Whiskey Shivers bandmates plan to come in costume for their Halloween gig at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, but nothing can mask their sheer merriment when playing music and putting on a raucous hootenanny.
The band has earned a reputation well beyond its Austin home base as a jovial, energetic group of barefoot revelers who often get right up in the middle of a crowd to tear up the fiddle, shred the banjo, and scrape that washboard.
Foot-stompin’ and fast, their music will get you dancing. Fiddle player and singer Bobby Fitzgerald says the band wants people at a Whiskey Shivers show to forget their worries, even if just for a bit. “The shows we put on are all about having a party, having a good time. Everybody has their own struggles to work out, so if we can help set everything aside, lay your problems down for a minute, that is the goal,” Fitzgerald says. “For that moment, we can feel a little bit better. We can have fun, dance a little, laugh, and then go on with our lives.”
As masters of their instruments, members of the mostly string quintet came naturally upon their original “trashgrass” sound. It has a bluegrass inclination with a frenetic punk follow-through. “We are not playing bluegrass, but we have got a lot of bluegrass standards. It kind of came from that world, and we’ve got the instrumentation for it. But it’s our own take on it,” Fitzgerald says. “We all listened to rock and roll and punk rock so that kind of attitude stuck with us — fast, upbeat, driving, high-energy kind of stuff.”
The band is Fitzgerald, Andrew VanVoorhees on bass, Jeff “Horti” Hortillosa on guitar, James Bookert on banjo, and James Gwyn on washboards. Members hail from small towns across the country but came together in Austin in 2009, after Fitzgerald met VanVoorhees through a Craigslist ad.
“Through everything we make positive music while still trying to touch on the other shit that’s in our lives – the problems, the successes, the joys, and the sadness – putting it all into music that we make with each other,” Fitzgerald says.
Whiskey Shivers made its way to the big screen with acting and musical roles in the new Pitch Perfect 3 film, which was directed by Trish Sie and will be in theaters December 22, 2017.
“We get to interact with the Bellas, do a song, and spend some cool time in there,” Fitzgerald says. “The previous movies kind of center around pop songs and building that common ground, so we do a cover of a pop song.”
It’s been a busy year for Whiskey Shivers. In addition to long hours shooting their Pitch Perfect 3 scenes in Atlanta, the group spent much of 2017 on a national tour, co-headlining several dates with country artist Billy Strings.
The band’s fifth album, Some Part of Something, was released in July. It was produced by French Smith who is known for his work with the Darkness and the Dandy Warhols. Smith’s rock and roll background provided a different creative perspective for the trashgrass band.
“Getting to work with him taught us new things and helped expand some ideas that we’ve had in the back of our minds about what kind of sound we want to make,” Fitzgerald says. “He was super encouraging on that, really bold, pushed us toward things we’ve never done before. We just didn’t know how you could take these ideas and really run with them. We used a lot more percussion on this one than we ever have.”
Washboard player Gwyn now uses a snare drum, tambourine, and electronic drum pad. The band recorded Gwyn pushing a broom on a rubber bathmat at a certain speed to create just the right tone. The sweeping sound was included as part of the percussion for a single from the latest album called “Cluck Ol’ Hen.”
“Cluck Ol’ Hen” is a traditional bluegrass standard that reportedly dates back to 1886. Fitzgerald credits Smith with fostering the Whiskey Shivers’ innovative version.
“Frenchie helped us explore things sonically. He was instrumental in finding that monstrous vibe, the big pounding base, getting as rock and roll as we could with it, and driving that energy,” Fitzgerald says. “It’s definitely a very new take on an old song. I felt like we’ve made it ours in a way. This version is a true expression of us. We are not just playing a standard the way it always gets played.”
The bandmates all typically participate in writing Whiskey Shivers’ original songs, drawing from their experiences and gamut of emotions for inspiration. The track “Like A Stone” embodies their knack for contrast and making light of life’s journey.
“It’s a sad song. The lyrics are a bummer, talking about a big break-up and feeling all the devastation you get hit with. But we put it to a fun and upbeat melody,” Fitzgerald says. “It’s about marrying those two ideas and realizing life is never really perfect or totally terrible. There is always a little bit of everything.”
Whiskey Shivers, Billy Strings
Bottom of the Hill
October 31, 2017
9:30pm, $15 (21+)