SCREAM ALONG WITH BILLY HOUGH
I arrived in Provincetown on a Friday night last month and was trying to find the perfect way to ease into a long weekend. My friend Joe recommended I go over to Enzo's, a small little bar on the lower level of a piano bar on Commercial Street, and check out Billy Hough. Billy's show is called Scream Along with Billy, and the premise is pretty simple - Billy interprets the songs from a classic album each week while wearing a Warholian fright wig, accompanied by musician Sue Goldberg. During the bridges of songs Billy delivers sneering, angry monologues about his chaotic past in a style that calls to mind both Patti Smith and Justin Bond. The night I arrived he was already halfway through with Tina Turner's Private Dancer. He went into a whole monologue about Tina's survival which he somehow related back to himself, and it all sort of made sense in a drunken kind of way. I felt like a local on my first night. Billy's album 'Scream Along With Billy' comes out this week, so I emailed him for a virtual chat.
Adam: So tell me about your history, I know you go into some of it in your shows right?
Billy: I went to a large public university in Mississippi in the late 80s and early 90’s. I was involved in the Theatre Department, and started writing shows for the grad students to combat the glut of Neil Simon we were being forced to do, as Arts funding was precarious at best in those days, and nobody wanted to say ‘fuck’ or show their titties on the Gov’t dole. I was in a retro-folk duo called Anubis with my friend Heather (seriously), was the President of my fraternity, and eventually started doing one-man shows (after repeated viewings of Sandra Bernhard’s Without You I’m Nothing) notable mostly for the graphic gay material, ‘fuck’ and titties. Six months later I was hustling for heroin in the French Quarter, and listening to the Velvet Underground. I formed a punk band called Surrender Dorothy with my friends. I moved north and formed yet another punk band, GarageDogs, with my two brothers. We eventually relocated to LA, and finally back east.
Do you still do drugs?
Yeah. Nothing like the old days. And I don’t drink much.
How did you first get to Provincetown, and when did you come up with the idea to do Scream Along with Billy?
I started coming out to Cape Cod with Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans, a theater troupe out of Boston. One summer Bobby Blinn told me that piano player had quit at the Gifford House, and told me to do it. It was a bit out of my frame of reference, but I tried. I played mostly Patti Smith and Bob Dylan songs, much to the dismay of the old guard. That first summer I was a bit of a twat. Whenever someone would request ‘Oklahoma’ I’d play something from Laurie Anderson’s ‘Weird Science’ to really piss them off. Eventually Bobby moved to Enzo, and asked me to come and play down there. As I was already doing three nights a week at the Gifford House, I worried that nobody would come. So I tried to firgure out how to make the show different. So I bought a wig, wrote a theme song, and voila: Scream Along with Billy. Susan Goldberg sat in on bass the second night, and I never let her leave. The show is now a pretty thorough amalgamation of the two of us. Lemme see, summer of 2006 we started.
What are some of the other albums that you’ve done?
The first summer, we did Pink Floyd’s The Wall as a joke. We have no guitar, and Pink Floyd was a musical touchstone for neither Sue nor myself. But Everyone loved it. So now we do a record a week. I’ll list some of my favorites: Radiohead’s OK Computer, Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Court and Spark, Rumours, Thriller, Saturday Night Fever, Abbey Road, Sgt. Peppers, Dusty in Memphis, and last summer we did all of Patti Smith’s first four records Horses, Radio Ethiopia, Easter, and Wave. Still to come this summer: Led Zeppelin IV, Woodstock, and She’s So Unusual.
How would you characterize your singing style?
My singing style? I don’t know that I really have one. Not consciously. I am a huge fan of emotional singers–Like Marianne or Lou Reed, Neil Young and Dylan–who don’t have classically beautiful voices, but find a means of delivery that is personal and powerful. I tend to commit thoroughly to whatever material I’m performing. So I don’t differentiate between ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’ and ‘After the Gold Rush’ when I’m singing, so I guess it probably has more to do with intent than actual musicality.
Did you have to practice getting good at the raps during the bridges of your covers?
No I don’t practice. They’d be better if I did. I feel very strongly that they be organic. So some nights I talk non-stop and others, not at all. The first year, I used all my real-life experiences, but then nobody would fuck me or hang out anymore, because everything ended up on stage. So now I try to keep it to politics or personal experiences, and I change the names of those involved. It’s really easy to do. I’ve been thinking of selling a Scream Along starter kit: 3 beers, 2 bags coke, 50mg of morphine, and a microphone.
Here’s an mp3 of an original song by Billy Hough from his upcoming album Scream Along With Billy: The Album available for exclusive download below. Billy’s album available on Amazon or CD Baby or at Tim’s Used Books in Provincetown.