If By Whiskey's lead singer/songwriter Aaron Overton writes songs that unfold in highs and lows, truth and abstraction, love and divorce, and the bittersweet feelings in between. He took some time out to speak to us about working virtually as a band, influences and the challenges of remaining authentic in this ever more digital musical climate.
Tell us a bit about If By Whiskey! Happy to! If By Whiskey is a project that came about this year, but it’s been a long time coming. I, Aaron Overton, am the lead singer/songwriter for the band, and I live in Los Angeles. My other band members, Kevin Pabst (bass, keys), William Kortbein (harmonies, guitar, mandolin), and John Schell (lead guitar), are all my former bandmates from other groups that contribute parts digitally, since we all live in different states. It’s been an awesome journey to be able to continue making the music I want to with my best friends, even when we can’t all be jamming together like we used to. How did you get into creating music? What’s your journey so far? I really got into creating music during my sophomore year of high school, when I was a chorus student. There were days with a ton of downtime, and we had a practice room with a piano, which I used to pretend I could play. It was in that class I met my friend William, who’s still a member of the band. We used to hammer out songs from The Beatles and I particularly remember beginning to learn piano by playing “The Scientist” by Coldplay over and over again, to the point where the chorus accompanist had to come tell me to stop. After that initial learning curve, we started writing our own tunes, and it’s been onward and upward since.
Who are your influences and what music do you enjoy listening to? I think each member would likely have a different answer, which is such a neat thing to me. For me (Aaron), the music I love most is classic rock and indie rock music, and I’d probably say my biggest influences are The Beatles, Pavement, The Replacements, Wilco, Neil Young, The Velvet Underground, Car Seat Headrest, and Guided by Voices, to name just a few. But I definitely consider myself someone open to all kinds of music, and I can enjoy anything from Balinese Gamelan to Rock ’n’ Roll to Beethoven and everything in between. When was the last time you got to play live? How have you been keeping busy these past few months? This group, in its current iteration, began during the pandemic, so we haven’t really played shows together as If By Whiskey. I think the last time the members all jammed together was near the very beginning of COVID-19 actually. I definitely miss playing live, but myself and the rest of the band have been super focused on finishing a lot of the songs we’ve been working on in the meantime. We’ve got “Amorous You” coming in January and the plan is to have “Cracks in the Sunlight” next in February, and “GOSI” in April. So we’re plugging along! Which artists did you grow up listening to and if you could make a record with any other artist, who would you choose? So many artists I could pick here, but my first real exposure to the kind of music that makes your jaw drop was The Beatles. I was raised fairly religiously, and my parents weren’t big on secular music for me when I was younger. So when I heard “In My Life” and “Hey Jude” in my freshman year of high school, I was absolutely floored. I started checking out Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones, CCR, anything I could get my hands on that was classic to everybody else, but I hadn’t heard yet. And once I found indie rock music, I was memorizing every lyric of “King of Carrot Flowers, pt 1” and “Distopian Dream Girl.” And to answer your other question, honestly, I’d love to work with Stephen Malkmus someday. He’s my guitar hero. What do you think are the main challenges for independent artists today? Well, right now there are very unique challenges, and particularly ones that, knock on wood, shouldn’t be continuing for too much longer. Live music has very much moved into the digital space and away from in-person events. I think the challenge there is creating the value that the audience wants from the live experience. That authenticity of being in the room with someone who's singing their heart out, bleeding feelings on the stage is hard to replicate over Zoom or Twitch. But there are other issues outside of COVID. More broadly, I think that the streaming economy is making it easier than ever to be found, but harder than ever to make a living strictly from your music. Musicians are now being expected to wear the hat of PR person, marketing person, merch salesperson, and social media person, at the very least. All of these expectations can make it far more stressful to make music in the first place, and more difficult to find the time and energy necessary to market it once you do complete the song. I’m not sure where we go from here, but I’ve love to see innovation in these spaces to allow songwriters to focus more fully on the craft and not have to spend as much time on these other pieces. If you were to make a playlist of your top 10 favourite songs, what would be on it? Man, this is a tough one. I’ll do my best. These aren’t necessarily in exact order, because for me that would be impossible. A Day in the Life - The Beatles In The Aeroplane Over The Sea - Neutral Milk Hotel Game of Pricks - Guided by Voices Fill in the Blank - Car Seat Headrest Gold Soundz - Pavement Ode to Viceroy - Mac DeMarco Feels Like We Only Go Backwards - Tame Impala Heart of Gold - Neil Young Livin’ Was Easy - The Glands True Love Will Find You in the End - Daniel Johnston
What plans are in the pipeline for If By Whiskey? We’ve got a lot coming actually. We’ve got another 8 songs slated for 2021, including the next three, “Amorous You,” “Cracks in the Sunlight,” and “GOSI,” all coming in the next 3 and a half months. Since live music is having a down period, we’ll be focusing on recording more, trying to continue building our audience, practicing, and getting a merch line going with the great cover art Kevin Pabst, our keys and bass player, has been making for the tunes. Hopefully by the time everything’s open again we’ll be ready to play out again. Is there anything else you want everyone to know about you and your music? I genuinely want to thank each and every person who’s gifted us with their time and their ears in listening to our music so far. I hope that you continue to find us worth the investment of your time, and I can’t wait to show you what we’ve been working on in the coming year. Also, thank you so much to Tunebubble, who were kind enough to do this interview with us and share their spotlight. It really means the world to those of us starting out.
Hell Has A Garden With Angels - If By Whiskey