Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Drinking It In

By Susan Ellis & Mark Jordan

SEPTEMBER 2, 1997:  You can say one thing about the members of the Raleigh, North Carolina, country-rock band Whiskeytown -- they sure know how to work a theme.

For starters, there's the name, though vocalist/guitarist Ryan Adams puts no importance behind it ("Hell, you can't name your band Sin City, so you might as well name it Whiskeytown"). Then, there's the fact that most of the band members hooked up after sharing a few beers in a local bar. Finally, completing this booze-soaked circle, is Whiskey-town's music. The low-fuss, high-angst songs from their second album Strangers Almanac just beg to be listened to in a dark neighborhood bar on the day that you've skipped your last class or left work early.

If you really want to push the idea, you could say that Whiskeytown has sort of a buzz effect. The buzz took hold at the 1996 South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, and another showcase at Spaceland in L.A., scoring the group a contract with Outpost Recordings, a division of Geffen Records.

Much of the focus has been placed on Adams and his songwriting (other members are guitarist/vocalist Phil Wandscher, violinist/vocalist Caitlin Cary, bassist Chris Laney, and drummer Steve Terry). The 22-year-old Adams has been portrayed almost as an enfant terrible. A bandmate deems him a brat, another friend calls him a twerp, but they do so with affection and always cushion it with a reference to his talent. Adams reveals just a tiny bit of this stripe during a recent interview when he suggests that the Spice Girls be separated, tied up, and forced to listen to good music (the horrors!) and then notes that the bulk of the country's population just isn't all that smart.

Adams is just as outspoken about his disdain for his band being labeled "alternative country" (or "no-depression country"). "I'm sick to death of that word," he says. Country rock, he feels, is a better fit, but one that's not altogether accurate either. According to Adams, the music on Whiskeytown's first album Faithless Street is country rock and so is the music on Strangers Almanac, but it's something more, too. Says Adams, "[Strangers Almanac is] not like Faithless Street, but it is in a sense. It explores a lot of different types of songwriting on one album and a lot of different stylized notions. We don't make the same record over and over. This time, it's more of a study in pop, psychedelic pop, and art music, but with a little bit of country rock in there."

Diversification, says Adams, is the key to their sound. What may be considered inharmonious musical tastes among the band members serves as an elliptical link that makes its way into Whiskeytown's songs. "I'm a huge Rolling Stones fan," says Adams. "Phil likes the Chicago blues and he likes Delta blues -- really old school, like Muddy Waters. So that's like a crossover, and he likes Motown, and that kind of crosses over with Caitlin, who basically likes soul and bluegrass and Irish music and the band X. We're all completely different musically."

Of the influences on Strangers Almanac , Adams lists Patti Smith, the Stones, and the Eagles. In addition, Adams will tell you how much he loves Big Star and talks enthusiastically about the band's recent visit to Memphis to work on a tribute album with former Big Star member Jody Stephens. He describes the event with a we're-not-worthy tone, saying that doing a Whiskeytown version of "Give Me Another Chance" rattled the nerves a little. "We did [the song] with the whole band, whereas the original is just acoustic guitars," he says. "I realized how extremely hard it is because Big Star is very, very fucking important to Whiskeytown."

Adams says that the band was pleased with their cut of "Give Me Another Chance," and just pleased in general now that Whiskeytown is on a roll. "We can do real band things now," says Adams. "When we were making Faithless Street I mean, our lives weren't falling apart, but we were trying to balance having a job with trying to tour and all kinds of stuff -- just insane shit, you know. It really put a hurt on everybody's personal life. When things finally went in the clear with Outpost, man, it was just great. We couldn't be happier."

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