An Interview with Whiskey Heart: Taking New York

Rebecca Haviland of Whiskey Heart has been described in her bio as a “petite, polite, pixie-haired 20-something singer channeling a furious, beat-up, fed-up blues diva standing in a snowstorm at a bus station at four in the morning two dollars short of a ticket to nowhere.” With her partner, bassist/songwriter Chris Anderson, and the band comprising Todd Caldwell on Hammond B3, Rich Hinman on pedal steel and electric guitar and Kenny Shaw on drums, Whiskey Heart have spent the last few years honing a tight, crisp live show, headlining at Rockwood Music Hall and dozens of other venues where fans dig their down-home, all-natural act. Their debut album, Rebecca Haviland And Whiskey Heart, self-produced and co-written by Haviland and Anderson, was released earlier this year, and the band continues to gather steam.

I recently talked with Haviland and Anderson to discuss their chemistry, the recording process, the band’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and more. The transcription is below:

You guys are playing everywhere, all the time. Are people finding you and booking you more, as opposed to you booking yourselves?

Rebecca Haviland: It’s a little bit of both now. Rockwood is very forthcoming with dates, even though they’re getting more and more popular. A lot of the tours and things we’ve been going on, people just keep asking us to come back, and that’s been a really great experience.

Who writes words and the music? Do you have a set way of working?

Chris Anderson: Both of us, mostly. I usually need a bit of ass-kicking. I’m terrible about it. But Rebecca will start with ideas, and my strength is editing and finishing a song. Rebecca will come with an idea for a chorus or a verse, and I’ll help hash out the song.

RH: We wrote half the record together, and the other half was written by me. Since we’ve done the record, everything has been co-written. I constantly come up with ideas—while I’m driving, in my sleep, while I’m teaching—and I’ll just record them real quick, then I’ll usually have to tie Chris down to the couch and make him work on those songs with me. Or I bribe him with something.

You guys work together as well as being a couple. How do you balance that? Do you have an actual strategy or do you take it as it comes?

CA: We go back and forth a little bit about this. I feel like when I get busy with other projects, it helps focus Whiskey Heart because Rebecca has these small gaps in which she can utilize me or get things done. But then the band becomes stressful for Rebecca because I’m gone. When I get back, immediately I can get working on what Rebecca is working on and we become twice the force with twice the results.

RH: On one hand, it is difficult to be away from Chris from a professional and personal standpoint, but it does makes for good writing material. Chris is right, though, I am able to get focused on certain windows of time where I can utilize Chris, and then when he’s not around I’m able to focus on other things like writing and getting our music out on radio.

Have your families been behind you on your musical careers?

RH: I think it’s instinctual for parents who aren’t musicians to want to make sure you’re taken care of us. But at the end of the day, the more successful they see you get, they worry less and less about that.

CA: My parents were always supportive. The world we occupy is a different world from theirs and a lot of people—including mom and dad—don’t understand it. It’s not their fault. Most people don’t understand how you can make a living as a musician. So parents are inherently scared. But mine have always been supportive.

RH: My father’s whole side of the family were in the trades, and my grandparents were both musicians. You work very hard when you’re in the trades—you work seven days a week—and as musicians, we work seven days a week. They’re fine with what I do.

CH: If you’re going to be the type of musician who is turned off by the fact that your parents are telling you to do something else, then the world is going to turn you off. Because everyone is going to tell you to do something else. It’s what I call tolerance training. You just get used to doing as much as possible, and you can’t get mad at your folks for not understanding that this is a job like any job.

Does anyone ever come around and latch on to one of you in an obsessive-fan way, disregarding that you guys are together?

RH: We get our share of ladies and gentlemen who come up and talk to us. But at the end of the day, we know what’s going on and we can do the lip service in a respectful way and then move on. I try to limit what I put up on Facebook for that reason. I keep it very music-oriented.

CA: In any line of work, that happens. Musicians become part of the nightlife because that’s where the work is. Like anything else, you use diplomacy. You can’t piss people off and you can’t necessarily send them away. You can control them. You can allow things to not get out of hand.

Chris, I know you have a fair amount of vintage recording gear. Did you guys record this at home?

CA: No, actually. We recorded it at Flux Studios in the East Village. I’ve known the owner, Fabrice Dupont, for a number of years, and she does great work, as does Meredith McCandless, who engineered. They have a huge amount of outboard vintage gear, so not only are you recording everyone at once, everyone’s getting their own compression and EQ. You’re really doing it the right way.

RH: Yeah, everyone was in the same room, and all the takes on the record are 100 percent full band takes. If we could have fit everyone in our living room and saved the money, that would have been fine with us! But this was the professional way of getting that vibe.

You guys did a version of Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” that’s radically different and is getting a lot of attention. Any die-hard hippies object?

RH: I expected die-hard Zeppelin fans to say, “This is blasphemy!” But I am a huge Led Zeppelin fan and for me, doing this song was paying tribute. I don’t like when people cover Zeppelin like it’s the original. I feel like the only people who can do that is Zeppelin themselves, and Robert Plant can mash up whatever he wants because he’s Robert Plant. There’s been absolutely no objection.

What’s the most challenging thing about your continued success?

RH: In the new world that we live in, in the slightly dilapidated music business, artists are becoming their own advocates and management and labels. Instead of just being the people who create the art, we’re now the people who have to be in charge of the business side of it. For any original artist and for me, you walk a fine line of trying not to come across as the pushy artist, but still trying to be your own manager and then not getting upset when things don’t go as you’d like them. The traditional labels that everyone knows don’t necessarily need to stick around, but a team is still vital around you. Having a booking agent or a manager or a publishing company that can shop you.

CH: What’s challenging, if you want to get anywhere, is that you need to more accurately manage your business as an artist. Sometimes you sign with a label and you end up not making any money because that label has a tower in New York City and the 14th floor has dozens of 24-year-olds working on your music and they’re all collecting salaries and maybe not doing such a great job. The big labels are so large that they may not keep track of whether their employees are doing a good job. But if you build your own team and you personally have a business manager and an agent you like working with, then you’re your own CEO. I was with an act signed with Sony, and it was a “360” deal where they take a percentage of all the merchandise, all the discs, everything, but they weren’t able to get posters in the window when we came to town. So it was like, “You’re taking all my money but you can’t have an intern lick envelopes?”

RH: I just try to stay inspired through all of it, you know?

What’s the best thing about the job?

RH: It’s constantly inspiring because of the different people you get to work with. We get to travel, we get to go to gigs together. Even if I’m not on a gig Chris is on, I’m gonna be there because I work with some of the people Chris works with, and vice versa.

CA: It’s endlessly changing and endlessly creative. You’re never stuck in one thing.


Rebecca Haviland And Whiskey Heart will be playing Stage 2 at Rockwood Music Hall on Dec. 13. For more information, go to