Dream On: The Whiskey Charmers Explore Tales of Change on New “Streetlights” Album


The Whiskey Charmers' Lawrence Daversa holds a white electric guitar, and Carrie Shepard wears a brown suede cowboy hat.

Lawrence Daversa and Carrie Shepard of The Whiskey Charmers. Photo courtesy of The Whiskey Charmers.

The Whiskey Charmers often find creative inspiration in a dream.

The Detroit duo of Carrie Shepard (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Lawrence Daversa (electric guitar, backing vocals) took that route while writing the title track for their new alt-country album, Streetlights.

“I had a dream that I was watching Chris Stapleton perform his new song,” Shepard said. “In my dream, it’s the chorus of the song, and I woke up, remembered it, and sang the chorus into my phone. It’s not a real song—it was just made up in my dream.”

Right after her dream, Shepard converted that imaginary song into “Streetlights,” which features exploratory lyrics and fiery electric-guitar solos.

She sings, “Was running under streetlights, in my dreams / Flying down the stairway, defying gravity / Then I felt lightning from the sky / Yeah, I felt a white light hit me / Right between the eyes.”

“I think of it as a weird, dream-like state that’s a little bit unsettling. I do have the one part of the [song] where I’m saying I fly down the stairway defying gravity, and I have dreams of people chasing me,” Shepard said.

“In my dream, if somebody’s chasing me, when I get to a stairway, I know I can just fly down. That’s where that came from. We tried our best to make the recording in that vibe to get that across.”

The Whiskey Charmers continue to carry that mysterious vibe across the other 10 tracks for Streetlights, which include perceptive lyrics, vivid electric guitars, and timeless country instrumentation.

The album’s songs also focus on tales of change and examine different emotions that arise when relationships, situations, or experiences take an unexpected turn.

“There was nothing intentional as far as an overall theme for the record, but we did try to pick songs that we thought would go well together,” said Shepard about the duo’s fifth album.

“We have a lot of songs that we’ve been playing, and we have to decide which of those songs we want on a record.”

To delve into the duo’s new record, I spoke with Shepard and Daversa ahead of a June 13 album release show at The Ark in Ann Arbor.

Q: You launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to help finance the recording of Streetlights. How did that all come together for you?
Carrie Shepard (CS): We don’t get too crazy with our goal. We’re always blown away that people think it’s worthy to spend their hard-earned money on it. We’ve tried a few times thinking, “OK, we’re going to try and do this one without the crowdfunding,” and then we get stuck and wonder, “How we’re going to do this?” We feel like we’re bothering people by doing it, but then we think, “Well, people do seem to enjoy it, and they can pick whatever level [of reward] they want.” People do think it’s fun to be involved in it. It does let people know that the record is coming. There’s always a lot that goes into trying to raise the money.

Q: Your crowdfunding campaign for Streetlights includes several rewards and album credits, such as a personal theme song, a designation of president of the Dashboard Boots Fan Club, and a theremin credit. How do you keep your reward levels fun and engaging for fans?
CS: The personal theme song was an undertaking to do. Everybody has their theme song, and two people bought theme songs as presents for other people. One of the theme songs was for the owner of a [local business], and they made a video to go along with the song because they had the resources to do that. They decided to keep it private for him, and they gave it to him for his birthday, but we watched the video and we couldn’t believe it.

This time we didn’t officially make the [album credits] a reward, but a couple of people knew we had done it in the past so they reached out and asked if they could have it. The guy who’s president of the Dashboard Boots Fan Club, I showed him his credit because I wanted him to proofread it, and I wanted to make sure it looked the way he wanted it. And after that, he made an Instagram account with his title, and then he started reposting the pictures we posted of the boots on the dashboard. Another guy got a theremin credit, and he’s had that credit on the past three records.

Lawrence Daversa (LD): For our second and third albums, we did a ton of those rewards. We had the animal wrangler and the stuntman. For the second record, when we first did it, there was a reviewer who actually commented on the instruments because he didn’t realize it was a joke. We’ve given people air guitar, spoon, and coconut credits.

Q: How did you land on Streetlights as the title for the album?
CS: We kept thinking of different ideas for the album title, like “Black Ridge Cave” or “New Song for Sale” were candidates, but we thought “Streetlights” was more encompassing. For example, the song “Stars” talks about stage lights and driving down the road to get to the show.

LD: Part of the decision was the image that would go along with the title and the overall vibe of what it would present.

Q: “There’s Black” reveals the emptiness and longing people feel when a relationship goes sour, but then it ends on a hopeful note. What was it like to explore that mindset on this song?
CS: It’s about self-sabotage, and it’s not always easy to believe that someone actually likes you. Even though someone might like you, you can still sabotage it. A lot of people can relate to that, and hopefully, you can save things before it’s too late.

Q: The video for “There’s Black” features live footage of you performing at The Starlight Room in Muskegon interspersed with highway-themed shots. How did that come together for you?
CS: They asked us to do a show there last fall, and it was done as a fundraiser for [The People Center]. They gave us a video of our entire performance, and we didn’t have anything specific in mind for it. We just thought at some point we’d do something with it. I was trying to come up with images to go along with “There’s Black,” and I downloaded stock footage, including the highway, the rear-view mirror, and various imagery.

At first, I was going to make a video of all stock footage, but then I thought, “Maybe I can intercut some footage of us,” and I was trying to think of what we had. I was going to look for random [shots] of Lawrence playing his guitar or me—I wasn’t going to sync it up. As I was trying to put it together, I accidentally had the audio on from that show, and then I realized we were singing “There’s Black.” Our drummer [John Porter] is so consistent … that I was able to sync up a lot of it.

Q: “Black Ridge Cave” is an emotional tale of revenge, loss, and grief. How did you develop a storyline of youthful vengeance for the track?
CS: I love the movie True Grit … and I think of the main character as a young girl. That song chokes me up because I think of this innocent girl and now she’s overtaken by something super dark. I think of it as being really tragic … but you don’t know if she’s going to go through with it.

I also refer to this song and “Crossfire” as being similar to Western paperback novels from the ‘50s. We have a Dropbox folder of new songs, and when I write songs, I throw them in there. Lawrence is the song librarian or archivist, and he goes through those songs and relistens to them. That song had been forgotten and he found it.

LD: That song is pre-COVID, and it sat in that Dropbox folder for four or five years. I like to think that song could be a prequel to “Crossfire.”

Q: “Little Green Man” pays tribute to Baby Yoda, or Grogu, from The Mandalorian and references the Northern Lights. What was it like to write a track from the perspective of a humanoid alien and include references to solar phenomena?
CS: I was completely obsessed with Baby Yoda, and I thought about him flying overhead. He was always eating snacks on the show, and whenever he had screen time, I would say, “Oh my god, I love him!”

As for the Northern Lights, Lawrence and I had never seen them before [writing this song] and we saw them [coincidentally] right next door to Lawrence’s apartment [last month]. In the song, I say, “Those green and black Northern Lights,” and I know this was a special solar event, but I had no idea there could be other colors. We saw pink, purple, and blue.

Q: “Time Bomb” references the disillusionment and loss we experience as the years pass. How does it serve as an important reminder about being present and making the most of the time you have left?
CS: I’m going to leave that one open for interpretation. It’s a common theme in many of our songs. It can be taken in a lot of different ways, but that is the overarching theme. Everybody’s under a bit of a time bomb.

LD: It’s like “Wrinkle” from the last record [2022’s On the Run]. It’s our drummer [John Porter’s] favorite song on the record, too.

Q: “New Song for Sale” highlights letting someone go and taking creative inspiration from that relationship as a songwriter. How does this track serve as a metaphor for pulling creative inspiration from your own life or the lives of those around you? How did you create the video for that song as well?
CS: On some level, it is the theme of when life gives you lemons … because you can take something that wasn’t the best thing that happened and turn it into a song that you enjoy playing and other people enjoy listening to. The other point is that it’s strange to write a song if you’re going through something in your life that’s sad or hard, but then it becomes a commodity.

When I wrote that song, I was so excited about it. I wanted to post it [as a video], but not without Lawrence. We weren’t together for it, but I just did the video myself, and he added his part. 

Q: What was your creative process like for Streetlights? How did the 11 tracks come together while writing them and later recording everything with David Roof at Rooftop Recording?
LD: The only old songs I can think of are “Black Ridge Cave” and “Stars.” “Stars” was written during the pandemic shutdown, and everything else has been written since On the Run. We took the whole band in [last] April or May to start recording. It’s the first time we’ve ever recorded with the full band. Usually, it’s Carrie and me and the drummer, and we add the bass later. John [Porter] wanted Ozzy [Andrews] there, so we figured we’d do it, and it turned out great. We did things as we could, and we finished the mixes in November. It took six or seven months, which is pretty quick because it usually takes a little longer for us.

Dave just played keys on “Stars.” He does what he always does. Every once in a while, if I’m recutting a part, he’ll always get me to do one or two more. I’ll say, “No, I’m done with that,” and he’ll say, “All right, one more.” I’ll say, “What are you talking about?” But it’s fun and it’s cool, and it just gives us more options.

Q: Streetlights also features John Porter on drums and percussion and Daniel “Ozzie” Andrews on bass. How did they help elevate the album’s overall sound?
LD: John’s been playing with us since 2019. I found a video of John playing with [another artist] … and then I found a video of him playing with some other country band. I saw that he could do this stuff, so we figured out how to get a hold of him. He fell right in.

On the first record, we didn’t have a bass player, so Dave [Roof] added stuff later. For the second record, [past drummer] Brian [Ferriby] and Carrie played off each other so well that we would just isolate that, and then we’ve had a couple of records of where it was like bass player by committee. Dave would play some, and then Ozzie and other friends would play bass. For this record, John said he’d like to have Ozzie there. John picks up on rhythmic things within the vocal melody and accents that at times.

CS: John became invested in these songs, and he’s super easy to work with—he’s so encouraging. We’ll be playing, and then we’ll finish the song and he’ll look at us and say, “That was sick.” He’s younger than us, and it’s fun to have that youthful energy. John appreciated the way he and Ozzie worked together. John also plays off of my actual vocals and not just the rhythm of the song; he plays along with the lyrics and the melody. I had never heard that before and thought, “This feels really good.”

Q: What do you have planned for your June 13 album release show at The Ark? How will The Darkness Brothers—Don Duprie and Matt Dmits—help set the tone for the show?
LD: We’re going to play the album in its entirety. I’ve thought that maybe we could rearrange it to change the emphasis, but it seems like we put it in that order for a reason. We’re kicking our set off with the two of us because we play that way a lot.

CS: We’re just gonna play new songs that aren’t on past records. We’re thinking it would be fun for people to hear stuff that might be recorded later. We’re going to have a couple of special guests. We might do one or two songs with just Lawrence and me and then bring in the whole band. We’ve been working toward an album release show at The Ark and doing more events with them. The last couple of shows we’ve had there have been so special.

Lawrence and I have been huge fans of Don Duprie for a long time. We asked Don to play with us and that’s his current project; Matt is a great songwriter, too. We think it’s going to be a real treat for people to see them.

Q: What plans do you have for touring in the Midwest this summer?
LD: In August, we’re going to Minnesota.

CS: Some people in Minnesota emailed us and in the subject line they wrote, “Long-shot request.” They wanted to know if we would come to Minnesota and do a private show for them in their event barn. We already have a show booked in the U.P., so we’ll do that show, a couple of shows in Wisconsin, and then end up in Minnesota. It will be a short run. We’re trying to get to some places that we’ve never been, so playing in Wisconsin and Minnesota will be new.

Q: What else is on the horizon for you later this year? Any plans to work on new material?
LD: I always start thinking about the next record as soon as we’re done tracking. It eats at my brain, but we’ll know when it’s time. On average, we release a new album every two years.

CS: As soon as we’re done tracking, he says, “OK, what’s on the next record?” We’ll try to get through it without a crowdfunding [campaign] and then decide we need to do crowdfunding.

Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.

The Whiskey Charmers perform June 13 with The Darkness Brothers at The Ark, 316 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor. For tickets, visit The Ark’s website.