Artist Interview: Bourbon Therapy
Tell us about yourself and your music
Bourbon Therapy was born out of my realization that the best therapy may just be music…and bourbon doesn’t hurt either. After picking up the bass as a freshman at the United States Military Academy, West Point, I bounced around in various rock bands from Seattle to Baltimore to New York to San Francisco. With over 20 years of experience as “just the bass player,” I decided to step out on his own.
Bourbon Therapy is based in Oakland, California. We are an indie rock/alt-country/Americana band fronted by myself and my wife, Rebecca Skiles. Our style of upbeat music combined with downtrodden lyrics is reminiscent of the mid-90’s Counting Crows or Soul Asylum combined with the modern The Head and The Heart or Silver Sun Pickups. By mixing big guitars with piano, strings, and even an occasional harmonica, our sound ranges from heavy riff-laden songs to expressive ballads, providing a dynamic range of anthemic tunes.
Talk to us more about your latest release
Our latest release is the single, Peace That You Deserve. The song explores the struggles of a Veteran returning home from war and trying to get back into the daily rhythm of life with his family. This haunting, beautiful song features the graceful vocals of my wife, Rebecca Skiles, and includes an intensely musical, vocal crescendo that articulates the darkness and challenges that some of our Veterans face.
As a Veteran myself, (West Point grad and served in the Army from 1996-2001), I have friends who have served in the war and been affected by PTSD. I had wanted to write a song about their plight for a while but was having trouble coming up with the lyrics for this heavy topic. Then one day Rebecca and I heard an interview on NPR with a soldier who had been struggling to return to his ‘normal’ life back in the US after having been at war. He described his depression, suicidal thoughts, relations to friends and fear of crowds. Everything he was struggling with. As soon as I was home I picked up my guitar and almost instantly came up with the musical portion of the song. As I played it, the lyrics ‘I hope you finally find the peace that you deserve’ came to me and I knew I’d found the elusive chorus I’d been chasing.
The rest of the band helped with arrangements and we thought the best way to end the song would be to have Rebecca sing the main chorus line, with no music behind her. The line, “I hope you finally find the peace that you deserve” is the last powerful impression the listener has and there is nothing else, sonically, to distract from the message of that line.
The video was produced, directed, and edited by Cesar Delly. It was filmed in August 2018 in two locations, The Grand Lake Farmer’s Market and their house, both in Oakland, CA. Our daughter and even our dog have character roles in the video with professional actor and family friend, Jack Kennedy playing the lead. Kennedy is also a Veteran, a former Army paratrooper who I met while at West Point.
The trickiest part of making the video was that Jack and I had wanted to make sure that the military imagery was not only respectful but also tasteful and accurately portrayed. We had originally considered trying to create some war scenes but thought that it might not feel authentic enough, at best, and might actually be disrespectful, at worst. In order to give the viewer the understanding that Jack was a former soldier, we decided to shoot scenes where Jack was reminiscing while holding his former Army medals (which are actual medals I had been awarded during my service) and polishing his actual combat boots from his time as a paratrooper in the Army. This gave the effect that the main character was having trouble letting go of his wartime past.
When we recorded the video, we thought we’d like to give the song a chance to possibly have a happy ending in the viewer’s eyes. After all the chorus is one of hope, but not of certainty. The topic is heavy enough—we didn’t feel the need to make the video entirely depressing. We crew decided to end the music and then have Rebecca say, “Come on guys, let’s go inside” allowing for the hope that this soldier and his family have a chance to work through their issues.
Bourbon Therapy has released two previous records before this single. Hymnals and Hangovers in 2016 and a live EP, Three More for the Road; Live from Oakland, 1-20-18. They are donating 100% of the proceeds from sales of the iTunes single, “Peace That You Deserve” in the month of November to the organization Mission 22.
*Mission 22 is a non-profit, non-political organization that is dedicated to ending Veteran suicide through various awareness and treatment programs.
What inspired you to write this release?
As a Veteran myself, I know many people affected by PTSD. It’s a crushing issue and one that I wanted to write about for so long, but I just couldn’t come up with a great way to sing about it–especially when it came to the chorus. The way I write choruses, they tend to be anthemic in the manner where you’d want everyone to sing along with you. I kept asking myself, “what chorus would listeners want to sing along to when the topic was PTSD?”
But after listening to the NPR article that interviewed a soldier and his wife, I sat down with my guitar and came up with the song in about 10 minutes! And as I first began to strum the chords, the words, “I hope you finally find the peace that you deserve” came to me. I knew I’d found it!
Any plans to release a video?
Yes! In fact, we’ve already done so. It stars Jack Kennedy (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1783379/) and was released along with the single on 11/9/18. It’s a Veterans-themed song released in time for Veterans Day.
Any plans to hit the road?
Planning is in the works. We’ll be playing at Winters Tavern in Pacifica, CA on Saturday, 1/19/19. More dates to follow.
As an indie artist, how do you brand yourself and your music to stand out from the rest of the artists out there?
For me, authenticity is the key. I really try to write, sing and play from the perspective of being true to myself and the stories in my life and the lives of those I care about. I realize that the fact that we are a husband-wife fronted band is a bit of a distinguishing factor. I think another aspect for us is that we actually have 3 lead singers. I’ve received feedback from labels in the past (that were considering signing us) that we needed to narrow it down to one or two lead singers at the most. But I write what I write and, based on the song, the lead singer is determined once it’s written. I’m an indie artist and I never forget that indie stands for INDEPENDENT–I’m in charge. So while I get that it may be commercially limiting to have 3 lead singers, I don’t really give a damn.
Who have you been listening to lately?
My wife will tell you that I get almost obsessive about music. I tend to stumble on to something and then listen to it until it’s worn out! I can literally listen to my current favorite album, whatever that may be, on repeat all day long.
While I do listen to a variety of music, I’m pretty infatuated with The Drive-By Truckers and Lucero lately. When I want to get myself fired up before a show, I listen to Social Distortion. And locally, I’m a huge fan of Jacob Aranda.
Tell us about your passions
It’s all about family to me. I have a wonderful wife (married 19.5 years) who sings in the band. We have two kids (13 and 9) and I’m close to my family still.
What else is happening next in your world?
We have two more singles set to be released over the next several months. Each will have a video to accompany it.
Meanwhile, I continue to write and we’ll likely be working on an EP for release sometime in 2019.
Thanks for an awesome interview, Aaron!
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