Bill Mallonee is a thinker. Ever since the first Vigilantes album in 1992, Bill has built quite a reputation for thoughtful lyrics and good ol' roots rock, the way it was meant to be. Early friends include the great, late Mark Heard who signed them to his label, Fingerprint, to Peter Buck, who produced the first couple of VOL albums, to former drummer Travis McNabb (now in Better Than Ezra). In what is one of (whirl)'s long-awaited interviews, here's Bill, talking about everything we throw at him...
O.K., let's get started. What's up with the new album?
"The new disc, called Slow Dark Train is due out on June 3rd. It sounds great. I write about 60 songs a year, so after editing and stuff I sometimes wish we could always do double albums...but then there's record company politics. We're grateful to be able to make a living considering how little support we've recieved over the years...but all in all, that just makes you more aware of how gracious the Lord is, how much He holds you...
"The new disc is a more honest, garage- y kinda thing (with) very bold and broad strokes, very passionate and heart-felt,very 3-piece...very 'live'."
VOL is known for a revolving cast of members. How
do you explain like 4,000 past band members through all these years?
"The membership changes haven't always been predicated on the fact that we make so little money at this level. When another member finds a better gig, or a wife or a better job...they have to move on.
"I've beem fortunate to have had a GREAT cast of supporting members musically...Billy Holmes (whom i feel will be a part of it one day soon), Newt Carter, Travis McNabb, David Labreye, Mark Hall...all of them superior musicians and great friends.
"The band has never been about the players as much as it's been about my songs...I just hide behind the band name. It's always been primarily about the songs."
Do you feel that there should be a definitive line between "Christian" and
"secular" music? I mean, not as in lyrics, but how people (especially
non-Christians) view it?
I haven't really thought that much about it. I don't personally write with a particular audience in mind. I just try to write believable songs...by that i mean honest songs.
"Yes I do think that there is a place for liturgical songs and writers of that gift should use their gift to glorify the Lord and nurture His Church...but CCM is a different animal altogether in my opinion.
"Kinds like sanitized pop culture/commerce and religion all thrown into the same blender..."
Being a fan of the Rev. Howard Finster, the song "The Glory and The Dream" is a
favorite of mine. How did he come about as an inspiration?
"I just loved his boldness in his paintings."
How did you first become a Christian?
"Read the Gospel of John one summer along with some C.S.Lewis. By the end of the summer I believed Jesus was who He claimed to be and trusted Him as my Savior and Lord. 'You come empty handed...or you don't at all.'"
What is one example of God-given grace that you have seen in your life?
"My wife and two sons, my manager Dan Russell...the fact that we've been able to say our piece, stand on our soapbox and make a humble living."
What's your first memory of getting involved in music?
"Playing imaginary drums to my parents Louis Armstrong records at age 3...man, Satchmo is the king!"
You're definitely a family man. How does that play in the role of being in a
rock band and having to tour and such?
"Well, its a balance as they say, but that's such a self-conscious word. I do this with Brenda's permission and whole-hearted support. If at some point she can't handle it, I will quit it in a heartbeat. She's eternal, and music...well,it's just the job you love to do, and I'm glad mine is generally as fun as it is.
"I write because it's cheaper than therapy.. She comes out on the road every 2 weeks when we go on the long tours, just to get uh, 'reacquainted'..."
Who are the top 5 biggest influences in your life?
"1. The word of God (specifically the book of Romans and the Gospels...especially the Sermon on the Mount, which is a perspective on what God's kingdom looks like in action)
2. A romantic evening with my wife
3. A great cup of coffee (my kids got me a cappicino maker for Christmas...my song writing has improved 100%!
4. A great sounding electric guitar...right now I'm using mostly a custom built Les Paul Classic through a Vox AC-30...killer tone...
5 A great sounding acoustic guitar...
"My theory about songwriting...get a guitar. To quote from the movie Field of Dreams'...if you pick it up...they will come...' BTW, I love Neil Young and Bob Dylan...and that's what you meant, isn't it?"
What (excluding the Bible) is your all-time favorite book?
"C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity...but I read a lot so this is an unfair question!!!"
If you throw a cat out of a car window, does it become
"Only in the state of Wisconsin, where they'll hit you up for $120 dollars on the spot...but that's a small price to pay for ridding the world of one more cat, don't you think??
I have 3 of them...Eleanor, Nick and Bianca (she's a white long-hair...they're all strays my wife and I take in. We also have a cool black Lab named Samson."