Once upon a time, Caitlin Cary played Jekyll to Ryan Adams' Hyde in a revered alt-country outfit called Whiskeytown. Referring to Whiskeytown as a "band" is really a misnomer: It was essentially the prodigiously talented Adams surrounded by whoever could stomach his unyielding petulance. The only person able to do this throughout the band's lifespan was Cary, and for that the husky-voiced North Carolinian deserves big, big ups.
Since the band's dissolution, Adams has parlayed his central role in Whiskeytown into a career as a genre-hopping, critically acclaimed, über-prolific solo rock star. Cary, despite a pair of stellar solo releases, remains greatly respected but largely unknown, save for No Depression subscribers and a robust home-state roots-music fan base.
All of which, mind you, is fine by Cary, an artist once quoted as saying, "I'd work really hard for $30,000 a year and benefits," while arguing that the label-artist relationship should be redrawn along more pedestrian lines. But the cream of the crop inevitably rises beyond such musings of mediocrity, so perhaps it was more than fate that found Cary in the same crowded restroom as Hazeldine's Tonya Lamm and Glory Fountain's Lynn Blakey at a Backsliders show in Raleigh a few years back. As folklore (or the Chicas' own press packet -- same diff) has it, a presumably well-lubed Blakey then made the sort of proposition that the well-lubed rarely keep, something along the lines of, "We'alls got to get together and saaaaaang sometime soon, girls! Weez just gots to!"
Except that these three ladies actually followed through on Blakey's bathroom pledge, first performing the original tune, "Sweetwater," at Cary's crib, which led to a series of shows in their home state and a high-profile gig at Austin's South by Southwest music festival as Tres Chicas, a moniker hastily bestowed upon them by Raleigh club owner Van Alston after it was decided that his first idea, PWS (short for Purty Women Singin'), sucked turtle tits.
After a loose, on-the-road courtship, the Chicas got serious, releasing their debut, also titled Sweetwater, this past June. The album -- which includes covers of Lucinda Williams' "Am I Too Blue," Loretta Lynn's "Deep as Your Pocket" and George Jones' "Take the Devil Out of Me" -- made one thing and one thing only abundantly clear:
Tres Chicas is the truth.
Their voices complement each other perfectly, with harmonies deployed efficiently enough to avoid the sort of Alvin, Simon and Theodore approach that has often plagued the Dixie Chicks and even Crosby, Stills & Nash -- even in its prime (and always -- always -- Wilson Phillips). On Williams' "Blue," Blakey emerges as the heir apparent to Saint Emmylou Harris herself, and the Cary-helmed ballad "Desire" is an instant classic, simply and eloquently detailing the emotional meanderings of besotted love in the balance.
And that's about all there is to say about the Chicas. Not a single critical dart to be tossed. So seeing as the Chicas -- who are hoping to record fresh material this spring with Nick Lowe's producer, Neil Brockbank -- render us a puddle of lighter-flickering, front-row drool, we wisely eschewed the stock "you guys rock; so tell us just how you rock so hard" line of music-feature interrogation while chatting with Cary, opting instead to channel the fabulously random, puma-quick, free-associative style of Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton, referred to by his peers in the biz as "the Bob Gibson of Inquisition."
Mike "James Lipton" Seely: Besides desire, what other emotion would you be most likely to consider for a threesome?
Caitlin Cary: Probably guilt. It's kinky, man.
Have you found somebody yet, honey?
I have found somebody, and his name's Skillet, and I found him in Whiskeytown [Skillet is Skillet Gilmore, former Whiskeytown and current Chicas drummer].
In your opinion, if you ain't married by the age of 23, is there a damn good chance that you never will be?
There is a pretty good chance that you probably will be, I think. We all marry late nowadays. You shouldn't marry before 30.
If there was a live chicken on the premises of your home amid a great coastal famine, how would you a) kill the chicken and b) cook the chicken?
I would definitely kill the chicken the way my dad killed chickens, which was pretty rad. He put its neck between two nails on a board and chopped it off with an axe. And then I would roast it.
If you were sitting near an Appalachian stream and Burt Reynolds coasted by in a one-seat kayak, would you attempt to get Burt's attention or leave him to his thoughts, his vessel and the slow, cool current?
I would definitely leave him alone and prefer that he left me alone as well.
If, while sitting near that stream, you had a notebook and pen handy and felt compelled to write a lyric about Burt Reynolds and/or his moustache, what would that lyric be?
Shave it off to please the women better.
Kelly Willis or Kasey Chambers?
I love Kelly Willis, but I think Kasey Chambers has this amazingly wild, cool voice that I want to hear. She's an acquired taste, like a Dylan or Tom Waits.
Dixie Chicks or Wilson Phillips?
Definitely Wilson Phillips. No explanation needed.
Lucinda Williams or Hank Williams?
Oh man, that's mean. Shit, both. Often.
Lucinda Williams or Victoria Williams?
Lucinda Williams. I love Victoria, but Lucinda's desert-island material.
Victoria Williams or Vanessa Williams?
[Laughing hard] Oh shit, I think I like everyone named Williams.
David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar?
Oh my God, David Lee Roth. Diamond Dave forever.
Ryan Adams or Bryan Adams?
Ryan Adams. You saved my ass on that one.
Urban Cowboy or Midnight Cowboy?
Urban Cowboy or Drugstore Cowboy?
Drugstore. I would definitely wave to Travolta in a boat, though. Maybe not talk, but definitely wave.
"Oops!...I Did It Again" or "Hit Me Baby One More Time?"
Hunter S. Thompson or Charles Bukowski?
Charles Bukowski, although I was never much for the Beats.
Lynn Blakey or Emmylou Harris?
Oh, man. Definitely Lynn Blakey. Interesting comparison.
Skillet Gilmore or Jimmie Dale Gilmore?
Gram Parsons or graham crackers?
Graham crackers, actually.
Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.
Kenny Rogers Roasters.
George Foreman Grill.