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Learning new instruments is only one hurdle for Whiskey & Burlap

“It’s not always comfortable”

Whiskey and Burlap: Pandemic porch pickin’ led to bigger things.
Whiskey and Burlap: Pandemic porch pickin’ led to bigger things.

Ethan van Thillo was a longtime violinist who basically abandoned the instrument after he had finished college. At that point, he devoted all his time to being a father and running the Media Arts Center of San Diego — and oh yes, the San Diego Latino Film Festival. But over the years, he slowly got back into playing music by occasionally picking up a violin at family get-togethers with his musician buddy Craig McIntosh. Eventually, he was gifted a mandolin (basically a violin with frets) and dove headfirst into “playing and playing,” as he puts it And one day on a whim, van Thillo decided to invite his South Park neighbor, Camille Sallave, to a little jam he was having with McIntosh at his house.

During Sallave’s youth, her mother, aunts, and grandmother would get together and harmonize during family events. The practice set her on a path to becoming a singer herself. But her background was with rock, blues, and jazz, while van Thillo’s was with cumbia, zydeco and classical. It was McIntosh who served as the guide for the bluegrass and folk sounds of their new band, Whiskey & Burlap.

“We just all reconnected to music and the idea of playing together, and the idea of playing live,” says van Thillo. “I think it was Camille that really pushed playing shows. Craig and I would have been happy to stay in our living room and play together as a group, but Camille said, ‘Let’s have a goal. Let’s play.’ Deft Brewing was the first place in September of 2018. That gave us maybe two months to learn all these covers. We were just starting, so we were playing covers. It probably wasn’t until about a year later when I introduced an original song, and then Craig introduced an original. Then Camille started writing. She would just share all these wonderful lyrics, and I would put music to most of them.”

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When the pandemic hit in 2020, Whiskey & Burlap used the shutdown to gain momentum. “I used to play on my porch, and all of the sudden, we started doing porch concerts,” van Thillo explains. “We would close off 29th Street in South Park near The Station. We would illegally close it in front of Camille’s house and have porch concerts once a month, and we would live stream it. I felt, during the pandemic, that Whiskey & Burlap made a really strong connection to more people in terms of our neighborhood. We still get some neighbors who walk by Camille’s house and go, ‘When’s the next one?’ We even found a neighbor who became like a donor and supported our first album.”

The band completed that album, Around the Bend, in December; the effort earned them a Best Folk or Acoustic Album nod at the 2022 San Diego Music Awards. This led to further exposure for the band, and more gig requests during a somewhat tricky year for performing them. McIntosh was on sabbatical, so van Thillo and Sallave were thrust into the work of performing primarily as a duo. They had different musicians helping them at times throughout the year, but at their most minimal, it was van Thillo utilizing an octave mandolin to give the songs a bit more bass, and Sallave playing the banjolele (a banjo/ukelele hybrid) to fill out some of the missing guitar parts. “It was a trial by fire for both of us,” van Thillo says. “We went from having an incredible guitarist who was the structure of the band, to no structure and us playing as a duo and with other musicians, in a really quick time.”

McIntosh is back in the fold now, and all three play on their new album Questioning Why, which features Sallave’s banjolele playing. “Lyrically speaking, I think I was just trying to get through the year,” Sallave says. “I think it’s a good compilation of what we were going through while Craig was away, and me trying to learn these instruments, and growth. It’s not always comfortable.”

Sallave concludes, “We’ve also talked about doing a mini-tour next year. It’s gonna take some work to do that, to try to hustle those venues and get that in line. But we also still want to continue to do these albums. We have these other songs that we’ve already been working on, so hopefully we get back into the studio a couple more times next year. Whether it’s an EP or another full album, that would be great.”

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Whiskey and Burlap: Pandemic porch pickin’ led to bigger things.
Whiskey and Burlap: Pandemic porch pickin’ led to bigger things.

Ethan van Thillo was a longtime violinist who basically abandoned the instrument after he had finished college. At that point, he devoted all his time to being a father and running the Media Arts Center of San Diego — and oh yes, the San Diego Latino Film Festival. But over the years, he slowly got back into playing music by occasionally picking up a violin at family get-togethers with his musician buddy Craig McIntosh. Eventually, he was gifted a mandolin (basically a violin with frets) and dove headfirst into “playing and playing,” as he puts it And one day on a whim, van Thillo decided to invite his South Park neighbor, Camille Sallave, to a little jam he was having with McIntosh at his house.

During Sallave’s youth, her mother, aunts, and grandmother would get together and harmonize during family events. The practice set her on a path to becoming a singer herself. But her background was with rock, blues, and jazz, while van Thillo’s was with cumbia, zydeco and classical. It was McIntosh who served as the guide for the bluegrass and folk sounds of their new band, Whiskey & Burlap.

“We just all reconnected to music and the idea of playing together, and the idea of playing live,” says van Thillo. “I think it was Camille that really pushed playing shows. Craig and I would have been happy to stay in our living room and play together as a group, but Camille said, ‘Let’s have a goal. Let’s play.’ Deft Brewing was the first place in September of 2018. That gave us maybe two months to learn all these covers. We were just starting, so we were playing covers. It probably wasn’t until about a year later when I introduced an original song, and then Craig introduced an original. Then Camille started writing. She would just share all these wonderful lyrics, and I would put music to most of them.”

Sponsored
Sponsored

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Whiskey & Burlap used the shutdown to gain momentum. “I used to play on my porch, and all of the sudden, we started doing porch concerts,” van Thillo explains. “We would close off 29th Street in South Park near The Station. We would illegally close it in front of Camille’s house and have porch concerts once a month, and we would live stream it. I felt, during the pandemic, that Whiskey & Burlap made a really strong connection to more people in terms of our neighborhood. We still get some neighbors who walk by Camille’s house and go, ‘When’s the next one?’ We even found a neighbor who became like a donor and supported our first album.”

The band completed that album, Around the Bend, in December; the effort earned them a Best Folk or Acoustic Album nod at the 2022 San Diego Music Awards. This led to further exposure for the band, and more gig requests during a somewhat tricky year for performing them. McIntosh was on sabbatical, so van Thillo and Sallave were thrust into the work of performing primarily as a duo. They had different musicians helping them at times throughout the year, but at their most minimal, it was van Thillo utilizing an octave mandolin to give the songs a bit more bass, and Sallave playing the banjolele (a banjo/ukelele hybrid) to fill out some of the missing guitar parts. “It was a trial by fire for both of us,” van Thillo says. “We went from having an incredible guitarist who was the structure of the band, to no structure and us playing as a duo and with other musicians, in a really quick time.”

McIntosh is back in the fold now, and all three play on their new album Questioning Why, which features Sallave’s banjolele playing. “Lyrically speaking, I think I was just trying to get through the year,” Sallave says. “I think it’s a good compilation of what we were going through while Craig was away, and me trying to learn these instruments, and growth. It’s not always comfortable.”

Sallave concludes, “We’ve also talked about doing a mini-tour next year. It’s gonna take some work to do that, to try to hustle those venues and get that in line. But we also still want to continue to do these albums. We have these other songs that we’ve already been working on, so hopefully we get back into the studio a couple more times next year. Whether it’s an EP or another full album, that would be great.”

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