36 hours to go. 32 dollars to collect. That’s the dilemma facing Lauren Staley and her band, The Whiskey Gentry, in the final hours of their Kickstarter campaign to fund the bands new album (to be released this summer). Kickstarter is an online DIY rage that allows artists to solicit their fans for donations towards any projects - a music video, a merch campaign, studio album, you name it. The donations use an all-in, all-or-nothing method, where a goal is established and the band gets the money only if that goal is hit. Anything less - even $1 under the target amount — and they walk away with nothing. As she talked, Staley expected to get to her magic number, thanks in large part to the devoted local fan base this psychograss/punkabilly/country rock (ya...I said that) quintet has nurtured during their first two years on the Atlanta scene (by press time, they indeed beat their goal — by better than $1000). The Whiskey Gentry has spent every second on stage giving all they have to their fans in a raucous live show, so it’s little surprise that the fans so willingly gave back. As Staley puts it, the give and take between the two groups is the reason they plug up in the first place.
Tell me about why you guys decided to go the Kickstarter route in funding the new record
Lauren Staley: We realized that we were finally recording a record the way we always wanted to, in a nice studio with a really talented guy (John Keane - Widespread Panic, REM). But with that comes expenses — and they are...expensive expensive (laughs).
Was it hard to come up with incentives for people to donate to the project? What was the best one you guys came up with?
LS: My favorite one is actually one of the cheaper ones. On the record, we’re recording a song that requires a lot of crowd participation, so we’re recording it live in the studio. This one in particular (“Comrade”), whenever we play out people go nuts for it. They scream and get into it. So we’re doing a private, invite-only show for people who donate (the $25 level) and they will get to actually be on the record [for that song]. So that one I thought was pretty cool.
Why do you think the Kickstarter model has been so successful for artists? Why are fans latching onto the opportunity?
LS: I think it gives a lot of the fans a chance to contribute in a way that they feel like they are being appreciated and heard. It’s not just going and buying a CD at a show. You feel like you’re a part of something. I know that if I were supporting one of my favorite bands, I would be so excited to be on the record or be in the liner notes, ya know? It’s a cool way to show your support for something that you like.
Sonically, what will be the biggest difference between this record and the last EP?
LS: The main and most obvious difference is that it’s just going to sound a little bit more full. We started the band two years ago in May, and we’ve obviously all become better musicians and writers. We are re-recording some of the songs that were originally on the EP, and doing them a little bit differently.
What’s been the thing that’s made you the most better? Playing live? Grinding away in a rehearsal space?
LS: I think playing live. We play a lot regionally, we go to Raleigh, Augusta, outside of Atlanta, and we always feel so much more together and more in tune when we get back from shows like that. There’s something about playing live that just gets you more in tune with each other. It makes you more confident in playing together as a unit.
When it comes to putting a genre label on a band, you guys are about as tough as it gets. Are the style variations in the songs something you consciously strive for, or just a natural combination of each member’s influences?
LS: We don’t set out with any type of agenda, ya know? It really just comes from all of us bringing totally different backgrounds. Our banjo player grew up listening to bluegrass and he kind of came into the band and educated all of us on this whole genre of music that we had heard but we didn’t I think full appreciate. Jason and Price played in punk bands their entire youth. And then there’s me — I grew up listening to old country but maybe didn’t appreciate it until later. Obviously there’s a very large part of it that’s influenced by country and traditional bluegrass, but we can’t be considered either of those things because we have an electric guitar and we plug in and have a drummer. We also have this sort of punk-ish side of things, but it’s softened by the fact that it’s a girl singing.
Over your first two years, what are some of the personalities that have developed within the band? What are you guys like before a show?
LS: I’m kind of the mom of the band (laughs). So I think the one thing that I always say to people before we go on is ‘don’t drink too much’ (laughs)! We just hang out and talk to people [before shows]. You try to not think too hard about getting up there and playing in front of people. We kind of operate like a big family, with me being mother hen. And also sometimes being “bitch mom” (laughs).
How aware are you of the progress you’ve made locally and regionally in these first two years? Do you keep up with what people are saying?
LS: We obviously like to hear that people like us, and that they’re having fun when they come to our shows. And we definitely keep track of people who are following us and coming out to shows. But regardless of whether we have 600 people at a show, or 200, or 50, or regardless of whether one person likes us or 100 people hate us, we are really confident in what we do. We love what we are doing and we have fun doing it. We are doing this because we like playing music together and we have fun and we’re all friends — and we are lucky enough to have caught the attention of some people that want to have fun right along with us.
The Whiskey Gentry with American Aquarium & Ocha La Rocha. $10. 9 p.m. Fri., Feb. 18. The Earl, 488 Flat Shoals Ave. 404-522-3950. www.badearl.com.
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