feel.
LP: Can you think back to a point where you thought this wouldn’t work?
KJ: Early on, we got our original lineup together, and we were refining the sound, and it was the classic case of nobody being able to agree. We spent more time arguing than playing music. After that year-and-a-half period, I was pretty sure that this band was going nowhere. Then, last summer, we were just about ready to give up on it when we found Mike. He brought in a level of energy that we really needed to kickstart everything, and it affected everybody the same. We all realized that this is it, this is the lineup.
• For more information about The Highballers, visit highballersmusic.com.