Just before their Thursday night show, Dead Curious was fortunate enough to spend a little time sitting shotgun the Shivers’ tour minivan and talking music with Bobby, Andrew, and James. Check it out: our exclusive interview with Whiskey Shivers.
“If it smells like shit in here… It’s because I’m taking a shit,” drawls Bobby Fitzgerald, lead singer and fiddler for Whiskey Shivers from around the edge of a doorless, backstage stall. After an hour long set maniacally stomping the stage of Smith’s Olde Bar, it’s no wonder the charismatic frontman-of-sorts was pooped.
After all, not five minutes prior Bobby and his bandmates–Andrew VanVoorhees (bass), Jeff “Horti” Hortillosa (guitar), Joe Deuce (washboard/percussion), and James Bookert (banjo)–had brought their raucous blend of roots, bluegrass, and rockabilly to Atlanta, shredding through fiddle bows and thoroughly demonstrating how they’ve carved out their own elbow room in the burgeoning Austin music scene. Once appropriately dubbed “trashgrass,” Whiskey Shivers have grown quickly from a group of guys jamming on old-fashioned tunes to a veritable “post-punkicana” powerhouse, earning a well-deserved slot at their hometown festival, Austin City Limits, next month.
Just before their Thursday night show, Dead Curious was fortunate enough to spend a little time sitting shotgun the Shivers’ tour minivan and talking music with Bobby, Andrew, and James. Check it out.
DC: Good to see you guys, how’s the road been? Last time I saw y’all was up in Seattle, you’ve obviously made your way back down here…
Bobby: Good man, drove up to Sheboygan, MI, the tip of the mitt… Never been up there before but it was awesome… We played a stand-up paddleboard fest… (laughs) It was good it was really fun.
DC: So are y’all swinging back home through to Austin or what’s the plan?
Bobby: Well from here we go to Alabama, and then back uh, to Birmingham, then up to Savannah… Gonna play with Galactic if you’ve heard of them, they seem like really awesome dudes so we’re really looking forward to it.
DC: Well let’s just dive into it. You know, its my understanding that you guys are all from different parts of the country but obviously you wound up in Austin, so whether that was by design or more fortuitous, what’s that meant for you guys in terms of your development as a band?
Andrew: It means a lot of stiff competition, I mean playing country, and roots and things like that, its what everyone’s doing down there and they’re all 10 times better than we could ever hope to be. (laughs) So we really had to up our game. First year we got together it was like “Oh crap, we have to measure up to this band?”
Bobby: Back to practice.
DC: What do you guys think it is about Austin that has established it as the sort of de facto music capital of the country right now, at least as it pertains to you know, indie and folk and roots and what not?
Andrew: Every venue, every bar in town has a stage and so everyone is competing for those stages. And you know, I hear good bands everywhere but the competition in Austin really sort of seems to make or break people very quickly.
DC: So you had to really sort of elevate your game then?
Bobby: Yeah I think the bar is raised, really sort of by the sheer number of bands and musicians in town. And that draws more you know? The more people that come the more that are going to come and the better they are the better its going to be.
Andrew: That’s why Austin gets called “the velvet rope” a lot, it’s a real easy place to spin your wheels forever you know, just keep doing the same thing… We weren’t happy with that so we decided go outta town.
Bobby: (Laughs) Just staying on the road.
DC: So if I’m not mistaken you guys are making your first appearance at ACL (Austin City Limits) next month is that right?
Bobby: Yeah, we’re really excited, its gonna be great.
DC: I think you guys are going on around lunch time on a Thursday, does that have you guys nervous or anxious for any reason?
Bobby: Nah we’re just happy to be there, plus the earlier we play the earlier we get to be done and the sooner we get to go watch Queens of the Stone Age. (laughs)
DC: Good point… So you guys have been together going on what? Four years now?
Andrew: Ohh, uhh, is that ok? Are we going public with that?
Bobby: I hope you don’t mind I told him…
Andrew: Oh we’re just blowing the doors off it then, alright. Yeah about four years. (laughs)
DC: So four years and three albums, what were your expectations then as y’all are setting out to give this whole thing a try?
Andrew: I didn’t even think we were in a band, I thought I was just fucking around with these dudes. Then its like oh, we have a name? Oh, we have a show?? (laughs)
DC: So is it fair to say you guys are sorta here now, there’s no progress report, you’re just still out here doing it?
Andrew: Yeah, and you know, we haven’t been using this term so much anymore but we use to refer to it as “the joke.” As if we’d perpetuated this grand joke. (laughs)
Bobby: And the joke is still going!
Andrew: Like, “We made a video, 400,000 people watched it! Ha ha!”
Bobby: I mean, people really give us money to come play in their bar? (laughing)
DC: Well then sort of along those lines, if you could call yourselves four years ago and pass along one piece of advice or insight what would it be?
Andrew: Hire a publicist, number one. (laughing)
DC: Weed out people like me, I hear you.
Bobby: Yeah, man! (laughing)
DC: So you guys are a year removed from the last album, what’s the plan moving forward, any ideas for a new one soon or what?
Bobby: Yeah as soon as we get back we’re gonna start… We’ve been working a lot on writing more this last month and a half, I mean really we’re always writing but we’ve definitely been focusing on it more recently. And so once we get back we’re gonna keep hittin’ that and then we’ll start recording in December. We just got it all set up to work with our friend Robert Ellis, fantastic musician, really cool dude, and he’s gonna produce the record for us.
DC: Have you guys found the creative process to be at all different or more challenging being on the road or is it in some way more conducive to your writing?
Bobby: I dunno I always think I’m gonna have plenty of time, “we’ve got a six-hour drive, I’ll just sit in the back, put my headphones on, write some music…” But there’s just so many distractions and you know, you’re tired. (laughs) But there are moments like yesterday, we got a new song just like that (snaps). We’re just sitting around, got a little time, go over to our buddy’s house… It’s like “I’ve got this lick here,” “Ok what about that?” And then, “Oh my god! Awesome!” You get those moments I think.
DC: And so are you writing most of the lyrics or is it more a collaborative thing?
Bobby: Yeah it’s all spread out.
DC: Going off on the songwriting thing just a bit, you guys seem to do covers fairly frequently, and one I really like that y’all do is Long Way Home by [Tom] Waits… But how does that approach differ? It seems like a bold undertaking in a way…
Bobby: Yeah its gotta be a particular song, you know a special one, one that you really care about. One you love so much you don’t even wanna just listen to, you gotta sing it and you gotta play it. But you gotta be careful, I think its something where we’re not good enough to be able to just rip somebody else off and all of a sudden it’s our song, we have to play it our way with our own spin on it and make it a special version of it that’s our own, to us.
Andrew: Yeah, I mean, the only reason to do a cover is to make it your own right? Oh hi James, wanna be part of an interview?
James: Yeah, sure! (laughs)
DC: For sure, and I mean, some guys like Waits there’s just no choice but to make it your own right?
Bobby: (Laughs) Yeah, with that voice, you can’t try to be him, you’re gonna sound fuckin’ ridiculous, he’s the only one that can pull it off.
DC: Some of your influences are pretty obvious or you guys have talked about them; Old Crow [Medicine Show], Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, but are there any that you think would surprise me or anyone else, in terms of people you’re actively thinking about during the songwriting process?
Andrew: I mean I think there’s a lot of stuff. You know when I write, I’m thinking about The Replacements a lot. You know, that just sort of climactic rock. But yeah I think it’s a little different for all of us, I think Joe’s got a little bit of a hip hop slant on things, but what about you…
Bobby: Well I dunno if it’s a surprise, so maybe I’m not answering your question, (laughs) but just old time music in general, artists like Tommy Jarrell. Those melody lines are just so awesome, so crooked, with weird combinations of minor/major and they’re just so cool to listen to.
DC: Spinning off of that a little bit, do you feel like your style has matured? Would you use that word?
Bobby: Yeah, I think we’ve grown up a little bit.
Andrew: The songwriting’s definitely grown up.
DC: It certainly seemed like Rampa Head was a more, you know, no offense at all, but a diverse record from Batholith, and that seemed like it was by design. Was that motivated by anything in particular that you can point to?
Andrew: I think to different influences in the band. I think Horti took a stronger hand in songwriting, and we added in James, and I think there were a lot of changes in the way we did things. Realizing we didn’t have to play balls to the wall, 1-4-5 every time, every fucking song. (laughs)
Bobby: We can do whatever we want to, you know, get a little more thoughtful and explore the range of what we’re capable of.
DC: I guess in a way that’s a little counter-intuitive to hear… So you guys feel more like you can do what you want to do now than you did when you were starting out without any expectations?
Andrew: Yeah, I think that comes from just having more confidence.
James: Yeah we’re able to try stuff now and just say, “Hey, that sounds really good!”
Bobby: It works out really nicely.
DC: So I’ll give you guys one of your albums and we’ll do a little word association then. Sorta see the evolution album to album, and you guys get one word to describe each.
Bobby: (laughing) OK.
DC: First album, Monster Hawg.
Bobby: Monster Hawg in one word… Uh… Schlongy? (laughs)
Andrew: Schlongy? (Laughs) Uhhh what do I go for? Druuuuunk.
James: Man, I’ve only actually heard it, and only heard in once but I’d say rambunctious.
DC: Alright, Batholith?
James: Fun. We recorded that record in a week.
Andrew: Less than that.
James: Yeah, maybe more like four days.
Andrew: Um, I dunno. Hard. (Laughs)
DC: Alright, Rampa Head…
James: That was Rampa Head wasn’t it?
Bobby: No, Batholith
Andrew: Yeah just stick with Jesus. (laughs) I’d say stubborn.
Bobby: Is “stick-to-it-iveness” a word?
DC: We’ll make it one. I’ll figure out how to spell it. And I guess for the next record, one word if you can do it? James?
James: Oh fuck.. . What are we going for on the new record? Fuck! Yeah I’m sticking with that!
Bobby: Hmm… Quicksilver. (laughs)
DC: Alright, couple random ones then you guys can get out of here… What’s in the CD player right now?
Bobby: The van comes with satellite radio, which is awesome, so we listen to a lot of the comedy channel, and the 90s.
Andrew: 90s on 9, annnnnd some radio sex…
James: 40s on 4, or is it 50s on 5?
Andrew: 40s on 4 is the one you just don’t have to pay attention to its just beep-a-bop-a-boo-bee-ba-beep-a-bop-a-boo. (laughing)
Bobby: Every once in awhile we’ll put it on the porn star channel which is just a bunch of porn stars talking about sex…
James: It’s disgusting
Bobby: And for a little we’re all like, “Oh this is hilarious blah blah blah,” and then you know, after about 10 minutes its like (exhales) “Ok we’ve been on the road for awhile and I’m really horny so we just can’t listen to this anymore, turn it off!” (laughs)
DC: Alright, last question. You guys wake up tomorrow, all married with triplets, every single one of you, and you got one show left in you, where do you play?
James: Oh shit, home or abroad?
DC: Doesn’t matter.
James: I wouldn’t ‘mind going out at White Horse…
James: If that was it… The last party… Just the shittiest, raunchiest, fucking party and then we set it on fire or something!
Andrew: Burn it to the ground.
Bobby: Bring the kids, have ‘em selling merch… (laughs)
James: It’s a bar back home in Austin, they’ll pour whiskey in your mouth while you’re playing if they like you.
Andrew: They’ve got a policy of over-serving and if they can’t understand what you’re ordering they give you whiskey, which takes care of the problem one way or the other…