David Childers has been to hell and back.
The Mount Holly singer/songwriter/poet/artist and former attorney has been chronicling mankind’s and his own bouts with devilishness since his debut, 1998’s Time Machine. With releases like 2001’s Godzilla He Done Broke Out, ’07’s Burning In Hell, 2014’s Serpents of Reformation, 2017’s Don Dixon-produced Run Skeleton Run and his latest, Interstate Lullaby, Childers and his bands of Don Juans, Hellcats and Serpents have mixed rock, country, rockabilly, jazz and old time for a sound fit to shame the devil.
Satan and his antics are an ongoing theme for his latest band, David Childers and the Serpents, and he shed some light on that when he spoke to Queen City Nerve shortly after the release of Interstate Lullaby.
“The devil has a good side somewhere that was lost,” Childers said. “He was the most beautiful angel and he was God’s favorite and there’s a sense that even the serpents among us can be reformed.”
He’s also quick to admit that his son Robert, who plays drums for the Serpents and has played in his father’s various Charlotte-area bands for decades now, has more than a little to do with the devil and his snakes.
“That’s him, that ain’t me,” Childers chuckled when asked abut the devilish fascination reflected in his songs, albums and band names. “I like Jesus, man. Actually Robert does, too. His explanation about Lucifer and Satan and Luciferanism is pretty enlightening.”
Robert, who recently finished up the February residency at Snug Harbor with one of his other bands, the Luciferian Experience, expounds on the theme in his own words.
“Growing up in the South, the devil is a part of our world. As far as early religious exposure to it, just working in the bars and the clubs, seeing the way the devil gets ahold of people towards the negative, I think we both try to remind people of that,” he laughed. “Like the Louvin Brothers say, ‘Satan Is Real!’ And that’s something that I believe and my dad believes. So it’s just kinda tied in with everything we’ve ever done artistically.”
Robert sees the devil as a tragic character, an angel of music who led a revolution that lost.
“I’m a big fan of Jesus. It’s all there together,” he explained. “I see the devil as sort of a sad thing, and the way he affects people’s lives is sad and horrible. So we both try to bring that to the forefront with our music, to remind people that goodness is the way.”
In Lullaby, David’s proselytizing approach is told mostly through hardscrabble victories, yet it’s one of the most melodic, approachable records he’s ever put out.
His vocals have never sounded better, a smooth crooner delivering a sermon on “The Streets Of Nashville.” The mellow melody belies the bitter subject matter, a wannabe country idol’s abortion.
“The streets of Nashville are lined with dreams that died in the gutter,” Childers croons, before revealing the Nashville abortionist/talent shark at work: “You got something, but you need a little something more/I know it when I see it and how it should sound/You’re not what we’re looking for.”
Ironically, that song was written for a musical that a local woman had put together featuring all of Childers’ songs going back to Time Machine, but he still doesn’t know if it’ll ever get produced.
“It’s really a song written for a woman who’s been in Nashville and been kinda rode hard and put up wet but she’s wise, you know?” he said. “We have a lady, we tried having her singing it, but it never did work so I had to step in and do it.”
Another standout cut is “Young Drunk,” in which David sings: “Bleeding was a thing I used to do, and I lost a tooth or more running into fists and doors while my drunken tongue kept wagging.”
Childers’ protagonist winds up in jail and upon his release returns to to the bar where it all started and orders a soda. He’s praised for his newfound wisdom and offered a job. “So here I am now serving up beer to all the young fools who wander in here/ There’s a glow in the air and music everywhere/ I’m glad I wound up here.”
The tune has a tinge of a Johnny Cash, Tennessee Three vibe to it, and David is proud of the way it turned out, but there’s just one problem.
“People don’t seem to get into that song like they do some other ones, usually ‘cause they’re sittin’ there getting drunk as hell,” he said, before chuckling and reflecting on the irony. “Maybe it’s not the right song for a drinkin’ crowd.”
He was well aware of what he was doing when he wrote the song, however. In fact, he initially had some trepidation about performing it at all.
“When I first heard that song I was taken aback by it, because I work in a bar, and it pretty much hit home completely for the kind of stuff that happens there,” he recalled. “But now that song has really grown on me, it’s a rocker and I like the message.”
Robert compares “Young Drunk” to the Louvin Brothers’ “Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea,” but said his dad’s track has its own outstanding qualities, namely that “it’s much more rockin’ than that one.”
Families working together is often a recipe for heartache, but the Childers don’t have to use that relationship for song fodder.
“We give each other a helluva lot of space,” David said, laughing. “It’s just the truth. But I have a ton of respect for Robert’s musicianship. He really has a sense of what people want to hear and what works and what doesn’t and how to put on a show.”
But the partnership goes deeper than that. He told us that the two great blessings of his life are that he’s still married to Robert’s mother, and that he gets to play music with his son. Of course, the always-laughing David followed that up with a literal dad joke. “But don’t tell him I said that,” he cackled.
“He’s always like that,” Robert said after we broke David’s jestful request. He explained that because he’s played music with his dad ever since he was a little kid, it’s hard to think about doing anything else. “But it’s very much a part of our family life as well as a profession. I respect my dad incredibly as a songwriter and a poet and I feel incredibly lucky to get to work with him.”
The 42-year-old Robert started playing with his dad in his early teens, traveling and playing gigs, exposing Robert to a variety of cultures that he doesn’t believe he would have experienced if they would have stayed in Mount Holly.
The elder Childers said that, in addition to the joys of playing with his son, he’s grateful for Robert bringing some new faces into the Serpents, such as bassist Korey Dudley and fiddler Geoff White.
“He said, ‘You need some good lookin’ young guys backing you up,’” David remembered. “I’m like, ‘Well, that’s fine by me as long as they can play.’ It’s been a happy thing and we all get along. Everybody in that band, everybody we play with, is in it for the right reasons. There’s just none of this bullshit; there’s no rock stars or ego trippin’ or hidden agenda — it’s just all about making music.”
When not playing with his dad or his jazz band Brut Beat, Robert gigs around town with the Luciferian Experience, which wrapped its residency at Snug Harbor on Feb. 26.
He has a vested interest in the club, working the soundboards and helping book the Wednesday-night residencies, though his responsibilities at the popular Plaza Midwood venue have scaled back since he had a child of his own.
As for 3-year-old Margaux, it sounds like she’s destined to follow her dad and granddad’s lead.
“Unfortunately she’s completely obsessed with music already, and sings all the time,” Robert says, as Margaux squeals happily in the background. “She’s already learned songs herself and she’s started playing drums already and can pretty much play in rhythm. I think she’s gonna be a musician.”
Her musical spectrum is a bit eccentric at this point, but has interesting potential. “She loves Halloween songs, but at night she has what she calls party time when she turns on the radio and dances to it. She really likes the Ramones, she’s really attracted to their music and any time they come on, she starts rockin’ out. She loves her grandfather’s music for sure.”
We’ll keep our eyes out for the debut album that we’re expecting any day now.
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