text: Max Jones
Standing alone on stage in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Dave Shanaberger plays a homemade guitar composed of, among other things, chrome from the plumbing department at Home Depot. The sound emanating from the instrument is anything but hardware-esque, though, and it fills the room. Dave, the creative force behind the band Alberta, is playing songs from his latest EP, Caves, and the assembled crowd is eating it up. This much can be gathered from a visit to albertasound.com, but Dave recently agreed to an interview in order to shed further light on his music, his life, and his Home Depot guitar.
“I really wanted to build a guitar that a guy in jail with no money could make,” he says with a laugh, “and that homemade sound really resonates with the audience.” Indeed, Alberta’s album, It’s a Viral Darling, has been resonating with audiences for over a year now, thanks to that makeshift guitar, but also partially due to another unlikely combination.
“I like to think of my music as a combination of Nirvana, Al Green, and Bob Dylan,” a not-too shabby list of some of the most influential artists of the last half-century. In listening to outstanding tracks like Eugene Hallaway, you can hear exactly what he means. After all, he is a guy who grew up in the Midwest (like Dylan) in the era of grunge (“I once spent 6 years listening only to Nirvana”) with a penchant for Motown (hence Al Green). Taking all this into consideration, his self-described genre-bending style is a perfect fit.
“Growing up in the Midwest absolutely influenced my songwriting. It’s a different place,” he states, and his is a different sound. For 11 tracks on Viral Darling, Alberta alternately serenades and rocks out, and mostly by Dave himself. “I played every instrument heard on the album, except for the slide guitar. 7 of the 11 drum tracks were mine, as well.” With that in mind, it’s hard to tell where Dave ends and Alberta begins. The band name comes from his great-grandmother, so Alberta is literally in his DNA. That makes it easy for him to become emotionally invested the band, but often he has problems finding bandmates to do the same.
“I’m a big practice and rehearsal guy, but a lot of musicians can be in it just for the party. My attitude has always been, let’s practice now so we can earn the party later.” This is the basis for his multi-instrumentation, and the solo shows which are not by choice. “I hate playing solo. I’m really more of a ‘band-guy,’ but I’ve gotten way more comfortable being up there by myself.” The increased comfort level is visible in his live performances, and more importantly, on the album.
“Viral Darling was recorded in a garage with a friend’s recording equipment, so there was no pressure to ‘get the take’ like there would be in a professional studio on rented time.” While some would think the ‘comforts’ of a professional studio would help the flow from raw material to album, Alberta preferred the old-school approach of an honest-to-goodness garage band. Bourgeois comforts, be damned.
Their approach and sound are just two qualities that make Alberta an indie band in the truest sense of the word; that and the fact that all of their music is released via their website and Facebook. Except, he admits, “I’m really not good at the whole Facebook thing, but there will be two singles released on the website sometime soon.” Get ‘em while they’re hot.