IndiePulse Music Interview with Southern Blues-Rock-Roots Guitar Goddess, Heather Gillis
Heather Gillis, formerly guitarist-vocalist with Butch Trucks and the Freight Train featuring late Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks, rocks it ‘Southern Style’ on her first Tour as the Heather Gillis Band, which kicks off at Darwin’s in Atlanta on August 5.
The youthful Gillis is the complete Rock/Soul/Roots (and Blues) package as a guitar player, lap steel player, songwriter, singer and arranger. At only twenty years of age, she was discovered by Trucks in Florida in 2015 and personally recruited by him to play in the Freight Train, the latter who performed to packed houses all over the U.S. until Trucks’ sudden passing in January 2017. “(Gillis) proves to be the perfect touch to the band with her stage presence, energy, and tremendous talent,” writes American Blues Scene in a recent interview. The Tallahassee Democrat opines, “anytime Heather Gillis plugs in an electric guitar and starts to play, you know immediately it’s her. She has a distinct tone and muscular sound that usually takes other, older guitarists many more years to develop. You should hear her belt out ‘Whipping Post.’
Indie Pulse Magazine had the opportunity to interview Miss Gillis prior to the tour. Here’s how it went.
IPM: What are your main objectives these days as a solo artist – e.g. to tour a lot, make records, have songs in film/tv, etc.?
HG: My main objectives right now are to stay on the road playing shows and to continue putting out original music. In the music industry today, it’s very difficult to make a living as a musician without spending a lot of time playing shows on the road. People don’t really buy music anymore. Thankfully, we enjoy playing live shows just as much, if not more, then we do spending time making albums. It’s always something different during live shows. Different cities bring different energy levels and different vibes. It makes every night interesting and unique. If you’re able to channel that energy and take the music there, it can make a show very special.
IPM: It’s been several months since the passing of your “mentor” so to speak, Butch Trucks. How did his death affect you?
HG: I think about Butch every day. Sometimes multiple times a day. He was the first person that really made me fall in love with music. He showed me how powerful music could be and how it could change your life. I met Butch when I was very young in my career. I had just started playing locally when I met him and he asked me to join the group. He saw something special in me and I always felt so honored and grateful he took the time to take me on the road and showed me the ropes. He taught me to not be afraid of the unknown in music, and to “jump off the cliff”. “Jump off the cliff” meaning, don’t be afraid to take chances and go into unknown territory with the music. I had never experienced that kind of mentality before. The whole band was really special. I was surrounded by such amazing musicians and so much love for the music and the music family. Everyone looked out for each other and was trying to help each other in one way or another. It was a great first experience in a touring band. Every show I play is influenced by Butch in one way or another. He completely changed the way I look at music and how I approach my own music. The Allman Brothers family and music will always hold and a very special place in my heart.
IPM: Being a female-fronted band in music today, is that an advantage or non-advantage, as you see it?
HG: There’s advantages and disadvantages. I try not to make gender too big of a part of the equation. While it’s obvious there are not as many female lead guitar players as there are male guitar players, I try not to make that a focal point in the music. I want people to follow the band because they enjoy the music and the energy we bring, not because we are a band fronted by female lead guitar player.
IPM: Who are the touring members of the Heather Gillis Band?
HG: I recently moved to Atlanta, GA and was able to link up with some really amazing players up there.
- Evan Sarver- Bass
- Dallas Dawson- Drums
- Spencer Pope- Organ
IPM: Where do marriage and family fit into your big overall career picture?
HG: Oh goodness. I do not know. Right now, I’m focused on my music and staying on the road. It’s hard to keep a relationship when you’re as busy as I am. But I’m all right with that right now.
IPM: Let’s get back to Butch Trucks. What’s the back-story behind him bringing you into his band, Freight Train?
HG: I went to school at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL. Butch also went to school at FSU. He was in town doing a lecture at the school and wanted to jam at a local blues club. The blues club is called Bradfordville Blues Club. It’s historic and has been there for over 100 years. I played there with my band often so, when Butch said he needed a house band for the jam, they gave me a call. We only played a couple songs that night because there were so many musicians there, but we exchanged information. Around that time was when the Allman Brothers had just stopped playing and Butch was looking to put together a project of his own. He did a lot of shows in Florida to audition different musicians and get ready for the tours. He always invited me to play a couple songs at the shows and I never missed an opportunity. After a couple shows, and filling in unexpectedly when needed, Butch said, “Just keep showing up”. And that was that.
IPM: So many great bands coming out of the South these days – Alabama Shakes, Tedeschi/Trucks Band, Blackberry Smoke to name a few. You’re part of that scene. Is there a certain Southern ‘sound’ all these artists, yourself included, encompass?
HG: I feel like there’s a certain “fight” or “drive” people in the south especially are instilled with. Anytime you have that fight or conflict, you’re going to put out good art. I love the south, but we are still battling and trying to overcome a lot of social and political issues. If everything was perfect and we had all our issues worked out, we wouldn’t be as passionate about anything. When I think of the southern bands like the Allman Brothers, Alabama shakes, Tedeschi Trucks Band I think of passion and soul. You need a fire to create and express that kind of emotion.
IPM: What are some of your outside-of-music hobbies and interests?
HG: I grew up playing sports, so those are definitely still an interest of mine. I really enjoy watching baseball and I’ll always keep up with Florida State Football. Growing up in Florida, I love being near the water. I don’t get the opportunity to fish often, but I really enjoy fishing, going out on a friend’s boat, or going to the beach.
IPM: Any new Heather Gillis Band recordings to look forward to?
HG: We have a lot of new original material we will be playing on the road in the upcoming weeks. We’re adding new covers and originals to the live show all the time. When we get back from the tour in August we will be recording demos for a new album.
IPM: What’s the best way for fans and music lovers to keep up with you (website, Facebook, etc.)?
HG: We keep our Facebook and Instagram as updated as possible. Will be very active on those throughout the tour. Our website has all of our shows, contact information, email list, videos, and links to all of our other media outlets.
More Online : heathergillisband.com
And follow on Facebook facebook.com/HeatherGillisBand