Distilling New Sounds

Winchop shares sips and songs with their #whiskeycovers series

By Bryan C. Reed

The setup is simple: Take a sip of whiskey.

photo by Mikayla TenceR

photo by Mikayla TenceR

Play a condensed version of a well-known song. Post the video. Those three ingredients make a Whiskey Cover, and—for the Raleigh-bred duo behind Winchop—this creative exercise might
be the ticket to forging a fan base.

Winchop wasn’t meant to be a band, not exactly. To wit, the “musical project” has never played in front of a live audience. It all started when songwriter Wilson Slagle decided he’d like to put some of his work to tape and enlisted the help of Gus Vieweg, a former classmate at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.

“Wilson bought this knockoff microphone and this super-cheap mixing interface and just plugged them into his aging MacBook Pro,” Vieweg recalls. “He was like, ‘Okay, we’re recording professionals now. Here we go.’” After five days over a break from college—Slagle is an architecture student at Syracuse University; Vieweg earned his engineering degree from N.C. State—the duo had cut 11 songs and assembled its first album, 2014’s Flintrock, a precocious and clever collection of rangy, lo-fi pop songs dashed with elements of classic rock, new wave, and pop punk.

In 2016, they followed Flintrock with another five-day recording spree, yielding the punchier and more streamlined Passion Fruit.  

But when neither album managed to find an audience, Winchop reached a crossroads. Slagle recalls, “We had a period of wondering, ‘Do we want to do a third one? Do we want to do music anymore at all?’”

“The logistics are super difficult because I’m Raleigh-based and Wilson goes to school in Syracuse, [New York],” Vieweg says. “I can’t keep doing this ‘11 songs in five days’ nonsense. So we had a big talk and were like, ‘Okay, let’s do it again, but let’s do it right,’” Vieweg says.

photo by Mikayla TenceR

photo by Mikayla TenceR

Winchop partnered with Raleigh producer Ryan Chabon, of Crimson Moon Records, to give the forthcoming Look Who’s One! a fuller, more professional sound. But a bolder sound alone doesn’t help attract new listeners. The other side of “doing it right” means marketing the music more effectively.

“A lot of bands really suck at putting themselves out there and marketing themselves,” Slagle says. “I didn’t know this until we started trying.” But with a long-distance band neither able nor inclined to play the usual bar gigs, Winchop needed a different angle.

They found it in June, when Slagle posted an Instagram video of himself playing The Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There after a few drinks. Friends liked it. The band was inspired.

Between recording sessions with Chabon, the pair started recording similar videos together, giving them the hashtag #whiskeycovers. The idea grew.      “Once we turned it into a format,” Vieweg says, “we thought, ‘Okay, people are responding to this, how do we make it more interesting? How do we put ourselves out there a little bit more? We could actually do this at whiskey distilleries and whiskey bars.’”

Before Slagle went back to school, the duo recorded covers at Mystic Distillery, TOPO Distillery, and Raleigh Rum Company, offering the local businesses a bit of potentially viral content, while helping to promote their own brand with the now-weekly series. The distillery videos are interspersed among clips of
Vieweg and Slagle playing individually in living rooms or on Italian street corners.

In addition to helping Winchop garner attention, the project has also affected the band’s artistic development. Exploring different styles and distilling popular songs to their most memorable 60 seconds have left an imprint on the duo. “Doing this has helped me grow as a singer and as a performer,” Vieweg says.

And if the teaser single Meteoric Rise is any indication, that growth and polish promise to be on full display when Winchop’s third album arrives early this year.