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INTERVIEW: Whiskey and the Wench

16 October 2019

Whiskey and the Wench are widely regarded as Dunedin’s loudest folk-punk band, with around a decades worth of blistering (sometimes literally) live jams behind them. This Thursday they’ll be adding another one to the pile in the form of a long overdue album release gig!

I spoke to Ruth Evans who does accordion and vocals alongside her bandmates on guitar and mandolin and flute and banjo and violin and washtub bass and sometimes more. It’s a hell of a racket.

Cool! So you’ve been a band for about a decade and only just releasing an album… Why did it take so long?

Technically, we have released 2 albums before. In 2010 we produced a very small run of a 2 disk CD release. Disk 1 was originals. Disk 2 was traditionals and covers. In 2014/15 we released an even smaller number of CDs, titled ‘Busking Songs’. That album was the wench busking crew, so reduced numbers of members, and was a mix of covers and originals. These albums were just never released on the digital platform. We kept it to the physical copies only. Old school styles.

That being said, ‘After…’ did take a very long time. We recorded that album at Chicks Hotel, on day of Yule (winter solstice) in 2015.

There’s a number of factors that slowed it down, but they all come back to the challenges of being in a band with lots of people, with busy lives. We’re more of a collective than a band, and we wanted the album to show this. The album comes with a zine/song book, and creating that was what really slowed the process down.

Oh okay… So was there any reason why you stuck to physical releases until now?

Not really. I’d say if anything, we more stuck to the live band role, over releasing in general. And those earlier releases where rather whimsical. Record, mix, burn CD, and distribute. I suppose it kinda relates to our DIY ethos as people.

Also with the minidisc release, it seems like you’re putting more effort than is maybe typical today into the physical formats…

That’s an interesting point. I hadn’t thought about that, but I can see what you mean. With ‘After…’ we wanted to release an album on many formats, except CDs. They suck. So there’s tapes, vinyl, minidisc (but only 5, I think), and digital. We also discussed releasing on USB sticks. And releasing just the song book zine alone.

So yeah, we do have a really strong appreciation of the tangible, hard copy formats which are often deemed out-dated. We also have a strong aversion to playing into planned obsolescence. Hence, no CDs.

And we did it all in-band, except pressing the vinyl of course, and kept it as DIY as possible. So those other formats besides vinyl, were important. It’s those formats which are straight up DIY and recording* we had outside help and resources with that.

That’s interesting since mini-discs are kind of already a victim of planned obsolescence… they’re an obsolete format which you’re kind of resurrecting

While I agree that minidiscs no doubt are a victim of planned obsolescence, I would argue that that’s not because of the format itself. Minidiscs are a fascinating digital recording format.

Yeah me too, there’s not really a question there, I just think the mini disc thing is really cool lol

Hahaha, yea. I laughed too.

and also there’s nothing more DIY than resurrecting a dead format

Exactly

it’s like dumpster diving for recording formats

Hahahahahaha. fuck yea!

Hmm okay so you said how up until now you’d been focused more on playing live, is that kind of more what the band is about?

Well, I’d say we’re more about playing music together first. So jamming out really. We don’t call them ‘practices’. They are, have always been, and will always be ‘jams’. Then playing live comes second to that. That’s where we get to share those moments with the rest of our community.

How do the songs happen? like with so many band members how do you all end up playing the same thing?

We play a lot of covers, and traditionals. In these cases someone brings a song to the crew and we play it together. If they stick, they often change, taking on the ‘wench’ flavour. We’re all about that folk tradition of sharing and adapting songs by others. As for the originals, it really depends.

Some are written by an individual member alone, and shared with the crew. Sometimes half-songs will be brought to the crew and they are completed as a group. Then some songs, like ‘Old friend of mine’ for instance, manifest in the jams. Someone will start singing, others will join in. There’s no fixed way that we do things.

As for how we manage to all play the same thing? that’s not how it always goes. Hahahahah. I can be a bit of a pain in the arse and get excited about a new song and want to play it real badly at a show, when others have maybe never even heard it before. Luckily I play music with a talented bunch, and they always keep up.

How would you describe your collective beliefs or politics as a band?

We are very political, as a band. As people. But then, who’s not? Politics is a huge part of our lyrical content.

While I can’t summarize our political ideologies into one easy category, I would say that we are all leftist. And I mean leftist. Not liberal. A few of us identify as anarchists. But others cringe at the concept of labels being imposed on us in anyway (hahaha, it’s like they don’t realise they’re anarchists 😉). But yea, politics is a big part of what Whiskey and the Wench is all about. Hard-line, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-sexist, leftists.

Nice

Anti-fascist too. Needs to be said these days eh

Have any thoughts on the local election?

Hahaha - I’m glad Vandervis lost.

While I’m personally of the opinion that electoral politics is insufficient, I do think that Aaron Hawkins win for Mayor, as the first ever Green Party Mayor in the country, that could be a very good thing for Dunedin and the NZ left.

Cool, so what should people expect from the gig at inch bar? And who should come?

Everyone! Hahaha. What should people expect? Lots of music. Lots of booze. And then even more music. We can jam for hours.


Obscure and unofficial media from gigs in Dunedin, New Zealand since 2014. More Info