Nashville’s The Whistles & the Bells, alt-rock moniker of acclaimed singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Bryan Simpson, will release his sophomore LP Modern Plagues via New West Records on April 28th. Prior to launching The Whistles & the Bells, Simpson had already won substantial success as a bluegrass mandolinist, serving a seven-year, three-album stint with the acclaimed progressive-bluegrass quartet Cadillac Sky. The band’s broad-minded collaborations with both bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs and the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach eventually led to an in-demand spot on Mumford and Sons’ 2010 North American Tour. Meanwhile, Simpson also carved out a lucrative sideline as a mainstream country songwriter, composing hit tracks for icons such as Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton and George Strait.
Never the shrinking violet, the audacious Simpson forges ahead into the chaos of the modern world, calling out discrepancies and challenging the status quo of our increasingly apathetic and numb society. Simpson also blazes a new sonic trail as he keeps a toe in the “electricana” style of 2014’s self-titled debut, while he dabbles in everything from retro 80’s pop to synth-infused psychedelia. “I wanted to make a record that sounded like some great cosmic dinner party,” Simpson reveals. “Not a gross, homogenized one where people bludgeon their intellect with one-sided conversation but more of a ‘if you could invite four people from history over for dinner who would it be?’ kind of shindig. Where some strange collection of human heavyweights sit around discussing the odd pilgrimage that is life. I wanted to sonically interpret what a cosmic intersection of such varied DNA might sound like. Except fast forward the evening past the pretense and the niceties of the appetizer course and push record as the party polishes off the last drop of an encore bottle of wine.”
Recently, we met up with Simpson and his creative cohorts, a crew of like-minded players (which include his longtime cohort and former Cadillac Sky member Matt Menefee on banjo, and The Vespers’ Callie and Phoebe Cryar contributing backup vocals) in a top-secret Nashville location, where they performed “40 Years” from Modern Plagues. In the song, Simpson asks “what if we had 40 years left to live?” “You could slave all day at the factory/Abandon your kids crushin’ candy/So you and your zombie wife can dream the American nightmare,” one verse suggests, as we listen, wide-eyed and contemplating our place in the machine’s grinding gears. Check it out: