When a band named The Whiskey Gentry throws a Merry Y’All Tide Celebration for the holidays, you might be expecting the same old twangy country renditions of favorite carols. But this spirited band loves to defy expectations, and their seasonal shindig at the Variety Playhouse this Friday Dec. 2 is no exception to that raucous rule. It’s not that The Whiskey Gentry aren’t influenced by the kind of ballads that came down from the hills of Appalachia, but like a certain rebellious red-nosed reindeer, they’re bound and determined to be musical misfits with a diverse list of influences that spans from Patsy Cline to Bela Fleck to Social Distortion. Yeah, that Social Distortion. The accent is on the Whiskey in this Gentry who speed things up with some fiery, high-energy licks that suggest punk and old-time rock ‘n’ roll and even a touch of vaudeville in their stage shows.
The Whiskey Gentry’s 3rd annual Merry Y’All Tide also features The Packway Handle Band, Shovels and Rope and My Three Keanes, an act made up of veteran producer John Keane, who has produced CDs for R.E.M., the Indigo Girls and The Whiskey Gentry’s 2011 CD, PLEASE MAKE WELCOME, and his two daughters. All proceeds from the $15 in-advance/$17.50–at-the-door benefit the Atlanta Community Food Bank, and fans are encouraged to bring at least three cans for donation. As an extra incentive, the band will be giving our a specially designed poster to everyone who participates.
While The Whiskey Gentry prefer not to nail down their sound into any one genre, ATLRetro managed to corral lead singer Lauren Staley and guitarist Jason Morrow—a couple both musically and in real life—into a sneak preview of Merry Y’All Tide. While sitting an spell, they also opened up more than a bit about the band’s origins, why they love the holidays and their favorite whiskey. And when you’re done reading, check out this this nifty little video they made about this Friday’s show.
ATLRetro: How did Whiskey Gentry get started?
Lauren: Jason and I met around Christmas 2007, and we were both in separate bands at the time. Once we started dating, we decided to join forces and begin writing tunes together. We both came from different musical backgrounds, but we immediately found a niche together with this style of music.
For those who haven’t heard the band before, how do you describe your sound, how did it come about and how does it relate to what’s come before musically?
Jason: Describing our sound is probably the hardest thing we have to do in this band. We’re not country. We’re not bluegrass. We’re not punk or rock or old-timey. Yet we ARE all of these things at the same time. I think we take the formula of an old country tune, turn it up to 11, give it some punch, add pretty vocals, and top it off with a few of the best pickers in the southeast. This came about from all of our shared love for country and bluegrass, but we wanted to really dig in and add the fire behind it.
Many contemporary bands couldn’t rush further away from the sentimentality of Christmas, but you’ve become known for an annual live holiday show, which is even bigger this year. What’s the origin story behind the Merry Y’All Tide Celebration?
Jason: We love everything about the holiday season – anything from cinnamon broomsticks to watching our nephews and nieces open gifts. It’s a festive time of year, and we’re a festive type of band. We love this season whether it’s “cool” or not.
Lauren: I think people love to get in the holiday spirit in general. People go bananas over it. Did you see the Black Friday riots? I mean, come on.
At Merry Y’All Tide, will you be playing your own takes on traditional carols or original songs? Is it all Christmas music or will you be playing non-holiday fare, too?
Lauren: Back in the day, any artist who was somebody cut a Christmas record. Those tunes are classics, and we like to do our own takes on those as well as newer Christmas tunes. The majority of our set will be non-holiday fare, but we’ve got some awesome holiday songs picked out to cover. But we can’t tell you which ones they are – it’s a surprise.
What other shenangans are planned? Is Santa gonna be there, tapping his feet, clapping his hands and swigging a PBR?
Jason: We hired the crappyist Santa we could fine, and he’s going to be there chugging whiskey and PBR and trying to get pretty girls to sit on his lap.
Why We Three Keanes, Packway Handle Band and Shovels and Rope?
Jason: Shovels and Rope because they are our new favorite band, also a husband and wife duo. Packway Handle Band because Josh and the boys are some of our good friends and were part of our Christmas show last year. We Three Keanes because John Keane helped us make the best record of our career thus far, and he and his twin daughters will be doing a 20-minute, all-holiday song set promoting their Christmas record. He will also be sitting in on pedal steel with us.
Why did you want to partner with the Atlanta Community Food Bank and the Georgia Conservancy?
Lauren: We think the holidays are about giving, and we wanted to do our part to help out.
Why does your CD, PLEASE MAKE WELCOME, make the perfect Christmas present, and will there ever be a MERRY Y’ALL TIDE CD?
Lauren: Because it fits easily into a stocking and is also super easy to wrap—if you suck at wrapping like I do. And who knows—maybe we will have a Merry Y’all Tide CD for next year’s show!
What’s next for the Whiskey Gentry? You’re about to embark on a Southeast tour, right?
Jason: We are basically on tour every weekend, Thursday to Sunday. We already have 36 dates booked in 2012, so yes, we will be busy.
Finally, got to ask, what’s the band’s favorite whiskey, why and how do you drink it- straight up or with ice?
Lauren: Ironically, I hate whiskey, so I’m a terrible person to answer this question.
Jason: If I had to speak for everyone, probably Jameson. In shots!