On the Web: Randy Whitt and The Grits

Saturday, March 3, 10 p.m.
The Cave
452½ W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
919-968-9308, www.caverntavern.com

In solo mode, as showcased on last year’s impressive, late-night vibing We’ve Had Some Trouble, Randy Whitt calls on elements of country music, but they share the stage equally with touches of pop, rock andmost notably and even surprisinglysoul. For the full-on honky-tonk/country-rock effect, you need to catch him out in front of his band the Grits: Fabio Consani on harmonica, Josh Sokal on bass, Chapel Hill mainstay Anthony Lener on lead guitar, and Caleb Coppola on drums. “I’m really fortunate to have those guys playing with my dumb ass” is Whitt’s self-effacing take.

The Independent Weekly talked with Whitt about his two musical sides and several other topics, including a couple about which he chose to play it close to the vest.

Independent Weekly: You play out and record as a solo artist in addition to leading the Grits. What kind of show can folks expect from the Grits compared to a solo show? And which do you think my 70-year-old mom, a big fan of John Prine, Thad Cockrell and Alan Jackson, would like better?

Randy Whitt: Well, I’d hope your mom would like both. Of course the dynamic of a band’s volume level compared to a solo show is quite different. In the band we tend to rock out quite a bit more. Our shows are pretty high energy with a focus on getting people to dance. In a solo situation, I get a chance to have a few more nuanced types of expression, but both are sort of cathartic events.

IW: The Grits have a throwback honky-tonk style, and what I find especially interesting is that harmonica plays a big rolein a way, providing some of the textures that a pedal steel might. Any comments on that? And are there any artists who can provide instant inspiration for you, from the country world or elsewhere?

RW: Yeah, Fabio has expressed to me that pedal steel textures are what he’s going for. The guy grew up in Northern Italy and has only been in the States for a few years, but he’s the real deal. Listens to nothing but country music. He even worked on a rodeo in Italy. As far as instant inspiration for me, that list could get kind of long. I’ll just give you a few names off the top: Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young and Hank Williams.

IW: You grew up in a small North Carolina town, right? Do you think that small-town upbringing had an effect on your music or, even wider reaching, how you live your life?

RW: High Falls, N.C., to be exact. K-8 you might say. It certainly has informed my life and music. I felt like I didn’t fit in growing up there. I thought I was different, and I was different politically and ideologically from most of the kids I grew up with. I was ready to bolt as soon as I could. But the big world has certainly humbled me. And I’m sure not as special as I thought I was. Looking back as an only child growing up on a farm, I developed certain existential values and a sense of autonomy that I still carry around today. As well as a love for old country music.

IW: There’s the vintage sound of the Grits, and your solo record often also sounds to me like it’s from another era. Do you think you’d be happier if you’d been born 20 or 30 years earlier?

RW: No. That’s sort of a question of determinism. If I’d been born earlier I would have come in contact with a different set of influences at a different time in my life. I’m not sure I’d be the guy I am today. And I kinda like me.

IW: You’ve told me the stories behind a couple of your songs, including my favorite, “Pretty Dress.” Would you be willing to share the story behind another of your songs?

RW: Ooooh. You know, Rick, that’s a tough one. My songs are usually influenced by actual events in my life. I don’t want to piss anybody off. Ask me off the record and I’ll tell you everything I know.

IW: When someone finds out you’re in a band and asks the inevitable question “What do you sound like?”, how do you typically answer?

RW: That’s a tough one. Come out to the show and find out!

Rick Cornell

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