In their new video for “Miss Mary,” which premieres below, the band — Nate Hilts (vocals, guitar, mandolin); Scott Pringle (guitar, mandolin, vocals); Danny Kenyon (cello, vocals) and Eliza Mary Doyle (banjo) — have been fashioned into puppets. Billboard chatted with Hilts about the new video, upcoming tour, murder, nude puppets and gun control.
How do you feel about your personal puppet portrays – the one of you? Any complaints? Fingers too pudgy? Not tall enough?
They are a lot shorter than we actually are, but besides that they are a pretty good portrayal. Just a little haggard looking.
Did any of you ask for changes?
Not for the puppets. The only changes we asked for is more group shots for the puppets. We wanted to see more of the puppets.
So the puppets exist?
Yes they exist. I’d like to get my hands on them. But I don’t know if it’s possible.
You’d think they’d give them to you.
That’s what I was hoping for, but I was talking to my friend who had a video where they had some dolls of The Sheepdogs and he said that they couldn’t get their dolls either.
What is the appeal of murder as a song subject? “In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company” is also about murder.
It’s not necessarily murder that appeals; it’s tragedy.
Both songs have a murder in them.
Yeah. If you want to look at that part, murder definitely plays a large part in a lot of tragedies. So when we’re writing songs, a lot of times, I don’t know why, it’s something that comes very naturally to us singing about these things. I think it’s because it’s weird and something we can have fun with.
How did you decide on Miss Mary’s last name? We see it when she is booked into jail.
I think, it’s Johnson they put it as. We hadn’t decided a name. They did that on their own when they did the video.
Is there a moral to the story?
Yes. Absolutely. If you want to get more in-depth about it on the outside that no one would really know about but me, it’s talking about prescription pills. You have a problem so doctors want to put you on all these prescription pills. Basically what happens is Miss Mary ends up taking too many of these pills and just starts to hallucinate and gets into a very dark place and she ends up hallucinating that her husband is cheating on her and she ends up killing him. And once she snaps out of it, she comes to the realization that she killed her husband and nothing was going on at all.
Right. We see him dead holding the heart-shaped box of “happy anniversary” chocolates.
They portrayed that really well because I didn’t explain any of that to them. They just listened to the song and that’s what they had.
You’ve got an X-rated sex scene in there.
Well, it used to show a bum. It doesn’t show a bum anymore. They took that out.
I was fine with the bum. One of our bandmates thought it was too raunchy for the sake of being raunchy.
A puppet’s bum is raunchy? I won’t ask which band member thinks that.
To each their own, I guess [laughs].
What is your view on stricter gun control in the U.S., given that you are from Canada with stronger laws and travel across the U.S. but have guns in your video.
That’s the only time we’ve ever had a gun in our video — and it’s a cartoon gun [laughs]. Besides that, I think gun control is very important. I’ve gone bird hunting. I know plenty of hunters. I think that to have that stuff regulated in a responsible way is very important because unfortunately irresponsible people get their hands on guns and ruin it for everyone.
You have a huge tour in October and November in North America, and then the UK in February of 2019. How are you spending this summer?
We are hopping around festivals all summer. Our next show is in Harmony, Maine, on June 15.
Things have really taken off for you. The video for “In Hell I’ll Be In Good Company” was from your first full-length [Good Company], but you had already put out your second album [Illusion and Doubt] when it went viral?
We had released it just before we released our new album. We just thought we needed to get more video content out and we did it with our friends, and everybody was so busy, so it took time to actually get it done and then edited. So by the time we released that one, the other album was out too and somewhere along the lines it just caught a lot of traction and then started blowing up and up and up. It’s been out for about a year now. It still keeps going.
64 million views now. How has that impacted your shows?
I’d say quite a bit. Our shows were always growing organically, but that video has helped us take larger strides outside of Canada. We were always doing well in Germany but also all of Western Europe quite a bit. The U.S. is welcoming us with open arms right now.
Are you finding hardcore fans will come to your shows wearing suspenders and travelers hats?
Oh yeah. Lots of times people show up dressed like us. We have a lot of products where they can have that accessibly as well. We sell bolo ties and suspenders and black ties.
Your last album came out in 2016. So when is your next one?
We’re starting to write new songs. I’m very excited about it. Not too sure when we’re going to release that yet. It has to be recorded, but we’re starting to write new songs and we’re looking for producers and studio time, and we’re going to go from there.
Any new songs about murder?
Not yet. Oh, you know what, not a murder, but in one of the songs a guy is trying to do all that he can to make sure his partner is happy with him. All she wants is a diamond ring and a necklace string of pearls. He’s a miner, so he’s got to go out and find the money. So he catches wind that somebody has a stash of gold so he approaches the fellow with whatever he can to try and get that gold from him — but he doesn’t kill him.
June 15 -- Harmony, ME @ Freedom Fest
June 19 -- Winnipeg, MB @ Red River Ex
June 21 -- Swift Current, SK @ Long Days Night
July 1 -- Ottawa, ON @ Parliament Hill, Canada Day
July 6 -- Yorkton, SK @ Yorkton Exhibition
July 12 -- Calgary, AB @ Carlgary Stampede, Knoxville's Tavern
July 13 -- Somerset, KY @ Master's Musicians Festival
July 14 -- Vancouver, BC @ Vancouver Folk Music Festival
July 15 -- Seattle, WA @ Ballard Seafood Festival
July 20 -- Big River, SK @ Ness Creek Music Festival
July 22 -- Edmonton, AB @ Interstellar Rodeo
Aug. 17 -- Invermere, BC @ Invermere Music Fest
Aug. 22 -- Hamburg, DE @ Sommer im Altona
Aug. 23-24 -- Tønder, DK @ Tønder Festival
Oct. 6 -- Bend, OR @ Bend Fall Fest
Oct. 9 -- Salt Lake City, UT @ The Depot
Oct. 10 -- Fort Collins, CO @ Aggie Theatre
Oct. 11 -- Denver, CO @ Ogden Theatre
Oct. 12 -- Wichita, KS @ Nortons Brewery
Oct. 13 -- Dallas, TX @ Canton Hall
Oct. 16 -- New Orleans, LA @ Tiptina's
Oct. 17 -- Nashville, TN @ Cannery Ballroom
Oct. 18 -- Bloomington, IL @ Castle Theatre
Oct. 19 -- Kansas City, MO @ Crossroads
Oct. 21 -- Fargo, ND @ Sanctuary
Nov. 6 -- Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
Nov. 7 -- Milwaukee, WI @ Majestic Theatre
Nov. 8 -- Covington, KY @ Madison Theatre
Nov. 9 -- Kent, OH @ Kent Stage
Nov. 10 -- Detroit, MI @ St. Andrew's Hall
Nov. 12 -- London, ON @ London Music Hall
Nov. 13 -- Waterloo, ON @ Maxwell's
Nov. 14 -- Montreal, QC @ Corona Theatre
Nov. 15 -- Toronto, ON @ Danforth Music Hall
Nov. 16 -- Ottawa, ON @ Bronson Centre
Nov. 17 -- Holyoke, MA @ Gateway City Arts
Nov. 19 -- New York City, NY @ Sony Hall
Nov. 20 -- Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
Nov. 21 -- Philadelphia, PA @ Trocadero Tavern
Nov. 23 -- Greensboro, NC @ The Blind Tiger
Nov. 24 -- Greenville, SC @ The Firmament
Nov. 25 -- Louisville, KY @ Diamond Pub Concert Hall
Nov. 26 -- Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall
Jan. 30 -- Dublin, IR @ Whelen's
Jan. 31 -- Belfast, IR @ Empire
Feb. 1 -- Newcastle, UK @ O2 Academy
Feb. 2 -- Glasgow, UK @ ABC
Feb. 5 -- Liverpool, UK @ O2 Academy
Feb. 6 -- Manchester, UK @ Ritz
Feb. 7 -- Leeds, UK @ O2 Academy
Feb. 8 -- Nottingham, UK @ Rock City
Feb. 9 -- Norwich, UK @ Banking Hall
Feb. 10 -- Bristol, UK @ O2 Academy
Feb. 12 -- Cardiff, UK @ Tramshed
Feb. 13 -- Portsmouth, UK @ Pyramid
Feb. 14 -- Brighton, UK @ Concorde 2
Feb. 15 -- London, UK @ O2 Forum
Feb. 16 -- Cambridge, UK @ Junction
Feb. 17 -- Birmingham, UK @ Institute