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INTERVIEW: BILLY CHILDS of Britny Fox – May 2015

Back in 1988 there was a buzz around a new band out of Philly – Britny Fox was about to drop their self-titled debut and I couldn’t wait.  I was at the mall as soon as the Record Town store opened (yes, we actually went to a music store and bought music).  The cassette was open before I got in my car and soon I was headed out for the day cranking the tape.  Fast forward to each release and I was picking them up also on release date.  Then in 1992 I was able to meet these rockers and to this day, that long night of rock ‘n roll, hanging out chatting, and drinking a beer (or more) is still clear in my mind!  More than twenty years later, my phone rings and it is THE Billy Childs, bassist for Britny Fox and we are on our way to chat about then, now, and what’s next.  Grab yourself a coffee and settle in folks – we did!!!

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Toddstar: Billy, thank you so much for taking time out for us, sir.

Billy: Oh, that’s all right, man. I’m just breaking out my Keurig here.

Toddstar: There you go. I’ve been doing that myself for a couple hours already.

Billy: Oh, those things are the best, man. I can’t believe I went so long without the … Well, I had one about a year ago, but I don’t know, it started acting funny, man. I just got a new one a few days ago.

Toddstar: There you go. Well, let’s talk about what to me is some of the biggest news in music right now. Britny Fox is back.

Billy: Well, hopefully that’s somewhat big anyway, man. I mean, big enough.

Toddstar: I’ll tell you, I’ve been a huge fan of the band forever and I’m glad to see you guys are going to get some of the due that’s coming to you with this go around.

Billy: Oh, thank you, brother. I appreciate it. Well, yeah, man. We enjoyed doing it. I don’t know. We tried to do this a couple times over the years. The thing we did in the early 2000’s was… I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, but that Springhead Motorshark album?

Toddstar: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Billy: That was just really… we had a deal with Spitfire. It was a two album deal, and they wanted one live album with a bonus track. Then they wanted a studio album after that. We did the live album and that’s called Long Way To Live! I think we really did a good job on it, man. Everybody really likes it. We were really happy with it, but they didn’t really seem to get behind it at all, man. They really just didn’t seem too interested in us anymore. We had our lawyer, who was actually very good at the time, it was Paul Schindler. He negotiated a buyout with them and it was a really good buyout. I mean, almost to the point that we were getting almost as much for not doing the album as we would have got for doing the album. We figured we had plenty of time. We were just going to shop around and do it for somebody else, but out of the blue they just called us and said, “Well look, if we’re going to give you this much in a buyout, we’d just as soon have the album, and we want it like yesterday.” We had to start that thing. We had like no songs. I think Johnny was in New York at the time, actually. That was really kind of a fuck fest. It just didn’t go well, which was unusual for us. When an album came along, we were always like the band was really prepared. We learned early on we kind of had to be because we didn’t really have any money, and the less time we spent in the studio, that was great. If we came in really prepared, it just made things go easy for us. This was the one time that that didn’t happen. Talk about getting caught with our pants down. Man, we had like no songs. We had no anything. We cobbled that thing together over a couple months. If you ever hear that and wonder how uncharacteristic that is of us, that’s definitely why.

Toddstar: Well, there’s nothing you guys have put out that I don’t hear or I don’t actually have CD’s of. I was actually going to talk about Springhead Motorshark. You guys are putting music together. You guys don’t have Michael Kelly Smith with you for this go around. You got a young stud named Chris Sanders who I’ve had the pleasure of seeing several times when he was with Lizzy Borden years ago. What’s different about this incarnation from your standpoint? Especially putting songs together. Going back from the original stuff with Dizzy and then through the last Springhead Motorshark and my personal favorite, Bite Down Hard. How is the music coming together differently than it did back then?

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Billy: Well, this is very similar to Bite Down Hard, actually. The way a lot of that came together was me and Tommy just worked a lot through the mail. Back then it was just cassettes and four tracks, you know. Now this, obviously, is computer files. Outside of that, it’s basically the same operating procedure as that. It functioned differently when Dean was in the band. That was more of he would just come to… we used to rehearse incessantly, which we just always did. We all lived in the same area at that point and it was what we did for a living. Even when we weren’t doing anything, we’d still rehearse probably at least four or five days a week. He would come in and Dean would just have like a verse or something or a chorus and we’d just start playing it. That’s when I would kind of take over and say, “Okay. Let’s go here. Let’s do this.” Other guys would put in their ideas, too. Before you’d know it, we’d end up with a skeleton of a song. It worked really efficiently that way. Then when he wasn’t there anymore, that’s when it kind of fell into this procedure operation, where I just do things musically and I send them to Tommy. He likes what he likes, and when he gets stuff that he likes, that’s something we’ll work on. It doesn’t usually take as long as you would think. We’re actually pretty efficient in getting the stuff done this way. Now Springhead Motorshark was completely different, as I was saying, man. We thought we had at least six months, eight months. I mean, that’s really no excuse. We probably should have been prepared anyway, but we weren’t. That one just worked with finding out we had to do the album, and probably two or three days later, we were in a basement in New Jersey with a bunch of computer gear and did the best we could. As I say, the way this usually works since Tommy’s been in the band is just me and him writing the bulk of the stuff through the mail and if something happens in pre-production or something, then we go with that if it’s good an up to par. That’s basically how we do it.

Toddstar: Cool and I’m glad to hear you say that this is a lot more like Bite Down Hard. In retrospect, I’ve always thought the first couple albums were a little more 80’s than what you guys’ real sound was. Then you get Bite Down Hard and it’s just that straight ahead rock. It wasn’t going to be pegged into a genre, and then you had Springhead [Motorshark] which came later. It’s a little heavier, a little more you could tell influenced by the music of the day. For you guys to jump back into that straight ahead rock sound makes me very excited about the new music.

Billy: Oh, yeah. Us too, actually. It’s like I say, that Springhead [Motorshark], man, that was really out of all the albums that we did, that was the one that was by far the most uncharacteristically disjointed. I don’t even know why it sounds like it does. You know? We were just kind of grasping at straws on that one. You’ll notice there are a few ballads on that, which is pretty unusual for us, too. They were just things that Tommy had that were just great songs and I just thought we were in a position where we needed every song we could get, whether it was a ballad or whatever it was. I said, “Well, I guess Britny’s going to go a little ballad heavy this time.” I don’t know. There’s really nothing else we can do. You know? We’re happy to go back to the Bite Down Hard palate so to speak of. That was really good, man. We knew that we couldn’t stretch too far because we had a previous track record and we had kind of a style that people seemed to dig. We didn’t really want to lose that, but we wanted to stretch a bit. We did when Dean was in the band. We were a little boxed in. We were happy with it. I mean, we all had input and we liked the way we sounded and all, but we did want to stretch a little bit. I think in the end we came out with a really nice product. I think it met people’s expectations, and I think it stretched just enough to pull us into something a little bit different and showed that we had changed. I think it was pretty good success on all levels, actually. I would have liked to even push it a little further, I think. Tommy probably would have too. I think we were both smart enough to know that where we were at in the pocket was just about where we had to be. That’s kind of how we’re approaching this. I mean, it’s not going to be an imitation of that. We’re not going in and just going to try to recreate that, but that album was so organic, that we kind of want to have the same spirit with it that that album has, so to speak. You know? If that makes sense to you. Does that make sense to you?

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Toddstar: Yeah. It certainly does.

Billy: We’re not going in and saying like, ‘Okay. “Louder” was a great tune, well here’s a riff that’s like “Louder.” Let’s do something like that.’ We’re not taking it that far at all. We just want it to be as organic as that was. It seems to be falling in along those lines. That’s all our favorite album, too. I mean, we all feel that that was our best album out of the bunch.

Toddstar: Well, it also featured a very cool cover of Alex Harvey’s “Midnight Moses,” which completed the album in a perfect way, I thought.

Billy: Yeah, well man, that’s a little interesting story there. Back here in Philadelphia where the band is from, when I was growing up, there was a club band here. They were called the Dead End Kids. Actually, he went on to become the first singer in Tangier, if you remember those guys.

Toddstar: Yep.

Billy: Yeah. His name was Bill Mattson, and man, this band was just amazing. They should have had a deal long before a lot of other bands did. They were really that good. They used to do that song, and we didn’t know if it was original or what it was when we first heard it, but they did it great, man. That song became kind of like a little Philadelphia institution for a while. Pretty much a lot of club bands started doing Alex Harvey tunes, that one in particular. We had always done a cover on every album before, and that was just the one that came to mind that seemed like the right one to do. It really was. Philly is like a weird little Alex Harvey fan base. I don’t know about anymore, because so much has changed in regards to the club scene, but back then it used to be very cool. You had a lot of bands just doing what they wanted to do, and they were very good bands. Nowadays it’s kind of devolved actually into a whole bunch of bands just playing top 40 songs and nobody really attempts to do much more than that anymore. That’s the story behind that.

Toddstar: Thank you for the insight. It’s awesome. You mentioned clubs and that kind of stuff. I remember, and it’s vivid in my mind and it probably always will be, when I was in the service back in 92, strolling into a night club on Staten Island in New York and watching you guys just kill a crowd. Then being able to walk and hang out with you guys, drink a Heineken, get some signatures, and you guys were just so real. It was like somebody plucked you out of the crowd, put you on stage, and you guys could play. How important is it to you as a musician to make sure you’ve got that connection with your fan base?

Billy: Well, for us, I mean, it’s really important. Like I say, with us it’s really not bullshit, because we’ve never been a huge band or anything like that. I think we kind of view ourselves as guys in the crowd for the most part. There’s nobody in this band that considers themselves a musical heavy weight or anything like that. We just always got along with fans. They were just a lot like me and I dug the fact that they dug us. I think there’s a lot of good synergy between the band and the crowd. Are you talking about the Redspot by any chance?

Toddstar: It could be. I can’t remember the name, but if it remember it was right next to like a rock and roll clothing store.

Billy: Was it like a very oddly constructed building?

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Toddstar: Yes.

Billy: Was the stage kind of… yeah, there wasn’t much room in front of the stage, but it was very like a wide building. I actually remember that place, and I kind of remember that gig, man. I remember parts of that gig. We’ve always enjoyed that, man. I’ve always loved talking to fans. Christ, if you don’t like doing that, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. That’s part of it, really.

Toddstar: Again, I can remember buying Britny Fox the day it came out after reading all the hype and being a fan and then being able to walk up to you guys and say hello just was powerful to a fan.

Billy: Oh, that’s cool. I’m assuming too, man, if you had been drinking Heineken’s you were probably drinking them with me. Right?

Toddstar: Yeah. I wasn’t going to put a gun to anybody’s head, but yeah. Yeah, we were. I can remember saying, “How do I get signatures?” Somebody said, “See that door? Just walk through there.” You were in there and you handed me a Heineken and said, “Come on in.” It was awesome.

Billy: That’s cool, man. I remember back when we were doing a lot of those type of clubs like all up and down the east coast. I always loved clubs, man. I mean, playing the big venues was obviously a lot of fun, and I mean, that’s what you get into it for, I guess, to do that. I always enjoyed the clubs just as much because people were like right on top of you and it just had a feel to it that you don’t have in the bigger places. Like I said, it was a different time. I don’t even think you’re allowed to do this anymore, but I always had those Ampeg cabinets turned on their side. You know? Before the show I’d have my roadie, he used to take a case of Heineken and just line bottles up all across the top of that. I don’t know if that was how it happened that night, but a lot of times it did. Usually it did. Obviously bro, I’m not going to drink a whole case. You know? What I used to do, I ended up probably giving away ten or fifteen beers just to people up front. I’d just grab a bottle and hand it to somebody, and they really dug it and I thought it was kind of cool. Now I think it would have to be probably in a plastic cup. You know the way they do things. Back then just handing somebody a bottle was really cool. I used to really dig doing that as odd as that sounds.

Toddstar: What are the odds we’re going to be able to do that any time soon? I mean, you guys are putting music together. Are you guys thinking about going out and road testing anything?

Billy: Yeah. Well, right now we’re booking things. We’re booked for the Monsters of Rock cruise in 2016 is the first thing. We’re going through Sullivan Bigg in LA, a very, very good guy, cool booking agent. Man, I’ve always liked Sullivan. We’re going to try to focus on festivals. It is possible if we can find another band or maybe even two to pair up with, that we could go out for as much time as we have open to do it, because Johnny still plays with Doro. Time constraints are a little bit of an issue, but we’re just looking for bigger things. The cruises and the festivals and whatever pops in that’s good. We’re definitely not looking to hop on a bus and just grind for months at a time. The business, for a band like us, doesn’t seem to really be there right now for that. I’ll tell you, I have to look around. I have to say there’s probably not like that for a lot of people because you used to be able to play on a Wednesday and Thursday night or a Sunday night. Sometimes even Mondays and Tuesdays were good for us. Now it doesn’t seem to be quite as much as long as a week-long thing anymore. It seems like the weekends are your best option at this point, so that’s what we plan on doing. As I said, that’s all subject to change if something comes up that has the right offer.

Toddstar: Sure. Well, we miss you here in Detroit. That’s for damn sure.

Billy: Ah, man. I love Harpos, brother. Is that still there? Is it still the original building?

Toddstar: Yeah. Harpos is still the original building with the super tall stage.

Billy: Wow, I just remembered. I mean, we saw all the clubs in the country back then and Harpos had to be the biggest. I mean, I remember other places like a place called L’Amours in Brooklyn that was a really big place. A couple others, but I still think Harpos had that beat.

Toddstar: Oh, yeah. It was awesome in the day. Well, I mean looking back now, Billy, you guys are revamping. You’ve got a storied career in music. I mean, albums and everything else, tours. Looking back, though, what are the couple things that you’re most proud of in your career that you want to be remembered for?

Billy: Well, I’ll tell you man, the one thing that really stands out to me is after the first couple albums, when everybody really viewed us as like Dean’s band, and then having him roll like he did and us knowing we had to put it back together basically from scratch. To manage to find Tommy who was just amazing, an amazing undiscovered talent; it took us a long time to find him. Thank god we finally did. Then being able to actually put out a Bite Down Hard and actually show people that like, “Look, it really wasn’t just all this guy. Just because it looks like it, it really wasn’t.” You know? In a lot of respects, we feel, and I think a lot of people feel that when Tommy joined, the band actually got a lot better. For us to be able to do that, Todd, at that point in time, was really huge. I know I can speak for myself here. I know I was very proud of that album and that we pulled that off. It’s just really a shame it came out when it did, because the general feeling in the musical community at the time, and I even here that now… people tell me like, “Man, if that album comes out like two years before it did, you’re probably looking at selling five or six million and have a ton of hits off it.” I think, yeah, they might be right. I think the album would have done a lot more than it did. I mean, that thing came out the same month that Nevermind did, I believe. We were pretty much at ground zero the whole genre change. For me I would have to say just the Bite Down Hard album and what the band turned into after that is probably the one thing I’m the most proud of that I’ve ever done in the business.

Toddstar: Very cool. Well, listen Billy, I know you’re busy. You’re getting that Keurig lit up. You’re cranking out tracks, hopefully for a release that will see the light of day very soon. We appreciate your time, and we look forward to anything and everything that Britny Fox does.

Billy: Ah, Todd, thanks very much, brother. I really appreciate it, man. Yeah, it is really nice to see. It really does seem like more people are, I’ll say just interested in what we’re doing this time, and not just viewing us as like a… I don’t know. I don’t really know how to put it. It just seems like people are taking us more seriously this time and we’re really looking forward to fulfilling those expectations.

Toddstar: Excellent. Hopefully it will happen sooner than later and we’ll talk to you soon, Billy.

Billy: That sounds good, Todd. Thanks very much, man. Hopefully I’ll see you in Detroit.

Toddstar: Sounds good.

Billy: All right, brother. Take care, man.

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Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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