get a hard rap. In most cases that rap is deserved but you do have
whipper snappers who take inspiration from the music and the wisdom
of their elders. This is the case of the ax-wielding, lap-steel
playing twenty-year old HEATHER GILLIS. She is a brand new talent but
her chops were earned the hard way. She began paying her dues on the
road under the tutelage of ALLMAN BROTHERS drummer, the late-BUTCH
TRUCKS as part of his band FREIGHT TRAIN. Now she's got a band of her
own and at the time of this interview, she was gearing up for her
band's tour of the Northeastern of the United States.
had a chance to catch up with HEATHER GILLIS before the start of her
tour. Here is how the interview went.
are weeks away from kicking off your tour. What is all going through
really looking forward to it. I moved to Atlanta a couple of months
ago and I've got a new band that I'm working with. We've actually
been on the road for a little bit already and so far it's been great.
I'm looking forward to heading up tot he Northeast and play for the
folks up there. We've met a bunch of people and it'll be nice to get
up there and see some familiar faces and make some new friends.
what can people expect from you and your band in the way of music?
will be some covers here and there but a lot of original stuff as
well. I have an album that I put out a couple of years ago and there
will be a couple of songs form that and also some newer stuff
that we'll be recording very soon. There is lots of original music. A
lot of high energy stuff. My sound incorporates a lot of blues, soul
and rock so people can expect a little but of everything.
did music get started for you? What was the catalyst that got this
whole thing going for you?
didn't grow up in a musical family but I really enjoyed music. I
picked up the guitar at a very young age. Then I had heard about JACK
WHITE and listened to his music and listening to him took me straight
down the blues route. He took me form not knowing anything to knowing
who ROBERT JOHNSON was and who all of these other Delta blues
men were. I latched onto the genre. That's where all of the slide
playing I do comes from. I started taking up slide guitar in January
and I play a little bit of lap steel as well.
you've had the chance to cut your teeth on the road as a part of the
band FREIGHT TRAIN and more importantly, you had BUTCH TRUCKS of THE
ALLMAN BROTHERS as a mentor. How did you come up on BUTCH's radar and
how did you find your way into his band.
had just come out to school in Tallahassee. I started a band there
and we put out a CD and started playing around. BUTCH went to school
in Tallahassee years ago. He went to Florida State. He came to do a
lecture one day and at the end of the day he wanted to jam out at a
local blues club. He wanted to get together with some local people
and play and have some fun. I played at that club often. The club
owner called and asked if I would like to be in the house band. I
said "Hell yeah!" I went and we played a couple of songs.
He and I met and we switched contact information. A couple of weeks
later, he was putting together his band FREIGHT TRAIN. This was
around the time that the ALLMAN BROTHERS were tying things together
and ending things. He called me up and invited me to sit in on the
different configurations of this new group of his. He was trying out
different guitar players for it. I was always there. There were a
couple of circumstances where a guitar player couldn't make it
I would fill in. One day he hired me on and we went on the road . It
was a great experience. He was a great mentor and he taught me so
much on how to play.
in the time that you spent with BUTCH in FREIGHT TRAIN, what was the
biggest lesson that he taught you?
biggest thing that he taught me was jumping off the cliff. When a
band is playing a song everyone is listening to each other and when
the guitar starts to go somewhere the band starts to blindly follow
it. You abandon the road map and kind of go for it. You jump off the
cliff together and hope that you land somewhere together and you
might not. It could fall apart and you don't know where the song is
going. There is no established time signature. There are no
instructions. If a song fell apart for BUTCH that was the best part
of the night for him. He loved mistakes. If you don't make mistakes
you're not trying anything new. He drove me to be more
and see where I could take things musically.
seems to me like the time you spent working with BUTCH has given you
the confidence to do this upcoming tour on your own.
I had a band before I met BUTCH but this is the first major tour that
I've been in charge of. I've stuck to touring in Georgia, Florida and
Alabama and this upcoming tour will be my first time out of the
South. I'm just going to figure it out and see how it goes. I'm just
going to see what happens. You don't know what's going to happen
until you try. As a band we subscribe to the COLONEL BRUCE HAMPTON
philosophy toward music. Everyone in the band has toured with
HAMPTON. He's taught us a lot about having a no ego attitude toward
the music and not worrying. There are no rules and n o worrying. Just
listen and play. With some of the shows that we've done gone to some
strange places musically and the audience has really been into it.
We're not going to play anything the same way twice. Our originals
have gone over really well. It's great when people are really into
the original stuff.
songs off of your live set have gotten the crowd going the most so
got a got song called FIGHT TO WIN. It's a fairly simple song but
it's a powerful song. People have really latched onto that one. The
other one is GONNA BE A STORM. I play lap steel on that one and
because of that I think people really enjoy the song. It really
stands out from the rest of our set. The aesthetic is different.
a new album from you is in the works, right?
have songs that I have been working on for a couple of years but
haven't been able to record yet. I've also got some songs that I've
written in the past couple of weeks. When the tour is over we're
going to be hammering out about 20 songs and then put out the new
know that it's too early to say, but how do you think this new album
will be different from the album you released previously?
was very young when I put out my first album. I did it all kind of
DYI. I think this new album will be more professional. I like for
things to happen organically. I like for things to be recorded live
with everyone in the studio at once. No mixing, matching or pasting
or dragging things into five or six different sessions. I like doing
it old school and capturing that energy. I definitely want that to
come out in the album.
would you like for people to come away with after they see and hear
I see a band play, I'm not worried about musicianship or skill level.
I care more if the band has high energy and that it's real. I want
people to know that we mean what we play. It's not a gimmick. It's
not a showboat. There is no strutting around and being this glamorous
thing. We're very real about the music . We care a lot about it. That
is what I want people to come away with.