By Raymond Simon
Photo by Percy Bright
“I often refer to the music of The Bailey Hounds as ‘cemetery blues’,” says Ryan Petrillo, the band’s lead singer and principal lyricist. “I’d like to imagine all these songs being sung in the failing light of a neglected graveyard.”
Although the emerging foursome’s repertoire includes songs with titles like “Malleus Maleficarum”�Latin for “The Hammer of Witches”�listeners expecting the hoarse growls and bloody imagery of death metal are in for a surprise. The Bailey Hounds approach their subject with understatement, preferring brushes to blast beats.
In fact, the band’s mix of acoustic and electric, folk and rock, reveals that it owes far more to Fairport Convention than to Cannibal Corpse. Petrillo describes it best: “I wanted to find a happy medium between Rob Zombie’s ‘La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1’ and ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’.” After years of playing in everything from punk bands to touring as a sideman for indie popsters Liam and Me, the amiable front man has finally found his voice.
That’s partially due to his band-mates, whose musicianship the songwriter generously praises. Guitarist Vince Federici and drummer Gary Lebiedzinski studied music at the University of Arts, and Chris Cardillo is an old collaborator who switched to bass at Petrillo’s suggestion. Together, they help the lead singer flesh out his musical ideas, but there’s more to it than that. “I like to approach a band as them being friends rather than co-workers,” he says, before adding, “You get a better sound that way.”
Listeners can hear the fruits of The Bailey Hounds’ musical camaraderie on tracks like “Fields of Avalon,” where the musicians’ restraint enhances the song. “Mary, all dressed in blue/ Shinin’ against the sickle moon/ Quiet like a scarecrow, movin’ in the wind/ Sweeter than honey, drier than gin,” Petrillo sings.
The frontman finds his peers’ input invaluable, but he takes full responsibility for whatever grittiness or darkness appears. Perhaps it was inevitable. As a kid, he was captivated by horror. “I would watch ‘Tales from the Crypt’ from the stairwell of my house completely unbeknownst to my parents,” he says. In fact, his lifelong fascination with ghost stories, serial killers and B-movie horror is so serious that he pursued it as far as Scotland, earning a master’s degree from the University of Stirling’s graduate program in the “Gothic Imagination.”
Adepts may divine this influence in everything from the band’s name�a bailey is a type of castle and, in Petrillo’s mind, those hounds are far from welcoming�to its lyrics. In “Oh My Demons, How They Wander,” for example, he intones: “Oh the sun, how it refused to shine/ On My blackened soul, upon my darkened mind.” Fortunately for music lovers, The Bailey Hounds avoid both the cartoonish character of metal bands like Mortician and the Tolkien fixation of much psych-folk.
In fact, the quartet’s overall vibe is firmly in the mainstream, no surprise given that Petrillo was weaned on classic rock and enthusiastically cites both Pantera and Springsteen personal favorites. Listeners can occasionally discern those influences in little touches, like the Nebraska-era harmonica that crops up in “Always on the Wrong Side.”
Although Petrillo began playing with Lebiedzinski almost two years ago, it’s only been in the last few months that The Bailey Hounds have been gigging regularly. The reception has been so good that the band will embark on its first shows outside of the Delaware Valley and has also been invited to contribute to WXPN’s celebration of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday later this spring. (They’re covering “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”). Most important, the band is already recording tracks for its first album, slated to be released sometime this summer.
Petrillo won’t go into detail about the The Bailey Hounds’ debut, but his artistic sensibility offers some clues. “The most appealing colors, sounds, and textures to me are the aesthetic elements found in your average low-budget horror film from the 70s,” he says. “I try to capture the grittiness in any way possible, whether it be a word, an arrangement of notes and chords…or the mere neglect of my shitty beard.”