Michael McKay Combs makes music in about every music genre except rap and has toured across the country over the years. Today he discussed with us how he has managed to fuse together country with metal, the changes in musical distribution over the years, and his two upcoming albums.
Combs is from Pikeville, Kentucky. He prefers the older style of country, from the works of Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., Keith Whitley and George Jones. When it comes to metal, Combs likes the groove metal bands, such as Pantera, Five Finger Death Punch, and Korn.
“I always wondered what if I tried to sing metal over a country riff, or country over a metal riff, and see how it would sound,” said Combs. “That’s how Killbilly was born.”
Indeed, Killbilly is a musical project that merges too unlikely genres together. Ten years ago, Combs was in Nashville playing stuff that he said no one wanted to hear, saying that back then, pop country was huge and outlaw country wasn’t.
“Brantley Gilbert and others have incorporated more rock into country so I’m now able to get away with it,” Combs said. “However we took it a step further and incorporated metal.”
The track “Long Haired Country Boy” details what the direction the band was aiming for.
“Oddly enough, even the older generations that heard the originals many years ago still liked it because we done it in a tolerable way,” Combs said. “The fans that I already had knew I done both genres well, and the new fans took to it well.”
Combs said the songs he writes are mostly about anything, including ballad-type love songs he has been writing lately. Years ago, when he toured with rock and metal bands, he wrote more about death, destruction booze and women. But now in his 30s, he has been writing more about second chances and things of that nature.
“In my solo country stuff, my song ‘Sweet Time’ is one of my new favorites I’ve wrote,” Combs said. “It explains how I’m done with my old ways and I thank God that I made it this far musically and just in my walking life all together. I was wild back in the day man, lived the rock star life man for a while. But when you lose everything, and go from people kissing your ass to having nothing and losing it all, it makes you realize what’s important.”
As far as the Killbilly songs go, the lyrics are about just living in the south and how life is down there. Some tracks are about how good life is, and how it’s okay to not make it big again as long as you have your friends and family with you until the end.
Combs has seen over the years how getting music to fans has changed. In the old days, the only way was to go out and tour and to try to sell CDs, but now it is difficult because the Internet offers many options and artists so it is harder to stand out. Combs said that even though the Internet has killed music in one way, it has also given the artist the ability to get their music out there via Reverbnation, Soundcloud, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
“However, people would basically rather watch you on YouTube then come see you live,” Combs said. “It’s a crazy thing.”
Combs has also learned over the years how to craft his own sound. He said being original is the hardest thing to do because there are millions of bands and artists today to compete with.
“My advice for people that are starting out nowadays is simply to just be themselves,” Combs said. “Looking back on my career, I regretted selling out just to get famous and it literally tore my band apart.”
Combs has two new CDs coming out in a couple months. One will be a greatest hits CD of his own best rock and metal songs from back in the day and he will be adding in two new heavy songs to it. The other is solo acoustic album titled “The Acoustic Chronicles” containing acoustic songs that were re-recorded in the studio.
Combs live on vocals: