Reverend Deadeye on his movie turns and the difference between touring the U.S. and Europe
Reverend Deadeye started his wild-eyed, tent revival, country-gospel-blues one-man band in 2002, just as one his previous projects, the dark, gnarled post-punk outfit, the Bedraggled, was coming to an end. Embracing the music he grew up with as a child on a northeastern Arizona reservation, Reverend Deadeye (aka Brent Burkhart) crafted a sound and persona that expressed the truth found upon hitting emotional and spiritual rock bottom.
Over the years, Deadeye has refined his act, often with the help of collaborators, and due to the fruits of his diligence as a touring act, he has had his most recent album, The Trials and Tribulations of Reverend Deadeye, picked up and released by the Hazelwood label in Germany. We recently had a chance to speak with the good Reverend about the movies in which he was featured last year, his personal musical history, the Voodoo tattoo he bears and the difference between being a touring musician in Europe and the United States.
Westword (Tom Murphy): You've been in two documentaries in the last two years: What are they called and how did you become involved in them?
Reverend Deadeye: The Folksinger wasn't really a documentary, but they ended up filming it kind of like a documentary, because it was a true story about a guy who really was playing the shows. The conversations weren't scripted, but it was a film that was put together and directed. The main character was travelling across Texas, where he met up with different people along the way, and they would talk. Sometimes it would be two people or three. Sometimes it would be while they were drinking and shooting guns. The main character is Possessed By Paul James, but his real name is John Conrad.
The other was Can't Take It With You When You Die! I got involved in The Folksinger because the director asked for a list of names from Conrad, on which I was included. It was a list of names of people he had met on the road. The director called me and asked if I would come to Austin, so I drove down there. Conrad lives in that area but he moves around.
Can't Take It With You When You Die! is more of a documentary. The filmmakers came to Aachen, Germany when I was there. Christoph Mueller was having a show of his art, and I was coming the same night, and he puts on the "outlaw" series in Aachen that is kind of an underground bunker they've been squatting in for years.
Probably mostly punk rock stuff gets played there, but they have an outlaw country series they do. They filmed me live and then filmed an interview with Christoph and I talking about similar things to what was discussed in The Folksinger but a different take on what it means to be an artist in the world today and such.
Ww: You were in the experimental rock bands Nahum, Soul Bender and the Bedraggled: What inspired you to do the kind of music you're doing now?
RD: The music that I play now definitely comes from an earlier period of my life, from when I was a kid. It's more influenced by that. I think the music I listened to in high school was pushing me away from that. A band like Soul Bender was a place for me to experiment with my ability to write music -- and Bedraggled, for that matter. Soul Bender was a little different, because I wasn't as much of a focal point in the songwriting. I didn't play an instrument, but I sang. Bobby Jamison was in the band; James Kelsey was on drums, and then Vince Pimentel. Henry Kelsey played drums at different points, as well.
In the Bedraggled, for the most part, they were my songs. For some, we came together and jammed on them, but other times, I'd bring a song to the table, and they'd write around it. It was kind of a fight, because, even at that time, I was pushing the band in a different direction from where the rest of the band wanted to go. I started writing new songs in my basement, and I would bring them to the band, and some of them we would do and some we wouldn't.
For instance, "Turn or Burn" was a Bedraggled song. It was an interesting song for the band to play because it was a different style than usual. The Bedraggled sort of faded out. We did a show with Firewater, and then I kept doing the Reverend Deadeye stuff, and a year or so later, we did that last show with the Phantom Limbs. I've done five or six Bedraggled songs, pulling them out, revamping them a little, since then.
In the beginning of Reverend Deadeye, I can't think of something specific that sparked my interest in playing that style of music, other than it was what I was interested in at the time. I started listening to my old records again, like releases on Canaan Records and they had crazy old bands like Hemphills, the Happy Goodman Family, the Blackwood Brothers, a lot of quartets. I definitely had some Louvin Brothers, Johnny Cash and Chuck Wagon Gang. I got my grandparents' and my parents' old records, after my grandpa died. I still have them all. Country-gospel is the basis of what I do now.