Singer, comedian, actor, rock nerd : Billy Hough


Photo Credit: Nina West

“Scream Along With Billy: Radical Days” at Joe’s Pub on April 16th

I have never met someone as funny, as Billy Hough, singer, comedian, actor , rock nerd, in my entire life,….having said that, he will be appearing at the world’s famous Joe’s Pub in NYC on April 16, and I vow to every reader reading this, that I will be there!

Historically Billy was born in California and moved to the Deep South with his family at a young age. His mom was the principle of his school, and his a dad a weatherman, so having no chance at all to be cool, he decided to become an exchange student at age 16 in South Africa. Having no “Deep South” accent, because he “beat it out of himself”, as he claimed, he continued on with his story of how he began with his brothers, “The Garage Dogs”, a punk band that he had for 10 years…..

Johannesburg South Africa, how wild.
It was 1987, Mandela was still in jail. I was pretty much there for the end of the apartheid regime.. Before the whole country turned over. Everybody knew it was coming, and the country actually went into a state of emergency. Three days before I went, my mother was already not that cracked up about sending me away for a year at 16, but certainly not to a country in the state of emergency, but nobody called and said don’t come. So I went anyway.

But how does this lead up to “The Garage Dogs”?
Well, my brothers and I were very different people. When I came back to my parents house, they had moved to Alabama. I was in college. My brothers were younger. We were all out in the garage playing the guitar, we had no idea that everybody played the guitar so… We would get a bunch of beer, and go out to the garage and write these ridiculous songs. With brothers it’s like can you top this, with grossness and clever writing of bad words. The kind of stuff that I still do, but I try to make it a little more sophisticated. If you look at that first Garage Dog record the songs were “Dick Cheese”, “Snuff Movies”, “Cellulite”…. The big hit off of that record was the closing song, “Judy”, which is a song to all of our dead pets, and how they were killed. Finally I moved to Boston, got some money from an accident I had and called everyone to come and form a band. Everybody said yes. For the next four years my brothers and I, the three of us, plus our bass player, plus our three best friends, and varying love interest, all lived in this gigantic house in Somerville Massachusetts. There were 11 boys, average age 20, living there and it smelled so bad. The band blew up in Boston, we released four albums, and got to tour, got to play CB GB’s, and things were going so well we thought “let’s go to the LA punk scene”.

Artwork: Rich Murphy

And in L.A.?
We did the L.A. Scene for about 4 years. The band while artistically successful, it was probably costing as much as it was generating. Both of my brothers wanted to get married it was time to start thinking about having kids, mortgages, having the kind of job that was not going to necessarily afford us 30 hours a week to play guitar. I had succumbed to despair, and drugs in Los Angeles, which just added another level of pressure to everybody. So we decided to do a final album, like the Beatles did with “Abbey Road”, and went into the studio in Boston with an incredible roster of supporting artists, and had a ball. I was getting off drugs… It’s not like everybody didn’t know their way around a Coke straw… I mean we were a band for 10 years, and all lived together. We were all maturing, everybody was kind of saving their own lives, and it was our farewell, to each other, to rock ‘n’ roll. Unfortunately it wound up generating more hits than anything we had ever done. We could have ridden it to the moon, but everybody had already split up. It was just too hard to put it all back together. We still play together all of the time. My brother Matt will be playing with me at Joe’s Pub. The Garage Dogs continue to exist and play gigs, we just couldn’t do it full-time anymore.

I’m almost afraid to ask, but what can the audience at Joe’s Pub expect?
We like to say: nudity, puppets, and chaos. Basically they can expect anything. The show, “Scream Along With Billy”, is what I did when the band broke up. I was not going to go off and have kids, I didn’t have a corporate job, so I started playing in a punk rock piano bar, on the Cape, and immediately met Susan Goldberg, who is my partner, and she plays the bass, and tries to keep me in line.

Sounds like keeping you in line is an impossibility.
It is tough. She spent the first two years just trying to keep my pants on. Even at Joe’s Pub, part of the thing is, I free associate, people call it ranting, but you hear me now the way that I talk…

Yeah, I would classify it as ranting.
I do go on… We just talk about stuff…in the middle of a song, or chorus… As we’ve gotten a little older, drugs play a smaller role in the overall thing, I take my clothes off less, we don’t get nearly as drunk on stage as we used to, which really helps. The shows are always rock ‘n’ roll, and usually we group them around the theme. In fact always. In Provincetown we do a different album every Friday night from start to finish.

Why P-town, as opposed to Fire Island?
I think because I started when I was Boston based. Because of the kind of music that we do, we get a lot of 20-year-olds straight kids. We get a lot of old Woodstock lesbians. In the summertime in Provincetown they can sometimes have almost a half million people. It’s got a much bigger pool to draw from. Which is good because what we do is, pretty specific.

You know what, after talking to you for almost an hour, I still don’t know if you’re an actor, comedian or singer….
That’s a good question. I’ve done them all. I have a degree and acting. And that’s a problem, even “Time Out” doesn’t know where to put us…..we’re mostly a band. “Scream Along With Billy’, is one part acting, one part writing, one part comedy, while I’m playing music. So the character I’m playing, which is really just me in a wig, has free reign to try to entertain the audience with whatever tools that pop in to my brain at the time. This is not a show that would’ve existed without an audience that was into it. We can get very esoteric, or we can be very broad. We’ve done Crosby, Stills and Nash records, and we’ve done 9 Inch Nails records, sometimes back to back. You have to have an audience that is pretty open minded to go with you like that. Sue and I are both gay, in the sense that I sleep with boys, but our audiences aren’t particularly gay. The show isn’t particularly gay, but the band is…. I also have had girlfriends, I’m all over the place.

Hey, in my world all men are gay until proven otherwise. Some of the best gay people I know are straight, and some of the best straight people I know are gay. You know, I’ve never been to fire Island.

Photo Credit: Nina West

Then please submit your gay card to me…
That’s ok, I’m not using it. People ask me sometimes and I say “yes I’m gay, but I’m not practicing”. Like a bad Catholic. So yes, you can have it back. Take politics,,,I’m not going to deal with particular politics at this show. It’s not interesting to a lot of us. We’re going to deal with politics but on a much broader level. So, the show that we are doing at Joe’s Pub, is going to be filmed by Oren Moverman, who is an Oscar nominated director.

Are you nervous?
Oh terribly nervous. I’m being preserved for prosperity, in a way that I’ve never been before. Oren is a really good friend of mine, but not to the extent that I can ask him to C.G.I. out all of my crows feet. I posed for a photographer years ago. It was a nude photograph and it got out. At the time I was so frustrated that the picture had been taken when I was 35, and not at 25. But now at 45, i’m so glad that if there’s a picture out there…..

Can I use it?
You can google me if you want to, just make sure there’s no kids in the room. Being primarily single, and never having kids, has allowed me to have a little bit longer of a childhood. I mean I’m not worried about the way I look anymore…..I’m lying to you….I am. Aging is the least personal thing that happens to us all. Yet when it’s your face, and your pubes, it feels fucking personal. I want to be one of those people that say, ” Oh, I don’t mind aging…” I want to be that person….

I highly recommend that you do not miss this show, if not for the comedy, but just for the experience !

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Eileen Shapiro
Best selling author of "The Star Trek Medical Reference Manual", and feature celebrity correspondent for Get Out Magazine, Louder Than War, and Huffington Post contributor, I've interviewed artists from Adam Ant, Cyndi Lauper, and Annie Lennox to Jennifer Hudson, Rick Springfield, LeAnn Rimes, and thousands in between. My interviews challenge the threat of imagination....