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Interview: The Whiskey Saints - Single Malt Sinners
All photos were taken by the very talented Pete Ambrose.
The Whiskey Saints found each other on Craigslist. Each of them had moved to Los Angeles from towns on the Eastern Seaboard to form a rock band.
Drummer, Jeff Bell, knew what kind of band he wanted to join. He posted a list of influences that he wanted his band to incorporate. Due to the high demand for drummers, he got lots of very odd offers including one thrash metal band. Then he got a note from David Sparrow, lead singer, which said in short (and brutally paraphrased by me), "I think you'd like our sound. It includes a lot of influences you mentioned. And if you don't, you can screw yourself." Jeff liked his attitude more than anything and a few days later one of LA's best bar bands was born.
With loud jangly guitars, raw harmonicas, and Sparrow's rich voice, the Whiskey Saints brings to life songs about love, loss, and the struggle of trying to make it in this town. With growing buzz that compares them to Ryan Adams and the Jayhawks after their debut release, West, in October, 2009 should prove to be a big year for the Whiskey Saints. They were kind enough to sit down and talk to me on Tuesday.The Whiskey Saints - Under LA
How old were you when you picked up instruments?
Jeff Bell: I had to take band class in third grade. They tried to stick me with the clarinet, but I was like “There’s no way in hell I’m playing the clarinet. I’m playing the drums.”
David B: I guess because my friends were doing it. I grew up in a small town and really all you there was to do was either go vandalize stuff or be in a band.
Rob Hughes: I was real young. My parents were really musical. Dad used to put on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and have me and my sister stand on the coffee table and sing with a microphone that wasn’t plugged in.
Is your band a democracy or a dictatorship?
Jeff: It’s definitely a democracy.
Rob: Yeah, we’re divided into two sects, me and Jeff versus the two Daves. The two Daves stick together.
David B: Yeah there is no person who can say, “This is how it’s going to be,” and get away with it. (laughs)
What do you like about being a band in LA?
Rob: It’s so saturated out here with people who want to do something creative or start something up. It’s a really great atmosphere.
Do you have any local bands that you really like?
Jeff: There is a band we play with every once in a while, CRAFT Club, they’re cool. Oh and Mini Bar is great too.
David B: I love Nico Vega. They’re so awesome. They have so much energy.
David S: There are a bunch of bands I really want to see live: The Henry Clay People and Radars to the Sky.
What is your favorite venue in LA?
Rob: We love playing the Derby because of the sound, but we hate playing there because of the logistics. You know, just to get in and get out is such a pain in the ass.
Jeff: Yeah or Cinespace. Beautiful venue…that’s all I’m saying.
David B: Pretty much if it’s a lovely venue, there has to be something else wrong with it.
Jeff: We’re not down with pay-to-play places. We like playing at places like the Kibitz Room or O’Briens or The Irish Times that are more accessible. Places you can hang out with your friends.
If you could change one thing about the music industry what would it be?
David S. I wish they would still take chances on an artists like they used to. You know back in the day they would develop an artist even if they had a crappy first record because they saw the potential. But now if you don’t have a great first album, you’re done.
What was the worst show you ever played?
Jeff: Jim’s (Dineen, producer of West) band from out east came and played with us at Happy Endings Bar. It was one of the worst shows and one of the most fun shows we ever played. Our lead singer, I’m not going to name his name, he had a few drinks in him and he had no idea what was going on at all times. His tuner was on and he said his guitar wasn’t working. I don’t know if we should be talking about it with him right here.
Rob: He spent two minutes in front of his amps giving this terrible feedback.
David B. He started playing a song and no one was ready. I was plugging in my pedals and I turned around he started singing.
Rob: Yeah, at that point it was really like, “Fuck it. Let’s start.”
Jeff: Fortunately the crowd was in the same condition, so they all thought it was great.
What is the weirdest thing you ever saw at a show?
Jeff: We did this little mini tour two summers ago in San Francisco. We got the place after eight hours of driving from Oregon. We were exhausted and just wanted to drop off our gear and clean up. There was this guy on stage for the soundcheck who saw us and said, “Oh those guys aren’t playing tonight.” So we called the booker, who assured us that the man was an idiot and that we were playing tonight. I held my tongue pretty well. I can be pretty firery at times. So we go on and the guy who was harassing us is at the bar drunk. We were playing for tips that night and while we were playing he came over and reached into the tip jar.
David B: We stopped literally in the middle of the song.
Jeff: Yeah, I’m not sure how the situation was diffused because I was ready to jump off stage.
David S: We had friends who were there that saw what had happened and got up to talk to the guy.
Jeff: That guy was a douchebag.
David B: He looked exactly like the red-haired rapist in Shawshank Redemption.
Do you have any strange promoter stories?
Jeff: One time we played the Whiskey and the promoter made us wait outside in line to play our own show for like half an hour.
Jeff: It’s true.
Why did you call your album West?
David S: Because they didn’t like my first idea.
What was that?
David S: Lonely Heart.
Rob: We thought about calling it Under LA like one of the tracks on the record. West was kind of happy medium because it is rooted in the Americana sound.
Jeff: Also you can equate it with opportunity. There really are more opportunities out here.
Where did you write Under LA?
David B: I lived over in Westwood for awhile. The song is really inspired by the Wilshire corridor area. I jotted down those lyrics after going to the cemetery and looking at all those famous graves. I don’t being around a lot of people who come to West Hollywood, trying to be an actor and working at Best Buy. They try and change themselves so much to try and be like the rich people who come in. The song is really about the transformation of a clerk at a Best Buy becoming a famous guy and what that does. I don’t know. It’s about the lowly versus the really famous in LA.
Are there any bands would dread being compared to?
Rob: Oh it already happens. People compare us to the Gin Blossoms.
David B: There is one band that if we ever got compared to them, I would just quit.
Woah, who is that?
David B: That would be Nickelback.
David S: People say I sound like Neil Diamond. It’s horrible. He’s so schmaltzy and cheesy.
What is the best thing about touring?
Rob: I think we can answer that in two words, Pattie Primetime.
Who the hell is Pattie Primetime?
Rob: She’s our van. It said primetime on the side, so we decided to call her Pattie.
David B: She had all these luxurious seats and amenities, but she broke down when we were two hours outside of San Francisco.
Jeff: Yup, Pattie Primetime let us down…but she was hot.
Be sure to check out the Whiskey Saints at O’Briens on Saturday. It’s free! Can’t beat that.
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