One of Cincinnati’s musical treasures, The Hiders, returns this week with another spectacular album, Totem.
Despite the winter scene depicted on the cover and the fact that it was recorded last winter in a cabin in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, Totem is an album of incredible warmth, something that should transfer well to the LP’s vinyl release. The music is more like the warming fire that draws everyone close in the midst of a deep freeze, thanks both to the songwriting and unfussy production. Frontman/songwriter/singer/guitarist Billy Alletzhauser’s songs are brought to life on the album by the excellent current edition of The Hiders, which now features fellow original member Beth Harris on harmony vocals and percussion, keyboardist Kevin Carlisle, bassist Glen May and drummer Brian Moeller.
The Hiders’ sound is a unique brand of rootsy Rock that’s sometimes spacious and ethereal and sometimes relatively straightforward, but almost always transcendent. There is a soulfulness to songs like the creeping “First Real Blues” and the beautiful “Live at the Long Goodbye” that is hard to describe, but that’s part of The Hiders’ magic. Though all are superbly talented musicians, the album works more due to the feel and emotive qualities than any sort of instrumental virtuosity. There is a vibe that just works and sticks with you like a haunting memory after just one listen. When Harris and Alletzhauser’s voices meld together on choruses, for example, they often cause goosebumps. That’s something that has nothing to do with the order of the notes or any sort of musical theory. It’s just great songwriting with equally great, emotive performances.
Totem is a start-to-finish gem (the band will perform the album in order at the release show) that deserves to be experienced as a whole, but certain tracks stand out.
The Hiders’ Tremendous ‘Temenos’
Consistently excellent Cincinnati Rock band The Hiders celebrate the release of their latest full-length, Temenos, this Saturday at Hoffner Lodge (4120 Hamilton Ave., Northside). The album release performance kicks off at 10 p.m. The band will play the new album from start to finish, followed by a set of older material. Admission is $5; $10 if you want a CD (which you should). The event is also BYOB.
Since 2006’s Valentine, The Hiders have received acclaim outside of the city for their work, but it’s been hardly the attention they deserve. Temenos could be the one to right that injustice. It’s a natural progression from 2010’s stellar Four Letter Town— not a jarring change from singer/songwriter Billy Alletzhauser’s previous work, but a culmination of everything that works so well in his gifted hands.
There are rootsy elements to The Hiders’ sound, but labeling them “Alt Country” or “Roots Rock” never feels right. Like avowed influence Mark Linkous, Alletzhauser is one of those rare songwriters whose work transcends easy genre specification and magically takes the listener somewhere that feels familiar without resorting to retro-minded clichés. He also has a knack for working with exceptional, like-minded musicians who, especially on Temenos, take the moody, evocative qualities of his songs and create the perfect backdrop.
Each song on Temenos has a hypnotic quality and is loaded with exquisite soulfulness. There are no “rockers,” per se, on the album — each song gracefully melts into the next, buoyed by the band’s distinctive, slow-burning sway. Alletzhauser’s vocals and melodies (punctuated by the fabulous harmonies of singer Beth Harris) recall Neil Young and My Morning Jacket, but, while fans of both would certainly fall in love at first listen with The Hiders, over the course of four albums, the group has found and strengthened its own unique identity.
In a word, Temenos is timeless.
From those haunting melodies, flowing rhythms and some stellar guitar work to the unfussy production and the arrangements’ compelling structures and ornamentations (which include Mellotron sounds, pedal steel guitar and various organ and keyboard support), someone unfamiliar could be easily convinced that the album was released in 1972.
There are some fantastic individual tracks on Temenos — the soaring “A Love in Between” (which one could imagine a Joshua Tree-era U2 covering), the folksy, glassy-eyed, romantic opener “Under Shooting Stars,” the phenomenal, spooky, Neil Youngian closer/title track — but I highly recommend absorbing the album in full. Maybe not while driving — the album’s mesmerizing songs take you to The Hiders’ enchanted world and have the capability of grabbing and holding on to your undivided attention for Temenos’ entire nearly hour-long run time.
Cincinnati band should break through with their third release
"....This intriguing album will continue to open up for the curious listener. ‘Hesitation Wounds’ could be Sparklehorse with its whispered upfront vocals and slow pace as could ‘The Fate of Earl Mann’. The spirit of South San Gabriel haunts ‘Damaged Goods’ with its Youngian vocals. Oasis stalk 'Don't Tear Me Up'and Petty 'First and Last chance' and the title track could be Cracker There is a lot to take in and repeated listens are more than encouraged by this reviewer. They are demanded, it's that good."
Capturing the Hiders
The Hiders' new album is a secretive, intricate place and an artistic web of sound
There are ghosts, and they float within the 14 tracks of The Hiders’ Four Letter Town. Both spooky and concrete, the searching lyrics are clear and important, revealing stories of celebration and confusion, of love lost and wisdom found.
A ghost in its own right, the title track is one that lead singer/guitarist Billy Alletzhauser kicked around for years before The Hiders even existed. Although he calls it a “simple song,” he recorded various versions, enveloped in a tricky, drawn-out struggle to harness and reveal the tune’s true essence. Some songs sit and smolder before they rise up to burn and glow. Some apparitions do indeed come alive.
At times, the overall feel speaks of sweeping land, train tracks or the simplest row of straight trees that blend to touch. Other times, a curious, quiet night, a blue-green-gray sky or the echo of the cover of The Hiders’ first album — the black howling wolf. And then it just rocks out. Beyond the lighthearted crush, the lyrics dig into complex situations — the longterm lover by someone’s side and the rich history there, both dark and light. Sometimes a shadowy place, but it’s one you’ll want to revisit.
Between extra verses, catchy guitar riffs and lyrics, keys, sweet harmonies and more, this is The Hiders’ most artistically creative and dense album to date, packed with everything from Country to ’70s Rock to vintage, piano-driven dreams. Some could be called Americana with a melancholic vibe, but fresh and historic sounds spider-crawl out; each layered song telling its own story, standing alone as a musical painting with a definite place in time.
“The only thing I consciously set out to do on this one was to write a lot of lyrics,” Alletzhauser says. No three-minute rule here.
Blue-eyed Alletzhauser drinks Irish coffee, describing the real wolves he encountered recently at a nearby sanctuary. Wearing a simple plaid shirt and jeans, his hair sticks up, jutting out in the back. Even when quiet, it seems as if there’s a constant internal dialogue occurring, that he’s thinking hard. Or maybe he’d rather be playing.
Upstairs from his recording studio, The Batcave, he sits at the dining-room table and there is a strange secretive vibe, as if it’s not a home, but rather a captured hideout with many bizarre collectibles — a pine cone, an enormous painting by artist Victor Strunk, ancient Punk magazines and a random skull. (Deer skull. There’s a full skull chart on the wall). Dr. Phil, the cat, sneaks into the room to check things out.
The Hiders’ current central core includes Alletzhauser, Beth Harris (vocals), Kevin Carlisle (keys) and Glen May (bass), although many others contribute. Always adding talent, The Hiders are very welcoming.
“Too welcoming,” Alletzhauser says, laughing (member turnover has been fairly high over the group’s history). “Yeah, it’s been ridiculously hard. I’ve tried to keep it together. I started this band in my thirties, and that’s a whole different ballgame. But the four of us, through this record, became a good core, so we’ve just tried to bring in people as we can. If people have the desire and they’ve done some homework, we can make it sound good.”
Originally, The Hiders skyrocketed out of Batcave jams, and after the 2006 debut Valentine was recorded in Nashville they gained a startling amount of attention, including being named an “Artist to Watch” on NPR's World Café. Many labels chewed on their work, leading to film score opportunities. Recently, from the 2008 Penny Harvest Field album, “Plastic Flowers” played in the 2009 filmAdam. Penny Harvest Field ventured into heavier guitars and drums, a sound influenced by a massive snowstorm, when some musicians were trapped, missing recording sessions.
Alletzhauser explains, “We had to make a lot of decisions to flesh it out and we had to do it quick. That’s why it’s a little more diverse, I guess.”
But on Four Letter Town, The Hiders worked from home, recording at The Batcave and Ultrasuede. The result is an intricate, blended sound “with more overdubbing and experimenting” that gels with the first album’s longing, melodic songs as well as the Rock punch of the second.
“It’s kind of the first two smashed together,” Alletzhauser says, grinning.
Four Letter Town is bigger in scope and harder to grasp on first listen compared to the other releases. As shown in “Hesitation Wounds,” Alletzhauser explains the theme of the album’s songs as “more about conditions. They all seem to have a sense of place, an enforced condition and trying to survive in that condition … there’s a lot of luck involved in your life, where you’re born and when. Some people escape and some people don’t. And it’s hard. It’s not easy. I just think some people don’t get a fair shake.”
When times get tough, Alletzhauser says the band inspires him.
“I don’t know what normal people do with their friends,” he says. “We get together and record or practice or play shows. I don’t have any other hobbies. It’s not like I’m going to start building wicker chairs.”
Alletzhauser shifts uncomfortably when discussing labels and showcases.
“Even when I was young, I didn’t like people looking at me,” he says. “I still don’t. I like making cool music, and performing is something you’ve gotta do.”
Laughing at the irony that he’s become a frontman, he says, “I think sometimes you try harder when it’s against your nature.”
To him, the real joy is buried within the music itself. Recently, someone drove through the badlands while listening to Four Letter Town and that, to Alletzhauser, equals success. Rather than one-hit wonders, he wants to create lasting, quality music, drawing devoted listeners.
As for the rest, timing and luck. Although he makes the contacts and people are finding TV and film homes for the band’s songs, Alletzhauser says, “I’m still surprised by the music sometimes. There’s still something gnawing at me to make it better.”
There are subtle melodies that creep up and grab you, richly layered sounds of slow burning piano, guitar, organ, harmonica, enticing hooks that slowly draw you into a world of yearning, dreamy confusion, life's unfairness and its complexity.
The Hiders' new CD is one of the most musically and lyrically compelling releases in these parts in some time, mostly the songwriting of band founder Billy Alletzhauser, a former member of the Ass Ponys, the Cincinnati band that experienced national fame in the '90s.
This is the third CD from Alletzhauser's 10-year-old Hiders project and easily his most intricate work. There are flashes of classic rock, heavy-duty guitar, alt-country and folk, weaving an often melancholy tapestry with Alletzhauser's high-pitched, vocals and the soulful harmony singing of Beth Harris.
Alletzhauser's songwriting is full of vivid imagery, but most special is his attempt at being an outsider, exploring feelings of helplessness, from mundane situations to life-altering ones.
"I wanted to get a little more detached, with more perspective, and write about people in situations that they can't really control," he says.
"Hesitation Wound" is the ultimate tale of being trapped with no control.
Alletzhauser sings about the real life case of Clarence Elkins, an Ohio man wrongly accused of raping and murdering his niece. With the help of UC's Innocence Project, Elkins was exonerated after serving seven years in prison. Alletzhauser wrote the moving song of love and defiance for a documentary about the notorious case.
Past Hiders CDs have drawn attention from major labels with songs landing in movies and NPR features. This will no doubt get similar attention.
WXPN/World Cafe " A truely remarkable band, a great live experience, tons of great songs...The Hiders are real contenders. They bridge the musical gap as well as any band I've heard in a long, long time..."
Dan Reed WXPN/WorldCafe'
.... very musically robust Americana ...that reminds me of Sparklehorse, Emmylou Harris, The Band, Kathleen Edwards, Detroyer, and folkie psychedelia of early VU. ....Anchored with Beth Harris's sweet yet aching harmonies, the album balances slow-burning love songs and full on rockers. Mesmerizing stuff.
Bruce Warren - WXPN
Imposing majesty and a vibe of sober sorrow City Beat
...Hovering in the Americana-sphere around artists from Neil Young and The Band to newer acts like Sparklehorse and The Thrills, Valentine is, in a word, mesmerizing. On opener "Everything I Wanted," Toby Ellis offers pedal steel swells that illuminate like a sunrise, wrapping around Alletzhauser's organic, melancholic melodies and Harris' perfect harmonies (she is Emmylou to Alletzhauser's Neil). There is a natural hypnotic glaze to most of tracks, as the acoustic and electric guitars and the sweeping rhythms combine to create a billow of irresistible ethereality. ...Other highlights on the album include the Greek mythology-referencing "Persephone," which rattles the cage a little more than most tracks with its distorted, lost-in-the-woods-at-night guitar stomp; the trembling, gently-rolling lullaby for a departing lover "Magic Show"; the twilight-twinkling "You Can't Hurt Me Anymore"; and "Bury Me," which recalls the earlier roots-rockin' days of Wilco. But highlights, shmilights there isn't a dud in the bunch here. The songs are full of drama and soul, possessing an imposing majesty and a vibe of sober sorrow that makes Valentine a perfect "shoulder to cry on" CD for anyone going through a soul-crushing breakup. Mike Breen CITYBEAT
Hidden No More- City Beat
Hidden No More Singer/guitarist Bill Alletzhauser stands and delivers with Cincinnati's The Hiders Interview By C.A. MacConnell Come into the Batcave. When the door cracks open, momentarily, visitors go blind. Squint, then widen the eyes, nocturnally adjusting. Colored lights web-cover the ceiling and walls. Stimulation is everywhere: a Patsy Cline poster, a sleepy sun, a winged, guitar-playing skeleton, superheroes and equipment -- amps, cased guitars, mic stands, all the gear. Notice the close silence. Left alone, studio air grows stale, needing a sound refill. The Batcave is singer, guitarist and multifaceted songwriter Bill Alletzhauser's practice/recording space. A hypnotizing den, the atmosphere is similar to The Hiders' sound, which breathes an equally curious subtlety that festers, explodes and then circles back as soothing as a Band-Aid. A cry out, a cry answered. Two wolves that can't stop. Alletzhauser turns on some Blues, handing me a Steely Dan album for a writing pad. He wears a camouflaged hat over scraggly hair. He sips red wine, announcing: "I like to dress like a homeless vet." When told that'll be printed, he shrugs, grinning. A full-time musician, he says, "I'm just obsessed with music. I like recording other people. The shared experience is unique. As a musician, on one hand, you have to have a ridiculous notion of things, and on the other, you have to be grounded." Soft-eyed, introspective, he thinks things over, looking down or around. But when talk turns to music, he engages eye-level, though slightly shy with a lurking sadness. Alletzhauser once recorded on a major label (A&M) with The Ass Ponys, has had Rolling Stone and Spin reviews and won a Cincinnati Entertainment Award for work with Ruby Vileos. But instead of reminiscing, he focuses more time on drawing me a map, suggesting a place to score cheap records. As a kid, his parents split. He traveled from Cincinnati to Nashville frequently. Early on, he responded to Kris Kristofferson, KISS, Elvis and "the whole art package with songwriting." Captivated by bands, he says, "I was in made-up bands for a long time before I played in one. I even drew pictures of them." Mom had a passion for Country. Dad bought his sister a guitar when he was 10. "She quit, and I started screwing around with it," he says. Drawn to electronics, he became intrigued with the world of noise. At 14, he was in Rover, a Punk band that came alive when skateboarding boomed (later, he was singer/guitarist for the Dinosaur Jr.-esque Grinch). But Alletzhauser preferred the emotional content, the "high and lonesome feel," of more diverse music. He never took voice lessons. Sometimes compared to Neil Young's unapologetic, nasal tone, Alletzhauser's voice strikes out with less abrasiveness and more naivety, both hopeful and wounded. "It is what it is," he says. On his role as The Ass Pony's guitarist from 1995 through 2003, he admits, "You can hide out there. There's more pressure as a frontperson." Holding an arm up, he compares the lead singer position to the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Harrison Ford, holding a staff, must "stand and deliver." In 2002, Alletzhauser met his harmonizing match, Beth Harris, at The Ensemble Theater. Both performed in the musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. "I like singing with people," he says. "Gillian Welch, The Band, The Beatles ... they all have a lot of harmony." The band began as informal Bluegrass jam sessions at Alletzhauser's house. Soon, a core group developed, including Harris (vocals, percussion), Todd Drake (drums), Toby Ellis (pedal steel, guitars), Victor Strunk (bass) and Dave Gilligan (harmonica), among others. Tyler Ramsey (keys, guitars, vocals) and album producer Brad Jones (guitar, vocals) also contribute to Valentine, The Hiders' 2006 debut release. Their band moniker, named for a 1975 Gunsmoke episode, holds a double meaning -- some songs, hidden for years, predate The Ass Ponys. The Hiders booked gigs when they tired of buying their own beer. Coincidentally, Valentine was recorded over Valentine's Day at Nashville's Alex the Great Studio. Mostly recorded live, Alletzhauser describes the sound as, "Organic ... something like Gillian Welch meets Black Sabbath. I also had Zeppelin II and Willie Nelson's Stardust in mind." He believes in the "old Blues" simplicity of well-crafted writing and raw, straightforward lyrics. Valentine begins playfully, transforming into slow, leaking Rock that smolders, dissecting breakups and unions. Alletzhauser describes the first song, "Everything I Wanted," as a "secret crush-type song." But following songs dig painfully deep. "You Can't Hurt Me Anymore" uses the analogy of needles and razor blades, wrestling with neuroses and cavernous loneliness. The final track, "Into the Sun," works as a mirror, reflecting on the desire to recreate "something that was once decent," he says. Valentine has already received national airplay. When Bruce Warren, production director of famed Pennsylvanian public radio outlet, WXPN, heard the album, word spread until The Hiders were an NPR World Café feature and "WXPN Artist to Watch" for June. "I'm fucking thrilled with the record," Alletzhauser says. "Usually, people on record labels have to harass World Café to play their stuff. It's all sort of gelling the way it's supposed to. I don't feel like there's anything lacking." Soaring beyond porches and Batcaves, The Hiders reveal shadowy faces and a sometimes acute, sometimes childlike sound. Complete with musings, secrets, magic, razors and the echo of hindsight, just like its moth and wolf cover, Valentine flies, then howls.
"WXPN REVEALS ITS JUNE ARTIST TO WATCH: The Hiders
XPN online "WXPN REVEALS ITS JUNE ARTIST TO WATCH: The Hiders PHILADELPHIA, PA June 2, 2006 WXPN, the nationally-recognized leader in Triple A music and noncommercial radio service of the University of Pennsylvania, has selected The Hiders to be the XPN Artist To Watch for June. Host David Dye will present the first of the months on-air segments focusing on this Cincinnati-based indie-band on Monday, June 5th in the four oclock hour. The XPN Artists To Watch series reflects WXPNs commitment to nurturing fresh, new talent and exposing listeners to the best new music. Each month, the XPN Artists To Watch series spotlights a different up-and-coming performer who has produced an album or body of work that demonstrates outstanding vision, creativity and songwriting ability. Month-long on-air promotion is combined with online features to help audiences discover each artist. WXPN 88.5 FM, the nationally recognized leader in Triple A radio and the premier guide for discovering new and significant artists in rock, blues, roots, and folk, is the non-commercial, member-supported radio service of the University of Pennsylvania. WXPN produces World Cafe®, public radios most popular program of popular music hosted by David Dye and syndicated by National Public Radio. online streaming at www.xpn.org. " heres the link... http://www.xpn.org/atw06_june.php
Alletzhauser is front and center- Cincinnati Post
Alletzhauser is front and center By Rick Bird Post staff writer From the what-took-him-so-long department, veteran Cincinnati guitarist Bill Alletzhauser has finally stepped front and center in the group the Hiders, releasing the band's debut CD, "Valentine." The former Ass Ponys guitarist and a member of Ruby Vileos for the first time features his singing and songwriting in a CD project. It's the first band he has fronted as a professional musician. The CD is a tremendous collection of brooding electric folk, alt country and slow-burn rock tunes that feature Alletzhauser's Neil Young-esque pleading nasal vocals, full of innocence and passion. A little extra sweetness comes with his harmonizing with band member Beth Harris. The stellar production was recorded in Nashville with sought-after producer Brad Jones (Ron Sexsmith, Autumn Defense, Bobby Bare Jr). Jones had produced the Ass Ponys' "Some Stupid With a Flare Gun" in the '90s. "There was like seven of us playing at once and a lot of it was live. He brought in a lot of order. He's a ringleader," Allletzhauser said about Jones, who also plays guitar on the CD. Alletzhauser said the spark for The Hiders' roots sound dates back seven years as a Sunday night backporch bluegrass jam with such players as Dave Gilligan, Ed Cunningham and Ma Crow. "At some point someone said, 'You know, we could probably not have to buy our own beer for this,' so we started playing like Wednesday nights at the Barrelhouse," Alletzhauser said with a laugh. "Other people would come in and sit with us." Alletzhauser spent several years with Cincinnati's legendary Ass Ponys, which revolved around Chuck Cleaver's brilliant quixotic writing. It was a musical period where his songwriting talents weren't needed. "I've always shoved my own material to the side. In some ways it was easier to get behind someone else's vision than my own," Alletzhauser said. "It's probably something I should've done a long time ago. It was strangely purifying to finally do my own record and I feel rejuvenated." He should. The Hiders' release is one of the best moody, musically intricate and well-written CD releases in some time in these parts.
Hiding and Seeking Bill Alletzhauser, the musician at the heart of The Hiders, still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. By Brent Donaldson
“I said, ‘Here’s a knife. Glad to help.’ ” Bill Alletzhauser, five-foot-eight, 36 years old, with shaggy brown hair and hangdog eyes, a slight slouch, and a love for plaid, just made a joke. We’re sitting amid a few scattered instruments and amplifiers in his cold, dark, basement-cum-practice studio, which is gift-wrapped from floor to ceiling in crushed velvet and Christmas lights.
One night, The Hiders—Alletzhauser’s tight, slow-burn Americana rock band with male-female vocal leads and soft steel guitar swells—had just finished playing a set at Northside Tavern, when a young woman approached him. “I’d never seen her before,” he recalls, “but she came up to me and said, ‘You guys make me want to kill myself in the best way.’ ” While Alletzhauser didn’t really proffer a knife, he might have, just to be funny. “Just kidding,” he says, laughing at his joke. “I know what she meant.” What she meant, perhaps, was that The Hiders’ songs can grip you like a tractor beam and draw you into the saddest moments of your life.
When the band’s steadfast rhythms and anodyne harmonies hit your ears—imagine _Zuma-era Neil Young backed up by a budding Neko Case—suddenly, you’re thinking about your mother crying, or a young and innocent you being abandoned. It feels theatrical and epic, like somewhere, across the universe or across the room, a camera is slowly focusing in on the alienated, teenage feeling behind your eyes. This isn’t to say that listening to The Hiders’ outstanding 2006 album, _Valentine, or hearing the band perform live isn’t fun. Each member of The Hiders is a hyper-talented music veteran (average age: 37) with half-a-lifetime’s experience performing. When their debut album was released last March, critical acclaim launched the band to within inches of a recording contract.
To make _Valentine, Alletzhauser spent thousands of dollars on a highly regarded Nashville sound engineer/producer named Brad Jones, whom he had worked with during his eight years playing lead guitar for the Ass Ponys. In little more than a week, Jones and The Hiders produced an eerily beautiful album with superlative performances and a ready-for-radio production value. Alletzhauser sent the record to Hamilton native and former WNKU music director Dan Reed, now music director and operations manager for WXPN in Philadelphia. “I took it to everybody at XPN,” Reed says, “and everybody at the station—David Dye and everybody—came back as fans.” By any measure, David Dye, host of WXPN’s _World Café, an NPR-syndicated music show with 500,000 listeners on 176 stations around the country (and Guam), is a good fan to have. Dye placed four songs from _Valentine into World Café’s rotation. WXPN also put the songs into its regular rotation, then spotlighted the band as the “artist to watch” for the month of June, and twice invited them to perform at XPN-related festivals in Philly. The Hiders used one of those shows to kick off an East Coast tour. With the sudden prestige, it wasn’t surprising that independent record labels, including Bloodshot Records in Chicago and Rounder Records in Boston, started sniffing at the band’s heels. Indeed, when it came to attracting interest from record labels that could fund and promote The Hiders’ music, the band had done everything right. But sitting in Alletzhauser’s basement nearly a year later, there are a few big questions floating in the air that have yet to find a sufficient answer. Like, why are The Hiders still without a contract? And, if you insist on forging a career from your own music, as Alletzhauser has, what more do you have to do to succeed? And really, what the hell does that mean?
If you want to break up a rock band, lavish attention and credit only upon one member, and pit ego against ego until the band splinters. Knowing this can happen, it should be said that while Bill Alletzhauser writes The Hiders’ songs, the band does not begin and end with him. The rest of the group is made up of all-stars of the local scene who breathe life to Alletzhauser’s sparse arrangements. The 40-year-old pedal-steel and guitar player Toby Ellis, who made a name for himself in bands like Borgia Popes and Plow on Boy, has been a guitar instructor for 15 years. Singer Beth Harris, 35, a Baptist preacher’s daughter from Little Rock, Arkansas, once turned down a university scholarship for vocal music. Bassist Victor Strunk, 34, who also plays with Alletzhauser in the dream-rock band Ruby Vileos, among other projects, seems to appear on a different stage every night. And Tony Franklin, 41, is one of the most talented and sought-after jazz, rock, and blues drummers in Cincinnati. All four of these musicians bring something unique to the band.
But you can’t fully appreciate the dark, dramatic arc of The Hiders’ music without understanding Alletzhauser, the grown-up version of a lonely, latch-key kid whose penchant for getting into fights and skipping school knew no bounds Alletzhauser grew up in a modest house on Werk Road in Western Hills with his mother, father, and an older sister. When he was 5, a neighbor named Chuey sold Bill’s mother an electric guitar for $15, which she gave to the young master. Two years later, when mom and dad divorced, dad moved to Nashville to deal in antiques—the latest in a string of incongruous vocations that included insurance claims investigator and motorcycle racing. Bill stayed in Cincinnati with mom, an HR professional and country music fan who listened to Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. “That’s probably when I first got into the depressing stuff,” he says. “The whole ‘Why me, Lord? What did I ever do to deserve this?’ ” Like many children of the divorce-riddled ’70s, Bill split his time between parents: summer in Nashville, school in Cincinnati; school in Nashville, summer with mom. But for all the tag-team parenting, custody battles were conspicuously absent. “My parents, were more like, ‘Who wants him? Will you take him this time?’ ” Alletzhauser says. “My dad’s pretty vocal about hating people. [He would say] ‘You’re staying here. Your mom doesn’t want you this year.’ ” Armed with that kind of encouragement, it was hardly surprising that Alletzhauser, a self-proclaimed “original hater,” grew steadily and predictably into a juvenile delinquent. “I got into a lot of fights,” he says, “because I dressed weird and I was pretty much of a punk. I’d go up to the most popular kid and kick him in the ass, just to see what he’d do.” He shrugs now, but after being expelled from Walnut Hills High School in ninth grade he attended Withrow High School, where he went from picking fights with preppies and jocks to having a dozen mulleted Motley Crüe fans, armed with boards with nails sticking through them, chasing him. Skipping a few classes turned into skipping a few weeks. “But because I was this normal-looking white kid,” he says, “I could go back and say, ‘Oh, I was in the hospital having surgery,’ and they’d believe me.” Eventually, after such shenanigans got him expelled from Withrow, he managed to talk his way into the School for Creative and Performing Arts, where he eventually…well, you know. “They kicked me out because I missed, like, 68 days in a row,” he says. Old habits die hard.
We’re back in Alletzhauser’s basement on an icy February afternoon, and while the red wine helps, it’s still damn cold down here. Apparently the basement’s lone space heater—and not the bevy of amps, speaker cabinets, computer equipment, and stereos—blows a fuse whenever it’s turned on. Whether he’s writing and recording songs, packaging promotional material with copies of _Valentine for radio stations or record labels, booking shows, or checking record sales on CDBaby.com and comments on his suite of MySpace pages, Alletzhauser will pretty much stay down here all day. In fact, he’s down here all day almost every day. That’s because Alletzhauser is in the tiny minority of Cincinnati rock musicians in their 30s or 40s who don’t want—and more to the point, don’t _have—a regular “day job.” Alletzhauser’s commitment to making music, to following his muse and living an austere lifestyle, is firm. By all accounts, the band would be extremely lucky to earn $2,000 in a month. Divide that by five or six band members, and you’re earning far less than a part-time fry cook at Frisch’s. But Alletzhauser, who used music as a salvation from fighting and loneliness and failing grades, says he’s willing to chance it. “I remember reading a _Cincinnati Magazine article about Scotty Anderson,” he says. “He’s not a huge name in the guitar world, really; he just lives a low-key life in his own slow and steady way. You don’t _have to be some giant rock star. I think there is a way to sustain yourself—a way that can be gratifying. But it takes a long time.” Apparently, it also takes more than a great record and national media exposure, or critical acclaim and an army of fans, before record labels will do more than flirt with you. Although he’s had major-label experience with the Ass Ponys, who were signed to A&M Records in 1994, Alletzhauser quickly found out how ephemeral those deals can be. When A&M’s parent company, PolyGram, was bought out in the late ’90s, the Ass Ponys were released from their contract after recording only two albums; they went on to record their final two albums independently. “Even though it was very uncool to say so at the time, the major-label experiences were better than our indie-label experiences,” says drummer Dave Morrison, who also played with Alletzhauser in Ruby Vileos. “[A&M] had a staff that could execute what needed to be done. The indie labels were very nice and incredibly complimentary, but at the end of the day, they were woefully inadequate compared to what a large company was able to do when they put their mind to it.” It’s now Alletzhauser’s job to do those things—to act as The Hiders’ promoter, distributor, and PR rep, not to mention songwriter and lyricist. Because, despite the stellar reviews of _Valentine, or the _World Café exposure, or their 1,088 MySpace friends, the band is still on its own. “I think that the record is fabulous,” says Nan Warshaw, the cofounder of Bloodshot Records. “I think Billy’s songwriting is incredible. The performances are great, and within the noncommercial AAA [Adult Album Alternative radio] and Americana world, they probably have the biggest buzz going of any unsigned band out there. [But] there’s more to [getting signed] than just being good or even somewhat original. Even if there’s a band that’s as good as someone on our roster, we don’t need another band that fills that niche. Also, if it’s a singer-songwriter—one name and a bunch of hired players—that adds a lot of expense, because he or she is paying people out whether the band makes any money or not.” Translation: nothing personal, it’s just business. “Some [labels] came on pretty strong, but nobody’s made any kind of offer,” Alletzhauser says. “They’ve just poked around and made us jump through hoops, trying to decide if we’re a safe bet. If you’re in a band or doing art around here, you [have to] have your own ideas about integrity, of what you’re willing to do and what you’re not. My faith has always been in doing something honest and real. I think the reward is sweeter if you can do it like that. If what you’re doing is good enough, people will care.” By the look on his face, it’s clear that Alletzhauser would rather talk about his music.
So we listen to “Hawaiian Ice,” a somber song from _Valentine that’s based on an ex-girlfriend. The summer after high school, her plan was to move to England, marry an English guy, and stay there. “And it worked out for her,” he says. “But she had this list of things she wanted to do before she left, and one of them was to get Hawaiian ice.” The song features the kind of haunting melody that you feel as much as hear. It is also a testament to the superb craft of Alletzhauser’s songwriting, of his ability to creatively reinterpret a sentimental memory. And until someone with the capital to invest in the band actually does so, he’ll be right here, in the basement, not so much hiding as disguising harsh memories with beautiful music. “I go through phases where I’m good at getting up early and getting on the computer and making contacts and booking shows, or walking to the post office to send out records,” Alletzhauser says. “But I have no love for it, that’s for sure. I just want to sit down here and write songs all day.” It’s good work if you can get it.