For Rotgut Whines, band practice is built into everyday life. The duo's small drum set is parked next to their front door, which is also in their kitchen, where a table should probably be. It's normal for singer/guitarist Evan Manuel and drummer Andrew Murphy to wake up in the morning, wander downstairs and start playing first thing. New Year's Day is no different—the music drifts down their front walk and out into the cold clear air of Missoula's Northside neighborhood. Inside, Manuel's socked foot taps the linoleum and Murphy's hair bounces to the beat as the silverware, muted in the cabinet drawers, vibrates.
This is all exactly as Manuel and Murphy have planned it. The pair met in Helena in 2014, their enthusiasm for music and instant connection immediately alienating the mutual friend who introduced them. Both were in their mid-20s, both were looking for a fresh start after a bit of geographical and vocational wandering, and both wanted to find someone who was just as passionate about music.
The result is a friendship that's all about the band and a band that's all about a friendship. The two moved to Missoula last spring in order to find more playing opportunities. They chose a rental based on the kitchen's capacity to hold their instruments, and they found jobs that allowed them optimal time to create.
"We're musical soulmates," Murphy says. "It's about the commitment. Other people want to do it, they want to have a band, but they want to do it on the side. They have marriages and jobs. But this is what we want and what we are going for."
The music they make has a quirkiness common to those who harbor innate musical talent. Murphy, who has been musical since he was a child and can play every instrument in a traditional rock band, taught himself the drums so he could back Manuel. His simple drum kit isn't set up in a traditional way, and he learned to play almost solely from playing with Manuel.
- photo by Amy Donovan
- Rotgut Whines features Evan Manuel, left, and Andrew Murphy.
Manuel, whose soulful vocals could match any leading indie rock star, has been singing and playing guitar since he was 10. He uses a thumb pick, giving the band an energetic, technical sound to match Murphy's idiosyncratic beats. They call their music "finger-picking soul and roll," which sounds about right.
"I want to make lyrically driven music that is also simple and approachable," says Manuel, who lists Future Islands, The National and Townes Van Zandt among his musical influences. "We are here to have fun. We know we're doing right if people are dancing."
Rotgut Whines writes songs like they do everything else: absolutely together. Everything from the lyrics to the melodies to the bridges is collaborative. Even when a song is about a specific aspect of one man's life, the other will sneak in a line or a verse that shares his own perspective or experience.
"Usually, one of us will have an idea when we're both playing guitar upstairs," Murphy says. "We'll write some lyrics together, hash it out, chip away at it. Then we come downstairs and develop it with the electric guitars and drums. Then we take it back upstairs. We throw ideas back and forth until they stick, up and down the stairs."
The resulting songs are powerful, pleasing and smart. Even when the band covers a pop song—Taylor Swift's "Wildest Dreams," Alicia Keys' "No One" or R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly," for instance—the result is impressively their own. It's all you can do not to start dancing in the kitchen, bouncing along with the silverware.
Rotgut Whines plays the Top Hat Thu., Jan. 12, at 10 PM. Free.