Smile Politely

Getting trashy with the Whiskey Shivers

When the Whiskey Shivers play a show, you can bet money on most of them being barefoot. There will be stompin’ and clappin’, and at least one of them probably won’t have a shirt on. Don’t let that fool you, though — this isn’t your typical bluegrass band, and their performing style wasn’t honed for the sake of genres. It’s just the kind of guys they are.

Whiskey Shivers is a folk and bluegrass band out of Austin, Texas. Half of the band hails from the south, and the other half pulls from opposite ends of the country. It’s no surprise that they came together in Austin, the epicenter of all things fresh and original in the Lone Star State. With this outlook, the Shivers didn’t feel like they sat well within their assigned genre. Their music is backed by more than a handful of influential sounds: They’ve got the punch of punk and the swagger of rock and roll bubbling beneath the top of their rootsy southern brew. The band decided to shed the old labels in favor of making a new one: They describe their music as “trash grass.” A black-and-white definition of this phrase is elusive, but a listen will tell you that it has a lot to do with absolutely shredding on a fiddle and banjo.

I spoke with the band’s lead man and said fiddle shredder, Bobby Fitzgerald, about Austin’s influence on their type of music, and how important it is for a person and a band to stick out like that.

Smile Politely: Can you tell us a bit about the Whiskey Shivers?

Bobby Fitzgerald: We formed up in 2009 in Austin, Texas, but we’re from all over the country. We met kind of coincidentally down in Austin – we all moved there to play music. We happened to run into each other. We call the music “trash grass,” which is kind of like bluegrass instrumentation, but it’s a little faster, a little dirtier.

SP: Yes, you guys tend to balk at being called bluegrass. What’s the difference between bluegrass and “trash grass?”

Fitzgerald: Well, we try to avoid calling ourselves bluegrass because there are a lot of people that hold on to the traditional sound closely and would hate to hear the sound that we’re making be referred to as bluegrass. So we try to avoid that issue and just call it trash grass. We’ve got the bass, banjo, guitar, fiddle, and washboard, but it’s kind of more… raucous. We play a lot of traditional music and traditional songs, but speed them up a little bit. Maybe make them a little more, crunchy.


SP: The band calls Austin home, but some of you are from elsewhere — Oregon, Kentucky, and you’re from New York. Is your sound influenced by the fact that you guys originate from different spots around the country?

Fitzgerald: That’s certainly been a factor. I think one thing that we’ve noticed is that even though we’re from opposite ends of the country, we’re all from small towns, and I think that’s had something to do with a shared perception of community and what that means. How it works. And we all kind of have that in common. We all grew up playing different music at first. Rock bands & punk bands and things like that.

SP: You guys all came from different musical backgrounds?

Fitzgerald: Yeah, I’d say so. All different kinds of the normal various projects growing up. Like I play the bagpipes. I was in a bagpipe band all through middle school and high school.

SP: Really? That’s cool. Where did you pick up the fiddle?

Fitzgerald: From a neighbor of mine actually. He’s played his whole life. He’s a retired dairy farmer from the area. I would go over and get lessons from him on Tuesday evenings. We’d eat and sit at his place and play for a while.

SP: Austin is known as being the center of the alternative culture of Texas. Do you think that that’s apt? And does it reflect within your sound?

Fitzgerald: I think so. We’re kind of an eclectic looking group even. Just a group of five dudes that you’re not sure would be hanging out if they weren’t in a band together. There’s definitely a lot of weirdos in Austin, and that’s been a really good influence. So many people there are really, strongly… I mean, they’re themselves. And I am who I am. I’m a weirdo – that’s what’s up. I’m a nice guy, but let’s not pretend that I’m not strange. And in seeing that, we can recognize that we’re all that way. We all have our differences, and we share that.

SP: At home among the weirdos.

Fitzgerald: Yeah, for sure. It’s a really positive environment for us to be in, very encouraging. You can throw stuff out there that you’re unsure of or doubtful about, and it’s scary to be exposed in that way, but everyone around you, they’re not going to judge you for it.

SP: What are you guys working on right now?

Fitzgerald: Well, our new record is coming out in January and we’ve got a little bit left to do on that. Like our other stuff, it’s going to be a mix of originals and traditionals. We’re kind of expanding sonically on it, but again, just trying to stay real. Trying not to worry about maintaining any certain definition of ourselves as to what we “do” and “don’t” do. I’m really excited for it.

SP: What are you listening to at the moment?

Fitzgerald: [Laughs] Well, we’ve been listening to a CD of a bunch of Saturday morning cartoon theme songs lately. There’s some good ones on there.

SP: You’ve gotta stay weird! You guys are all about the live show. Do you have a favorite song to play live, or a favorite venue?

Fitzgerald: Well, it’s really just a case by case thing. One this I know is that sometimes, when things get rowdy and people start moshing and stuff, we’ll feel like maybe we should take it down a bit. But one thing we find is that taking a step back is just doing the crowd and ourselves a disservice. I don’t know why I’d assume that they wouldn’t want to have just as much fun as everybody else. You feel like you have to do a certain thing a certain way, but really you just have to do the best you can. You’ve just got to stay real.

Whiskey Shivers are playing at The Accord tonight, Tuesday, June 7th, with special guests Hot Hand Luke & the Sound and Hot Iron String Band. Doors open at 7 p.m./show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance/$13 at the door.

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