Knockin’ on Stardom’s Door
Chick Mcgee Podcast Highlights Success of Rush County Band The Easthills
Published June 29, 2016
By Eric Cox - Publisher
Rush County-based rock band The Easthills recently logged another triumph in their quest to bring their brand of big guitar rock to the masses.
On the heels of its second full-length album, Fear and Temptation, The Easthills on June 17 recorded a two-hour podcast with Hoosier radio personality Chick McGee, who appears on Q-95’s Bob and Tom Show. It was the band’s second appearance on McGee’s web-based program, The Chick Mcgee Show.
The podcast was the latest in a string of significant triumphs for the band, which features mostly Rush County residents. The Easthills’ one mainstay member who doesn’t hail from the Rushville area is drummer Wade Parish, a 1987 Eastern Hancock graduate, who now calls Indianapolis home.
The recent podcast recording was McGee’s way of heralding the band’s new album, of which he’s a big fan. But, he’s also a fan of other up-and-coming Hoosier bands just like The Easthills. Sharing their stories on his podcast is McGee’s way of shining the spotlight on groups that don’t have the luxury of record company backing.
“We’ve had other bands that one of us hear about and we say, ‘Hey, let’s get them on the podcast!’ We kinda cross our fingers that other people will listen and like what they hear musically,” McGee told The Banner.
The Q-95 personality, whose laugh is almost synonymous with the Bob and Tom Show itself, said his ex-girlfriend and podcast co-host Jess Hooker recommended The Easthills.
“Of course - happily - (The Easthills) are great,” he said, “just a unique, honest, wonderful, passionate sound ... and we can’t wait to have them on a third time.”
The two-hour podcast (available for free at podcastone.com) features several performances by The Easthills, playing songs off their new album.
Aside from McGee and Hooker’s humorous banter, Easthills frontman Hank Campbell alternately introduces the other band members and describes how the group got its name (a Rushville cemetery shares it.).
McGee said the podcast format enables him and Hooker to highlight acts with which many Hoosiers are unfamiliar.
“With a podcast,” McGee told The Banner, “you can do great and wonderful and interesting and really different episodes like this every week. Podcasts and the topics and guests and the genuine conversation that is happening on (The Easthills) right now is very exciting stuff. I think it’s only going to become more so.”
The band, which only plays its own original music, has opened for bands many people have actually heard of - like Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Cracker, Georgia Satellites, Lynrd Skynrd, Chris Robinson (Black Crowes), Flaming Lips and more. In fact, The Easthills are soon set to open for former Doors guitarist Robby Krieger as well as classic rock band Grand Funk Railroad.
Opening for legendary acts like those is terribly exciting, according to Campbell. But, getting some of their rock heroes to perform on their new CD is something else again. Tesla guitarist Frank Hannon and REO’s Neal Doughty perform, as well as Guided by Voices’ Doug Gillard, on Fear and Temptation.
Not too many local bands have pulled off such feats. Some have had the talent and the chops, but not the focus. Campell and Will Barada know their band was meant to be.
The Easthills Are Born
Guided by Voices, a kind of obscure, do-it-yourself rock band from Dayton, Ohio, is primarily responsible for The Easthill’s founding. According to Campbell, Robert Pollard’s shoot-from-the-hip style and Guided by Voice’s raw, guitar-driven sound spurred him and Barada to found the band.
“Will and I were in the same class in school,” said Campbell. “We discovered an affinity for music together. We were in choir together; we played football together. We did theater arts together and stuff. So we were really tight, ya know, really close. And we were blessed to go to a high school that valued those things.”
But, the drive to establish a rock band, unlike so many other stories of rock-n-roll beginnings, didn’t start in high school for The Easthills. It came after that, after they discovered The Beatles and Pollard’s Guided by Voices.
Campbell left high school and studied acting in college, eventually moving to New York City. But, his love for that faded and he returned home. When he and Barada, who shares Campbell’s affinity for the same bands, compared notes on interests, it was music that kept coming up as a common denominator.
“There was a lot of passion for music,” Campbell said. “There was this notion of ‘We can do this. This is kind of our calling.’
“And not much came of it at the time - because we were limited. We couldn’t play instruments. But, it didn’t matter. We wanted to do it,” Campbell explained.
Barada attended Indiana University and Campbell went to Miami of Ohio and Ball State. But, having grown up together, they kept their friendship intact - even when Campbell moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. Meanwhile, Barada finished college, got married and started working for his family’s Rushville business.
Campbell moved back after three years in Manhattan, and that’s when the two compared notes on Guided by Voices.
“They had this do-it-yourself approach and they were really low-fi,” Campbell said. “(Guided by Voices) really made an impression on us.”
The then 40-year-old Pollard’s example of perseverance and not letting age or money stand in the way of making great music inspired the guys. Invigorated by live Guided by Voices performances, Campbell said they exclaimed a collective “Yes! This can be done.”
At first, said Campbell, there was really no band. It was just he and Barada recording demos and trying to learn their instruments - guitar. But, things sort of fizzled and their ad-hoc band more or less fell apart.
Fast forward five years. Brad Morgan, another high school friend, enters the picture, asking Campbell about his musical interests and hinting around about forming a band.
The two kept talking and Campbell eventually played for Morgan some songs he and Barada had recorded on a reel-to-reel recorder. Morgan was so impressed with the work that he insisted they get started recording new versions of the older songs.
“It was nice to have someone else give us their feedback on which songs were best suited for recording,” said Campbell. “It took a lot of the pressure off Will and I.”
That’s when The Easthills embarked on the recording of their first album, Death of a Salesman.
That album, according to Barada, was an amalgam of ideas he and Campbell had stored up since they were younger. Though described by one reporter as an album “15 years in the making,” Barada and Campbell are both quick to dispel that notion.
“One or two of the songs are that old, but the rest of Death of a Salesman was younger,” Barada told The Banner.
With the recently-released Fear and Temptation, Barada said that was not the case. The new release features fresh material.
“A big factor in the transition from the first album to Fear and Temptation was that we had a band at that point,” Barada said. “So it was getting the other band members’ input into the songs that really made it a lot different, a lot better.
“We were just working on new material,” he said. “And we were working more under a deadline because we had set a goal of when we wanted the new album to come out. We were incorporating thoughts and ideas from the rest of the band and were just being a little smarter about things and a little more efficient.”
Fear and Temptation was officially released at a sold-out show on Feb. 27 at Fountain Square’s White Rabbit Cabaret. Opening for The Easthills was Miles Nielsen, son of Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen.
Another high school friend is band manager Andy Wilson, a guy who serves as vice president at an Indianapolis public relations firm who’s put The Easthills in contact with some very big names.
An RCHS graduate like Campbell and Will Barada, Wilson grew up with the duo and was making music with Barada, he said, as early as third grade.
Wilson admitted he was less of a musician and more of a promoter even then. So, he brought his public relations skills to bear in helping his childhood friends with their musical endeavor.
“My relationship with Will and Hank goes back to the early years, when we were just kids,” Wilson told The Banner. “Those guys are the closest friends I have. I’d do anything for them or their families.”
For Wilson, assisting The Easthills means many different things. But, connecting the group with like-minded people who want to help them succeed is a top priority.
“Our goal is to make the music as good as it can be,” Wilson said. “That means finding the best musicians we possibly can. If we put those two things together, I think (the band) will be as good as it can be.”
Wilson introduced The Easthills to former Healing Sixes front man Doug Henthorn, who produced Fear and Temptation. Along with Henthorn came Parish, who served as Healing Sixes’ drummer, until that band called it quits.
Wilson described his role as helping his good friends “construct a really great band around these really great songs.”
So far, it’s working.
Many try. Some succeed, while countless others fail. Because, as they say, show business is fickle at best. For now, this group of home-grown rockers is making the best of their improving situation.
The Easthills will perform tracks off their new album on July 30 in Kettering, Ohio, when they open for Grand Funk Railroad, the legendary ‘70s rock band that gave the world rock-n-roll nuggets like “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “We’re an American Band” and others.
On Aug. 6, the band will open for Robby Krieger, former guitar player for The Doors. That show is part of WeberFest at Kokomo’s Foster Park Amphitheater.
Find The Easthills’ music at theeasthills.com, iTunes and Amazon.