You wouldn't expect local Americana heroes Roger Hoover & the Whiskeyhounds to be enveloped in mystery. But at a meeting with the band on a stormy Monday at the Happy Dog, stories emerge that would spook Dana Scully.
"We may have to go off the record with some of this stuff," laughs Hoover between sips of red wine. With a quick look around the table covered with empty Bud bottles, the singer-songwriter and bandmates Justin Gorski (keys), Freddy Hill (guitars), and Dave McKean (drums) burst out laughing.
There's the Undisclosed Haunted Mansion, a 200-acre huntsman's delight with an Al Capone-sized vault, where Jukebox Manifesto was recorded. There's the Outdoor Show Curse, which always seems to bring inclement weather to their doorstep. And then there's Brother Mann, personal adviser and spectral "sixth member" of the band, who aids in matters of alcohol, capital investments, and spiritual crisis.
"He's sort of our Magic 8-Ball," says McKean. "And he joins us onstage every once in a while. You just never know with him."
Lovers of bucolic rock and honest songcraft might find counsel in the Whiskeyhounds themselves -- a quintet whose world-weary Rust Belt melancholia, energetic live shows, and raw, real-world anthems have met with critical acclaim.
Their sound is informed by Dylan, Cash, Earle, Waits, Springsteen, Robertson, and Westerberg, and Manifesto pays respects to those legends. The group's third long-player, it was recorded by Ryan Foltz (Dropkick Murphys) during a five-day stint in the abandoned manor mentioned above.
"The setting was perfect. We were surrounded by a bunch of books, a couple of couches, and a game room, so to speak," says Gorski. "A friend hosted a private party there, and we just loved the empty, thick sound. The acoustics made it the perfect choice for recording."
The roots for Manifesto's laid-back vibe go back to incendiary live shows, filled with accordion, lap-steel-laced Delta blues, and organic rock -- not to mention clouds and thundershowers. "Everytime we play outside, it rains," says Hoover -- a curse that started with last year's CMJ Rock Hall MusicFest. "Lightning, thunder . . . you know, beautiful the whole day and then, out of nowhere . . ."
A much more real curse came when Hoover and company signed with a label, "but it ended in the same way that every label war story does," he says. With Manifesto, he and the Whiskeyhounds have scaled back and decided on "home-cooking" everything related to the band from scratch.
"It's always tough at first, but easier in the long run," responds Hoover. "If we're going to fuck it up, at least we can blame ourselves."
Or Brother Mann.