Interview: The Whistles & The Bells

the-whistles-and-the-bells-promo-2015-650x400.jpgFrontman of Nashville Americana band The Whistles & The Bells and quick-witted cut-up, Bryan Simpson, waxes poetic when describing what inspired his pursuit of music: “I remember being asked when I was in second grade what I wanted to do when I grew up; I said I wanted to be a recording musician.  I didn’t  know what that meant, but to think, I had that vision as a young buck.  Just kidding, I didn’t have vision.  I’m not really good at much of anything else, so I think it’s always been either breaking into houses or music, and music wouldn’t make me a criminal,” he recalls.  “I’ve never had a Plan B or Plan C, and I guess it’s served me well.  Music kind of pursued me.  God’s been gracious enough to allow me some pretty great opportunities.”

Born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, Simpson was an outlier in his non-musical family; “My dad always says he can barely play the radio,” he says with a laugh. Though not musical, his family was always supportive.  “One of my first instruments was the fiddle, which is one of those instruments you’re never really good at, you’re just kind of always walking a thin line between good and awful, there’s not much middle ground with the fiddle,” he explains.  “I would practice late into the night; I was practicing in the kitchen at midnight, standing on the linoleum floor withe the sounds bouncing off of every surface, and my parents would be attempting to sleep in the next room over. I have no idea how they survived that, and they never discouraged me. I am really thankful for that.”

Simpson was a founding member of acclaimed bluegrass outfit, Cadillac Sky until 2010; “I took my ball and went home, I decided I could no longer be a part of Cadillac Sky in that capacity.  I thought I was done playing music and making records, but God another plan in mind,” he says of his departure.  “In 2013, songs started piecing themselves together that seemed to tell the story of this spiritual journey I was on, and it became The Whistles & the Bells.”

He then found himself on a reflective and spiritual journey; “I had run down a lot of avenues that always ended up being dead ends.  I started gaining a capacity for reading, which I hadn’t had before.  I started reading Lewis, Spurgeon, and I’m a glutton for punishment, I even read Jonathan Edwards.  I really wanted to figure out what my life was about, and I took time to study and investigate concepts that the people around me were actually living out. I wrestled with truth and with my faith, I asked questions, I listened, and everything pointed me to Jesus,” he says.  “The Whistles & The Bells is the chance for me to detail the wrestling that comes along with navigating life and trusting God.”

His wife encouraged him to make the self-titled debut record; he didn’t think anyone would pay attention to it, self-releasing it in 2014.  It caught the attention of New West Records, who re-released the album in 2015. “There are certain songs on that record that I’m really attached to; without ‘Mercy Please’ and ‘Canary Cage’, there wouldn’t have been a record.  ‘Skeletons’ helped me break free of the caricatures I had of myself, of the critical expectations of what I could or couldn’t do,” he says.  “With ‘Mercy Please’, I remember feeling pregnant with this song, and I just sat down and recorded as I pushed it out and brought that song to life.  I felt like I was in tune with something that was beyond me.  I think the instrumental section sounds like a Spaghetti western, and sometimes I see my life as a black and white Spaghetti western, or maybe like an old kung fu movie where the lips and the words don’t match.  “Canary Cage” I wrote while I was in the backyard playing, I’ve never told this before…sometimes, to distract myself I play horseshoes by myself, which is kind of sad.  That morning, I’d woken up and there’d been a tornado in Missouri.  I saw a man on t.v. sitting at his house, which had been flattened like an old refrigerator box; a reporter was asking him about the devastation, and I remember him saying that his circumstances would not move him like the wind moves a feather.”  There were also instances where people in his life were displaying great faith in the face of tremendous difficulty; Simpson says the song basically wrote itself.

The Whistles & The Bells are doing an intercity tour this month in Nashville, which Simpson calls an “incubator series”, and he promises that some brand new songs will be played;  “It’s interesting to play new songs out for the first time ever in a band situation at a live show, it kind of feels like walking naked through a grocery store.  Not that I’ve done that. Anymore. Especially after the court proceedings,” he says with a laugh.  He’s also decided to write songs about the holidays in the year that don’t get any love.  “I’m writing a winter holidays companion now, for ridiculousness.  It’s a concept record.  We’ll see.”

Catch The Whistles & The Bells live at The Basement in Nashville on January 30th, with Jon Latham providing opening support.  Doors are at 6:30 p.m., and the show starts at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are $5, and can be purchased here: http://www.ticketweb.com/t3/sale/SaleEventDetail?dispatch=loadSelectionData&eventId=6446245&pl=basementeast&REFID=wordpress

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Susan Hubbard

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