On June 21, Billy Sugarfix—the stage name of veteran local musician Bill McCormick—plays his first and last show with his latest band at the Cat's Cradle Back Room. Less than a week later, he and girlfriend Wendy Spitzer—another local musician with a long history of fascinating projects—are moving to Prague.
McCormick, who has been active in area bands since 1988, gives a bulleted list of reasons for the departure: Spitzer's family, his interest in European folklore and relic pagan traditions, the city's rich beer culture. We caught up with McCormick to talk about the move, the new band and his own 26-year history within Carrboro and Chapel Hill music.
INDY: When are you headed to the Czech Republic?
Billy Sugarfix: I will be making the move with my girlfriend Wendy Spitzer, who you might know from her bands Eyes to Space and Felix Obelix. We leave on June 25, which is four days after the show.
Do you know that Butthole Surfers song “Sweat Loaf” that starts with the kid asking his father what regret means? The father replies by saying, “Well, son, it’s better to regret something you did do than something you didn’t do." I’ve always regretted the fact that I never did a study abroad or had an opportunity to live in a different country. In fact, it may be my biggest regret, and it goes perfectly counter to the Butthole Surfers' advice. Wendy also wishes that she’d spent more time abroad, and so together we decided to move to a different country for a year.
What will you do there?
I have an obsessive interest in European folklore and leftover pagan traditions. The Czech Republic offers a lot in this regard, and its central location will make it feasible to travel to different sites and ceremonies that I’m hoping to see in different parts of Europe. We will have a year to explore the country and the continent. We hope to see churches made of human bones and parades of Christmas demons, to hear organs played by the ocean and to sleep in monasteries.
For the first month that we are there, we will be taking a course to earn a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate and will hopefully use that to make ends meet. We will also continue our little home businesses—I have a custom songwriting business called Custom Serenade, and Wendy is a freelance editor and proofreader. We will be in Prague for the TEFL program but don’t know if we will stay there or go somewhere else afterwards.
What do you plan on doing after your first year in the Czech Republic?
I can only speak for myself here, and the answer is basically I don’t know. But I am determined to finish the record that this band has started. So, whatever happens, that will be a priority.
What led you to form a new band just to play a single show?
I have wanted to travel and live abroad for quite some time, and there is always something that keeps me from doing it. I started playing music with this band before I made the decision to go to the Czech Republic, and the fact that the project was going so well did make the decision more difficult, but it just seems like now is the time to travel if I’m ever really going to do it.
Once that decision was made, we all decided that we should try to record some of the songs we’d been working on, so we put a lot of time into arranging them for the studio as opposed to playing shows. We do have one song that we will be releasing before I leave. But I have every intention of completing the rest of the record by working remotely or any other means. Keep in mind, the Czech Republic has the biggest record-pressing plant in the world!
Who's in the new band?
I play guitar and sing. Jonathan Durlam plays lead guitar. In addition to being a very good musician, he’s also very into arranging and producing. He serves as the band’s leader in a number of ways. He played around town in a band called Graveyard Fields for a while. Adam Dodds plays bass. He is Chapel Hill/Carrboro’s best kept secret—a fantastic bass player. He not only can read your mind but also predict when you are going to change it on a whim. He’s also had an active role in arranging the songs. Nathan Logan plays drums. He normally plays with the New Town Drunks. I have known Nathan for years but knew he was the man for this job when I saw him play at the “Freddie for a Day” Queen tribute show. He was the house drummer at that event and nailed all of those songs without a whole lot of prep time, and I thought, “We need a drummer like that."
When did you start playing out locally? And how many projects have you been in while you've been here?
I started playing out locally in 1988 as the drummer for a group called the Mind Sirens. I had recently learned a few guitar chords and started writing songs not long after that and for years tried to put together a band to play my songs, which eventually led me to form Evil Wiener. In addition to those bands, I have performed as a solo artist quite a bit. I just did a quick list in my head and came up with a baker’s dozen other projects that I’ve performed with, including Felix Obelix with Wendy. My personal favorite was a group called Hymen that was fronted by a Chilean opera singer.