"Hits are elusive. They're not everywhere. That's always been part of our goals and dreams. We're a country band. I don't see being on any other format. When it comes to having an opportunity, this is the one we were hoping to take."
Of course, who knows if the album contains a radio hit, but it does contain a strong set of songs.
"Picking the songs is the most crucial aspect of the album," says Hofeldt. "I have some basic level in confidence and the ability of everyone in this band. No matter what it is we can do a damn good job. If the songs aren't there, we're in deep trouble."
"When Tony and I decided we were going to entertain the possibility of fresh outside material, we got down to where we started listening to a lot of songs. We went to all the major publishing houses with the idea of being open minded. That's one thing that Buck Owens always told us. Don't be afraid to do someone else's songs. 'I did 'Act Naturally.' If I hadn't done that, who knows where my career would be?'"
Recorded in late March, the dozen songs include three Jim Lauderdale tunes, a cover of "Mohair Sam," a pop hit for the late Charlie Rich and Villanueva-Hofeldt songs.
"Bar Exam" typifies the honky tonk sound of The Derailers. The song ain't about law school, but the finer art of drinking at your local bar.
"We were just kind of having fun with the title." says Villanueva. "The title came up. Bill Carter came up with that, and we had a lot of fun writing it that song."
"It's one of those things. It just felt very natural to write a real barroom, honky tonk song," he says. "It was very fun. That was the idea of the song - something that's fun and classic honky tonk."
"I like the uptempo. I have fun writing that stuff," he says. "We like to have fun with words."
Another one filled with play on words is the closing twangy/rockabilly sounds of "There Goes the Bride," where the bride leaves the man waiting at the altar with the tag line "There goes the bride/you can kiss that girl good bye," leaving the jilted to conclude "I guess she really takes the cake this time."
The Derailers got soulful on "If It's Really Got to Be This Way," penned by the late Arthur Alexander.
"Kyle brought to our attention," says Villanueva. "We're all big Arthur Alexander fans. I hadn't heard that song myself though. I loved it. That was another thing that told us Kyle understands. He knows where we're coming from. I hear him having a lot of country soul. I love country soul. Charlie Rich - he's a great country soul singer."
"The soulful bent has been a key to the sound that we love, stuff that's soulful," Villanueva says. "George Jones and Jerry Lee Lewis. I love the gospel foundation of country music. My favorite singers like Jerry lee and George Jones - you can hear it - a lot of hymns in there. We just kind of gravitated to this thing. "
As for Rich, he did a version of "Mohair Sam," a pop hit in 1965. Give Lehning some credit for The Derailers cutting that as well.
"Kyle asked us if there's anything else we had ideas about, and Brian said 'I'd like to try 'Mohair Sam,'" Villanueva says. "Kyle said, 'Sure.' We'd been playing it live before we got to the studio. I love that track. I'm glad it's on the record."
Hofeldt sang one song this time around, "I See My Baby," which he also penned. He recalls Roy Orbison vocally.
"Certainly, I've gone through a lot of personal changes over the course of the last couple of years," Hofeldt says. "I was sitting there kind of by myself there at one point up in my little garage apartment that I have, just imagining somebody who was really lonely and had lost somebody to the extent they might go to if they might lose it. Maybe it wasn't too hard to get into that head space, and I was able to draw upon some of that stuff when I wrote that stuff. Just the typical tale of woe."
"We've been on the road an awful lot over the course of '97, '98. We really did do 320 dates in '97 and 300 in '98 and 200 in '99, and I was away from home an awful lot. Some difficulties arose out of that." (Hofeldt and his wife divorced)
The long road started in Oregon where Hofeldt and Villanueva grew up.
Villanueva recalls being influenced by Glenn Campbell's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Wichita Lineman," Johnny Cash and Elvis as a kid.
"Those were the biggies that I remember in the record collection," he says. "Those were the ones I listened to over and over again. And we didn't have a huge record collection. And from gospel. I learned a lot of hymns by going to church all my life. I don't remember not going to church. I remember having a real interest in gospel music and learning from different gospel singer too."