Whiskey Autumn are all about their art.
I had the great pleasure of sitting down last week with Whiskey Autumn, a band I enjoy and admire, for an in-depth chat. They're headlining The Fall Showcase tomorrow night. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did:
I’ve been a fan of Whiskey Autumn for awhile. What I’ve always been impressed by since the first time I saw you guys is that the aesthetic you present isn’t based on a current “in” trend. Often, newly-formed bands put their finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing: “I know, let’s start a new-grass band with a Fleet Foxes twist!” Rather, you guys settled into an aesthetic that’s very much not “in,” namely first-wave British Invasion. That’s what it looks like, what it sounds like; from your originals, to your covers, to the way David and Greg knock their heads around in your music video like a couple of Beatles bobble-head dolls. It’s very bold to go against the grain, but it’s even bolder to pick something so far from the norm. How did the three of you individually contribute toward defining this aesthetic?
Greg: That’s an interesting question. I guess it wasn’t a conscious decision to go toward or against a trend. We were all big Beatles fans. We all had the vinyl. It was the way we first bonded.
David: Greg already had Whiskey Autumn going before we met. Then we found Matty, and it was just one of those things: What do we all listen to? What do you we like? Because that’s going to be the fun stuff to cover. Being a band in Boulder, we have to play three-hour sets.
Matty: We’re not a jam band.
Greg: One of the first covers we honed in on was “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” by The Beach Boys.
Matty: Which is not an easy song. If you have the balls to play any Beach Boys song to begin with, that one isn’t high on the list. You need multiple strong vocalists.
Greg: And from a songwriting perspective, it’s incredible how quick the movements come in that song. It’s almost a classical piece in that way. We were really drawn to that. And especially on our first EP, we wanted to play some doo-wop.
That’s the other direction you guys go: Motown. And while the subgenres aren’t the same, they happened within the same few years.
Matty: The one thing we all could definitely agree on was the music we would listen to when we were hanging out, which was Hard Day’s Night or Pet Sounds or Rubber Soul. For all of us, that era shines above everything else.
That’s really strange. That’s a very specific subset of music for three players to run with in this day and age. It must be daunting to think you are attempting to repave a way that has already passed. Your originals reflect this era, too. In light of this, what does success look like to you guys? A week from today? A month? A year? What are the expectations for pushing something no one knows they are looking for?
Greg: The success is making the art.
Matty: Great songs speak for themselves, regardless of the genre.
Couldn’t agree more with that.
Matty: Whether you’re reaching for one aesthetic or another, if the melody is strong and the lyrics are strong, it’s timeless. You can still listen to “Be My Baby” and it sounds just as fresh and magical as it did the first time you heard it when The Ronnettes put it out. In the studio, we just want our songs to be the best they can be.
So is that success to you guys? Making the best song you can make? Does moving up in the industry have anything to do with it?
Greg: I find the joy in the creating. That’s when I feel like we’re doing the real shit. It’s also a beautiful thing not having to answer to anybody, which we don’t right now, outside of budget constraints. The art is what lives on. Live shows are super important, but creating the records is where it’s really at. That’s what will live on.
Matty: The band has grown from a bedroom-folk thing to more of a rock band, and I come from a hip-hop background playing with DJs. We are always trying to build on what we know. It’s like advancing in math, always trying to solve more complicated riddles.
Having played here for a few years, what do you make of the Boulder scene?
David: The Boulder scene is different than the one I grew up in.
Where did you grow up?
David: Dallas. Downtown there were fifteen venues with three or four band bills and everyone supported and watched each other. If you played the nine o’clock slot, you would go over to another bar to support another band that had the midnight slot. Here it’s like, damn, we have to play three hours and be on every fucking song the whole night. Where I came from you got forty-five minute slots where you played the best songs you could in that time. Being here is like being a glorified bar band where you are in the background a lot and noise cancelling.
Do you think that’s because of a shortage of acts here?
Matty: It’s a shortage of venues.
Right, you have to be invited into the kingdom. Moving on: nostalgia and sentiment. Two very unhip things you also make hip.
Greg: Why thank you.
Everything you play, especially the songs you write, seem to be reaching back in time. Not just the aesthetic, but the lyrics, the mood of the sound.
Greg: I’m always trying to draw on things that happen to me, to think of them in scenes and tell a story. I’m trying to make a song out of the picture in my head that I see of the past. After you have had some time to think about things, you can understand them better. You put them through a different filter. You write a song about it and really understand what happened.
In order to live together and be in a band together, you guys must get along pretty well.
Matty: There are times we want to punch each other in the face.
David: It’s gotten to brotherhood.
Matty: We have this family dynamic. We aren’t competing. We are a family and we want to do what is good for the family name.
David: Exactly. These guys are my brothers. I want them to be honest with me. Letting them down is worse than hurting yourself.
Matty: This has definitely been something different for me. It’s been very exciting. I was asked if I could fill in at first, which makes you more present. Count to four, count to six; whichever time signature we’re playing in. Stay in the pocket, keep it simple. I went into this thinking I was just filling in, which I love, even if it’s in a scene I’m not really into. It’s going to bring something new out of me. You just make a choice that it will be fun. And here we are nearly three years later, a repertoire of ninety songs we can play together, always having new musical ideas to bounce off one another. I could not have envisioned this is what it would become.
Check out the Whiskey Autumn trio this Friday at The Riverside where they are headlining The Fall Showcase. More details here.
All photos per Hannah Oreskovich. This interview was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.