The Derailers, formed in the mid-1990s by Brian Hofeldt and Tony Villanueva, have been touring rigorously since August in support of their Lucky Dog/Sony debut album Here Come The Derailers. The band boasts a powerful blend of country/rockabilly along the lines of Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam with smooth vocal harmonies that hark back to the Louvin and Everly Brothers.
“We’re getting a great response from all the people. They’re really enjoying the new record,” Hofeldt said with a warm, Mid-Western drawl as he spoke via phone from his home outside of Austin, Texas while enjoying a brief break from the road.
Prior to signing with Sony, The Derailers had released a trio of lauded independent albums, Jackpot (1996) Reverb Deluxe (1997), and Full Western Dress (2000) that were produced by venerable roots rocker Dave Alvin. Many enthusiasts feared that when the Derailers signed with a major label and chose Nashville veteran Kyle Lehning (Randy Travis, Waylon Jennings) to produce they would lose their honky-tonk edge.
“Sony gave us full creative freedom,” said Hofeldt. “Lehning understood what we were all about and where we came from. (The album) shows growth and some improvement as musicians and artists but doesn’t have any lapses as far as staying true to our sound – sonically it has moved up a notch, but it still captures our personalities.”
In addition to having a new producer, the album also marked the first time the Derailers used outside, original material, courtesy of Jim Lauderdale and Kostas, two of Music Row’s most celebrated tunesmiths.
“It was pretty organic, as far as Lauderdale and Kostas being buddies of ours from before – (both) are people we really admire,” said Hofeldt.
On one of the album’s highlights, “Your Guess Is as Good as Mine,” Hofeldt and Villanueva share a writing credit with Lauderdale. On “I See My Baby,” and past Derailers’ albums, Hofeldt has written solo.
“It’s always interesting to have someone else’s perspective,” Hofeldt said. “Working with someone of that caliber (Lauderdale) is a great learning experience – I find it refreshing to step outside my head a little.”
The Derailers have been building a strong fan base the old-fashioned way by touring on both sides of the Atlantic since 1995. They recently completed a festival tour of Europe on a bill with Reba McEntire, Brad Paisley and Ricky Skaggs.
“The people (In Europe) are hungry for American music,” Hofeldt said. “Sometimes we’d play these festivals in Germany and these guys would come out dressed like cowboys with chaps and cap guns. Other guys would dress like Indians – (they were all) just really into it.”
Although The Derailers brand of hardcore country differs from Skaggs’ bluegrass-tinged country and is a far cry from the country pop of McEntire or Paisley, Hofeldt said his band “got great acceptance from everybody. I don’t think the European fans would be satisfied if there weren’t some variety in the tour.”
Last year, The Derailers’ “The Right Place” was named CMT’s Independent Video of the Year and also was a “most requested video.” The video for the band’s latest single “More of Your Love,” a steel guitar driven harmony piece with a razor-sharp hook, is getting played currently. Despite CMT’s support and sold-out shows across the United States and Europe, the Derailers are still finding it difficult to get played on commercial country radio.
A radio programmer consultant once told Hofeldt he viewed songs on a scale of one to five – one being the best, five being the worst. The consultant informed Hofeldt he wants threes on the radio all the time.
“Because if it’s too good it might stick out and people might think it’s too weird,” said Hofeldt with a sigh. “They want middle-of-the-road, banal stuff to keep people from changing the channel.”
Fortunately, community radio stations such as WMNF 88.5 in Tampa prefer to play fives instead of threes.
“We’ve been playing The Derailers since the beginning,” said Mike Fisher, host of the afternoon Traffic Jam program. “We’re playing ‘Here Comes the Bride’ and ‘Country A-Go-Go’ off their new album. We got a couple requests for The Derailers this afternoon.”Hofeldt is undeterred by mainstream country radio’s lack of support.
“(We plan to) just keep on touring and spreading the word about the new record – trying to kick against the door of country radio and see if we can get in there,” said Hofeldt.
The Derailers have a strong reputation as one of the best live country/rockabilly bands in the country.
“(People can expect) a revved up performance and a lot of dancing, excitement and fun,” said Hofeldt. “We’re not Bob Dylan, so we’re not trying to send a message or anything. We’re just providing music for people to let loose to.”
- The Derailers will be performing at Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa on Friday. For tickets/info call (813) 971-0666.