Chicago Indie Folk Band Whiskey Mil Talks New EP ‘Twentysomething’, Recording Process, & Much More

It’s no secret that finding your place in the music business is an incredibly arduous task, and while some get lucky and find “success” quicker than others, Chicago’s Whiskey Mil does not shy away from expressing their long and treacherous journey to finally releasing their debut EP, Twentysomething.

At first sight, Whiskey Mil might be passed off as yet another songwriting duo, but James Moore and Dan Pearson have a connection that transcends just the music that manifests brilliantly in their new release. As many bands do, Moore and Pearson met in college where they jammed together on old Irish songs for fun. But the spark that resulted was just too good to let slip by.

Over the last six years, this dynamic duo has been writing and performing in their five-piece rock band called The Dirty Nines to create a name for themselves. In this time, Moore and Pearson learned valuable lessons about the music industry, and they were able to channel common struggles into their songwriting.

Despite Twentysomething being Whiskey Mil’s first release, the two are already seasoned vets at their craft, with Pearson beginning to learn violin at two years old and Moore writing songs from a very young age. Whiskey Mil’s eclectic mix of Americana and folk styles paired with mature and intellectual lyrics demonstrates their camaraderie as a duo and common goals in their musical endeavors.

Twentysomething is a six-track spectacle of bright acoustic guitar, lush violin tones, and warm vocals that all come together to produce a positive and heartfelt EP. Moore describes that with this EP he wants “listeners to feel better at the end of the song than they did at the beginning,” a sentiment that certainly rings true in the opening track “Sunshine (You Still Turn Me On).”

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Another integral aspect of the album is its very intimate atmosphere, especially on the title track. “Twentysomething” opens with a very faint “alright,” a small detail that could have easily been left out in the final mix, but with it included the song feels as though Whiskey Mil has just stepped up to the mic at a small coffee shop and is about to begin their set, grabbing the attention of everyone in the room.

On June 27th, Whiskey Mil performed a livestream concert where they played Twentysomething in full, a few of The Dirty Nines songs, as well as some of their favorite covers. With vibrant new material to promote, Whiskey Mil will be a small but mighty force to be reckoned with, and the future looks bright.

Every band has a unique dynamic. How would you describe your relationship as co- writers, performers, and bandmates in Whiskey Mil?

James: To me, Dan is like a third brother. We have been playing and writing together for so long now that it feels like we are part of each other’s families. When we write there isn’t any ego involved; we are both there to try to make the song sound as good as possible. Performing with Dan has always been a blast, I feel like for the most part we are always in sync. He has a way of knowing when to give more and when to play less. He also has an uncanny ability of matching the mood, even when I change it several times throughout a song.

Dan: Our relationship’s been pretty solid throughout the time we’ve known each other. It’s origins were based around the performance of live music so that was a pretty good foundation. As far as our dynamic as performers, I’d say James is generally responsible for most of the lyrical content. While I do write lyrics, my strengths lie in communicating through instrumentation. Generally most of our songs are a teamwork of combining our lyrical and instrumental talents.

How did you make the next step from being friends jamming to songs in college to deciding on becoming a legitimate band and putting out an EP?

James: It happened pretty naturally actually. Dan graduated a year before me and when I came home he was the first person I thought to reach out to. We started playing and writing immediately and have been doing so ever since. The EP took us a while to get started on because of the financial cost of making a record more than anything else. We have about 30 more songs ready to record now if we had the financial backing to do so.

Dan: I graduated college a year before James did and ended up working a full-time job off the bat. During the whole year of working, I was going crazy not having a performance outlet after leaving college and a lot of the time my thoughts would turn to our past performances. I would visit U of I frequently during the year, staying at James’ house with his friends and we would jam and hang out every visit. We’d talk about getting gigs in the city after James graduated but didn’t actually hash anything out. Sometime after James finished school and came back from his Euro-trip, he invited me to play a short 2-3 hour show at McNamara’s, a place he and his father would perform at. That gig turned into dozens of gigs there, and we slowly branched out to other bars and venues. Haven’t wanted to stop since, it’s just a genuinely good thing we’ve got going.

In your Spotify bio you describe how with each song in Twentysomething you hope that the listener feels better than they felt at the beginning. How do you feel this relates to the EP as a whole?

James: I think that it is a kind of common theme throughout the record actually. It’s definitely more obvious in some songs than others though. For example, the song “Pepperflake” is literally a song that I wrote to try to comfort my girlfriend at the time through being in a long distance relationship. Other songs like “Twentysomething” I think make you feel better in a cathartic way. 

Dan: This may be a bit abstract, and possibly personal, but for me I think it relates to how we handle experiences. The experience of living in your twenties carries a rollercoaster of emotions and feelings with it. There have been highs, but most certainly quite a number of lows throughout the decade. Coming out on the other end at 30, I have to say I’m better off because of it all. Every bit of joy, pain, and learning has amounted to a better overall life experience and understanding of myself. I would hope that going through the EP would take listeners on a condensed version of that journey and through their experience of it come out better, even if it’s just a little bit.

What are some specific areas of inspiration you drew from during the writing process for Twentysomething?

James: The biggest inspiration for me has always been simply whatever is happening to me in my life. I use music to process things and express emotions that sometimes I don’t fully understand. I think for the most part that’s how the songs on this record were written. In some cases though, like for “Ginger Rose” or “Miss Divine” I approached the writing differently. With “”Ginger Rose”, I had heard a story about my great uncle trying to hitchhike on the highway and that inspired me to want to write stories about an older person going on adventures. Like I say in the song, “In spite of all the obstacles standing in her way she finds adventure”. It just felt more appropriate to me to change the main character slightly, that’s where “Ginger Rose” comes from.

“Miss Divine’s” origin was similar to that. The song started out as just the vocal line for the chorus. I kept hearing it in my head walking home from the bus one day but didn’t like any of the ways I was putting the verse together. Eventually I took inspiration from the backstory of “Cecilia” by Simon & Garfunkel and decided to make “Miss Divine” the embodiment of inspiration. Once I made that decision the song pretty much wrote itself.

Dan: Specific areas of inspiration for me that affected my performance and composition were relationships, friendships, grief, and love.

Did you experience any setbacks while writing/recording? If so, did you tackle them?

James: Unfortunately yes. Aside from the obvious pandemic related setbacks, we had to take it slow because of the cost of recording. We financed the record ourselves so we could only really get into the studio to work on it when we could afford it. We also had to re-record the title track, “Twentysomething”. There’s this idea in the recording industry that playing to a click will make the recording better, and in some cases I think that is true. But for “Twentysomething” it really just sucked all the life out of it. So after a lot of deliberation, I went it there one day and just recorded the vocals and acoustic guitar together with no click. It was a night and day difference, and it was obvious that it was the right decision. From there we single tracked all the accompaniment and it turned out to be my favorite song on the record.

Dan: Setbacks? Sure. Finding time and money to get into the studio when you are empty/low on both will keep a project from seeing the light of day. The Covid-19 pandemic didn’t help either. Priorities were pretty quickly defined when that came around so we had to wait a bit longer in the interest of our health. Determination and support are two big reasons this EP happened. I’m incredibly thankful to have a partner in this who has an ample supply of both.

Can fans expect to hear this exciting new set of tunes live? Will there be a Whiskey Mil summer tour to ensue in addition to the livestream on June 27th?

James: Yes! We are on the more cautious side of the spectrum when it comes to booking post-covid, but we have already started to book shows for this summer and fall. As soon we have the information ready for people, we will share those dates.

Dan: We just had a virtual show that featured the EP tracks. It was a good time! Despite the room being “empty”, the interactions we had over the streaming platforms were heartwarming and genuine. We’re slowly getting back into the gigging scene as Covid gets under control, so ideally we’ll have a number of shows later this year.

What keeps you driven as a band? Is it performing? The songs? The fans?

James: I think it’s the songs. No matter what level of success we achieve from putting our music out there for people, we’ll always be writing songs. To me it’s the most important part of the band and as long as we keep living, there will be things for us to write about. Performing in front of fans is an incredible feeling though, that comes very close behind the songs as our driving force.

Dan: I can’t say it’s one thing over the other that keeps me driven to do this. It’s really a combination of all the right things. James and I, though different people, have similar mindsets and can groove to a lot of the same stuff. Our shared history of performance and college-life facilitates the communication of musical ideas to each other.

The addiction of composing riffs, progressions, and other structures is amplified further when both parties share those prior connections. The moment we wrote a really good tune together furthered my desire to compose more. Performance for me is fun and can be a rush, but speaking honestly, I’m rather reserved so there’s always a dose of anxiety involved. Doesn’t stop me from having a good time on stage though. I thoroughly enjoy seeing our fans at shows and hanging out with them afterwards. All of these things make this endeavor worthwhile.

How do you envision the future of Whiskey Mil, and what are some of your long-term goals?

James: I think right now we are just trying to focus on getting the EP in front of people and growing our fanbase. Long-term though I’d love to partner with a label for the next record so we can spend more time on it and have the support network that comes along with that partnership.

Dan: The future is quite an enigma. From what I’ve learned, no matter what plan I lay out, life will give me what it will. A lot of the time it contradicts what I’ve planned, so I’ve tried to develop a water-like mindset, which is way easier said than done. Ideally, we’ll continue to play shows and gather more fans. Of course new writings will be created along the way, but as far as I’m concerned, I want to keep this thing going until I’m either dead or physically incapable.

The more we write, the more we’ll need to record so I’m definitely envisioning studio time. I would hope that the sound of our material would change throughout. Perhaps not drastically(not often, at least), but some healthy variation is always good in my book.

Photos by David Murray

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