an introspective into gothabilly
Thursday, March 5th, 2009
by Meagan Breen
What do you get when a greaser of the 1950s meets a black-clad goth of the 1990s? What would happen if Elvis met The Sisters of Mercy? You would get gothabilly! Yes, it really does exist! Not only is gothabilly a musical genre but a fashion look and a lifestyle as well. Gothabillys, also known as hellbillys, can easily be mistaken for goths, rockabillys, or psychobillys. They all have similar interests in horror, kitsch, hot rods (or hearses), vintage fashion, and enjoy the sound of the slap style bass.
We could simply describe the fashion of the gothabilly as, “Elvis raised from the grave and re-fashioned as a goth.” He would simply be draped in black velvet instead of gold lame. It’s not that hard to envision, Elvis did dye his hair black, after all. The style of the gothabilly can take many forms but black is a constant staple in the wardrobe. Gothabilly style may include retro-inspired elements such as: cowboy boots, bolo ties, pencil skirts, high heels, creeper shoes, mourning coats, corsets, and top hats. Close attention to detail in clothing is often seen by use of: antique jewelry, animal print trim, tattoo imagery, PVC, and leather. Gothabilly hair styles can include: pompadour quiffs, Bettie Page style bangs, 1940s curled quavers, rat’s nests, or just bald and beautiful. Many gothabillys style themselves like dusty cowboys from hell or simply look like vampire pin-ups risen from the grave for a midnight cocktail hour. They find their fashions at places ranging from vintage shops, estate sales, and even the mall. Most of the time their styling focuses on blending retro cuts from the 1950s with the somber features of a goth. Nothing is too creepy or too kitschy for these groovy ghoulies.
Gothabilly has often been considered an offshoot of the goth lifestyle. Lifestyle interests can be both 1950s movies and culture with the kitschy humor of the era and elements of goth fashion and literature. An all around taste for things Noir is almost always self evident. The key to understanding the gothabilly style is to understand that it contains tongue-in-cheek humor. Whether it’s putting mini top hats on taxidermy bats or planning a creepy tiki party, it’s all about dark humored fun. These creatures of the night can usually be found hanging out at goth clubs, rockabilly shows, or any dark lounge. There really is no formal social scene due to the term “gothabilly” not having widespread use in mainstream or alternative media. For this reason, the knowledge of this genre is minimal and little has been exposed about the lifestyle. The dark Daddy-O’s have had to move between both the goth and rockabilly scenes.
The Cramps first used the term “gothabilly” in the late 1970s to describe their musical sound. The Gothic Cowboys and Fields of the Nephilim were sporting western gear while belting out somber tunes in the mid 1980s. They too, could be described (by sight) as gothabillys. Bands like Dave Vanian (singer of The Damned) and The Phantom Chords helped forged the sound in the early 1990s but the musical genre really stayed under the radar. Gothabilly is often confused with its cousin genre psychobilly. First becoming popular in the 1980s, psychobilly formed a combination of traditional 1950s rockabilly with a 1970s punk sound. Psychobilly is much faster and aggressive but shares the same themes of horror, monsters in distress, and all the drama of the dark side with gothabilly. A great way to describe the gothabilly sound would be to try and imagine the soundtrack for a western hanging or the music for a funeral sock-hop. The musical style is a combination of 1950s bluesy rockabilly mixed with creepy gothic piano and guitars creating a slow tempo with moody melodies. Lyrics are often about vampires, the paranormal, dark love, and themes of sadness yet have an element of kitsch. The use of B-rated horror movie samples is prevalent and adds a certain macabre je ne sais qua . A sample of bands that could be used to define the Gothabilly sound are: The Cramps, Cult of the Psychic Fetus, The Phantom Cowboys, Zombie Ghost Train, and Ghoultown. Other subgenres that have been included on gothabilly CD compilations have been described as, “Death Surf”, “Voodooabilly” and “Death Mod”. Examples of these bands are: Psycho Charger, The Brides, Deadbolt, and The Memphis Morticians.
If your curiosity gets the best of you and you want to know more, I recommend reading The Villains Guide to Better Living by Neil Zawacki, Drop Dead Magazine, and Rue Morgue Magazine. This reading material will be sure to give you some insight into the delightfully macabre world of gothabilly. To help you achieve that “fresh from the morgue look”, I recommend these fashion sites: www.shrinestore.com, www.modemerr.com, www.unique-vintage.com, and www.8ballwebstore.com. The best music compilations to provide an introduction to the genre and get your crypt rockin’ are: Gothabilly: Wakin’ The Dead, Gothabilly: Rockin’ Necropolis, and Gothabilly: Razin’ Hell. Gothabilly may be the light-hearted goth or the dark-hearted rockabilly, but no matter which way you describe it, it is definitely a breed of its own!
from the February Issue of Auxiliary Magazine