Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Outlaw country band to go abroad

Old Death Whisper pack passports, record live album in Bellevue


By JENNIFER LIEBRUM
Express Staff Writer

Old Death Whisper, at River Run recently, are, from left, Troy “Chuy” Colantouni Hartman, Cole Wells, J.R. “Rico” Hood, Drew Tomseth, Wes Walsworth and Kenton Richard Mueler. Photo by Willy Cook

Great moments in history are often done quietly. But a recent Friday night when Old Death Whisper made musical history for the Silver Dollar Saloon was decidedly not.

The spirited excursion into an epic night of memory-making that was to be the cutting of their first live album in the little bar in Bellevue was a celebration of favorite sons doing well for themselves, as well as for the community that supported them along the way.

And as the boys of Old Death Whisper prepared for their first trip abroad, it was clear that they go with gratitude to the faithful that have made it possible.

The night was a culmination of many years of hard work in other bands, and now, in this latest, and wildly successful roots-infused outlaw country format. In this version, each member equally contributes to the oak-solid band.

Like love, the best things in life happen when one isn't looking, and that's how this band has evolved. Like love, the effect of being around the chemistry of the emotion is contagious, and once you've gotten a taste of it, you just want more.

Up a Creek, Bellevue's "shed-bred" folk-rockers, opened for the clan that they call their heroes, playing their hearts out for the crowd while ODW members mingled and cheered and tossed back a few drinks.

Asked when ODW would start, bass player and singer Kent Mueler joked, "Never. I'm scared now."

Such creative integrity combined with generosity is an integral part of what makes ODW work.

Though there is no official leader, Troy "Chuy" Hartman exudes the law of attraction of like seeking like.

The former river runner, rugby player and coach picked up the banjo after a third trip to a music store while a paycheck from the river burned a hole in his pocket. At the time, he just wanted to expand his entertainment base, and music and the river seemed to work hand-in-hand.

Now, he still works with water, in the hot tub business, and jams with the band most often at his Rocking Hell Ranch south of Bellevue, drawing inspiration from relatable subjects—the surrounding natural beauty and the camaraderie of good friends around a campfire, all brought together through a shared desire to put those elements to verse.

Up a Creek's Bill Sprong, who, like Hartman weathered a few band shifts before landing on a successful sound with UAC, is his role model.

"His music does what it does because of his attitude toward life," Hartman said. "He knows how to work as a team and play from your heart."

Hartman's performance standard is "wherever the energy is good and people want to get out and let loose."

On his philosophy on traveling abroad, even though he can't speak the language in any of the nearly 20 venues (including two prisons) that will be the band's tour leaving Brussels in May, he said: "I just want to mingle with what happens. I figure we'll put a smile out there as a handshake—it works just as well as a word. We've got our own unique Idaho style. If one person in the room likes it, it's good enough for us."

"That's the coolest thing about this band," said guitar player and singer Wes Walsworth. "Everyone that's in it just gravitated to it. It's been a really organic thing. Everyone has an equal share. We all respect what we can do and what we can bring."

Kenton Richard Mueler, a fly fishing guide, said he caught ODW at Whiskey's years ago "and they were terrible, but everyone was dancing."

"I said, 'I have an upright bass and you need one, and they let me join. That's what's special about these guys—everyone can take a punch. It's a total co-op. It's pretty rare and our best strength."

Cole Wells, who minors in pizza making and majors in pedal steel guitar, which he describes as "driving a car with three clutches" said he taught himself to play on a $600 instrument from Ebay and dabbled around with mostly metal music with drummer roommate Drew Tomseth before landing at ODW.

"I had no expectations, so I've had no disappointment, but this is a really good place to be," he said. "People love the outlaw country, and we all have backgrounds in something different, so we sort of feed off each other and it comes out well."

Tomseth, a bartender who got his first drum set in elementary school, said being in a successful band was a dream that he never thought could come true. Like Mueler, he got in the band by acting on an apparent void.

"They had a drum set up and no drummer. I winged it and they asked me to join," he recalled.

The draw for a musician, he believes, is the enthusiasm.

"People love the energy as much as they love the music."

Architect, guitar player and singer-songwriter J.R. "Rico" Hood said the European tour will help them "get tighter as a band, write some new songs, come back and finish the live album. The goal is to get more people listening to us."

The appeal for him is what Up A Creek band member Jeff London said in summary of the band.

"Uncompromising and in-your-face. He nailed it," Hood said.

He said his goal for the band is to "work smarter, not harder, and keep making albums. Having a record is where it's at."

Having children increases his drive to show that one can do what he aspires to.

"Just like the crowd here tonight, we're regular people who worked today who want to have a good time. It's genuine—we're just writing songs and having fun."

Some bands get on stage and use the spotlight to create awe and distance. ODW is one of those bands that touches on the inner rockstar in many of us.

The band makes listeners feel like even though they can't be them, they're a part of something attainable. You can be with them, and for them, even if you can't be them.




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