“It’s that feeling you get when you take your first shot of whiskey. It’s warm…and weird….It’s off-putting at the beginning and end, yet warm and fuzzy in the middle…. a lot like our records, now that I think about it!” chuckled washboard player, Joe Deuce when explaining the meaning behind the name, Whiskey Shivers. The self-described “trashgrass” quintet hailing from Austin, Texas, maintains a self-deprecating sense of humor in the wake of recent success. They have been gaining steady accolades ever since their breakout hit music video, “Gimme All Your Lovin” took Youtube by storm in 2011. Over the past 3 years, they have had features in ‘Entertainment Weekly’ along with ‘Rolling Stone’ and were listed in ‘Saving Country Music’s 50 essential albums of 2014.’ They have even appeared as a post-apocalyptic party band in an episode of the NBC series ‘Revolution.’ Recently, they had the honor of performing the national anthem for the Texas Longhorns and have been spotted in a ‘Grand Marnier’ commercial which is currently making heavy rotation on Hulu.
We had the pleasure to catch these guys as they brought their barefoot stompin’ brand of breakneck bluegrass to Atlanta’s Star Bar. Backstage before the show we met up with Joe along with bandmates Bobby Fitzgerald (fiddle), Jeffery “Horti” Hortillosa (guitar), James Bookert (banjo), and Andrew VanVoorhees (upright bass). Each of them remarkably talented in their own right with everyone contributing in the vocals and song-writing department along with playing a variety of instruments.
This was evident backstage at the Star Bar, where amidst a curious psychedelic “Native American/Star Wars” mural, a revolving room of musicians joked and passed around their different instruments. At one point Whiskey Shivers’ guitarist, “Horti” got behind the upright bass and joined his tour-mate Josh Wilkes of theLegendary Shack Shakers on the banjo for an inspiring impromptu jam. Not wishing to interrupt the fun and freewheeling backstage spirit, we decided to put away the audio recorder and make this an old school pen and paper interview.
Deuce comfortably opened up on the joys of Whiskey Shiver’s success, how he heard the call of the washboard and insights into life on the road.
Joe Deuce landing the gig of resident washboard beater was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. “The guys (of Whiskey Shivers) would rehearse in the apartment complex I lived in. We became friends and one day they asked if I wanted to be a washboard player since their previous member had quit. I had no idea how to play the board at the time but decided to give it a shot and within a year, I was with Whiskey Shivers as my primary gig.”
Maybe it was in his DNA all along. The washboard was first embraced as a musical instrument in Joe’s hometown area of Port Arthur, TX by the Zydeco and Cajun bands of the early 20th century. Perhaps it was providence or just coincidence but either way, Joe takes his craft very seriously.
“My fellow band members were pickin’ around about the washboard being an easier instrument than theirs. I told them ‘You’ll see! One day I’ll be in Modern Washboarder Magazine!’” The very next day as the band passed though Nashville, TN, their publicists received a Google alert regarding a spread about Joe Deuce in none other than Modern Washboarder itself. JD heartily laughed as he reflected back to this moment of vindication with his bandmates.
Joe clearly puts a lot of love into being a washboardist. “I build the boards myself out of Antique Brass Washboards. Brass is my favorite so far because it has a clean sound. I’ll go to garage sales and sometimes feel a little bad about what I knew I was going to do to this sweet old lady’s antique washboard” J.D. laughed but definitely wasn’t joking. These boards take one hell of a beating in his line of music. “I go through one every two months because they just split apart after a while. So I have a collection I call the “graveyard” of washboards that are all up on my wall at home.”
This high instrument death toll is the result of playing in a band that spares no ounce of energy on stage. Giving everything they have to make sure the fans know they are family, they have often been known to get right in with the audience at the end of their performances. “We even went into a crowd of 10,000 people at Coachella” says Joe. “We like that they can join with us… it makes us more real to them… and we can feel the love they have for our music and for us.”
Though WS have played to their share of big festival crowds, there is no discrimination between the sizes of venues; these guys love to play. “These small venues keep us busy! We did 250 shows in 7 months. We play anywhere we can. From Bars to house parties…just email us and we’ll come play in your backyard!” Joe means that literally as that was an actual donation incentive on their former Kickstarter campaign to record an album. “Yea if you pledged a certain amount, we’d just come to your house and play half a set for you and your friends. It was really awesome!”
Despite his gruff and tattooed exterior on stage, in his downtime Joe Deuce is a happily dedicated family man. “At home with my girl I am a very different person. It’s sorta the Jekyll and Hyde lifestyle. I love to be at home having family dinners, picking up the kid, washing the car and raiding my own fridge.” On the road he makes sure he’s in touch with his loved ones. “During the tours I like to Skype with my family and even play games like checkers with them over the phone.” Joe expressed just how much these little moments help him feel close to home even when he’s hundreds of miles away.
He may be a sentimental softy behind closed doors but once Joe hit the stage that night, the bluegrass thrasher came out in full. Glowering and grimacing, beating the washboards with a machine gun fury.
One of the highlights of the night was when Joe slowed everything down and personally led the crowd in a goose-bump inducing sing-along of his self-penned track “Graves,” from their new self-titled record. An old school, barebones, chain-gang work song, with the haunting refrain, “Who’s gonna dig these graves… somebody help me dig these graves… I can’t do it on my own.” The crowd stomped and clapped in time, bellowing along with Joe, assuring him he was most certainly not on his own.
Seeing these five guys play together, one would never guess Joe Deuce stepped in late in the game as a replacement member. The one ineffable quality that separates the good bands from the great, is chemistry. Something Bobby, Horti, Andrew, James and Joe have in spades. Warm and humble, wild and wooly, freaky and on fire, Whiskey Shivers is a band that isn’t slowing down. They just conquered a run at “South by Southwest” (SXSW) and are now embarking on a headlining cross country tour throughout April and May. Then they will be joining Reverend Horton Heat for a string of shows this summer. *****It’s never been a better time to thrash out to the fastest and dirtiest “trashgrass” band around. Look out for Whiskey Shiverscoming barefoot to a town near you!