Turn It Loud - reissue
Line Of Fire - reissue
Summer Tour, Montana
Current lineup: Darby Mills (vocals), Tony D (guitar), Bernie Aubin (drums), Ab Bryant (bass) and Alfie Galpin (keyboards).
During the heady days of hair metal, cock rock and miles of spandex spilled on stage, there was the occasional bright redeeming moment. For some it was the titanic barrage of the Scorpions, the urban strains of Anthrax, or the demonic thunder of Slayer. Yet, for those who liked their rock built on AC/DC riffs with a clear-cut delivery they turned to Canada. In a short ten years our Northern neighbors brought commercial hard rock to the mass in the form of Helix, Red Rider, April Wine and the female fronted Headpins.
Few in the US realize that most of these same bands are still actively tour today, still pulling in loyal listeners and packing the halls with legions of fans. Looking over the vast sea of jubilant punters crowding the grassy slopes of the "Rockin' The Rivers" festival this summer in Southwestern Montana, one would be amazes at the devotion. Crowing each night of the three-day music marathon were the likes of Ted Nugent, Joan Jett and yes, The Headpins.
We sat down with Headpins' vocalist and solo performer Darby Mills to gain some insight on the bands phenomenal rise in the mid-eighties to headlining summer festivals nearly 20-years later. Her demeanor was warm and inviting telling the story of endless road miles with enthusiasm and positive highlights. "I consider us lucky," says Darby, "that we've been able to carry on. It hasn't always been easy - but, it has always felt good."
Formed in 1980 by guitarist Brian MacLeod and bassist Ab Bryant of Chilliwack as a toughened up side project to their pop/improvisational day job, the two implemented greater emphasis on compact, high-energy rock songs. "They went through several different vocalist. I think they wanted a guy singing at first but after they heard me they thought I would work to their advantage. At the time there were no real hard rock bands with a girl upfront singing except for maybe Pat Benatar. So it looked like and sounded great from the start even with a bit of a novelty edge."
The addition of drummer Bernie Aubin and Mills, one of British Columbia's hottest new singers, turned the Chilliwack duo into a lethal club draw. The reaction was immediate and after winning a Vancouver radio contest the group signed an independent record deal with Solid Gold Records (1982), distributed by international heavyweights A&M. "We had most of the songs written," says Darby about their first days in the studio. "We had tried them out live so we knew what we wanted the record to sound like." Recruiting Chilliwacjk bandmate Bill Henderson as co-produced and packaging the record sleeve as a speaker with the title "Turn It Loud" blazed across, the band delivered a stunning debut. The combination of MacLeod's signature riffs fueled by the Mill's raspy, guttural voice logged the record into rock hierarchy from its opening anthem.
"I don't think we were that surprised when the record took off," says Mills. "We were young and hungry and wanted all that came with it - and we loved to tour so we played everywhere and anywhere that would have us." In a year the record yielded not one, not two but five hit singles including the album's title track, "Turn It Loud", "Don't It Make Ya Feel", "Breakin' Down", "People" and "Winnin." Says Darby, "we knew we had something good there but when you're living through it you don't see it the same way." The record soon went gold then platinum and has now gone on to sell more than a million copies worldwide.
In 1983 the four-piece returned with their follow-up "Line Of Fire." Again the power-duel of Mills and "Too Loud" MacLeod lit the boards on fire with "Feel It (Feel My Body)", "Don't Stand In The Line Of Fire", "Celebration" and the brilliant "Mine All Mine." Sales soared as the band found themselves on the road with KISS, Billy Squier, Helix, Quiet Riot and Whitesnake. They toured for almost two years, coming home just long enough to collect another platinum award and enter the studio to record what would become "Head Over Heels."
"That record was different," says Darby. "It had the same brutal force but things were changing between Brain and myself." Yet, that tension didn't effect 100,000 copies flying out of the stores as crisp hits like "Still The One", "Death Of Me", "You're Only Afraid Of The Dark", "Be With You", "Chain Gang" and "The Danger Zone" rang out from car stereos across two contents. Though the record did equally as good as its predecessors, MacLouds interest began to wane. "I don't know if Brian was looking to replace me because we weren't getting along, or he just got hung up working with other people - but he was more than distracted," says Mills. "My feeling is - he was looking to replace me with Chrissy Steele."
Though the declaration was never made, Mills felt she was out of the band and left. With her newly acquired freedom she recorded her first solo record for Warner Brothers in 1991 poignantly called, "Never Look Back." "It was a painful time for me," says Mills. "I wanted to get some distance between myself and Brain and do my own thing for a while." The rock world was saddened the next year, when Brian "Too Loud" MacLeod lost his bout with cancer.
The Headpins reformed a decade later. Darby Mills returned to front the reunion and the response was contagious. Fans flocked to their shows, which were primarily in Canada. However, many drove over from the States to recapture the high-octane shows that always delivered! "We all started to miss touring as a band," reflects Mills. "We were all sad that Brian had passed and we wanted people not to forget the great songs of the Headpins. We started out slow to see how the crowds would be - and we were pleasantly surprised when they came back night after night."
The Headpins are now a fully active band, touring coast to coast several times a year. Darby is the mother of two and remains in prizefighter shape. The group retains much of the old guard with Bernie Aubin (drums), Ab Bryant (bass) retaining the thunderous rhythm section. New comer Tony D. (a veteran of the Vancouver rock scene) unleashes the power and raw-energy of MacLeod's six-string dexterity with emotional precision. After years with only a greatest hits CD companion to support their tour, both "Turn It Loud" and recently "Line Of Fire" have now been reissues on CD. Mills' solo record "Never Look Back" has also been reissued and is available on the bands website: (www.headpins.com). "We've been through our troubles with labels and managers," says Darby. "But we're still out there kicking ass every night. It's what we love to do and wouldn't want it any other way."
Photos are from the Official Headpins web site: www.headpins.net