Lance Whalen: Sweet Sugar Pie

Release Date: May 10, 2013

This record is so good. If you haven’t read my feature article introducing you to Lance Whalen yet, please do so. I absolutely love what he’s doing as an artist. He’s also been very engaging and very intriguing to get to know. I’m very excited to get to share his music with you.

In talking with Lance about the his new EP, Sweet Sugar Pie, he shared how he really wanted this record to reflect the live experience and that his previous work had failed to capture that. Of course, you know this frustration: go to the concert, or your at the club/bar already, you like what you’re hearing so you decide to pick up the record, you get out to the car and pop it in and say “who the heck is this guy?” (Jason Mraz, I’m looking at you.) So, I can definitely appreciate a guy who wants to bring that experience home on the record.

Unfortunately for Whalen, he didn’t receive the best feedback and was encouraged to not release these recordings. As he says “none of ‘my people’ thought it was a good idea. But I just had to do it.”

What The Hell Was I Thinking: from the artist, “track one was recorded while on tour in a basement in Connecticut… at 3am with musicians who had never played with each other before. it is entirely live.” The live sound absolutely comes through in the driving rhythms and harried vocals. This is an instance where the Tom Waits vocal style really shines.

Best I Can: Lance told me that in the interim between his last album and releasing this EP, he has been doing some work for film and television. This song arose out of one of those assignments to work with a given prompt and deliver a finished product on a very short timeline. The doubled vocals, he says, were not the initial plan, but the original, live vocals needed work. I love the interplay between the original track and the overdub.

Sweet Sugar Pie: To me, this song is just heart-wrenching. I honestly want to cry when I hear it. The emotion comes through in every single note. Lyrically, it reminds me a lot of Pearl Jam’s “Dissident.” I hear the story of an outlaw on the run who is letting his guard down just for one night. He may realize that the end is near and is dreaming of a different life.

The experience is bolstered by the reality of the performance: from the artist, “I was in a car accident on the interstate while  on the way to this million dollar studio where people like Taylor Swift and Alison Krauss have recorded…  I showed up,  recorded the song in one take and then called a friend to take me to the emergency room.”

The Way You Love Me: I haven’t connected with this track as much as I have with the others. To be fair, though, he would be hard-pressed to follow the title-track with anything. I think this one really captures that Nick Cave essence the best. I like it. It’s wonderfully melodic and the production is a welcomed change from the sparseness of the other tracks. I think that the lyrics are a little ambiguous and maybe that’s what’s kept me at a slight distance from this one.

Now, 99% of the time, if it’s available on Amazon, I’m going to suggest that you purchase it there because I’m a huge advocate for their digital music prices and customer service. But when you’ve got an artist like this grinding it out night after night in bars and clubs, I want to make sure we treat him right. With that in mind, I encourage you to purchase this directly from his website.

Interview :: Lance Whalen

Sometimes, when you’re not even looking for it, greatness finds you. Such is the case with how I met Lance Whalen. Why explain it, when I can just show it to you (below).


Surprised by this brief conversation, I looked at Lance’s Twitter profile where I found his website. He has a few songs posted there that you can stream or download, so I gave it a listen and I was blown away. The growl of Tom Waits, the darkness of Nick Cave, and the heart of Johnny Cash all rolled into one. It’s a sound that Whalen very accurately describes as Americana Noir.

Lance and I traded a few tweets and he sent me his new EP, Sweet Sugar Pie, to review (record and review are both coming out Friday). Since I figured none of my readers would know who he is, I wanted to dig a little deeper and I’m honored that he would allow me the opportunity. While I wanted to present this as an interview, some technical difficulties are forcing me to simply share his story as he related it to me.

The Man:

Lance began his musical journey as a high school student in Kentucky. Listening to music that he connected with helped him feel less alone and writing his own music offered a much needed channel for expressing himself. After suffering through the demise of several failed bands, Whalen came to the realization that he was simply meant to be a solo artist.

Discontent began to build following series of life-changing events including his being diagnosed with a heart condition that would warrant having a pacemaker put in and his fiance’s untimely death. This coupled with the growing awareness that he was only half committed to his art with one foot in his own life and one foot in the life that everyone wanted for him. This “series of straws” finally broke the camel’s back with Lance declaring “I’m not going to die here.” So in 2004, he loaded up his gear and took the plunge by moving to Nashville.


Still based in Nashville, Whalen plays a lot of the local clubs, but also finds himself spending a lot of time on the road. He admits that it’s a tough place to live, but he’s enjoyed seeing it develop and grow over the years.

His Music:

On his new EP, Lance has really perfected the sound that he’s spent more than a decade developing. Referring to his earliest work, he muses that the trouble with music is that once you put something out, you can never get it back. He states that if he could, he would gather up many of his early releases and destroy them before anyone could hear it.

One of the keys to the authenticity on this record, Whalen suggests, is the support of his producer John Simpson (who also produced his last full length record). By having a trusted partner in the process, Lance was able to focus more on the strengths of his songwriting and performance, rather that trying to do everything himself.

That added focus comes through clearly on the record as it shows that he has really established his own voice. When asked if there are any artists that he emulates or admires, he says that he used to try to emulate Elvis, the greatest voice in rock n roll. When he realized that he didn’t have the ability to do that, then he wanted to find a sound that he could really thrive in. As mentioned before, the comparison to Nick Cave fairly jumps off the record, especially once you’ve gotten a look at Whalen. He states that Cave is not only a songwriter he really identifies with, he’s also very inspired by Cave’s longevity and ability to continue putting out great records.

When asked about comparisons to Tom Waits, he acknowledges that it is there, but feels moreso that both he and Waits were inspired by the work of Captain Beefheart. (I’ll be honest, I had to look that one up, but he appears to be fairly influential and did in fact spark a major shift for Tom Waits.) Also of Waits, Lance says, “he’s probably the only artist I’ve ever fallen out of love with,” citing the overly predictable nature of his recent work.


What’s Next:

Lance Whalen is definitely an old soul with an old school work ethic and process. (In a way, his unique style forces him to be.) He’s not looking to stand in line for 48 hours to appear on the next season of The Voice. Instead, he’s grinding it out on stages across the country. As he says, “it’s all about gaining one fan at a time.” That’s why he would rather play for 15 really engaged people at a hole in the wall in a small town than 100 dis-interested people at bigger venue.


His EP releases on May10 (stay tuned here because you’ll have a chance to win a copy of it on Thursday). After that, he’ll be setting off on the road to Canada and back to play 32 shows in 30 days. I’m trying to talk him into adding a Texas date as soon as he can.

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