New, not Nashville

New Country Rehab revamps old style country songs with rock undertones

Ben Whiteley says he’s a regular visitor to the Grad Club since he’s often in Kingston to visit his girlfriend who’s a Queen’s law student.
Ben Whiteley says he’s a regular visitor to the Grad Club since he’s often in Kingston to visit his girlfriend who’s a Queen’s law student.
Credit: 
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Toronto band New Country Rehab’s brand of country music channels the Americana version of Radiohead meets Motorhead, with a Hank Williams influence. At least that’s how the band’s double bass player Ben Whiteley describes them.

Whiteley said the original intent was to rehabilitate old country music — spurring the band’s name.

“We take old time country music, old appellation themes,” he said. “Love, loss, regret, all those kinds of themes and then we modernized the music. We’re not going for that Nashville top 40 sound.”

Their self-titled debut album, released in January, features Hank Williams and Bruce Springsteen covers as well as original songs inspired by the same artists. The first track on the album, “Angel of Death,” is closely based on the Williams’ song of the same name.

Whiteley is the son of seven-time Juno award nominee and acclaimed Canadian roots musician Ken Whiteley. At 18 years old Ben was playing music festivals alongside his dad. “I owe a lot of my music education to my father,” he said. “He’s a well of wisdom.”

Whiteley said he hasn’t been lyrically inspired by their relationship. The closest he’s come to writing a song about his father was a poem he wrote in the third grade.

Whiteley said the band started writing songs for their album by working with old country song favourites.

“We wrote new melody and music and then were like, ‘We should just write new lyrics and it’ll be a completely new song,’” he said. “The process happened organically, and then we started writing music in the same kind of style.”

New Country Rehab was recorded in three days. Whiteley said they started out as the kind of band that plays small pubs on Tuesday nights, and they aimed to capture their live-roots on the record. “I think it was really important that we did it that way,” Whiteley said, adding that they recorded two songs, “State Trooper” and “Mind Your Own Business,” in 10 minutes back to back.

“I think that’s pretty cool, so hopefully that’s transferred onto the record.”

Though there are no collaborations on New Country Rehab, Whiteley said they’re open to working with other musicians. Their dream collaboration is Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, particularly for guitarist James Robertson who’s an avid fan of the band’s 1966 album Pet Sounds.

The foursome returns to the studio in two weeks to start recording their sophomore album. Whiteley said they aren’t planning to release the record until next fall.

“We’re just figuring out our sound a little bit more and we’ve just spent more time playing together,” he said. “It’s still going to sound like New Country Rehab, but I think hopefully the song writing is better and we’re going to try and give it a little bit more time.”

New Country Rehab plays the Grad Club tomorrow night. Doors open at 9 p.m. and the show starts at 10 p.m.

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