It's less than an hour's drive from Palestine, Texas to the World's Rose Capital, Tyler, Texas. Both are considered to be the "Big City," for the folks living outside of their borders. Though that Dogwood-scented pocket of East Texas isn't a Metropolis by most standards, there's a great deal of musical talent that's found its way onto the Texas Radio charts in recent years. Thanks to such artists such as JB and the Moonshine Band, William Clark Green and perhaps most significantly, Whiskey Myers, more and more industry-types could soon likely make the almost four hour trip from Austin to Tyler pretty regularly.
While it's an interesting nugget that a nice little bit of artistic flora has sprung from that area, it's not as if there's a burgeoning scene producing artists on an assembly line. But inspiration has to come from somewhere.
"I think its all coincidence, man," says Whiskey Myers front-man Cody Canon with a sleepy southern tone that could easily pass for Matthew McConaughey's iconic stoner David Wooderson from Dazed and Confused. "Tyler and Palestine aren't big areas, so when we were younger, we pretty much sat in the woods and thought about the music we wanted to make [laughing]."
The band's upcoming album, Early Morning Shakes, is the third release since their 2008 inception. And it's their best yet, but that's not a slight to 2011's excellent country-rock Firewater, which produced a few Texas radio hits, including the rebel-flag waving "Ballad of a Southern Man," and the roots-stomping, "Anna Marie." The new album indeed shows growth, most notably in the greater amount and quality of third-person stories told with tension and even some humor.
"The stuff on the new album is definitely personal to us," says Canon, who currently lives in Chapel Hill, a tiny burg just outside of Tyler. "But we're using stories to get our points across. For me, writing story-songs is a lot of fun, because you're free to paint any kind of picture you want to. You just make up whatever the hell you want."
Some of the new crunchy southern-rock songs deal in the darkness of murder, among other noir-ish themes. And they often sound just as gloomy as the lyrics suggest, so there was certainly a need for a tune that could effectively lighten things up. And what can lighten up a sour mood like a good old tune about getting' it on? Nothing, that's what, which is the role that "Wild Baby Shake Me" fills capably.
"Yeah, man, that song was fun to write," Canon says chuckling the way a kid getting caught in school sending a naughty note to the girl sitting next to him might. "We had the riff of that song for a long time, and it started to become a totally different kind of song than it is now. It was a dark song, and since we had so many dark songs on the album already, we were like, 'Shit, we need a happy song!' So we called [Alabama-native singer-songwriter] Adam Hood, who is a great writer, and his fresh mind helped get the groove going into the right direction. There are some funny lyrics there, and it's definitely about getting it on."
Canon, a fan of the Drive By Truckers -- "they're the kings of story-songs," he says -- is an old-school musical soul who still refuses to cherry-pick digital singles, in favor of taking-in entire albums. For him, a full album fulfills a key role. Growing up listening to his parent's collection of Keith Whitley, Lynyrd Skynyrd (to which Whiskey Myers is constantly compared to) and Waylon Jennings albums, Canon learned to appreciate both radio hits and deep cuts alike. Such a sturdy musical education was evident early on, as a six year old Canon picked Hank Williams Jr.'s 1981 Dixie-classicThe Pressure is On
cassete tape over M.C. Hammer's more kid-friendly 1991 non-classicToo Legit To Quit
with his mother at the local Wal-Mart, though he admits he had to think about it a bit before making the right choice.
It's important to Canon that his band's albums are cohesive, compelling the listener to keep listening to the whole record, instead of tuning out prematurely.
"I don't buy singles. Listening to an album all the way through is the way to do it," he says. "An album is a full work of art. An album is an entire picture of that band at that point in their history together. A single doesn't capture that."
While Canon and his crew have strong feelings on the value of a record's contents, their process in creating the records isn't as rigid, which suits the laid-back quartet just fine. Given the natural flow of Whiskey Myers creativity, perhaps there's more in the East Texas soil than rose-conducive nutrients after all.
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"We get in the zone and we just write. I don't ever set out to write a specific song. It's not regimented like that. The songs just end up coming on out."