AUSTIN DAZE: What is the band name all about?
WHITE GHOST SHIVERS: New Orleans Owls from New Orleans. They were our favorite band from that era and they had this one song, “The White Ghost Shivers”. It was really big song for us. We needed a name for a show we had to do and it just popped out – White Ghost Shivers. It stuck and we liked it. We had some horrible other names – they are pretty funny actually. We tried to go jokey but this was so much better. This one just fit perfectly. It had the ghost in it and everything so we went with it.
AD: Tell us the history of your band.
WGS: The three core members of the band all went around at the end of ’99 and kind of started a White Ghost Shivers proto band. We had people on string bass and some other instruments. It kind of evolved – we kept meeting other people and the band kept growing and growing. The band that you see now has probably been around for 2 years — all 7 of us that are the Shivers now.
AD: How did you all get together?
WGS: We never put an ad in the paper saying we wanted someone that could play this kind of music or whatever. We’ve tried people out for the band but it just didn’t work out. It takes a certain broadness and open-mindedness because a lot of people that are into, let’s say, Tommy Bluegrass aren’t going to accept doing a Calypso song or aren’t going to accept doing a minor key song – they just know bluegrass. So it’s really rare to find people that are so open to everything and will try anything. And there’s a lot of us and we are pretty whacky so you’ve got to be whacky too. And you’ve got to be bisexual.
AD: How did you go about finding your own genre?
WGS: Not to sound too cheesy, but the stars just sort of aligned when we met each other. We all kind of met each other at the right time. We had all kind of moved here for something new, something different than what we were previously doing. We all generally had similar musical tastes but we all had very broad musical tastes. We all have a love for official jazz and western swing and then you know, some of us like metal and some of us like punk rock – all kinds of stuff. We were all pretty open-minded and it sort of became our sound that you hear now. Also, our love for theatrics: Little Rascals was a big influence and Bugs Bunny cartoons. It just melded all with the music and somehow this is what we’ve come up with. We don’t discourage any type of music that comes in.
AD: Do you guys write your own tunes?
WGS: The majority, yeah. The majority of songs are written by us. Somebody usually brings in an idea and it’s usually a core progression: this is the way we want the rhythm, the lyrics. And then we incorporate the band and the band works on it a little bit and does some things to it and then that’s pretty much the song.
AD: You’re live shows are one of the best that we have seen. Do you guys choreograph your acts or do you just improvise?
WGS: Most of it is definitely improvised but a lot of times you may see us doing something familiar – you may have seen us do it at several shows. But most of the time if you see us doing something it came from us at one point stumbling on it at one show. So nothing is ever truly planned. Occasionally we’ll do things like where we have marched in like brass band style – we discussed that prior. Like 5 minutes prior. Antics on stage and stuff is usually pretty off the cuff. And even if we stumble on something that we like we’ll never discuss it or practice it. It will just be like, “Oh, and now I’m going to start doing it again”.
AD: There seems to be a rise in talented humorous bands in Austin like the Spankers, the Small Stars and Sonic Uke. What are your thoughts on that?
WGS: I think it’s great. The more the merrier. The Spankers are sort of the forerunners of that whole genre – they’re great. They started doing that so long ago. We love seeing bands doing more comedy and not taking themselves so seriously yet still taking their art serious. It’s interesting, it’s not just Austin. You’ve got Gogol Bordello doing total theatrical stuff. It’s kind of interesting that everyone is going back to that whole kind of vaudeville thing and burlesque is kind of coming back and all these big stage productions with all these things happening now. Yard Dog Traveling Road Show is amazing – full show. They were just incredible.
It pushes everybody along to do the best that they can do — all the bands being the best that they can be. And people feel good. That’s really it. People come to a show and it’s infectious. You can’t stop moving even though you didn’t plan on going and dancing – that’s a great thing.
AD: At what point did things change for you guys?
WGS: It really changed when Cella came on board. Before that we had a loyal 30 to 40 people that came out to every show. When Cella came on board it just seemed like all of a sudden we just started getting bigger and bigger crowds. Cella and Oliver – they both came in at the same time and they both brought an incredible amount of talent. You get a little leg in there and it’s all good. And then John joined us. And now John plays with us and he’s just an amazing musician. Horn players and legs: that’s what did it.
We also got a show at the Continental Club and that helped a lot too. First Thursday we packed the place up. We started getting chances all of a sudden and making the best of it. The snowball gets bigger as it rolls down.
AD: Tell us about your new album.
WGS: We’ll tell you this much – it’s out. It’s the first time we’ve done a recording with the band and been thoroughly happy with it. We’re excited. It’s all original tunes, all great tunes–they are all played really well. It’s a perfect era. It’s the first album that really captures the whole band as it is. Because it’s always been something about if someone left or we didn’t get to record this, or something happened. This is the first time we were all there, we had all the songs down, everything worked out perfectly. We played totally live — we didn’t do overdubs or anything. We just pushed the record button and started playing the songs. We definitely have to give credit to Billy Horton, the guy that recorded it. He does a great job with bands that do old music.
AD: What do you think has gotten better or worse for the Austin music scene since you started?
WGS: That’s a good question. It’s hard to say. When we first moved here there were a lot of people very excited about playing traditional music here. And then there was such a great rock and roll garage scene for awhile and that’s kind of dwindled away. It’s not really too much good or bad. Austin’s still, no matter how many crappy bands come through here and how many stupid hipster bands are around, there’s still so much better stuff in Austin than anywhere else in the country so you can’t really complain too much.
Austin is so accepting of different styles of music and different interpretations and also cultivating really good music. In other spots – in larger cities – nobody wants you to come on stage with them or have two different bands playing together and maybe meshing for a night like we’ve done with the Small Stars and different stuff like that. In Austin, everybody is all for it. You know, “Come on up and play with us” and “Let’s do a project together”. There’s so much freedom musically–with any art here. Austin is blessed to have people that love music and want it to continue.
People always mention how all the clubs have gone away since the 80s or 90s and all these clubs have closed down but the clubs that are still around are pretty supportive of live music. Like Beerland. Randall is really supportive of all these bands that are coming up. We played there for a year and a half when there was nobody there. He still let us play there every Thursday. The Longbranch, places like this, where you have a wide variety of music that you’ll hear. It seems like there is less clubs sometimes because a lot of clubs have closed but it also seems like the ones that are there really make an effort to make sure their varied in what’s playing and what music you can find. Like Headhunters is this little bar that has a bunch of music every weekend. Bands get on there and rock out. It’s kind of sad that a lot of places have gone away, like Steamboat and all the other places, but there’s still a lot of places here. And they are doing everything they can to get you in there to play and that’s great.
And the Austin Lyric Opera is branching out. We are their artists in residence.
AD: What advice would you give young musicians in Austin starting out?
WGS: If you are somebody coming from another city that you were big in, don’t come here expecting you are going to be a rock star because it’s not going to happen. Most importantly, do something creative from just your run of the mill shit because there’s too much of that going on here. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Do what you are doing but at the same time be open to other influences because there are so many things.
AD: What are your thoughts on the upcoming ACL festival?
WGS: We’re excited. You know all of a sudden you’ve made it because you’re on ACL Fest. It’s nice to be finally recognized on that level. We wouldn’t be going to that hot ass dust bowl if we weren’t playing. They always have great line ups but there not that worth it. It’s still exciting. We love it.
AD: What’s your favorite thing about Austin?
WGS: The people: friendly and hospitable. Love it. The weather. Tubing. You can go out any night of the week and see an interesting band – that’s cool. You can go anywhere and catch good food and live music. And the diversity: as small as a city Austin is compared to say, San Francisco or New York or Seattle, you can find more music, art, film, outdoor activities – just all kinds of stuff. It’s all here.
AD: On the flip side, what is the thing you like the least about Austin?
WGS: The people, the music, the weather.
The one draw back about Austin is that it is expensive to live here. If you’re a struggling musician it’s hard to make rent and although you are supported – you’ve got a place to play –sometimes you’re not going to make a lot of money. Especially when we started, it was 8 people in a band and you’re working on tips and you get $100 for a tip that’s basically $5 for each person to take home. So it’s tough in that respect.
And that there is so much music – you don’t know where to go.
The least thing too is the motorists that don’t respect bicyclists and that there are not a lot of walking neighborhoods.
AD: Is there anything else?
WGS: Pick up Austin Daze. And start wearing purple. Spread the Shivers if you dare. ***