The Bittersweets are the Nashville based band formed around vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Chris Meyers, vocalist Hannah Prater, and former Counting Crows drummer Steve Bowman. Together they have created a roots rock/ alt country sound that isn’t too country and not too rock and roll. Think Rilo Kiley without the twang or Shawn Colvin minus the twee.
Their debut album The Life You Always Wanted released in 2006, is one of the strongest and most surprisingly mature albums from a young band I have heard. Not that the band members are overly young, but that they had been playing together only a very short time (a few months) before they recorded it. Prater’s voice has silky smooth, gentle, dulcet quality that weaves an enchanting aural picture, with echoes of vocalists like Norah Jones and Emmylou Harris. Meyers’ lyrics and music are thoughtful, never overwrought, never pushing you too far, but instead lulling you into a warm comfortable place. His vocals, whether harmonising with Prater’s or serving as main vocals are fluid and guileless. When they mingle together, Prater and Meyers voices have a bitter-sweet quality, undoubtedly the inspiration for the band name, which wraps you in a complaisant blanket of luxurious nostalgia.
This week I interviewed Chris Meyers for Band of the Week. An intelligent, witty, and fun man whose talents seem to lean to this side of prodigy. Meyers taught himself to play piano by listening to Bruce Springsteen’s album Born in the USA, a guitar rock album if ever there was one, and playing the chords over and over again on the piano, when he was just five. Our conversation was a long and winding one, and what follows is the highlight of our chat.
Tell me about your debut album The Life You Always Wanted. It has very biblical themed titles. What’s that about?
It does have biblically themed titles; it’s one of those things that just kind of happened.
It’s not a Christian music album though, right?
It’s not a Christian album at all! I don’t mean that to be like it’s a heathen album, it’s just not Christian rock. I think that biblical imagery is really powerful, at least in America, it’s universally understood too. Like when you bring up something like the rapture to talk about a woman who’s freezing to death in her car, I think that’s appropriate.
Is that what your song “Rapture” is about?
Yeah. And people bring up “And Death Shall Have No Dominion”, which is actually my response to the Dylan Thomas poem, I wrote while my grandfather was dying. It was my mediation on that Dylan Thomas poem while that was happening.
Tell me about your second record. You’re the primary song writer for the band, and wrote all the songs on the first album I know, but what about your soon to be finished second album?
Second record I’ve written the most songs, but Hannah has written one – which is actually one of my favourites. And she co-wrote, I think we co-wrote maybe two of them. Then Steve (Bowman, drums) has started writing too. I don’t think he finished the song in time to make the record, but I think if we do a B-sides or European release that there is a chance that it will make it. It’s being produced by this wonderful producer, whose one of our favourites, a guy named Lex Price. He has worked with all sorts of people like, Mindy Smith, Glen Phillips, Toad The Wet Sprocket and Melissa Etheridge. He’s a brilliant producer and has brought together a group of great musicians, all these great Nashville musicians that he got on board to do the record.
And you have relocated from the Bay Area of California to Nashville in order to make your new album correct? So how do like Nashville? Do you find it more creatively stimulating?
Yes, I love it! I fell like everybody I meet here is a musician and not just a mediocre musician, but a really good musician. Half the houses in town are recoding studios, everybody is a songwriter or a guitar player. I used to think that it was much more a country town, like country music, but there are so many different musicians living here now, that it’s kind of like everything. There is this great, indie/folk/Americana theme. We have gotten to know a lot of folks and it’s been absolutely wonderful for us both creatively and personally.
I think it’s a lot easier when you’re hanging around musicians ‘cause they get your lifestyle and the relationship. If there is somebody who’s working a nine to five job, that you are trying to have a friendship with, and you keep leaving for months at a time (laugh) people just don’t know when you’re available to hang out or whatever. Here everybody knows ‘cause everybody doing it, you just check somebody’s tour schedule and see when they’re getting back into town and then you give them a call and go grab a coffee or whatever.
That must be difficult, to try and have a social life while building the sort of career that takes you away so much. Do you manage to have a personal life or a girlfriend?
No, on all accounts. I feel like I was kind of built to play music and tour. My body kind of lends itself to being on the road and playing music, my whole make-up, it’s how I function. I love being on the road, I love being in the studio. I don’t feel like I don’t have a life, especially here; it’s a lot easier to have a life ‘cause you can hang-out with people and then take off and that’s kind of the whole deal.
Do you have aspirations to have a wife and family someday?
I’m a very in the moment person. I tend to live very in the moment. I think because of that I don’t really think about the future that much. I’m just kind of living in the now thing. This is great I love what I’m doing right now as I’m doing it.
So, that in the moment thing, does that effect your song-writing as well?
Yeah, you’re absolutely right, that’s exactly how I write songs. A lot of people will sit down and stew over their songs, edit them, and change things here and change things there. I’m very in the moment, but also a subconscious writer. Meaning I don’t sit back and think through lyrics a lot when I write, I just go with what’s coming to me. I might sit down and write the music, write the tune that’s in my head but not write words to it which is pretty common for me. And it will just stick with me for awhile and someday I’ll just start humming it again and I’ll sit down and pour through the whole thing.
Where do you see yourself and your music in five years?
You’re asking me a future question and I just told I’m an in the moment person. (laughs) I really don’t define success as having some huge band, playing arenas or anything like that. I would just love to have a solid group of people who want to hear the music, who want to listen to the music. The goal I guess is to get the music in front of as many ears as possible.