Alysia, Staci, and Tobias were in the middle of nowhere, Oklahoma when the sky turned green. They could see the tornado dead-ahead through an eerie, rainy clearing in the atmosphere.
Even though the gusts of winds were powerful enough to lift their van packed with equipment, and even though they experienced a transmission failure, the three friends made it safely to the next stop off the road. But nature’s wrath followed them through their western travels, bringing floods, hail storms and wildfires for days. Plus, at the time, Alysia was closing in on her 30th birthday, so it definitely felt like the apocalypse.
These three friends, known as Fort Collins’ own folk-rock trio Whippoorwill, drew upon the experiences from that chaotic 2016 tour for their new album The Nature of Storms, out November 15. They had time to process and accept what happened; now came the time to share it.
They sought the talents of producer J. Tom Hnatow and engineer Duane Lundy at Shangri-La Productions in Lexington, KY to properly paint the image of those Oklahoma tornadoes, Texas floods and California wildfires. The result was a grittier, alternative-rock backdrop to their keystone folk and bluegrass tendencies.
The album opens up with “Premonition,” which musically sets the scene with distorted drum grooves at the outset, followed by moody guitar melodies and the rhythmic pluck of banjo. The sound follows that alternative rock formula, but with folk instrumentation and harmonies that bring to mind Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
They playfully balance the alt-rock and folk feels from song to song, whereby tracks like “Eventide” and “Martindale” lean a little heavier on the country-folk side, especially with Staci Foster’s harmonica playing. These make for great tunes to listen to while driving through Rocky Mountain National Park, whereas “California” and “Great Lakes” use heavier electric guitars and darker textures.
Whippoorwill were able to afford 10 days in the studio at Shangri-La with the help of their fan base and family through a successful Kickstarter campaign. “Putting this album really felt like a community effort,” said vocalist and guitarist Alysia Kraft in a phone interview for BandWagon.
Wanting to do right by their supporters and make the most of their studio time, they allowed themselves an extensive pre-production phase. They utilized resources from The Music District in Fort Collins and booked extra rehearsal time to ensure their vision materialized to the best it could. When “go-time” came, they left for Kentucky right after a gig and wound up in Lexington in the middle of the night.
The thematic metaphor of storms is consistent throughout the album, but the storms they sing about aren’t wildfires or tornadoes, rather emotional trials they’ve faced. “I was coming to the end of my 20’s, and I realized that I could no longer use coping mechanisms like drinking and relationships to make myself feel whole,” remarked Kraft.
“I Got Drunk,” reflects on those sentiments, divulging being intoxicated in the morning, evening and the ensuing relationships that can bring out the worst. “Change Gonna Come,” inspired by the Texas floods, is about pushing through life when you have no control over your surroundings. It brings an appropriate end to the bluster and edginess of the album with the gleam of a silver lining. As guitarist, vocalist, banjo and harmonica player Staci Foster put it, “Sometimes you need to let go and take the time to heal, knowing that everything will be okay.”
After 10 days of intensive creating and recording in Lexington, Whippoorwill walked away with their first full-length album, which they recognize as a rite of passage for the next step as a band.
“[The Nature of Storms] gave us creativity and potency,” said Kraft. “It keeps getting more exciting. Our hope is to make an impact beyond this region in the next year.”
As storms of any kind do, the impact is felt. But for Whippoorwill, the strength of their bond as a band has let them weather it together.