If you’ve spent any amount of time around the Northwest Music Scene, the name Hillstomp should sound familiar to you. They’ve been making music for the past 17 years and touring with the likes of Reverend Horton Heat, The Devil Makes Three, and Southern Culture on the Skids. And yet misconceptions still abound. Let’s start this one… “They’re a Blues Band”. Well, sure, they know how to drive the blues as well as anybody, and credit RL Burnside among their influences, but lots of their songs are played on a banjo and just as suggestive of Appalachia as they are of Mississippi. “They’re a Jam Band”. Fine, it’s impossible not to dance when Hillstomp is in top gear, and there are more than a few barefoot hippies at every show, but they’re offset by the punks and the hillbillies, so consider that a wash. Plus the songs are almost all 3 minutes or less, leaving no time for guitar noodling
So, then, who are these guys?
Hillstomp is a 2-man band comprised of Henry Hill Kammerer and John Johnson. Henry plays guitar and banjo like a hurricane, and if you close your eyes you’d swear he’s playing 2 parts at once. John Johnson beats mercilessly on his drum kit (which often contains a bucket, brake drum and broiler pan) with the fury of a demon loose from hell. But once you get past the pure ferocity of his playing, you notice that the parts are intricately crafted patterns that provide the framework for Kammerer’s guitar and banjo sorcery. Save for a couple of outlier tracks, there’s just no room for bass guitar, and no-one misses it enough to ask for it. This is folk music in its purest form – from loud and gritty, to intricate and poignant, and most importantly, always heartfelt and true.
Following a few self-released LPs and a live album, they had a breakthrough of sorts with their 2010 record, Darker The Night. The record contains “Cardiac Arrest in D”, which became the centerpiece of their raucous live sets – whipping the audience into a transcendental frenzy. In 2014, the band released Portland, Ore, which raised the bar even higher. Mixed by Chet Lyster (Eels) and recorded at Fluff and Gravy Studios, the record captured the most authentic snapshot of the band to date. It prompted Dan Aykroyd’s The Blues Mobile to say “Hillstomp is a band out of Portland, hoping to bring the same energy to Oregon that the Allstars brought to North Mississippi”. It caught the ears of the Coen Brothers too, with one track being featured in the commercial trailer for Hail, Caesar!
That all brings us to Monster Receiver, which is set to be released via Fluff and Gravy Records on October 19. Recorded by Juniana Lanning and John Shepski at Fluff and Gravy over the spring of 2018, the album finds the band challenging the stereotypes once again. Producer, John Shepski, and mixing engineer, John Askew (Richmond Fontaine, Laura Gibson, Wild Flag) teamed up to drive the Hillstomp sound into more experimental territory.
Today Glide is excited to premiere “Angels”, one of the standout songs on Monster Receiver. Starting with a greasy and ominous blues guitar, “Angels” is Henry Hill Kammerer’s attempt to write a Staples Singers song. He likes to say that the Blues is Saturday night and Sunday is church songs, often played on the same guitar. He continues, “I’m also trying to remember that there’s a lot of good people out there. Doesn’t always seem like it, but Angels are everywhere.” File it under Secular Gospel Music. Indeed, the song is a slowburning nugget of soulful blues that makes you want to stomp your feet as much as it makes you want to sit back on the porch with a tall glass of whiskey. These fellas may hail from the Pacific Northwest, but “Angels” makes it abundantly clear that they possess a uncanny ability to conjure up the kind of spiritual reckoning present in blues and gospel of the deep South.
For more music and info visit hillstomp.com.
Photo credit: Chad Lanning