It has been noticeable that we hadn’t caught up with The Whiskys who have been somewhat quiet recently. To see what they have been plotting and planning we caught up with frontman Kris Douglas and newest recruit, guitarist Paul Elliott.
Looking back there had been a number of changes to the band and Kris was happy to discuss the changes and managing them. ‘I think we have managed it okay. Grant kind of fitted in as he played the banjo and that was an easy transition. When Fraser left Paul was the obvious choice, so we asked him. These guys have played together before, musically they all knew each other. I just remained the constant.’
The band’s line-up has changed and the sound in turn has evolved. Kris gives us his view of this progression. ‘I think it’s changed a lot. We were generally going, as we thought about the second album, a rockier way, and I think that’s the way it’s gone now. It’s blues driven I suppose. It still has it’s folky elements to it. We’d done all that folky stuff. It built us a name but I think everybody’s influences have seeped into what we are doing and it just shows.’
Paul is a new face in the band but he is clear in his mindset towards The Whiskys material. ‘You have to be really respectful to the old tunes. You can’t just come in to a band and say this is how the songs used to sound, this is how I play.
People who go to the gigs they want to hear ‘Take You There’ and ‘Dark Cloud’ and you’ve got to be respectful to that. I’m really lucky as going forward it’s a direction that works really well. My sound has come in and it has been good for the newer stuff and I’ve worked with Kris as to how he wanted the songs to come out.’
As well as the old Whisky River Band, and now The Whiskys, there is a third dimension at work here; Dr Wook, a solo project of Kris’s. Kris believes that the Whiskys come first and Dr Wook ‘would fit around it’. He was though a little surprised at the interested that it generated. ‘In all honesty I had no intention of it turning out as big as it turned out to be.
We had quite a bit of down time and I had this stuff recorded and I let it seep out and there was no real intention of actually gigging it. It was just a case of do a Beatles thing and just release records and never play a show!’
Paul also sees an advantage in Dr Wook ‘It’s great for us as we don’t have to look too far for a support act!’
But it’s not about Dr Wook now, it’s all about the Whiskys. The quiet months had lead to some hard work behind the scenes as the band got the rehearsal time in and tightened up the songs. They have worked on an acoustic set and they also set up a number of gigs for their summer ‘relaunch’.
And that comes with new songs which Kris describes as, with more than a hint of intrigue, ‘One is straight out of a Tarantino flick. Another you would have pulled it from Kingston, Jamaica.’ Paul adds ‘We’ve all played to each others strengths. I’ve learnt a lot playing with these guys.’
All this hard work was helped by the introduction of Paul as Kris explains. ‘For me it was great. I dealt with all that stuff and now I’ve got someone to share the load. That’s what also gave me time to do Dr Wook. It’s not just me trying to organise five guys. It’s two of us trying to organise us all together. That’s made a difference to booking shows and everything else.’
Paul takes it up here ‘I just can’t come into the band and say we’re doing this and we’re doing that. I’ve got to be respectful to the band and their families. Myself and Kris speak on the phone just about everyday with ideas and plans.’ Kris goes further adding ‘Also taking time out was really a good idea. As a band when we first started we never really did that. We just gigged and gigged, released a record, kept on gigging and slowly the wheels came a little loose. To take stock, formulate a really solid plan, I think that has really worked in our favour.’
There was also the much talked about second album which Kris explained fell by the wayside for a number of reasons including changes in personnel and also the closure of the studio where they were recording. But they will be recording again in the hopefully near future but not with certainty as Kris explains ‘We are talking over options. I have a child due in September and so does the bass player, Chris, about four days after mine’. It looks like some paternity leave will be taken.
Part of that time away gave the band the opportunity to arrange a number of gigs locally and a little further afield. One that caught the eye was the support slot for the Levellers in Wick. Paul went through the process of gaining such a high profile slot and I asked if there was any advice he could give young bands looking to pick up such gigs. ‘A lot of determination. I saw that gig and I thought I want that. I found out who the promoters were and I got straight in touch with them in February and they said we’ll find out who the agents are and let you know.
I chased it every month without being in their faces, without being a pain; a gentle reminder. As it got closer I chased it up again and was told I’d get an answer within a week or two and the answer that came back was the answer that I wanted. If you want something, chase it. I don’t think it’s a particular skill.’
The band return to Belladrum this year when they play the Free Range Folk Stage at 8pm on the Friday night. Paul takes it up ‘The idea came about to do something different. The Whiskys have never played an acoustic set at Belladrum. They have rarely played an acoustic set, less than a handful of times. It is something that we’ll take seriously as well. It’s not just about playing the set acoustically. It’s about looking right into the song, making each song work acoustically, other than just playing the same song.
I like how Nirvana did their Unplugged in New York. they completely re-arranged their songs to suit the environment rather than just play it acoustically. We’ve tried to get that mindset, picking the right songs with the right set.’
So The Whiskys are back, not that they were ever really away, and with this new sense of purpose it would make a lot of sense to catch one of their upcoming gigs. I’ll see you down at the front then.
Catch The Whiskys at Belladrum 2014 when they play the Free Range Folk Stage at 8pm on the Friday night.