There’s a generation of people who recognize Hugh Dillon as the lead singer of Kingston Ontario’s alternative rock band, Headstones, a musician who broke into movies big time with his role as Joe Dick, front man for Hard Core Logo, the fictitious band whose rebirth was documented in Bruce MacDonald’s 1996 film of the same name.
Then there’s another generation who will recognize Dillon as Sergeant Ed Lane from the long-running police drama, Flashpoint or maybe Detective Mike Sweeney from Durham County or Duncan Sinclair from X Company, who has now morphed back into his original role as lead vocalist, chief writer and co-producer of Headstones’ latest 12-track release `Little Army’
Calling in from his car phone as Dillon navigates the Toronto streets, interrupting our chat to blast his horn and curse at some wayward miscreants, he reports the band is in rehearsal for a special one night-two-performance set at Toronto’s Velvet Underground night club Friday June 2nd where a select group of hard core fans will benefit from a charity performance to raise funds for mental illness while launching the band’s eighth release.
For Dillon, he is enjoying the best of both worlds. He squeezed in a movie performance with Nicholas Cage (The Humanity Bureau), while wrapping up his television commitment to X Company, which finished late last year in Budapest Hungary. In between time, he wrote material for the new album with guitarist Trent Carr and co-producer Chris Osti, road tested some of the new material during a band appearance at the Phoenix Club in November and then assembled the troops at The Tragically Hip’s Bathhouse Recording Studios in Kingston and Toronto’s Revolution Studios in January to complete what critics are lauding as a classic rock album.
“Some movie and TV actors like to return to the stage to do Broadway, with me it’s always a return to the studio to rejoin my band,” announced Dillon. “I love the challenge of working on my movie and television projects and then spending time with the band. I realized late last year we had some great new songs demoed and when we got together in the studio with Chris (Osti) it all just came together.”
From the incendiary blast of “Devil’s On Fire”, it’s obvious that band members; Dillon, guitarist Trent Carr, bassist Tim White drummer Steve Carr and new guitarist (our new secret weapon) Rickferd Van Dyk, mean serious business with a record which not only rocks but serves as a cathartic lyrical base for Dillon. Centre point to the record are two tracks which run back to back; “Kingston” and “Los Angeles”
“Kingston” is a reflective piece on growing up in the Limestone City, about attending classes at KCV High with a certain Gord Downie (now lead vocalist with The Tragically Hip). “When I was 17, Gord was in my history class, we’d hang out at the Prince George Hotel together, checking out blues guitar greats like Muddy Waters and Luther (Guitar) Johnson, those guys were always looking for Pot.”
“I rarely run my lyrics past anyone but with that song, I did shoot the lyrics past Gord for his approval,” Dillon continued. “That song is about him. I know I wouldn’t be here today without him. We played on stage together at our high school, we both dreamed of nothing but rock n roll and writing songs like Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison. It is so sad what is happening to him (Downie has terminal brain cancer) I am lost for words to say but I know I love that guy.”
As for “Los Angeles”, Dillon describes what it’s like working on the West Coast and concurs that it can be a great place to live but can also be horrifying too. “People at my new record company (Cadence Music) always told me to take my guitar with me no matter where I went, and with Trent (Carr) also with me, I found that piece of advice useful. In that song, I talk about car headlights flowing like lava down the highway and that’s what it looks like when you climb up to Griffin Park at night.
Other songs like “Captain of The Shit Out Of Luck” and “Sunlight Kills The Stars may suggest Dillon’s quirky sense of humour but both songs also paint strong lyrical scenarios. “Captain Of The Shit Out Of Luck could be a composite of you on your worst day. It encompasses the opposite of being truthful. Our mandate should be to be truthful, life is better, your relationships are better, the band gets along better, everything Is more positive.”
“Sunshine Kills the Stars” deals with the unnecessary evil which is the unpleasant business side of show business. “I love the creative side but this whole business part, if you don’t keep your shit together, they will suddenly dictate how the record sounds or what TV show you should be doing, or what movie or how you should live your life. At the end, you’ve just got to be your own person.”
In making a comeback with their 2013 ‘Love and Fury’, Headstones passed on any record company involvement and went the Pledge Music to fund that release. Support from their long-suffering fan base was so strong that the band elected to go the same route with their 2014 `One in The Chamber Music” which saw select fans actually invited to sing background on select tracks.
However, with `Little Army’, Headstones signed a new recording contract with Cadence Music Group which negated needing Pledge Music support. This decision triggered complaints from fans who had enjoyed financially participating in the band’s projects.
“It’s the classic case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” Dillon mused. “If we had gone the Pledge Music route some people would have complained that we didn’t need it, but because we didn’t seek that funding, some of our fans are complained that we should have let them get involved. I have no problem with that, all a pledge is is pre-ordering. It’s like us saying, `we’ll show you some of the songs, if you are really interested and we promise you. It’s not bullshit and if you pre-order them we can go and make the record. I like it because it puts you in a direct line with your fans, if nobody gives a shit then you shouldn’t be making a record.”
With a new album. a single “Devil’s On Fire” that is setting radio airplay charts on fire, a new record label and a band that has recharged their batteries, Dillon is set to continue to establish Headstones as one of this country’s key musical institutions.
“It’s so much fun to be back,” Dillon concludes. “We get to choose the gigs we like; we get to choose what we are playing. The fans are fuckin awesome and it affords us more freedom than we’ve ever had and that in turn feeds itself because we don’t get burned out doing things we don’t want to do.”
Gigs the band has selected include the Ottawa Blues Festival July 14th and Key to Bala August 12th with other select dates still to be identified. As for his acting career, Dillon has the “Humanity Bureau” flick with Nick Cage, another independent movie; “Break My Heart A Thousand Times” (I get to play the bad guy in both of them) plus Dillon says he has two U.S television shows in development.
Yet you get the feeling that for all the acting projects that do get sent in Dillon’s direction, playing in a band and writing music will always be his first love. “I can see us now, 75-years old, playing in a local bar,” cracked Dillon. “Well, maybe not!”