The Will Callers, led by co-founders Jake Murphy (guitar, vocals) and drummer Daniel Slatton (drums, vocals), are one of the best respected, most progressive alt-country rock bands in North Texas. And they’re definitely one of the hardest working –– at the height of their popularity (circa 2011), they were playing about 200 shows a year. Though Murphy and Slatton have been working together since 2009 (and have been best friends since second grade), they’ve only recently released their debut album.
Produced in 2011 by Texas Music great Ray Wylie Hubbard and recorded in Austin with engineer George Reiff, What Else Is Left? is beautiful in its rawness, full of gritty, syrupy riffs, stomping beats, and frontman Murphy’s masculine yet bratty drawl. Why songs like “87 Miles,” “Dirty Water,” and the title song aren’t pouring out of radio speakers all over the country is a mystery. And a damn shame.
The album was delayed by a series of scheduling conflicts, and in October 2010, a few months before recording was to commence, two band members –– Bradley Kyle Schroeder, 33, and Chase Monks, 26 –– died in a car accident on I-35 near Waco. Murphy and Slatton were shattered. “Ever since then, things really haven’t been the same,” Slatton said. “It’s been more of a struggle, I guess. … We used to have fun with it. Then it got a little more serious. … I’d say we’re in a happy place right now, but I don’t know if we ever really recovered.”
The band recorded the album with help from studio musicians Scrappy Jud Newcomb on bass, lap steel, and guitar; Brad Rice on guitar and bass; and Scott Esbeck on bass, with legendary organist Bukka Allen on the title track. All the contributors are compadres of Hubbard and Reiff. “It clicked right away,” Murphy said.
Good thing. The band had only a week to lay down tracks. The studio time came as part of the first-place award in Shiner Rising Star, an annual battle of the bands sponsored by Shiner Beer, KHYI The Range, and Shiner Records.
Murphy and Slatton’s experience with such a hydra-headed project has them thinking small now. Now it’s just the two of them writing and recording in Murphy’s Fort Worth home studio. Though they’re churning out tuneage at a decent clip, Murphy said, there’s really no telling where the new material will end up stylistically. “It’s incredibly different from both” the new album and Make It Alright, a blistering four-song EP that came out after the former was recorded but before it was released, he continued. “It’s more spacey, I’d say, kind of psychedelic in a way, but it is definitely too early on to predict what it’s gonna sound like. … We have a good base, though.” (One local band Murphy said he’d like to play with is loud and trippy Skeleton Coast.)
And for the first time in their career, Murphy and Slatton are taking a slower, more methodical approach to songwriting. “It’s kind of a new thing for me, personally,” Murphy said, “getting [a song] where I want it beforehand, kind of growing with it as I’m writing it, because I feel like, to me, it’s more true to the emotion of the song rather than growing into it.”
For live shows, Murphy and Slatton get help from Ryan Ake and Adam Sewell, and their next gig is Saturday in Dallas at The Prophet Bar (2548 Elm St., 214-939-4321) with The Southern Renaissance, Goodnight Ned, and Quibble Brothers.
The next time you catch The Will Callers after their Saturday show, you might not believe your ears. Murphy and Slatton are going to spend the next few months not gigging but concentrating on writing new tunes. Maybe even psychedelic ones.
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