Acoustic rock: not an oxymoron

Don’t let the absence of a Fender Stratocaster fool you—Whiskey Trip can rock your socks off

Whiskey Trip proves that the acoustic guitar still rocks.

Whiskey Trip proves that the acoustic guitar still rocks.

Photo by David Robert

“Garage Band.” The phrase evokes images of a thousand bands that all sound the same, thousands of 16 to 24-year-old guys trying to come up with something original while simultaneously trying to imitate their rock heroes.

The basement apartment where Whiskey Trip were practicing the afternoon I met them was a converted garage. It had the prerequisite Pink Floyd and Grateful Dead hangings; the scent of hours-old incense hung in the air. Band members Joe Bentel (drums), Kevin Burton (bass), Eric Lissy and Rikard Nilsson (guitars) were crammed into their space so tightly, it appeared that any movement on their parts would result in a head being bashed into the wall or the neck of a guitar being snapped by the washing machine. Going in, I was worried. I was also wrong.

The acoustic guitar, rightly or wrongly, has a reputation. This instrument’s long relationship with folk, country and the generally more mellow musical genres has resulted in it being largely forgotten as a tool for serious, loud rock ‘n’ roll. Seeing both Nilsson and Lissy on acoustics with nary a Fender Stratocaster in sight made me nervous. Again, I was wrong.

While sitting on a narrow step through three songs, I received three rockin’ reminders of why my teachers in elementary school were so adamant that we not buy into stereotypes. Songs like “Subvert the Dominant Paradigm,” “Bottle of Whiskey” and “Bash” prove that originality lies not in complete revolution but in taking something familiar and adding variation.

Would Nilsson and Lissy’s licks have been noteworthy on electric guitars? Who knows? Who cares? Their sound works. But what, exactly, is that sound? In the garage, at least, it was loud. The high volume, however, did not come at the expense of musicality. Nilsson and Lissy’s separate guitar lines were easily distinguishable and the rhythm section gave the band a high-powered engine that drove the songs along. The songs themselves could be described as Alterna-rock, but like “Garage Band,” the label fits and yet doesn’t fit. Lyrically, they manage to stay above the mire of angst and anger all too common in music: “Having’s often not as good as wanting,” goes the chorus of “Bash"—a keen observation that struck me, perhaps in part because we’re in a holiday season.

The band, which was formed about a year and a half ago and has been performing around town since, recently recorded a five-track eponymous CD. Of the five tracks, “Bash” is the only one I heard both live and on the album version. While capably displaying the band’s guitar work, the CD version failed to capture the pounding bass I witnessed in the garage. The other four tracks all displayed this same minor flaw, each lacking the solid rhythm section sound that was so impressive live.

“We are the shit," Nilsson quickly said when I asked the band if there was anything they wanted to make sure got mentioned. While "the shit" was quickly toned down first to "average" and then to "mediocre" by his band mates, it was clear that this retreat was not entirely sincere. Whiskey Trip is a self-confidant band; they have every right to be, and that confidence shows in their music. They are acoustic rockers in the true sense of the phrase—giving as much attention to the "rock" part of the equation as the "acoustic."