BERWICK, NS - When does a local band achieve national status?
When they write a song like East Coast Country Side Roads – an anthem for all those rural folk with quads and pickup trucks and a cooler of beer in the back.
Witchitaw just wrote that song and the album The Ride comes out on May 5 with a big launch at Union Street in Berwick.
“It represents living on the East Coast and driving the East Coast country side roads,” Jason Spinney said over coffee in Berwick with band mate Dohn Kendall whose lead guitar riffs and vocals drive the song. It speaks of ditching the job and the smartphone, taking the 101 off ramp and heading to the camp in the woods or the bonfire at the shore.
“From this mountain I see the Valley floor,” the song starts. “Let’s get lost down one of these dusty old side roads, we can unload, don’t need no time clock anymore,” Dohn sings. “Gonna party East Coast style,” the chorus promises.
“Not only do we keep our own style of Southern Country Rock to a great extent, but we also try to bring it home a lot too,” said Dohn. “Lyrically we brought a lot of our experience in the Valley into our lyrics. As far as energy goes, talking about East Coast Country Side Roads (a song we all wrote together with some other help in the family), it’s got power, it’s got drive. It takes you for a ride for sure.”
One of Six
It’s a powerful song, but it’s just one of six Witchitaw wrote for this 10-tune release. In fact the first single off The Ride, a song called Possé, is getting play on radio across Canada including on SiriusXM’s CBC Country. It’s about friends and loyalty and your buds having your back.
Witchitaw has been southern country rockin’ for about a decade now, crossing Canada back and forth to festivals, playing casinos, showcasing at the ECMAs and the CCMAs, but always coming home to its Valley roots where those side roads are real and, as Dohn said, the everyday experiences work their way into songs.
Jason on rhythm guitar and vocals, brother Jamie on drums and lead vocals, Terry Salsman on bass, and Dohn on lead guitar, keyboards, and lead and harmony vocals, make up Witchitaw, loosely based in Berwick. Jason tags Dohn as the on-stage band master.
Writing for the new album has been a two-year process with all band mates pitching in, plus some collaboration with some Nashville songwriters who have cuts on the CD as well.
All told, the Witchitaw boys came up with six originals on the 10-tune release that they recorded in Nasville in late 2017 and finished up with some additional vocals at Sonic Temple in Halifax.
“It’s the same flavor that we’ve been known for over the last couple of years, so Southern Country Rock,” said Jason, but he qualified it by noting they introduced some variety on The Ride. “We’ve got a couple of story songs, a ballad, but we’ve also gone out of our little box a bit too with some stuff that’s still Southern Country Rocky but just some really cool things. There’s a song on there called Like a Boss and it’s just different than what we’ve ever put out, but it’s really cool.”
Jason feels the band has pushed the envelop on the new release.
“I really think people will appreciate the diversity on here,” he said. “We very much decided not to go with 10 Southern Country Rock songs. There’s a diversity to this album that I really hope people will appreciate because we as musicians want to stretch our abilities too. It’s fun to be in that Southern Country Rock drivin’ country stuff. We love that. But we also know that you just can’t perform a whole concert like that if you want to capture people’s attention.”
“There’s great stuff on all three albums,” said Dohn. “But if you listen to all three in succession there’s a lot of obvious evolution in the sound for sure as you go through, and certainly coming together as a unit.”
The album is also Witchitaw’s nod to outlaw country of the 1970s when stars like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Krist Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash derailed the slick Nashville sound.
In fact the final song on the album is Whiskey & Waylon. It’s about not locking your truck and trusting that anybody who does trash it won’t take the Waylon CD or the aged whiskey.
Witchitaw came through The Ride experience a mature band with mature lyrics. The two previous albums, Tearin’ It Up (2013) and Walk Like a King (2009) were also recorded in Nashville at Hilltop Studios.
Overall the new album is riff-driven, so the tunes hook you right off. And the guest cuts are notable, especially Inner Skynyrd and When Opportunity Knocks.
“A lot of times when we were writing it could start with a riff, so he (Dohn) might come to a writing session with a riff or a piece of a song with a riff in it and then we’d sort of springboard from there,” Jason said.
But there were exceptions.
“Like a Boss, that almost has a funk feel to it, a lot of that song (lyrics) was written before the music came,” Dohn said. And that tune is an exception in other ways. It’s fun and not too serious against a CD that is largely introspective and looks at what’s important in life. The look back at the 1970s speaks volumes about life today, as do lyrics that get you off the main road and out of the race.
State of Country
Asked what he thinks of the state of country music today, Jason Spinney was open and honest. Growing up in his father Frank Spinney’s Country Generations show band he’s got a unique perspective. He remembers touring Australia with his father back in 2004.
“I was born and brought up on traditional country music, and I love when there’s still a vibe of that tradition within new country, but I really feel there’s room for everybody in country music because it is one giant family,” he said. “So when boundaries are being pushed I’m okay with that, because back in the ‘70s for example and the outlaw movement came along with guys like Waylon and Willie, people were saying ‘is this country music?’ Well, yes it was. And that movement worked too. You know what, I still like when there’s a thread of tradition, but I’m okay with the boundaries being pushed as well. The market’s huge and growing all the time.”
While you can expect Witchitaw to be promoting their latest album, a typical show might also include some covers of songs by greats like the Allmans, Van Zant brothers, CCR, Charlie Daniels, and others. “There’s some pretty southern stuff in there for sure,” said Jason.
Witchitaw started in 2007 with its first show at Union Street Café and not long after that the Annapolis Valley Exhibition. The new album will be launched at Union Street on May 5. There will be CDs, and also downloads on iTunes.