|Photo courtesy of The Whiskeybelles.
The Whiskeybelles is not your typical Milwaukee band. Not even taking into account the band’s entirely female populace, the outfit expertly toes the line of talented original act and more-than capable cover band. Its upbeat and experienced melding of country, folk and Americana proves a welcome resident to dive bars and massive outdoor festivals alike. And at the tender age of two, the trio has managed to garner growing consideration from local promoters… not to mention a few Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) awards along the way.
Last night, on the eve of the band’s Bastille Days performance, Music Notes talked classic country, juggling multiple bands and the subtle nuisances of being a “chick musician” with The Whiskeybelles’ guitarist, banjitarist and vocalist Chrissy Dzioba (on left).
How would you describe The Whiskeybelles to someone who’s never heard the band before?
I guess kind of our tagline is “Hank Williams passion, Carter Family harmonies with a little Hee Haw mixed in for good measure. It’s a classic country version of The Dixie Chicks – upbeat, feel good fun. We don’t take ourselves very seriously.
Being an all female outfit, are they any preconceptions or stigmas that you feel you have to overcome?
It’s always been one of those things when I walk into a music store and I start looking at guitars or strings, and someone will approach me and ask me if I’m looking for my boyfriend [laughs]. Chick musicians are kind of a rare breed. So I think when they see that, not only can we sing, but that we can all play our instruments really well, that’s something that can be a little shocking in such a heavily male-dominated scene.
With all the outdoor festivals you’ve been playing (Summerfest, Chill On The Hill, Bastille Days, the Bradford Beach Bonfire series, to name a few), would you say this is the busiest summer in Whiskeybelles history?
Definitely. I think our name is finally out there. And with the help of WAMI, we’ve been able to meet some promoters with the WAMI Fast Pitch, which is kind of like a speed dating with venues and booking agents. They’ve helped us book more shows.
And you won a WAMI award in 2010, right?
Yep. We won the People’s Choice. We were also nominated that year for Best New Artist, and this last year we were nominated for Best Americana and also nominated again for the People’s Choice. And our new bass player [Sara Moilanen] won Best Female Vocalist.
Oh yeah, I wanted mention that actually. With her involved in a band with her husband, you in another band and the fiddle player [Kimmy Unger] doing her own thing, is it hard to funnel all that into one shared band? Are there ever issues where you have an opportunity to play a show, but another member already has a booking?
Yeah, we do run into scheduling conflicts. But because of modern day technology and Google calendars, we’re able to see what everyone has going on. With my phone, I can link up everyone’s calendar if I’m talking to a bar or a booking agent to see when everyone is available. Because of that, it hasn’t been too hard.
And is this the number one band? Is this the main priority?
I think so. But all our other bands were started first. I’ve been playing in Blonde On Blonde for about eight years. Kimmy has been in Reilly for about the same. Sara is in another band with her husband, so that’s probably her number one [laughs]. But I think that the Belles are the most successful of all of the other projects.
With all the new venues and festivals you’ve been playing, a lot of new ears have heard you. Is there any negative, glowing positive or weird feedback that you’ve gotten?
[Laughs] The funniest one that we got… we play an old Red Foley song called “Never Trust a Woman.” It’s very tongue in cheek for us because it was written back in the ‘30s or ‘40s and it’s all about, you know, “never trust a woman, she’ll go through the pockets in your pants. Don’t get married” that kind of thing. And we sing it and think it’s hilarious because it’s coming from women. But we did have someone approach us at a benefit and say they were offended that we were singing that song. They didn’t really didn’t really see the humor in that were making fun of that song.
Also, so many people come up to us and say, “I just hate country music, but I love your band.” So I think we really appeal to everybody because we’re very upbeat and we have a lot of fun on stage. And even if you don’t like country, we can appeal to more of the folk and Americana side.
With you guys more active and more locally known than ever, what is next? What is your focus or your aspirations?
Right now we’re writing more so we have more originals. Hopefully we’ll have an album out soon. We’ll hopefully tour more, hopefully get to South By Southwest and get our music out that way.
Check out The Whiskeybelles at Bastille Days today from 1:30-4:30 p.m. today (Thursday), at Splash Martini Bar in Oconomowoc 9 p.m. Saturday, at Trocadero at 7 p.m. July 26 and numerous other festivals throughout Wisconsin this summer.