The Whiskey Prophets - Artist Spotlight
With a name like The Whiskey Prophets, you might expect that this Dallas-based alt-country ensemble draws inspiration from the muse at the bottom of a bottle of Jack. But front man Brad Roberson is a sober and savvy fellow, in both his songwriting and the band biz. It's paying off, too. After a decade on the local scene, they're still punching. And now they're about to knock out their strongest record yet, Ashes to Anthems, due to drop, appropriately enough for an Americana band, this July 4th.
The Whiskey Prophets have crossed paths with my own bands through the years - at festivals like the #DeepEllum Big Folkin' Fest, #KHYI The Range's Shiner Rising Star contest, and such - but it wasn't until they graced the stages of several Frisco Music Scene shindigs like Winter Jam and the Whistlestop Jamboree that I got to know Brad and really fill my ears with a fat helping of that southern-fried sound one expects from the likes of #ChrisKnight or #UncleLucius.
I had an opportunity to interview Roberson, and can't think of a better way to launch the inauguration of this Frisco Music Scene blog series. So, here goes...
Brooks: I'd like to start right away by asking if your band has a mission? What did y'all set out to accomplish?
Roberson: I don't think any of us started out with a particular "goal" or preconceived expectations for this band. I know I didn't. In the beginning years of the band, I think I just wanted to put a full band behind some of the songs I was writing, ...and maybe become a better musician in the process. These days, I think we all see and feel the potential this band has. I think we're writing better songs, building better arrangements and performing at a higher level overall. So I guess our goal today would be to keep getting better and continue to refine our craft. We want make the best music we can. That's all we can really control.
Brooks: Who are similar artists you have shared, or would like to share, a stage with?
Roberson: We've had some cool opportunities to play some shows with the likes of #JasonBoland, Chris Knight, Brandon Jenkins.
Brooks: You definitely have that "Chris Knight" sound, especially you, vocally - although with your own spin. So, was that not the coolest show you've ever played?
Roberson: Opening for Chris Knight and Jason Boland at #GasMonkey Live in Dallas was one of the best. I listened to Chris's music constantly as I was learning how to write songs so it was just really surreal for me. We covered one of his songs ("Highway Junkie") on our 2nd album and he gave us his seal of approval after he heard it in our set. He was such a nice guy and I still grin a little when I think about the fact that we shared a stage with one of my favorite writers. There have been lots of great ones, but that show was pretty special.
Brooks: Can you describe your songwriting process?
Roberson: I'm not sure you can call it a "process" since every song isn't written in the same way. However, I do have a few rituals that I implement around the process. I jot down lines or lyrics into my phone so I don't lose the idea. I used to keep a note pad in my pocket that served the same purpose but the phone is my modern day note pad. Once I capture the idea or line, these may sometimes sit in my phone for years. I probably have 10 times as many unwritten song ideas in my phone as i do completed songs. After the idea is started, the process varies. Sometimes I will build music to fit the idea, or sometimes the song is complete before music comes into focus. Lately, Hos (John Hosford, their lead guitar player) has been really involved in building the songs too. He's got a great talent for finding hooks and grooves to build around. I guess our writing process is evolving from having a single songwriter to having songs that are collectively assembled by the fellas in the band. It has been really fun to be a part that process.
Brooks: Is there any sort of theme to your songs? And where do you find inspiration?
Roberson: I don't think we have a certain theme. Most of what we write is introspective; drawing on personal experience or opinion. Not to say we don't have some fun fictional narratives, but most of these songs probably stem in some way from a deep look inward.
Brooks: Who are some other bands around here to keep an eye on?
Roberson: Dallas-Fort Worth is brimming with great local talent. I could rattle out a list as long as my leg but a couple noteworthy groups in our vein of music come to the top of the list. #GradySpencer and The Work just got picked up by the #Red11 agency so you can expect to see those guys gaining some much deserved traction. #TheVandoliers also just got signed by #BloodshotRecords. #TheBuffaloRuckus is a great local band. There are so many more. The truth is DFW is a great place to live if you're a fan of music.
Brooks: What are some of your favorite venues around DFW?
Roberson: We've played some cool stages like the Gas Monkey and #LavaCantina. Those are prestigious venues and it's an honor to be in rooms like those. However, prestige isn't the only thing that matters. You can find us playing #AdairsSaloon about 5 times a year. It's not a prestigious stage but that venue has been there for as long as I can remember. It's a staple of the Deep Ellum music scene and a part of Dallas history. It's just a tiny, rowdy room that we love to play. The crowd is close enough to touch and it's always a fun show.
Brooks: What's been the toughest challenge you've faced as a band, and how did you overcome it?
Roberson: Turnover! My only real dream associated with this is to have long time roster of the same band members. I think the longer you play with the same cats, the tighter you get and that is what it's about for me. Turns out that vision is hard to hold on to. Musicians are a fickle sort and I have seen the full roster in this band cycle at least twice since its creation. None of our albums feature the same line up of musicians. Mike Norris has been the steady drummer on 3 of the 4 Whiskey Prophets albums but all of the other players have changed from one to the next.
Brooks: How did you survive as a band with all that turnover?
Roberson: Craigslist ads, auditions and perseverance. HA!.... along with some stubbornness. Today we have a roster that has stuck together for several years and everyone in the band is really plugged into it. We just cut our 4th album and the first with this particular lineup. People’s lives change and I'll continue to roll with the punches, but the roster today is super solid and we hope to make many albums together.
Brooks: What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the music scene around north Texas?
Roberson: I think the music scene here is great. It's full of talent and opportunity. It’s diverse and bigger than one genre. I couldn’t offer any criticism. Dallas has been kind to us and outside the occasional road tour, I've never been a part of any other "music scene" so I don’t think I could really contrast it against another.
Brooks: Do you have any upcoming news or projects to tell us about?
Roberson: The new album Ashes to Anthems drops July 4th. It's by far the best collection of recordings we ever made. We recorded it with Bart Rose at the awesome #FortWorthSound Studios. It's the first of many to come from this version of the Prophets and we're all really excited to share it with the world.
Brooks: So, what's the missing piece to the fulfillment of the "dream"?
Roberson: Well, we are a DIY band. We build the websites, make the videos, design the album art, book the shows and all the other business involved with building a band. In the beginning, that worked just fine... but after 10 years of doing that, I've come to realize that we need a support. There's just too much to do at this level if you want to compete with the marketing of the bigger groups. We need a person or a team of people to do the business part so we can concentrate on the music. That's what's missing at this point.
Brooks: Where can folks find your music, catch a show, or follow your activity?
Roberson: We are easy to find. We keep all of our shows listed on Facebook and our website (whiskeyprophets.net) and we also try to keep our shows loaded on the "Bands In Town" app. The best way to keep up with us is probably our Facebook page.
Brooks: Brad, you've been such a vital contributor to the Frisco Music Scene, performing at the Whistlestop Jamboree and Winter Jam festivals, and such. Anything else you'd like to say to our FMS followers?
Roberson: Yeah. Watch out world. We may not make a dent, but we will definitely leave our mark.