If you told Lauren Staley (LS) and Jason Morrow (JM) eight years ago that they would be married, have a band and be on their way to stardom, they would’ve thought you were crazy. But that’s exactly the course their lives have taken since meeting at a bar in 2007. The duo behind The Whiskey Gentry sat down with Where while on the road to talk about their next album, their love for Atlanta and why The Local will always hold a spot in their hearts.
How long have you lived in Atlanta?
JM: I’m from Tennessee and I’ve lived here for about 25 years now, so Atlanta’s home to me. There’s all kinds of stuff we love about Atlanta.
LS: I grew up 22 miles north of the city. As soon as I got my car when I was 16, I started coming into town and going into Little Five Points. I really wanted to be downtown. Jason and I lived in Cabbagetown for almost four years, so we love Cabbagetown.
JM: Milltown Arms Tavern is my secret little favorite bar. It’s not saturated with everybody. You can go sit at the bar and grab a beer, watch a baseball game.
LS: Milltown is so unpretentious. It’s just like “Cheers.”
How did you meet?
LS: We met at The Local in 2007. We started seriously dating in 2008 and started the band in 2009.
JM: We were both playing in different bands and then decided we should make a band together. We were really lucky because people knew both of our other bands and a bunch of the guys playing with us were players around town, so everyone was excited to see a new band. The first time we played, we sold out Star Bar. It was more packed than I’d ever seen it. That was encouraging for us. It’s always hard to start a band and have to build it. We were all really excited, and it’s just never really slowed down.
How did you find your unique sound?
JM: Me and Price [Cannon] and Sam [Griffin], the drummer and the bass player, we’d been playing in rock-and-roll outfits. Lauren was coming from more of a Brit-pop side and an old country side. Then we met Chesley [Lowe], who could rip up the banjo, and he said, “Why don’t we throw bluegrass into the mix?” And so it just kind of happened. It’s evolved into sort of the honky-tonk/bluegrass kind of outfit now. We’re really digging where it’s going for the next record.
Tell me about the new album.
JM: We’re in the process of writing. We’re going to have it out in the first few months of 2016.
LS: Right now, the songs are leaning more toward Americana-rock. That’s not to say we won’t have bluegrass songs. We’re all really excited to hear how this record sounds. I think I’m maybe more excited about this one than I have been in the past.
JM: I think we all are. I feel like we finally found our groove, and a lot of that is what you heard at Shaky Knees—the first three [songs] we opened up with were brand new. We were really happy to play it.
Were you nervous to debut the new songs at Shaky Knees Music Festival?
JM: I don’t think we really cared, because were so about it. We’re so loving everything that we’re doing. If we’re at a rock festival, we’re still going to play what we like. That’s been our motto from day one. We love our fans and we’re glad people like it, but we make music for ourselves. We make sure that we all really dig what we’re doing. People can see and then they want to be a part of it. If we can’t sell ourselves, we can’t sell anyone else.
LS: At Shaky Knees, I was a little nervous—I think we all were a little nervous—because there was less of a country/Americana vibe on this year’s bill like there was in past years. I thought it worked, because [the lineup] was saturated so much with indie rock, it’s nice to throw in a banjo or a fiddle or a mandolin—some kind of twang. We have people all the time who say, “I really hate country music but I really love what you guys do.” We don’t necessarily just play under the genre of country. We certainly don’t sound like most shitty dude-bro country that’s on the radio right now.
Where do go when you’re back home after being on the road for a while?
JM: Home Grown! [Owners] Kevin [Clark] and Lisa [Spooner] are such sweet people. We did our first photo shoot for our first record there. From then on, they’ve become like our best friends.
LS: You go to Milltown Arms Tavern when we get back. Price lives in East Atlanta, so the guys like to go to the Flatiron and The Earl. They’ll go to different bars in East Atlanta. I like to be at my house. We definitely like our home and our dogs. We have two kittens, too.
Where do you like to go to listen to live music?
LS: If we’re in town, in the rare event we can catch a live show, Jason and the guys go to shows at The Masquerade because they grew up listening to punk and playing punk. The Earl’s great, it’s probably a collective favorite.
JM: Star Bar. We like to keep it dirty.
What do you like to do for fun in Atlanta?
JM: I enjoy the skate parks in Atlanta. There’s quite a few now. I like to ride skateboards and mountain bikes. I love golf. I play at Bobby Jones Golf Course.
LS: Jason’s more the extrovert out of the two of us.
JM: Lauren likes to play XBOX and play with the dogs.
Which song was most inspired by Atlanta?
LS: “Dime Short of a Dollar Bill” because that’s about when I met Jason. [The song] is about meeting someone at a bar.
JM: We ended up making out in the bathroom at MJQ right after that!
How would you describe Atlanta?
LS: Atlanta is a big city that has a lot of different neighborhood pockets that have lots of different things to offer all types of people. There’s something for everybody here, whether you want a more eclectic neighborhood with dive bars or you want something nice or you want quiet residential—there’s really something for everyone.
JM: I would say Atlanta is a drinking town.
LS: There’s so many amazing restaurants here now. And with the Beltline, people are getting more active. There’s a cool community with the people who live in Atlanta.
JM: It’s a big city with a very small town feel. You run into the same people over and over and you know everyone’s name. It may seem big to people who aren’t from here, but it’s really small once you’re here.
How are Atlanta’s audiences different from others?
JM: Atlanta’s our best market. They tend to listen more. Sometimes when you’re on tour, people talk over you, or guys trying to get laid are running their mouths at the bar while you’re playing a ballad. In Atlanta, we feel like we get a little more respect because they’re a respectful crowd and they listen.
LS: Because it’s our home market, it feels special and like there’s people who come to see us anywhere from our first show at Star Bar all the way to when we do our annual Christmas shows in December or Shaky Knees. And there’s a sense of people who are like, “We’re so proud of you!” It feels nice—to see faces you recognize and people you know have been there since day one. It feels like home.
Where are your favorite places to play in the city?
LS: We’ve been doing our Christmas show at Variety Playhouse for the past three years, and that’s a lot of fun.
JM: We like The Earl.
LS: We’ve played so many great shows at Smith’s Olde Bar. We really hit our stride when we were trying to do something in Atlanta. We would do three-night runs there and they were always really great to us.
JM: It’s kind of an unwritten rule that once you sell out Smith’s, you’ve made it to the next level. So it was a big thing for us because we were like, “No one’s going to come to Smith’s, all of our friends are in East Atlanta.” And then we sold out three nights in a row.
You’re working on an album. You’re touring heavily. Where do you hope to be in a year?
JM: In a year, we’d like to be going to all the markets we’ve been working, and have the new record out, and be able to sell out all the towns like we are in Atlanta. We’re not trying to play amphitheatres or 3,000-person rooms—I mean, that’d be cool—but if we can go to a town and play some places like Variety Playhouse and pack them out, that’s success.