TELLING TRUE STORIES Berndt (second from left) and the Preachers.
No, there will not be country-fried rockabilly renditions of Kilgore Smudge tunes at the Blackstone when ex-Kilgore frontman Jay Berndt resurrects the Revival Preachers (myspace.com/jayberndt) in what will be only their second show since 2005 (the boys reconvened for a wedding party in March). This appears to be a busy year for the former metalhead-turned-rockabilly crooner, working on a solo disc for Cali's Gearhead Records, reviving the Revival full-time, and recording another album with his now-defunct uber-metal group Bloodwitch. Berndt still commandeers the mic with an affective, throaty howl that often sounds like James Hetfield strangling Tom Jones. And the conversion from metal to whiskey-soaked rockabilly really ain't much of a stretch.
"I've always said country is a retirement program for aging badasses," Berndt joked earlier this week. "They're traditional blu-collar working-class tales similar to punk and hardcore, so it just feels like a natural progression.
"I grew up in the '70s and I was always exposed to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings on the radio. I really caught the bug when I was on tour with Kilgore in 1994 and our soundman Mike Aruda said he'd play me the most punk rock song ever and played 'Folsom Prison Blues' and I was instantly hooked."
Ten years after Kilgore's split, Berndt remains a Rhode Islander and offered his thoughts on the local music community. "I've stayed in Providence the whole time — I love it here" he said. "I feel like the local scene goes through cycles — for about five years, you will have a very active scene with really good bands and thriving public interest, then it slows and seems to go through a five-year drought of nothingness."
Berndt also referred to the Web as "a blessing and a curse for music. In the pre-Internet days you went to shows based on word of mouth and the buzz was generated by people talking about the bands. You took a chance with your five bucks. It was exciting, and I saw some of the best shows in my life based on whims. Nowadays anybody can go online, hear a song and make a judgment based on a Pro Tools recording made in someone's apartment. I think it deters people from actually experiencing live music. There's no mystery to it anymore."
Berndt founded the Revival Preachers in 2005, released one album (Breathin' Through a Bruise), then split in April 2006. Four months later he formed kindred spirits the Brimstone Assembly, released The Last Will & Testament of the Brimstone Assembly in 2007, then promptly broke up. Berndt says his primary focus remains with the Revival Preachers, plus finishing a solo album later this year. An unreleased EP, You're the Blessed, but We're the Revival Preachers, was a bittersweet benediction for Berndt; upright bassist Zack Shedd had left the band (later recruited by Hank III) after Breathin' and was replaced by electric bassist Rob Gare, which Berndt says solidified their "Creedence-meets-Waylon" sound.
And while Berndt has veered off the heavy metal, major-label highway, the song remains the same. "Whether it's about my family life or certain incidents in my past, my lyrics are all true stories that I've lived," he said, "mostly uncomfortable experiences that I've learned something from.