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Here come The Derailers

By Jeffrey B. Remz, September 2001

New label. New producer.

But the sound of one of Austin's finest, The Derailers, remains the same. That is not such a bad thing either.

Not when the sound is a mix of honky tonk meets Bakersfield with some Sixties-styled harmonies and nods to The Beatles thrown in. You can still cite folks like Buck Owens to give an idea of what these guys sound like.

According to Tony O. Villanueva, one of the quartet's lead singers, the similarity of "Here Come The Derailers" to past efforts should not have come as any surprise.

"We were looking to continue what we have been doing," says Villanueva in a telephone interview from his Austin-area home. "We were looking to do something that was entirely Derailers and bring it up a few notches, which is close to the same."

One major difference, though, for guitarist and occasional lead singer Brian Hofeldt, drummer Mark Horn, bassist Ed Adkins and Villanueva, was the recording process. The past few albums featured ace producer Dave Alvin, not a bad name to drop amongst the edgier country crowd.

But in trying to get more of a mainstream acceptance, meaning airplay on country radio - something Villanueva and Hofeldt readily acknowledge wanting - The Derailers felt they needed to look elsewhere.

The idea of leaving Alvin was advanced by Alvin himself.

"We were interested in working with a Nashville producer," says Hofeldt from his San Marcos, Texas home. "Dave Alvin recommend to us before 'Full Western Dress' (their previous album) to go with a Nashville producer. 'You guys are country, and you deserve to be on country radio.'"

"This time, we went ahead and agreed and said we're going to try something new. We started looking around for people we respected by what they had done previously. So, we had a short list of people we were interested in."

"We were actually going to be with an A team producer, Kyle Lehning, so he had some ideas on what to do to bring us into a mainstream country proximity," says Villanueva. "He had successful ideas, mainstream records for three decades."

Prime among them was Randy Travis.

"We met with (Lehning) and talked over music and production techniques and style," Hofeldt says.

"He's a real laid back guy, but he has a real love of music and a great ear."

Villanueva says recording was "a little bit different coming into it this time. It was definitely new territory. We recorded in Nashville, but the basic goal kind of remained the same. But I think we were making conscious (decisions) of retaining what we have - things that's unique about us. We were also open to expanding and enlarging what we started, and we were open to ideas that Kyle had to raise it up a few notches."

Four previous releases were recorded in Austin.

"Nashville is the center for country music, and we're a country band," Hofeldt says. "It's the way things work. It's always been country music with very few exceptions is made out of Nashville. Buck Owens - our big hero - was one guy who was fortunate enough to do it his own way. But his producer, Ken Nelson did a lot of producing in Nashville too."

"We recorded in a great studio, the former Monument studio, where the great Roy Orbison recorded. It was a great experience, and the band played phenomenally. and I think a lot of that had to do with the confidence Kyle Lehning had in us."

"Certainly just because we're going to be away from home and a little different situation, we didn't know what to expect exactly," he says. "Things usually turn out not be that different, and that's how it turned out in a way."

"The ways it turned out to be different were all positive," says Hofeldt. "We went in and worked hard days, but not overly long. We didn't labor over stuff too long. "

"We went in and nailed those songs," he says. "It was not too different really."

Villanueva, 34, thinks Lehning was successful in enabling The Derailers to retain their sound, while also having the ability to "bring it up to date production wise. I think it sound more like a current record."

For many bands, it's a thin line between retaining their recognized sound (and of course keeping their fans happy) or changing and perhaps risking being accused of selling out. '

But for fans of The Derailers, the latter charge probably wouldn't stick.

"I think we got the best of both worlds on this one, hopefully more so every time," says Villanueva. "I think this record we accomplished this more than the last one. There are a lot of reasons for it - recording in Nashville, working with Kyle. He had some A team guys come in and working with us. It brought everything to a new level. We were very committed to retaining that Derailers thing."

Why is it important to get on mainstream country radio?

"To reach another level," says Villanueva. "As far as the music we play, going on without country radio, there's only so much farther we can go. Really what it comes down to, we feel really strongly about country music. We love it. The country music we love was on country radio. It's just something important to me, like a radio hit - that is definitely the ultimate goal. That to us says you've succeeded. You've reached a level that shows you have this thing that says you did it on a commercial front."

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