The Hillbilly Thomists are Back

The Hillbilly Thomists are Back

By Rod Dreher
A longer version of this interview appeared at Used with permission.

The Hillbilly Thomists [an all-Dominican Friar bluegrass band] released their second album, the exhilarating Living For The Other Side, which, if the first album didn’t convince you, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that these preachers are not a novelty act, but true artists and evangelists via the medium of American folk music.

For those who don’t know, explain the origin of the name “Hillbilly Thomists.”

FR. AUSTIN LITKE, O.P.: The name comes from a passage in the letters of Flannery O’Connor where in 1955 she wrote: “Everybody who has read Wise Blood thinks I’m a hillbilly nihilist, whereas . . . I’m a hillbilly Thomist.”

One of my favorite tracks, “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed,” exhorts the listener to be ready for the Lord’s coming. How does preaching intersect with performance in the Hillbilly Thomists’ work?

FR. JUSTIN BOLGER, O.P.: The lyrics to “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed” are right from Scripture. In preaching we share the fruits of our contemplation. Songwriting is another mode of this fundamental Dominican activity. One can pray with the Word and write a song as well as a sermon. We preach and sing the Word. In this I think we follow St. Dominic who loved to sing and pray and encouraged his brothers to do the same.

“Chasing Money No More” is about turning away from the world in search of something more truthful to live for. How does your experience as Dominicans inform that song?

FR. JONAH TELLER, O.P.: Man, I love that song! I have to say, after almost every time we finished a take on one of the songs, someone in the group would say, “That’s the best song on the album,” and everyone would be inclined to agree. But to your question— Fr. Thomas Joseph [White, O.P.] puts it well in that song:

Well they dressed me in the ancient cloak / and let me tell you that it ain’t no joke. I spend as much time alone with angels as with common folk. But it’s a life of sweet confection / supernatural connection / and as far as I can tell, it’s headed in the proper direction.

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