Singer-songwriter Cliff Hillis and his wife, Beth Lennon, moved to Phoenixville 10 years ago from his native Delaware, lured by the town's old-timey charm and haunts like the Colonial Theatre and Vale Rio Diner.
They're old souls, for sure: he the performer of retro rock 'n' roll with his band the Forward Thinkers, and she the author of an online blog called Retro Roadmap, which pinpoints vintage places to go and things to do across the country.
True to his band's name, Hillis' music may be inspired by the past but is not stuck in it.
On Friday night, he and six of his finest musician friends will pack the stage at Steel City Coffeehouse, a 100-seat BYOB establishment on the main drag in his adopted hometown, for a Vinyl 45 Release Party.
"It's going to be a big ol' thing," Hillis said. "Hopefully we'll have a full house."
The show will celebrate the March 18 release of his self-produced EP "Love Not War," which hearkens back to the melodic, harmony-filled sounds he discovered as a child.
The title track - Side A of the red 7-inch that attendees can take home for $10, which includes a digital download card for the entire seven-song EP - is a perfect example.
"It's sort of like a '70s throwback," Hillis said, "but trying to float between modern and the retro thing, because I'm a big fan of '60s and '70s Beatles and Beach Boys and all that kind of pop stuff."
He released the song in advance of the EP back in November, and it has garnered airplay on WXPN in Philadelphia as well as SiriusXM's The Loft, a satellite station that mirrors XPN's adult contemporary, indie-rock sensibility.
"They gave the song a good few plays, which was pretty cool," Hillis said.
"The Buddha's Belly," a rockabilly number that's the B side to the 45, is beginning to make headway of its own on Triple A (Adult Album Alternative) radio. Hillis enlisted the help of friend Mike Molnar, guitarist for the Austin, Texas, band the Bellfuries, to give the tune its twang.
"It's the first song I've ever really written with that kind of a flair," Hillis said. "I was channeling Dave Edmunds and NRBQ."
The lyrics stem from a prompt given by a songwriting group Hillis participates in, helped along by Lennon, who earned a songwriting credit - her first.
"Long story short, my wife made a joke, because I said something about scratching the Buddha's back, and she actually said, 'Everybody wants to rub the Buddha's belly, but nobody wants to scratch the Buddha's back,' which I thought was pretty funny," Hillis said. "So then I was like, 'OK, there's my song.' "
Hillis works out of his home studio, called the Hacienda, where he records local singer-songwriters like J.D. Malone, Joe Miralles, Nik Everett and Billy Penn Burger, and is well-connected regionally and beyond from time spent with the Philadelphia supergroup In the Pocket, fronted by David Ousikkinen of Hooters fame; Scandal, fronted by Patty Smyth; the power pop band Starbelly; and the Caulfields, Power Trip and IKE, all projects of John Faye, who will open Friday's show.
Hillis is justifiably enthused about his band, his latest EP and his life in general in Phoenixville.
"The town seems like it's blowing up, hopefully in the best way," he said. "It's definitely an exciting time to be in this area."
If You Go
Event: Cliff Hillis Vinyl 45 Release Party, with guest John Faye.
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
Where: Steel City Coffeehouse, 203 Bridge St., Phoenixville.
Tickets: $12 in advance, $15 day of show, $19 for advance reserved, $26 for advance reserved and entree. There’s a $5 per person fee for BYOB.
By the way: The EP “Love Not War” is available digitally at cliffhillis.com, iTunes.com and other online music retailers.
Contact Don Botch: 610-371-5055 or email@example.com