The Billy’s – Survivors of a three-hour musical tour
Minnesota is a strange place. It enjoys nearly equal fame for its fertile local music scene and its unforgiving winters. In that light, it seems only marginally ironic that the birth of The Billy’s occurred when the infamous “Halloween Blizzard” of 1991 turned a three-hour jam session into a three day lock-in. “I figured that by the end of the three days there would be no doubt about whether we liked or hated each other,” recalls Scott Ehrenberg. Four years, two CDs and thousands of miles later, it’s apparent they didn’t hate each other.
The Billy’s are fronted by Ehrenberg and Eric Roberts, who share singing, songwriting and guitar playing duties. With drummer Rob Thompson and bassist Andy Christensen, they have developed a sizable following throughout the Midwest with their catchy roots-rock. The band’s current release, All American Lounge, features a batch of songs full of infectious hooks and melodies. Aside from an occasional foray into country waters, the songs tend to be pretty straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll, but the disparate personalities and writing styles of Roberts and Ehrenberg provide a catalog that is diverse yet not scattered.
“I tend to focus more on hooks and melodies,” says Roberts, “and lyrically, what you hear is what you get. I pretty much just come right out and say what I mean.” When asked about his musical influences, he concedes that his total record collection numbers less than a half-dozen. “It’s not a conscious thing to avoid other artists, I just listen to whatever is on, or I write my own.” Grinning, he adds, “Oh yeah, I get Rolling Stone, but only for the pictures. I don’t read it, because it bugs me that a small group of people is allowed to decree what is hip. I’m not bitter, I just don’t want to have to think about it.”
Ehrenberg on the other hand, takes the long way around with the heavy use of imagery and metaphor. “It’s strange, but nobody’s ever even asked us what our songs are about,” Ehrenberg says. “For example, I wrote ‘Take The Harley’ about a divorced couple and their dispute over some garden tools. You probably wouldn’t get that on the first listen.” The humor sometimes gets lost too. “Some guy in Nebraska wrote that we were trying to sound like Grand Funk because of the keyboard sound on the record. He didn’t know it was a joke.”
While neither is overly focused on record sales, they both know in their own way how things are going. Roberts keeps close tabs and knows the weekly sales figures off the top of his head. True to form, Ehrenberg takes the long way around. “When we’re in town, I go to the record stores and dig around in the used bins. Luckily, I haven’t found many of our discs yet.”