Band: Whiskey Daredevils
Members: Leo P Love (drums) Hector Mattos (guitar) Greg Miller (vocals), Sugar Wildman (bass)
Hometown: Cleveland, OH
Latest Album: “The Good Fight,” with a new release expected July 2018
Influences: Johnny Cash, Link Wray, and the Dead Kennedys
TrunkSpace: How would you describe your music?
Miller: We try to take conventional American roots music forms like country and rockabilly and apply our own vision to them. One of the most annoying things to me is when bands take on a genre like rockabilly, for example, and then have lyrical content as if they were living in 1957. Writing about switchblades and soda shops and drag races and other bullshit you’ve never experienced is going to ring hollow. We write about some whacked out stories and people we meet bumping around the seedy underbelly of the American Midwest in 2018. We are America’s finest cowpunkabilly band. Whatever that is…
TrunkSpace: The Whiskey Daredevils have been pounding the cowpunk pavement for nearly 15 years now. Outside of the scene itself, how has the band changed within that time frame? Do you guys approach any aspects of the process or sound differently now than you did back in 2004 when you first came together?
Miller: I think that when we first launched the Daredevils, I was too preoccupied with not being like The Cowslingers, our previous band from 1990-2004. Instead of letting each song find its own voice, I was too concerned about not repeating myself or letting the band slip into the comfortable arrangement or vibe. It became evident though that our songwriting and sound is this warped version of what we think of as American roots music. I think we also are more willing to let the song develop into what it is by allowing each band member to find their spot in it. I completely stopped caring about what expectations were and just tried to make the songs sound good to us.
TrunkSpace: Even prior to the Whiskey Daredevils forming, some of you played together in other projects. Did that familiarity with each other, both personally and musically, allow you to just hit the ground running from a creation standpoint?
Miller: Yes. Having Ken and Leo so road tested and used to each other’s idiosyncrasies saved a tremendous amount of time. It put Bobby and Dave in a weird spot at first in that the three of us had an unshakable bond of being in a hard touring band for a decade together. The crazy shit we have all been through makes us like a street gang. That creates a scenario where the three of us are all on the same page with “this is how we do things.” Luckily those two guys were very easy to play with/hang out with, so it made the transition very quick. I had always been the guy with the initial song ideas, and those kept coming after the Cowslingers ended. Bobby Lanphier was easy and fun to write with so it was like a burst of creative energy.
TrunkSpace: Your last album, “The Good Fight,” dropped in late 2016. Is there a new album on the horizon and what can fans expect?
Miller: We recorded a new record with Gary last summer and it has been completed since the late fall. Gary had suddenly started touring with the Shackshakers without warning. This greatly limited our live dates, which really put us in an unforeseen and unplanned financial position. That put us behind the eight ball to pay some regular band bills and we are just getting out of that hole now that Hector is up and running on guitar. I hope we can get that new record out by July. It’s mixed/mastered. We just need to finish the art and pay for a pressing. I think the record is really good. I am proud of it. It’s a strong group of songs we had been playing live for a bit like “101 Gram Man Bracelet,” “Big Wheel,” “Last Train To Berlin,” “Bad Times” and some others that people will recognize that come see us play. The band played great on it. It’s just us plugging in and doing the songs with John Smerek behind the board. We just went in and knocked it out.
TrunkSpace: From our count, the next offering will be your 11th studio album, which is an impressive feat. Do you consider yourselves to be prolific on the songwriting front or is it something that just feels natural to the dynamic of the band?
Miller: I don’t really think about us being prolific as much as the albums sort of stack up when you write songs consistently. We record when we have a group of songs together that seem to fit as a whole. I believe that if you aren’t moving ahead, you are falling behind. I start to feel stagnant if we are not creating and performing new material. I have no idea how someone like The Eagles get the energy to play “New Kid In Town” or whatever ‘70s FM radio war horse song they play every show for the last 40 years. I like to play music that represents where our collective heads are at right now as opposed to regurgitating something from 15 years ago. I recognize that sometimes we have moved ahead of the audience in regards to our set lists at shows. It must be a drag to sit there sometimes hoping we will play certain songs and we plop 14 songs we have been working on down on your head. Then again, it’s not like we wrote a monster hit like “Life In The Fast Lane” people are clamoring for, so maybe the new stuff is better anyway. If we aren’t energized by the material, how can anyone else listening be excited?
TrunkSpace: You’re decades into your music career. What keeps you going? Is the draw the same for you in 2018 as it was when you first started writing and recording?
Miller: I just keep having songs enter my skull. I can be taking a shower and all of a sudden a musical phrase enters my head. What am I going to do if that doesn’t have an outlet? I will be no different than the homeless guy mumbling to himself walking the streets in pants crusted with his own feces. Well, I could probably focus on not shitting my pants while I hum these songs to myself, but is that worth the risk? I don’t think so. Besides, playing rock and roll music for the people is fun. It is much better than being on a softball team or golf league. I don’t think I get to drive in a van with Leo to Nashville on a softball team. I also question Sugar’s bat speed and arm strength in the outfield. Hector might be a middle of the lineup hitter. I’m not sure yet. We will stick with the band I think.
TrunkSpace: When all is said and done and you hang up your cowpunk hat for good, what do you hope you’re remembered for? What do you want the Whiskey Daredevils legacy to be?:
Miller: I have no idea if we will be remembered at all. You know, when I started making records with the Cowslingers in the early ‘90s, I thought the coolest thing ever would be to have songs end up on one of those compilations like “Nuggets.” It is much better for someone to say, “Yeah, I was the drummer for Syndicate of Sound and played on ‘Hey Little Girl’” than it is to have been Seals from Seals and Crofts. Sure, if you were Seals you probably did lots of cocaine with Captain & Tennille but that pales in comparison to “Hey Little Girl.”
We don’t have many contemporaries left standing. Our little subgenre, whatever it is, has gone in and out of fashion four times since the Whiskey Daredevils started. Maybe it comes back into fashion and people start bands doing covers of “Trucker Bomb” and “Wichita Buzzcut.” Maybe we become Seals and Crofts. Who the hell knows? I do know that I am proud of our catalogue and the music all the Daredevils past and present have done. There are good songs in there for intrepid explorers to discover.
TrunkSpace: What can fans expect from the Whiskey Daredevils for the rest of 2018?
Miller: We are coming together with Hector on guitar now. We have written a new album on top of the one we haven’t released from last year. We are going to Europe to tour this Fall. We have a fairly active gig schedule this summer. Things are good. It has been eye opening for the band to have Hector join. He is a very positive and warm guy. I have had a great time writing with him and discovering what we can do now that we couldn’t do before musically. Gary is a fabulous guitar player and can technically do anything he chooses, but the emotional element of Hector’s playing combined with his West Coast Scene roots are something that plays to our collective strengths. We all grew up digging the same records, you know? You can just see Leo and Sugar lock in with him. We are looking forward to pushing ahead as a team.