Headstones: Playing It Straight

Headstones’ front man Hugh Dillon is thrilled by the concert review penned by Music Express scribe Brian Stanko of the band’s recent performance at Calgary’s Flame Central – except for one slight oversight. “We played the gig on a Wednesday in the freezing cold yet the place was packed as though it was a Friday night, it was totally insane,” noted Dillon.

Dillon is phoning in from a band practice yet when asked why the band was still practising after delivering a series of scorching gigs in Western Canada, he revealed the band is in rehearsal for a special gig set for Tuesday November 25th when they debut a live performance of their virtually acoustic new record ‘One In The Chamber Music’ , at a special fans-only gig at Toronto’s venerable Horseshoe Tavern.

Known for the raunchy, punk performances off their six previous records, Headstones will shock some of their fans but pleasantly surprise others with a stripped-down, bluesy, sometimes country, music rendition of classic hits like “Smile And Wave”, “Tweeter And The Monkey Man”, “When Something Stands For Nothing” and even the sinister “Cemetery” getting a new twist. The album also features two new tracks; “Colourless” and “Laugh Lines”

“It’s a big thank you to our fans,” acknowledged Dillon. “When we released our last record ‘Love + Fury’, we did a special acoustic set at a private gig at Lee’s Palace and that went down so well we decided to do an entire record like that. Nobody in the band wanted to just do acoustic versions of electric songs. The key was to take our songs apart and put them back together in a way that was exciting to us.” This was achieved during a special recording session at Imprint Music studios staged in front of 20 lucky pledge music donators.

It could be said that Dillon’s recent television fame may have developed a new, more mature fan base, and certainly, when you hear the band’s new treatment of previous hits, you can actually make out the lyrics without the band’s excessive bombast. But to Dillon, he feels the revamped versions only prove that the roots of the band’s material were originally based on song writing and the band’s love of rock n roll.

“Not all of our songs have been screaming rock n roll,” explained Dillon. “A lot of our earlier songs were written on acoustic guitars before we built up the arrangements. This new album is just about us stripping the arrangements back to their bare bones. It’s a whole new dynamic.”

From 1993 until the band took a break in 2003 after their fifth record, ‘The Oracle Of Hi-Fi”,  Headstones’ fan base has remained fanatically loyal. Dillon may have been distracted by a movie and television acting career that was kick started by a critically-acclaimed performance as Joe Dick, lead singer in Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo band faux documentary (in 1996) which then lead to a string of television starring roles (Durham County, Flashpoint and Continuum), yet he’s never lost his love of performing in a band and band mates, Trent Carr (guitar), Tim White (bass)  and Dale Harrison (drums) have remained loyal to the cause.

“Actually, me being away on TV and movie shoots has been a good test for the band,” notes Dillon who has recently shot a TV special “Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight” and a World War II series in Budapest, Hungary titled “Camp X”.  “Being away from each other has been very therapeutic for everyone. We don’t have an attitude that we’ve done this a million times before so we take our time together seriously. When I get back to working with the band, I want things to be creative and exciting, that’s why we were able to write two new songs “Colourless” and “Laugh Lines” [quote]At that time, I felt that what we were doing was bullshit and I just didn’t want to waste my time[/quote]

Dillon ended his original liaison with Headstones after their 2003 ‘The Oracle Of Hi-Fi’ release when he felt the band was doing things for the wrong reason. “At that time, I felt that what we were doing was bullshit and I just didn’t want to waste my time – that was the end of our early career,” noted Dillon. Yet a series of four concerts in February 2011, including a memorable gig at Toronto’s Sound Academy drew such a frenetic response that the band realized their fan base was still there and that loyalty was rewarded when they reunited for another eight-date tour in December 2011 which sparked a burst of creativity that resulted in the release of a new studio release ‘Love + Fury’ in 2013 which was fuelled by the success of a new hit single “Longwaytoneverland”.

“That Sound Academy gig was amazing,” reflected Dillon. “The gig sold out, people were going apeshit, singing, it was a wildly validating musical experience yet at the same time, those people were setting the bar for us. The people that show up and pay their money expect to see a great show from us and they won’t accept anything less. If we put on a lame show, they’re not afraid to tell us, they expect us to be 100% honest with them.”

Being honest and being motivated to do things right have been the driving force behind Dillon, even in the mid 1980’s when he moved to London England from his native Kingston Ontario to forge a music career. “It was really tough, everyone was telling me I’d never make it in the music industry, that I was wasting my time,” Dillon reflected. “But I felt that my life was slipping away from me and that I had to be true to myself. So I moved to London, busked on the streets to pay my rent, lived in squat, scrounged coins for beer money but that’s how I got an education. It taught me how to write songs and how to seize the moment and be honest with myself.”

This attitude, formed on the streets of London, came into play when Dillon returned to Canada to form  Headstones with Carr, White and original drummer Mark Gibson. “From the day we formed the band and released our first album in 1993 (‘Pictures Of Health’) it’s always been about attitude,” Dillon noted. “We never pandered to anyone, everything was on our terms. There was no complacency with us. We already jumped that fuckin turnstile.”

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And that same attitude is still prevalent. Asked if his new-found television and movie fame could translate into a new wave of more mature fans, Dillon responded that he had no intentions of cashing in on his recently established star power. “I mean if someone came along with the right amount of cash, the plane tickets, hotels etc and offered to book us in Europe or the States then fine. But otherwise, we are not looking for an audience when we already have one here in Canada,” Dillon observed. “The great thing is that we don’t need to go out on tour, we do it purely because we want to. I would rather select 10 dates that I want to play and know that the fans there want us rather than play a string of dates for the sake of playing them. If we had been huge in the States, this band would have eventually fallen apart because you have to compromise yourself to succeed down there. We have no desire to do that and to sell out to people who are not our real fans.”

Dillon knows that soon or later, he’s going to get that next call from Hollywood and he’ll be off developing a promising movie and television acting career. But in the meantime, he’s thrilled to have it both ways as he continues to develop Headstones as a viable rock band.

As he wraps up the conversation, Dillon sounds out a warning to anyone contemplating attending a future Headstones’ concert. “I am a music fan too and I can’t stand it when I go to see a show and the band I have gone to see `half-asses it” so I always bring it. In return, I expect all of our fuckin fans to get involved and have a good time. Do not be looking at your cell phones, texting messages or doing something else because I will come out there and I’ll find you!”

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