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Moonshine Willy nurses new baby

By Jon Johnson, June 1998

There are few women who would embark on a month-long tour while seven months pregnant, but leave it to Kim Docter, singer/guitarist/songwriter for the Chicago-based Moonshine Willy.

Docter is speaking from her Chicago home a day before embarking on the tour, supporting their third album for Bloodshot, "Bastard Child."

The band was started by Docter and singer/bassist Mike Luke in 1993. The line-up has changed over time and now also includes Chris Estrada on mandolin, Chris Ganey on drums, Jessica Dilly on violin and Chuck Uchida on guitar.

Like many on the alt. country scene, Docter's musical background was more rooted in the punk rock boom of the late seventies and early eighties than in traditional country music, which she discovered later.

"I never listened to a lot of country music, and I never listened to a lot of folk, though I grew up in a somewhat rural area in California (Stockton; also home to Chris Isaak), so by osmosis I'd hear some country, but I never really paid attention to it."

"I was writing really bad punk rock songs, and I later found out that they were really mediocre country songs. When I moved to Chicago and started playing with Mike, he had an upright bass, and I was playing an acoustic guitar, and the guitar player that we were playing with at the time also played some mandolin. And a friend of ours started sitting in on fiddle."

"And with that instrumentation it could take a pop song and sort of push it into a country, folk or bluegrass area. So I think that the instrumentation that we were using gave us that kind of sound," adding that the use of acoustic instruments led them into writing songs more suited for those instruments.

"I didn't start doing 'country homework,' per se. People would say to us, 'You should really listen to this album because I love (it), and I love you guys,' so we would pick up albums by Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, the Everly Brothers....I think that it has a lot of the energy that I like about punk rock. Even now you can listen to a lot of bluegrass and even though a lot of these guys are 60, 65, 70 years old, they can play so fast."

The emergence of Bloodshot Records, the Chicago-based label that has made a name for itself by signing like-minded alt. country phenoms like the Old 97's, Robbie Fulks and the Waco Brothers, occurred around the same time as the formation of Moonshine Willy.

"They started the label right around the same time that we started the band. We knew them from seeing each other at shows. When they put together their first compilation they approached us and said, 'Why don't you do a cut?' And we did. We're their oldest child!"

On the compilation, "For a Life of Sin," they cut "Way Out West."

Since then the Moonshine Willy has recorded three albums for Bloodshot : "Pecadores" in 1995 and "Bold DIsplays of Imperfection" in 1996 and "Bastard Child."

The new one continues the group's practice of combining traditional instrumentation with non-traditional songwriting (almost entirely by Docter), along with the occasional cover; in the new album's case covers of "Nobody Wants to Die" by Seventies southern rockers Black Oak Arkansas and - even stranger - "Don't You Want Me," originally recorded by the British synthpop band the Human League.

"Mike and I always like doing duets. We've done a duet on all of our records, and our duets were traditionally covers. We hadn't done one in a long time. And maybe it's just the age I am, but that song was everywhere. You still hear it. We performed it a few times and it got a really great reaction. People didn't recognize it until maybe halfway through the first chorus."

"We're kind of picky about the covers that we do because I write so much and recording a cover means bumping an original. I try to have a piece of paper with me at all times, because if I get an idea and I don't write it down, it's gone forever. I think my songwriting has gotten less narrative; less campy. And a little bit more real. I used to love writing story songs. Our first album had a lot of those things on it. But now I'm getting brave enough to write more about me."

"I haven't written any songs about the baby yet, but I imagine that once I get in the van on tour I will."

"We're doing 27 shows in 30 days - a whirlwind! I went to the doctor yesterday, and I have her seal of approval, and just in case she gave Mike some tips on what to do if the baby arrives early. But I'm strong as a horse."