We talked to Stephen Barker about Love and Theft's album Whiskey on My Breath, Nashville, country music, favorite movies, and more!
GGM: What sets Whiskey on My Breath apart from your previous albums?
SB: We co-produced this album, which is the first time we’ve done that. We wrote every single song on the album, which is different than the last record. We didn’t put any electric guitars on the whole album. Everyone uses the term “organic” very loosely. We wanted to do something actually organic. We wanted to let it breathe a little bit so it could showcase our vocals. When Eric and I first met, the reason we started a band and played together, we wrote a song called “Drowning,” which was on our first album. Eric came up and did some harmonies, and it was like “dang, we sound really, really good together!” The basis of our band has always been harmonies and our voices. I think this album really showcases that about us. It’s harmonically driven and our melodies are there.
And a lot of these songs on this album, we wrote with really good friends, and some other artists! We have songs with Eric Paslay, Trent Tomlinson, Adam Craig, Russell Dickerson, Tyler Reeve. We have a lot of good friends who collaborated, and that makes it more special for us.
GGM: I’ve read that this is a really honest album from you guys. Are there any songs in particular that you think are examples of you being really honest?
SB: I think “Whiskey on My Breath” is of course a very honest song. It’s about the struggle of someone with an addiction, where nothing matters other than that addiction. That song never resolves. The guy is in a really low place where he loses everything but he still isn’t willing to give up alcohol. It shows how deep and dark you can be when you’re addicted. He didn’t care about anything on this earth except what Jesus thought.
My favorite song on the album is hard to say because we have ties and connections to each one, but “Everybody Drives Drunk” is my favorite on the album because the title alone makes people judge the song before they’ve even heard it. I think that’s a healthy thing, when you make people think. It’ll bring up some controversy because of the title, but when you listen to the song, you realize the meaning is “everybody makes mistakes.” Nobody’s perfect. No sin is greater than the other. Before you even throw the stone, know that you could have stones thrown at you. I think that’s important. We’d never condone drunk driving, I mean we’ve lost friends… but every time that song is downloaded, we’re donating to Mothers Against Drunk Driving because that’s important to us. That song shows how we feel emotionally and on a personal level, it shows where we are morally.
GGM: Who were your favorite country artists growing up?
SB: I had a ton of George Strait albums, and Randy Travis. I love that those guys write and record songs that mean something, and that’s what I love about our new album! We have our fun songs, but we also have songs that really have depth. That’s what I fell in love with when I fell in love with country music. There’s songs like “Jesus Take The Wheel” and “The House That Built Me” and “In Color,” one of my favorites.
And then I listened to a lot of classics, like The Beach Boys, The Eagles, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Three Dog Night. I’m a preacher’s kid, so my dad wasn’t coming home with Metallica records. It gave me an opportunity to listen to a lot of classic rock, which influenced what Love and Theft sounds like today, because the way you listen to music influences the way you create music.
GGM: Is there a record in particular that you felt was influential to you?
SB: One of the first songs that made me want to learn guitar was “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” by Nirvana. It blew my mind! I heard it and was like “I have to learn how to play!” One of my good buddies, Jason Sterling, taught me how to play that song, and play power chords, and then I took some lessons, and it just sort of progressed from there. The second song I learned was “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Remember that song? (laughs)
GGM: Are there any current country songs you guys are really digging?
SB: I love Brandy Clark’s new album. The whole album’s great. I find myself singin’ Brett Elderidge’s “Mean to Me” a lot. I really like Big and Rich’s “Run Away With You,” a single that just came out that’s really, really good.
GGM: How about some music you love that fans might not expect from you guys?
SB: My number one jukebox song, the song I put on at a bar, I play Thomas Rhett’s “Front Porch Junkies.” He wrote that with the Warren brothers, two of my great friends. I wrote the song “Wrong Baby Wrong” with them that we recorded for our new album. I always play “The New Shit” by Marilyn Manson. I’m a huge Lana Del Rey fan. I went to a show of hers, went way out of my way to see her, and that show was amazing. I love all her songs, “Cola” in particular. I still like Radiohead’s In Rainbows, which I think is one of the greatest albums ever made. I actually really like M.I.A. I saw her at Bonnaroo and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my whole life. Allison Krauss and Robert Plant’s Raising Sand album is one of my top ten albums of all time, and they played the whole thing at Bonnaroo. It was epic!
GGM: Have you seen any good movies recently?
SB: I like feel-good movies, and I like thrillers. I actually like John Wick. It’s not one of my favorite movies, but I think like our song “Everybody Drives Drunk,” I judged it before I watched it because it was Keanu Reeves. I still gave it a chance and it was really one of my favorite things he’s done in a while. I also really like revenge movies, because everyone wants to get revenge on somebody, but they can’t really do it. Revenge movies let you release that (laughs).
I like The Hundred Foot Journey. It’s this movie where a lady has this world famous restaurant, and an Indian family who lost their home move across the street and start their own restaurant, and it causes a lot of tension, even though it’s a different style food. It’s about a young chef, and it’s really a feel good movie.
Eric and I are really into shows. Game of Thrones is my number one piece of film from movies or TV, anything. House of Cards, we love. I’m really into politics and that whole Washington scene, so I was really intrigued by that. Vikings, we love. It’s epic. We just watched The Following. I’d never seen it. I’m a little weird about network TV, because life is rated R. That’s why I like more cable stuff. I really like Transparent. I’m an Amazon Prime member, and after I saw it won all these awards, I was like “oh, I should watch it!” I like it because it’s unique and it opens your mind to the world of transgenders, which I know nothing about.
GGM: What are you reading nowadays?
SB: I am reading a lot of children’s books, actually! I have a one year old and he wants me to read to him all the time. His favorite book is Are You A Cow? (laughs) I’m not a reader because I read a line or two and my mind shoots off in other directions. I like reading the Bible because it’s in parables.
GGM: You guys are of Nashville origin. Can you tell me your favorite restaurant in Nashville?
SB: Our manager is a business partner at a place called Adele’s, and they’re so good! I love there. I love food so much. Virago is really good for sushi. I went to Hatty B’s today, they’re great. Sambuca’s has one of my favorite dishes in town. It’s a jazzy bar, really classy. It has lobster enchiladas, and it is freakin’ good man! We end up goin to Tin Roof a lot cuz they have a great Cuban sandwich.
GGM: What’s one of your favorite venues you’ve ever played?
SB: Well, it doesn’t get better than playin the Opry. We’re doing that again Friday. For country artists, it’s the most amazing honor. It’s the home of country music. For me, that’s as good as it gets. And CMA fest is one of the most amazing things also because the biggest country fans in the world come to see you. It’s not like you’re added on to somebody’s show.
GGM: What do you hope people take away from Whiskey on My Breath?
SB: I hope that people that may have had a certain view of Love and
Theft have their perspective changed. I hope it shows people our
creative freedom and a different side of us, that we’ve progressed, that
this album’s true to us. Other albums were like that too, but as you
grow as a songwriter and musician, you make different music. I think
that’s what this album is for us. We’re looking forward to people
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