Posts Tagged With: Tim Harper

Take your beer to Whiskeytown

WhiskeybeerJust in time for the holidays, here’s another super-cool Whiskeytown token that might be even rarer than the old Strangers Almanac whiskey bottlesWhiskeytown Beer, the entire 120-bottle run of which might already be sold out by the time you read this. It’s the work of Chapel Hill’s Starpoint Brewing, brewed by Tim Harper and Chris Baker. And if the name Tim Harper rings a bell, it should.

Long before he ever started brewing beer, Tim was an old studio hand in North Carolina for a couple of decades. Whiskeytown figures prominently on his resume. Tim engineered and Chris Stamey produced the 1996 “Baseball Park Sessions”  that got Whiskeytown its deal with Outpost Records, and those two also oversaw the remix of Whiskeytown’s Faithless Street album that was reissued in 1998.

The road to Whiskeytown Beer started a few months back when Baker come up with a beer recipe involving whiskey, wood, chocolate and coffee, and enlisted Harper to brew it at at his brewery. First came the beer, then came the name.

“Nobody could come up with one,” said Tim. “I’d already started naming beers for bands I’ve worked with over the years, like a ’74-’75 Oktoberfest for the Connells. Sooner or later, I’ll do a Let’s Active beer. Stamey-Holsapple, I don’t know how I’ll work that out. But anyway, ‘Whiskeytown’ came to me in a flash one night for this one because of the whiskey barrels. We used Jack Daniels barrels to brew it.”

Before printing up the label, Tim got approval from multiple sources in Whiskeytown’s orbit, including the photographer who took the picture of Ryan (also seen on Whiskeytown’s Wikipedia entry), Caitlin Cary, Skillet Gilmore, lawyer Josh Grier — and yes, Ryan himself.

“What Ryan said was, ‘Tim, that sounds awesome,'” Tim said with a laugh. “And we found the photographer, got his approval, too. Caitlin and Skillet and Josh, even though Josh informed me that Whiskeytown did not have a trademark for food and beverage. So I didn’t even have to ask him, but I thought it’d be rude if I didn’t. Anyway, I asked everybody and they all said yes.”

Once he was done brewing, Tim bottled 10 cases to sell and put the rest into draft kegs. Those 120 bottles are going fast, but fear not: More is on the way.

“I’m working on a new batch,” Tim says. “It should be available in a couple of months, late February or early March.”

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More ancient history: The liner-note fiasco

By the late spring of 1998, it was apparent that Strangers Almanac  would not be the album to launch Whiskeytown to the toppermost of the poppermost. The album had been out for close to a year by then, and it never caught on at radio or cracked the Billboard 200 album-sales chart. Still, Strangers was a press favorite that raised Whiskeytown’s profile considerably. So while Ryan and company contemplated the all-important third album, Outpost Records moved ahead with plans to reissue Whiskeytown’s first album, 1996’s Faithless Street.

This reissued version would have a bunch of bonus tracks, plus a sonic overhaul from Chris Stamey and Tim Harper. One day I heard from a fellow at Outpost, with a question: Would I be interested in writing liner notes? My heart jumped at the very idea, in part because I’d never been asked before, and of course I said hell yes. They only wanted about 150 words, and here is the first version I wrote:

The first time I interviewed Ryan Adams was in 1995, at a bar in downtown Raleigh, N.C. — an interview cut short when a drunk went crazy and they had to call in the cops to get the guy out of there. The second time was a few months later, right before Whiskeytown’s Faithless Street was released. Just in case another hostage situation ensued, Ryan had scribbled some quotes onto the back of a restaurant receipt. About the album, he wrote, “It scratched the surface for what we will do later on.” When I told him how great I thought Faithless Street was, Adams muttered, “Yeah, well, you shoulda heard it before it got all cut up.” With this reissue’s extra tracks, we finally get to. And the scary thing is, Adams had that Big Record in him even at the tender age of 20.

I sent that off and heard back from Outpost almost immediately: “Genius,” my man there declared, to which I thought (but didn’t say), “Well, it’s a perfectly nice paragraph, but come on.” Nevertheless, by all accounts everyone at the label seemed to think this was perfect — until Ryan got a look-see and expressed concern that it was too much about him and not the rest of the band. Keep in mind that at this point, Whiskeytown’s ever-changing lineup consisted of Ryan, Caitlin, Mike Daly and whoever else got drafted for the latest tour. Given that, focusing on the recently departed Phil Wandscher’s contributions didn’t seem appropriate to the mission.

“Ryan was worried it was too much about him as the Boy Wonder Genius,” one of the insiders told me. “Now you and I both know that’s true, but you know Ryan. He’ll have these occasional bouts of humility.” So back to the drawing board I went. And here’s the second crack I took at it:

Three years ago, it was impossible to watch Whiskeytown play and not be reminded of the Replacements. Whiskeytown had the same sort of scruffy, unpredictable charm, and you never knew who was going to wind up more smashed by the end of the night — them or their instruments. To this day, I’ve never heard anything as amazing as Whiskeytown’s woozy hoedown version of Richard Hell’s “Blank Generation” (which I wish they’d still dust off and play every now and them). If Faithless Street was unexpectedly quiet and reflective by comparison, nobody was the least bit surprised at how good it was. One of the first times I interviewed Ryan Adams, he said, “You just can’t practice the mistakes that end up making a song timeless. Ask Ray Charles — for that matter, ask Black Flag.” So if you’ve ever wondered what Ray Charles and Black Flag would sound like together, well, now you know.

I sent that off and several days later word came back: “Everybody loved what you did. Great job, really fantastic. But…” Once again, Ryan objected. And at this point, the decision was made to take it in-house. When the Faithless Street reissue came out in September 1998, it had liner notes by Caitlin Cary. I could hardly object to that, so Godspeed. And six years later, I got to do liner notes for the first album by Caitlin’s Tres Chicas.

Over time, these things do tend to average out.

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