This is an exclusive song premiere, part of The ARTery's effort to highlight New England musicians.
The song “Switching to Whiskey,” by the Adam Ezra Group, opens in a crowded bar. Ezra sets the scene: he’s sipping a beer, “feeling alright” while a jukebox plays “soft and low.” Then, in classic country music fashion, things take a tragic turn. Our hero is knocked off-balance when a certain song comes on the jukebox, overwhelming him with memories of heartbreak. What else is there to do but drown his sorrows? “I’m switching to whiskey,” Ezra rasps, as a fiddle soars mournfully in the background.
Before the pandemic sent the music industry on a forced hiatus, Ezra co-wrote “Switching to Whiskey” with the country songwriter Clint Daniels — an unusual foray into the Nashville machine for Ezra, a dyed-in-the-wool folk-rock New Englander. He started testing out the song with his band on the road. It quickly became a fan favorite, “one of our most requested songs,” Ezra says. “Switching to Whiskey” is cathartically sad in that satisfying way country music tends to be. “It’s a simple, singable song,” Ezra says. “As a writer, and as an artist, oftentimes getting to the good stuff means simplifying.”
The Adam Ezra Group was always a band that thrived in the rock club setting — in pre-pandemic times, they played more than 200 shows a year. So when the band canceled their tour last March, Ezra instinctively looked for another way to connect with his fans. He started livestreaming nightly solo concerts -- just him and his acoustic guitar — and, more than a year later, has never missed a night. The band released a studio recording of “Switching to Whiskey” on the anniversary of the first livestream — a fitting bookend to a year of communion found in sorrow.
Filming the music video for “Switching to Whiskey” during the pandemic posed certain practical challenges. At the time, Ezra and his wife were isolating in a cabin in the Mojave desert, far from the rest of the members of the band. (Most of the time they're based in Chelsea, MA.) The desert setting turned out to be an ideal backdrop to explore themes of solitude. The video opens to the sound of the wind and a shot of Ezra’s boots in the sand. Drone footage of the Mojave’s desolate landscape is intercut with scenes inside a dimly lit nightclub — the legendary biker-bar-turned-music-venue Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, a stand-in for all the beloved neighborhood rock clubs that went dark last year. The camera zooms in close as Ezra sings into a lone microphone, an acoustic guitar slung around his shoulder. At the bridge, the camera swings around to reveal that he’s performing to an empty bar.
Though he envisioned it as a clever “aha” moment, “I think it turned out that it’s maybe not so Keyser-Söze-surprising,” Ezra admits with a smile. But after a year without live music, there’s an understated poignance to the scene. It reveals another layer to the “simple, singable” heartache of “Switching to Whiskey.” “The song is about the pain he’s feeling,” Ezra says. “It’s not really about the whiskey.”