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Whippoorwill Puts the Folk on Edge

Whippoorwill from Fort Collins.
Whippoorwill from Fort Collins.
Chelsea Gilmore

Whippoorwill operates comfortably out of Fort Collins, where its three core members mix a gritty concoction of folk and alt-rock. Comprising Alysia Kraft (guitar, vocals), Staci Foster (guitar, banjo, harmonica, and vocals) and Tobias Bank (drums, vocals), the rising act dropped its debut full-length, The Nature of Storms, in November 2019. Produced by J.Tom Hnatow (Horse Feathers, Vandaveer) and mixed by Duane Lundy (Jim James, Ringo Starr) at Lexington, Kentucky's Shangri-La Studio, the release captures the band's winning crooning and captivating arrangements.

Foster and Kraft met by chance at a porch-picking party at South by Southwest in 2013. The two exchanged songs throughout the night before parting for separate tours. Later they named themselves Whippoorwill for the nocturnal bird that cooed through the pauses in playing on the night of their meeting. Bank, aka Von Stomper, joined the band on drums in November of 2016, bringing his steady timing to the rhythm section, adding third-part harmonies to the group's vocal blend and helping to cement a fuller sound to support the songwriting of Kraft and Foster.

Westword spoke with Alysia Kraft about the group's origin and its artistic outlook.

Westword: I see you're based out of Fort Collins. Is that where you're from originally?

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Alysia Kraft/Whippoorwill: No. I grew up in Wyoming, and Staci grew up in Texas. And Tobias grew up in Boulder. We all kind of found each other and started the band in Fort Collins. I'd been living in Fort Collins on and off for about eight years when I met Staci. I met her at South By while I was out playing with another band. After that, we sort of had a long-distance musical partnership, and eventually I convinced her to move to Fort Collins, because it was such a supportive community, and it just felt like a great place to start a band. Now we all live here. It's a rare spot in the world in terms of the institutional support for artists who are just getting their feet on the ground.

What ages are you all?

We're all right around thirty. Tobias will be the last to exit his twenties.

Do you have other musicians joining you sometimes?

We started the band as a three-piece, and that was the core of the creative synergy, but when we were recording the album, we wanted to make it more densely layered and atmospheric, so we enlisted Tom Hnatow, who produced our album, to play some pedal steel with us, and these days we also have Jesse Bates playing bass. 

So are you playing as a five-piece all the time now?

It depends on how much money we're making and how far we're traveling. I feel like the core of Whippoorwill is what we do with the three of us, but we also like to bust out all the stops and play with all five musicians for big shows and for local shows.

How long has the group been around?

Staci and I started playing together in 2013, but I'd say 2016 is when we really started, which is when Staci moved to Colorado and we put an EP out, and then Tobias started playing with us.

We just put out this new album, The Nature of Storms, in November. It has nine tracks. Our EP was us figuring out how to support each other as songwriters. But Whippoorwill, which came together with the addition of Tobias, blended all our unique sensibilities to create a band sound. I think of this album as being a realization of our fuller band sound. The recent one is the full-length debut.

I saw that you like Neil Young and banjo and harmonica. What are your influences?

We all come from similar classic influences, like you said — stuff like Neil Young. And we listen to and talk about Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young a lot. We love those harmonies and the social movement and things that were happening around the time that they were making music in Laurel Canyon. We love Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. We listen to the same set of classic folk rock. Beyond that, we all have sort of different contemporary influences. We're all inspired by what Big Thief is doing. They're amazing. This Is the Kit is another band we like. They're based out of France. I'm interested in that world where folk music and ethereal, dreamy atmospheric layers are combined with a little bit of that shreddiness in there, too. What makes us interesting is that Staci listens to a lot of country music. She's in that Texas canon of worshiping Willie Nelson. She likes outlaw country. She's an outlaw. I'm a little more into indie rock and the bands I mentioned. Tobias is interested in a lot of different styles. He's extremely musical. He comes at the music from the world of groove.

Did you attend school for art?

I have a BFA in painting, sculpture and creative writing from University of Wyoming. Staci had a smattering of collegiate experiences, and she spent a lot of her early twenties on some rambling international travels. She went to a music college in Australia for a year and then went to India and Nepal, and also lived in Hawaii on the beach for a while. We come at the world from different places. If I'm from a more scholarly place, then she is more from the world of experience.

What's the backstory to the title of the new release, The Nature of Storms?

In 2016 we started touring. It was right after the Trump election. We were all kind of having meltdowns toward the end our twenties. Our coping mechanisms for dealing with the world were failing. It was a tumultuous time for us personally, and it was a tumultuous time politically, not to mention that we literally drove through every kind of natural disaster that you could imagine. So the album title mirrors that really stormy backdrop of that time during which the band was launched.

Whippoorwill celebrates its new album at 8 p.m. Friday, January 31, at the hi-dive, 7 South Broadway. Tickets are $10 to $12 and available at the hi-dive website.

Listen to Whippoorwill and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.

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