The Derailers , from Austin, Texas, are steeped in the Bakersfield Sound of the ‘60s made popular by Buck Owens . On their fourth studio album, however, the group embraces contemporary Nashville like never before.
For Here Come The Derailers, released Sept. 11 on Lucky Dog –- a Sony Nashville imprint –- the group recorded in Nashville for the first time. Music Row veteran Kyle Lehning produced using professional studio musicians and backup singers. The quartet turned to established Nashville songwriters to round out their mix of originals and old covers.
“We’ve certainly extended our hand out toward the way things are done here,” lead guitarist and vocalist Brian Hofeldt says during an interview with the band at Sony’s offices on Music Row.
“Nashville, historically, is the home of country music, and we wanted to get involved here. There have been some anomalies, like Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam recording in California, but country records are mainly recorded here. People here are in tune with the way country radio and country records should sound.”
A favorite country-roots bar band since forming in 1993, The Derailers recorded their previous albums in Austin, with former Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin producing. He encouraged them to reach for mainstream acceptance by turning to the Nashville establishment.
“We’ve always been moving forward,” lead singer Tony Villanueva says. “Sitting here in this Sony building is a huge move forward. Looking around these offices, it is very noticeable to us that we’ve moved up.”
The Derailers’ first two studio albums, Jackpot and Reverb Deluxe, were released on Watermelon Records, a now-defunct Austin label. The band’s 1999 album, Full Western Dress, came out on Sire shortly before the Warner Bros. subsidiary pulled out of Nashville. The group believes Sony will give them a push like they’ve never had before.
“We didn’t have an opportunity to get Full Western Dress to country radio,” Villanueva reasons. “This record is our first opportunity to really have a full-on radio campaign and to utilize the gamut of [resources] available here. This is the point we’ve been striving for.”
The band –- rounded out by bassist Ed Adkins and drummer Mark Horn — recently shot a video for “More of Your Love,” the Tex-Mex flavored opener and first single from Here Come The Derailers. The song was co-written by Kostas and Wally Wilson, two well-known and successful Nashville tunesmiths.
The Derailers cover the 1965 Charlie Rich single “Mohair Sam,” penned by songwriting legend Dallas Frazier, and Arthur Alexander’s “If It’s Really Got to Be This Way,” an obscurity from the late country-soul singer’s last album in 1993.
“Buck Owens told us to be open to outside songs,” Hofeldt says. “That’s how he got ‘Act Naturally,’ his big breakthrough hit. Harlan Howard gave us the same advice. So we’ve kept our ears open.”
However, writing original material remains an important part of the band’s creativity and identity. Hofeldt and Villanueva teamed up with Lauderdale on “Your Guess Is Good as Mine.”
Bandmembers contributed six other songs. “I See My Baby” recalls Roy Orbison and “Country a Go-Go” is a twang-surf instrumental. Delbert McClinton plays harmonica on “There Goes the Bride.” “Bar Exam” is in the tradition of classic country drinking songs, with lines such as “I’m taking a bar exam under a neon sign/I’m going to graduate when you’re off my mind.”
“We’re reverent but not retro,” Hofeldt maintains. “There’s a lot of people out there that would like to see the kind of music that we play succeed and be part of the mainstream radio establishment.
“We certainly hope for our hard work to pay off,” the guitarist continues. “We want this to happen not simply for personal gratification but also just for some justification for what we do — not only for us, but for our fans and for all the people who are into real, traditional country music.”