Bring a date or find a mate… who knows, maybe both?
That’s how things go when Valient Himself, aka Herbie Abernethy, takes to the decks to deliver some good old fashioned twang bongs. Her next DJ performance this Sunday, August 21 at The Camel promises to be a grandma-worthy good time.
Fresh off a killer tour that included a festival date with Judas Priest in Spain, the fuzzy-faced frontman of iconic heavy metal band Valient Thorr has just celebrated 20 years of serious head-banging. Later this year, he’ll also be joining his old friends, the Avett Brothers, for a big New Year’s Eve show at Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina. There is a history here that is worth reading.
You may also know the all-around guy Herbie as the owner/purveyor of fine dining at Cobra Cabana and Hot for Pizza. He gave us a solid before the shot clock expired and caught up with us to discuss his honky-tonk project, while simultaneously doing adult business in the bank.
This legit dude doesn’t stop. For this we say to all hail Herbs.
Style Weekly: What prompted this honky-tonk bonanza?
Pretty excited about it. At first I was going to have a garage party because I haven’t had one in a while. A lot of the records I collect are garage, boogie rock and stuff like that, very specific stuff. But then I was talking to [The Camel] and said I hadn’t had a honky-tonk party in a long time. I used to do one at Gallery 5 with Tess, when she was a bartender there, I think before Cobra opened?
I just want to do something different from everyone else in town. There’s a ton of cool DJs, DJ parties, places I’ve never done this before. When I make it at Cobra or Pizza, it doesn’t feel as special to me because people say “it’s the owner” or whatever. I just want to do something different in a place where people can dance.
What can people expect?
It’s not your typical country. I wanted [play] swing, rockabilly, country rock — stuff that’s in my wheelhouse. It’s not radio or country pop. Nothing contemporary. Definitely a night to dance for sure, and it’s all vinyl.
What do you think has been your most formative or memorable country music experience?
My babysitters raised me and they played bluegrass all the time. I hated growing up. I feel like I was raised in a pop country town where it’s everywhere. I had no affinity for it until my grandfather passed away. He listened to tons of stuff my dad used to call [laughs] “lie to the music of the train tracks.” My dad was a rocker. He didn’t like it either.
I’m a rocker at heart, but when he died I started listening to him. I’ve been collecting old country records for so long. I’ve always liked swing country and rockabilly, but not contemporary. I love Dwight Yoakam. As an artist myself, I meet some of these new cats that drew me to older stuff. If you’re a big record collector, you never know what direction your collection is going to take. A few years ago I just dove deep into some obscure country stuff.
How, if at all, did it influence your band, Valient Thorr?
I mean, I don’t know. I went to church when I was little, maybe the preacher thing stuck with me, even though I don’t believe in organized religion or anything at all. I have this preacher character and some of that old-school bluegrass stuff went into it. These guys would talk to the public.
If you listen to an old Dillards record, the same with the Stanley Brothers — even my friends at the Avett Brothers — they have a connection to the audience that I think I always had. I’m not even a good singer [editor’s note: We disagree]. I don’t know how I could be the leader of a group. I think there’s something about the connection that country music makes, the emotions…if you get that audience on your side, you have it for life. I feel like I’ve done that in my career.
You are a busy guy. Touring, running two killer restaurants and, most recently, the “Out There Talk” podcast. Tell me about that.
I had a podcast when we got signed to a label, Volcom Entertainment, which was basically a vanity label for a clothing company. But they allowed a lot of bands, including mine, to spend a lot of time in the van at night, soaking up the sounds of the radio late into the night. We had been with them for 10 years. I studied college radio at East Carolina University as a music director in 1999. I always loved being in the van, listening to stuff in the middle of the night.
I’ve done a few TV pilots just with the idea of talking about weird stuff. I have all these resources… all these friends. I just thought, I can probably even talk to people I don’t know about weird stuff and give them an outlet. I like to think of it as “Coast to Coast” meets Anthony Bourdain. With Instagram, you can do it like…boom. Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at midnight. I’ve spoken to people from India, the UK, all over the world.
Brian Posehn [an Emmy nominated-writer, comedian and actor who was in HBO’s “Mr. Show with Bob and David” as well as Rob Zombie’s horror flick “The Devil’s Rejects”] going to be on it this month. The killer thing is, it doesn’t matter if people believe. Stories matter, storytelling matters. I’m pretty excited about the future of this one.
What is the story that you want to deepen and that you have not yet had the opportunity to discover?
I haven’t done anything with witches yet. I’m talking about old school witches. I haven’t told anyone about Salem or anything like that. Lots of classic stuff that I haven’t done yet. I will say crowdsourced episodes are the best. I haven’t spoken to anyone yet who is a Satanist. I want to talk to people who believe in things other people don’t.
What keeps you in RVA?
I never considered living here. This month is my tenth birthday. When I moved here it was cheap and I had friends here. My wife and I fell in love with the river and I don’t even go there much. It’s a small town where such big things are happening. So much good food and music. I just finished doing a European tour and a bit in the South East, there are places everywhere where nothing is happening compared to what we have. The music that passes through here, we are very spoiled. We are very lucky. I mean, the disc scene here alone.
Valient Himself hosts Pony Express, an evening of twangers and honky tonk bangers at The Camel. Sunday, August 21 at 7 p.m. $10.