Billy Schmidt and Rachel DuVall first met in high school, but it would take a few years before they discovered an underlying musical connection. One summer home from their respective colleges found them sitting up into the wee hours, discussing their favorite music. That conversation sparked more than a romantic connection; it began an exciting musical project that would eventually come to fruition as The Whiskey Wasps.
At the time, Schmidt was beginning to put together a new band called Raggy Monster. “I didn’t even know that [Rachel] was a singer. I thought she just liked music,” Schmidt said. “And then I found out that she was an incredible singer, so it made sense to work together.”
Their initial collaborative efforts immediately revealed how well they paired together musically. “Ivory Gaze” was the first song that defined Raggy Monster’s sound, but they arrived there by way of experimentation. Schmidt describes the song: “It’s really complicated, heavy piano with her singing opera almost.” Certainly not typical music for a South Florida band, and yet that discovery propelled both musicians to continue pushing their music in more complicated and original directions.
With The Whiskey Wasps, Schmidt and DuVall have a project that more closely mirrors the beginning of their musical relationship. Schmidt plays guitar while DuVall contributes lead vocals. It’s a quiet, bare-bones style that packs a punch thanks to their individual talents.
Schmidt has been playing piano since he was 4. “I was classically trained,” he said. He shifted instruments in high school when he started teaching himself guitar. DuVall also comes to the table with a classical , having sang with the Orlando Youth Opera as a child. These two specific approaches to music inform their unique sound, which exudes a haunting moment that lingers long after the last note.
Something in DuVall’s voice exudes an instrumental quality. In between her melodic, bluesy appeal, she can let loose a Janis Joplin-esque cry that crescendos all emotion to the tipping point, which can immediately be felt by the audience. DuVall’s is the siren’s call, a song leading people into unknown realms of emotion and thought. Schmidt provides an ideal background; both his playing and his harmonizing support and yet stand out against DuVall’s distinct voice. Simply put, these two are a force.
As The Whiskey Wasps, they offer audiences a pared-down, acoustic set that includes covers and original music. “Covers are important to people, and we try to accommodate that,” DuVall said. It’s their unique interpretations of classics such as Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang, Bang,” as well as the immense talent they bring to those reinterpretations, that continue to attract audiences.
In a land where the cover band reigns supreme, their reimagined take on covers make The Whiskey Wasps an exciting addition to South Florida’s music scene. “A lot of times we’ll repurpose the songs in order to make them sound different from the original,” DuVall said. But their point is not to be different just for the sake of being different. If their cover ever threatens the original’s integrity, they won’t continue pushing in that direction. The two two spend a great deal of time thinking about their particular approach to a song’s long history. “Some of them take days of writing different parts,” DuVall explained.
Music has been the tie that binds these two together, but it extends beyond an appreciation. As much as they enjoy playing their favorites for audiences, they also write their own music. “The [South Florida music] scene is developing. There are new places opening that draw people who view [music] as an art form. I find they really like listening to us.”
The vast majority of the songs they write pertain to the sadder emotional spectrum. “We write a lot of sad and angry songs. But it’s a good escape,” DuVall said.
“We’re not really sad people,” Schmidt added.
“I feel like that is the reason I can be happy, “DuVall explained. “I can let out these things that are about my past.”
In order to promote their music, The Whiskey Wasps began a project on YouTube called 52 Weeks Under the Covers, where each week they post a new video covering one of their favorite musicians or songs. DuVall said, “It was a New Year’s resolution but it also came about from playing live shows, where we needed to learn more covers.”
The two were married in November, and between planning the wedding and Schmidt attending graduate school for music business, they’ve fallen slightly behind their goal. Still, the care with which they arrange and play covers has already yielded positive returns. Their recent cover of Bill Mack’s song, “Blue,” made it all the way to Mack himself.
“His son found the video online and showed it to his dad. He said his dad loved it. That meant a lot to us,” Schmidt said.
Like so many talented, folksy twosomes known for their stunning harmonies – think The Civil Wars, Shovels and Rope, and Mandolin Orange – Schmidt and DuVall blend their talents to create a stronger outcome. Each would be a fine solo musician, but it is the work they create together that so captivates audiences. With Billy’s honest guitar arrangements and Rachel’s lush voice, the duo cultivates an experience unlike any other. That’s because, simply put, The Whiskey Wasps are worth listening to.
To hear their songs and find out about upcoming shows, visit The Whiskey Wasps by way of Raggy Monster’s website: www.raggymonster.com.