Whiskeytown was an alternative country band formed in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1994. Fronted by Ryan Adams, other members included Caitlin Cary, Phil Wandscher, Eric "Skillet" Gilmore, and Mike Daly. They disbanded in 2000, with Adams leaving to pursue his solo career. Whiskeytown gradually expanded its sound outside the confines of alt-country, while still keeping roots in acts like singer/songwriter Gram Parsons and alternative rock band The Replacements.
Despite the fact that the band only released three albums, none of the albums feature a consistent lineup, with only Adams and Cary remaining constants.
Caitlin Cary and Ryan Adams, the two members active throughout Whiskeytown's lifespan.
Faithless Street - 1995
Faithless Street is the debut studio album by alternative country band Whiskeytown, released in 1995 on Mood Food Records. The album was re-issued by Outpost Recordings in 1998 with several bonus tracks added, and the track "Oklahoma" omitted.
In July 1995, Whiskeytown convened at the Funny Farm in Apex, North Carolina, with Greg Woods and began tracking their debut album. According to the band's principal singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, the band worked very fast and recorded the album in a week and a half. At least one song ("Hard Luck Story") was written in the studio and laid to tape just minutes later. As guitarist Phil Wandscher noted: "Oh yeah, it was always, how much can you do in this little time? It’s all basically live recording, and then it’s like, 'Overdubs? We don’t have time to overdub, man!' And a lot of times, that worked out better, because you don’t have time to mill around and think about it and then **** stuff up." Wandscher would be the de facto producer of the sessions, although he's not specifically listed as such in the album credits.
Whiskeytown moves to a major label
Following the release of Faithless Street, the band was the subject of a record label bidding war, which came to a head at Whiskeytown's appearance at the 1996 SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. In what Adams later called a "turning point" for the band, Whiskeytown played to a packed Austin club where even festival badge holders were turned away at the door. During the band's (reportedly sloppy) set, Adams noticed record label representatives in the crowd. But when he tried to avoid the label reps by retreating to the band's van after the show, they simply followed him there and surrounded the van, some even placing their business cards on the windshield.
At almost every show after the SXSW gig, the band would be approached by someone from a record label. Finally, after playing an industry showcase at Spaceland in Los Angeles, the band signed with Outpost Recordings, a subsidiary of Geffen Records. The contract allowed the young band almost total autonomy.
In a 1997 interview with The Austin Chronicle, Adams commented on the record industry hype surrounding the band following their appearance at SXSW: "After all was said and done, the labels wanting to sign us was probably more detrimental than it was positive." In the months following the SXSW show, the band's bassist, Steve Grothmann, and drummer, Skillet Gilmore, left Whiskeytown. Said Adams: "I think they [Grothmann and Gilmore] felt like it had gone to a place where they weren't comfortable... I know that at the time, Skillet didn't like the idea that it had turned into a lot of phone calls, managers, and lawyers. I can see how he felt that way, because we were hardly ever playing."
Adams' verdict on Faithless Street:
"I think it’s a strong youth album. It’s crazy. It loves what it borrows from musically: It tips its hat to Gram Parsons, it tips its hat to the Stones, it’s shaking hands with Uncle Tupelo on some levels." The young songwriter, in fact, loved the album so much that he talked Geffen Records into buying it from Mood Food Records so that it could be reissued on Outpost three years later.
Spotify link to Faithless StreetClips:16 DaysExcuse Me While I Break My Own Heart TonightRevenge
Faithless Street serves as an interesting document in the history of alt-country upstarts Whiskeytown, showing 20-year-old bandleader and chief songwriter Ryan Adams' headfirst leap from member of a high-school punk band into an emotionally charged, alcohol-fueled, traditional-minded country singer.
The music itself is often sparse and gritty, brutally honest, and quite beautiful, especially in the introspective "If He Can't Have You," "Desperate Ain't Lonely," and the achingly gorgeous "Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight." For all of the attention surrounding Adams' songwriting and Gram Parsons-like self-destructive bluster, one of the album's highlights comes from violinist and vocalist Caitlin Cary's "Matrimony".
Overall, the album (re-released in 1998 by Outpost Recordings with several bonus tracks) stands as a terrific recording on its own, and also foreshadows many of the forthcoming troubles and achievements in the arc of the band's life span.
-------------------------------------------------Strangers Almanac - 1997
Strangers Almanac is an album by the alternative country band Whiskeytown, released on July 29, 1997. Stranger's Almanac was reissued as a deluxe edition with bonus tracks and an additional disc of previously unreleased material on March 4, 2008.Recording
Throughout 1996, Whiskeytown recorded new material in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina. Two separate recording sessions - dubbed the "Barn's On Fire" sessions and the "Baseball Park" sessions - produced several songs that were later re-recorded for Strangers Almanac. And while praising everyone involved in making Strangers, principal songwriter Ryan Adams once remarked in an interview that he preferred these earlier songs to the final album. Tracks from these sessions would later be released on the reissues of Faithless Street and Strangers Almanac.
The road to making Strangers was a rocky one - in late 1996, bassist Steve Grothman and drummer Skillet Gilmore left the band on the same day, suddenly placing the future of Whiskeytown in doubt. It was then that violinist Caitlin Cary also considered leaving the band, while Adams toyed with the idea of signing as a solo artist with A&M Records. But in the end, the remaining band members soldiered on and, in February 1997, Adams, Cary, and guitarist Phil Wandscher traveled to Woodland Studios in Nashville to record their major label debut. Drummer Steve Terry and bassist Jeff Rice were also added to the lineup. Producer Jim Scott was selected due to his previous work on Tom Petty's Wildflowers album.
The sessions featured plenty of give-and-take between the young, scrappy band and the older, more-polished producer. Said Adams later: "He [Jim Scott] wanted to make something flow. He wanted to make our record work, whereas we wanted our record to get damaged." And for his part, Scott points to a particularly raw-sounding guitar part in the song "Everything I Do" and says, "I listen to that and go, oh my God, we should've redone that guitar because it just is a little rough on such a beautiful song. But that's maybe what they liked about it; they were like, 'No, that's cool'... Maybe that was the bruise on the apple that they were looking for."Tour and Line-up
In a 2008 interview with Independent Weekly, Adams admitted that the Strangers sessions were a very unhappy time for him personally. Depression, substance abuse, and a general dissatisfaction with the band plagued his time in Nashville. In spite of this, Whiskeytown embarked on a grueling and turbulent tour that stretched out over the next 19 months.
After Strangers Almanac was released on July 29th, another round of touring ensued. This leg of the tour, dubbed the "RV Tour", found the band traveling between gigs in an RV. On the whiskeytownavenues message board, tour manager Tom O'Keefe called the tour "a 2-month trek in the US that still causes mental illness in those that were there." One particular show at the Iota Club in Arlington, VA, found guitarist Phil Wandscher sitting above the stage for the entire performance, playing his guitar and occasionally throwing beer bottles down at singer Ryan Adams. Following a contentious September 25th show at The Hurricane in Kansas City, the band splintered. Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary played the remaining dates of the tour as an acoustic duo. Wandscher, an original member of the band, would never play or record with Whiskeytown again.
Less than a month later, Whiskeytown had a new touring lineup and hit the road again. Whiskeytown's ever-evolving lineup would prompt the band to poke fun at itself by selling t-shirts at shows that read: "I Played In Whiskeytown And All I Got Was This Lousy Goddamn T-Shirt!" By the final show of the tour in October 1998, the band was playing almost an entire set of brand-new, unreleased music, with barely any songs from Strangers Almanac - the very album which had launched the tour nearly two years before.
It would prove to be Whiskeytown's final tour to date.OpinionsRyan Adams on Strangers Almanac
I never liked the album. I prefer the version we recorded with G. Elkins/ C. Stamey in Durham. I could never connect with the "band" that made Strangers. It was, in my opinion, not a representation of the band I was in. That being said, it was not in any way a reflection of the good work of J. Scott or the band. I suppose those ideas just did not survive, for me, the long process of recording. Also I was not very thrilled to be in the band at that point.
When Skillet left (he quit the same day as Steve Grothmann (who I had little connection with really)) that was the second I knew it was more or less over. In spirit anyway. Not to take away anything from the others. After that it was just a series of compromises and really some sort of desperation that kept me working on the project. I thought maybe another situation would come along eventually that would give the project that same since of "a happy go lucky punk ass gang," you know. It did not happen.
However, though Strangers Almanac starts strong, most of the best material is used up by the two-thirds mark, and editing one or two tunes from the final innings would have done this album a world of good. Regardless of its faults, Strangers Almanac captures Whiskeytown when they still had some business calling themselves a band rather than just Ryan Adams' backing musicians.
Spotify link for Stranger's AlmanacClips:Dancing With The Women At The BarYesterday's News
Released in 1997, when Adams was twenty-two, Almanac was Whiskeytown's major-label debut, and although the group was in upheaval, the record is remarkably polished, coloring Gram Parsons-style country rock with R.E.M.'s vocal drama ("Not Home Anymore") and the Replacements' beer-breath blues ("Yesterday's News"). The album is a minor classic, and this reissue proves Adams was ridiculously prolific even then.
--------------------------------------------------Pneumonia - 2001
Pneumonia is the third and last studio album by the alternative country band Whiskeytown, released in 2001.
The album is noted for its troubled history which saw the band lose its record deal in the midst of the merger between Polygram and Universal, and the already volatile band fell apart as a result. The album sat on the shelf for nearly two years and it was said that over 100 songs were recorded during the 3 years. It was bootlegged heavily and gained a reputation as a great "lost" record from fans, before getting released by Lost Highway Records as something of an appetizer for Ryan Adams' 2001 album Gold.Recording
By early 1999, Whiskeytown band members Ryan Adams, Caitlin Cary, and Mike Daly had started recording their follow-up to Strangers Almanac at an abandoned church in Woodstock, New York, called Dreamland Studios. Ethan Johns, son of legendary producer Glyn Johns, was tapped to produce the album. Originally planned to be a double-album entitled Happy Go Bye Bye, the music recorded was intended to be a departure from the band's previous alt-country sound, prominently featuring Adams on piano, with classic pop arrangements featuring strings and horns.
After recording, the album was mixed by Outpost Recordings house producer Scott Litt, best known for his work with R.E.M. But the band was unhappy with Litt's mix, so when the album was finally prepped for release by Lost Highway Records nearly two years later, Adams and Ethan Johns remixed it. Adams and Johns sought a classic Rolling Stones/Beatles sound with their mix, with little to no compression, and trimmed the album to 14 songs. (Johns also produced Adams' first two solo albums, Heartbreaker and Gold.)Break up
During the merger between Polygram and Universal, which ultimately put the album's release in limbo, the band decided to call it quits. Said Adams at the time: "The decision was made for us, really, just by time and circumstance, and I respect things that happen like that. By the time we went to make Pneumonia, there were only three surviving members. Everybody kind of pooled thoughts together for that album, and when it didn't come out, it was kind of like we reached an end that's inevitable, and we all knew it in the back of our minds."
In a 2001 interview with Magnet magazine, Mike Daly was even more candid: “If Pneumonia had come out when it was supposed to back in 1999, there would probably still be a Whiskeytown today.” Caitlin Cary agreed to a certain extent: “I suppose it’s possible that we might still be together, but Whiskeytown seemed to have something of a half-life. We never really worked very hard. We toured hard, but the way you make it in this industry is, besides being talented and driven, you have to play the game. Kiss a lot of ass along the way. And Ryan was never very good at any of that stuff.”Spotify Link for PneumoniaClipsJacksonville SkylineBallad of Carol LynnDon't Be SadOpinions
Pneumonia was recorded in 1999, but the closing of Outpost Records in the wake of that year's Polygram/ Universal merger put the album on the shelf for two years; in the meantime, Pneumonia developed an underground reputation as a lost classic, and while that description is going a bit far to make a point, it is an undeniably striking and beautifully crafted set of songs, and it's interesting to imagine where this music would have taken Whiskeytown if the album had met its original release date -- assuming that Whiskeytown was still a band by the time the record was finished.
Drank Like a River
Desperate Ain't Lonely
*Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight
Everything I Do
Don't Wanna Know Why
Crazy about you