There are certain expectations that seem to come when the name of your band is Whiskey Shivers and you have a sound that smashes together bluegrass, punk, and a whole lot of hootin’ n’ hollerin’. People expect a rowdy party every time you hit the stage, and for damn near a decade Whiskey Shivers have been providing exactly that. If there is a downside to being known as such an energetic live act, it’s that your studio recordings often fail to reflect the magic of a performance. Being a band that often performs barefoot and is known for jumping right into the audience for a proudly drunken rendition of “Rocky Top”, Whiskey Shivers have always faced a challenge getting audiences to take their albums seriously. When it came time to make a new album, the members of Whiskey Shivers were set on doing both of these things. They wanted to make an album that showed they take themselves seriously and have tightened up as a band, but also captured the loose, freewheeling fun of their live shows.
Vocalist and fiddler player Bobby Fitzgerald is almost religiously devoted to sleeveless shirts, mullets, smiles, and not wearing shoes. His style is hardly a shtick, but rather an authentic embodiment of the downhome country love of his band. Even from thousands of miles away on the phone from his home in Austin, Texas, his positivity is palpable and he is eager to talk about the new Whiskey Shivers album Some Part of Something.
“We’ve been trying from the beginning to find a way to make a record that really shows off our strength as a live performance band. I think we’ve fallen short each time and I think that will probably happen with every record we ever make because it’s just not the same. But I think this one really comes close to capturing that feel in the fact that it’s kind of all over the place – it’s surprising, entertaining, and it makes you feel a range of emotions,” he says.
With the addition of James Gwyn on percussion and the producing skills of producer Chris “Frenchie” Smith, the band wanted to record an album that would feel more serious than their previous albums both in terms of songwriting and musicianship. Part of this meant pushing boundaries and exploring new territory beyond bluegrass. The addition of a new band mate and the ambitions of their producer meant taking risks.
“I think we all [felt] better bringing more radical ideas into our own song contributions and then as the [songs grew and morphed] and the band [got] into it, we [felt] more confident making some radical decisions and embracing this weird new stuff that [we’d never experimented with] before,” says Fitzgerald.
Out of this came songs like the haunting and rambling “Long Gone”, the rollicking bluegrass meets indie rock “Southern Sisyphus”, and the poignant, bluesy “Red Rocking Chair”. It also found the band stepping way outside their comfort zone and putting the Whiskey Shivers touch on songs like The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love” and fellow Texan Daniel Johnston’s “True Love (Will Find You In The End)”.
“It’s like, let’s not just play another fast song, another loud song, or another song where we just yell all the way through, let’s take a breath,” says Fitzgerald, adding some insight about why they chose the Daniel Johnston cover. “Just for a second, sip your beer and listen and let everything sink in with this slow kind of airy piece, and then we can slam back into it for the rest of the night.”
That being said, longtime fans will find that even though some of the songs on Some Part of Something may be a bit more serious and subdued, there is still plenty of fast picking, fiddle breakdowns, and group hoots. Fitzgerald notes reflectively that it’s possible for the Shivers to try out new sounds while still maintaining their core identity.
“I think being the rowdy party band is what got us some energy. We were that band and we are that band still, especially in the live setting. But, along with what I was saying before about gaining confidence, it’s allowing ourselves to explore our more serious side. Not just laughing at everything, but also not taking ourselves too seriously. But recognizing that we’re more than just these clowns jumping around onstage and just playing music and laughing – we definitely are those clowns – but clowns are essentially happy and sad, if that makes sense.”
Besides the album, the Whiskey Shivers have also been up to other things that are more left field, like their recent cameo in the upcoming Pitch Perfect 3. This experience also required the band to step outside their comfort zone musically.
“We got approached by [director] Trish Sie to start making some demos. So we had to do our interpretation of a bunch of pop music, which was a huge challenge. It took a lot of work and we made a bunch of different demos and they picked one they liked, and we ended up getting the job. It was a lot of hustling. It ended up being a blast,” says Fitzgerald, chuckling at how odd it still seems.
With a strong album under their belt, a cameo in a film sure to be a blockbuster, and a fall tour with bluegrass virtuoso Billy Strings, Fitzgerald and the rest of Whiskey Shivers are optimistic about what future holds and where the band will continue to take their music.
“On a personal level, and to zoom out and look at it on the band level, we’re feeling more confident to explore whatever we want to, and growing as people causes the band to grow its sound.”
Some Part of Something is out now. To hear more music, check out tour dates, or buy some vinyl visit whiskeyshivers.com.