The group began as an acoustic duo composed of Meyers and vocalist Hannah Prater in San Francisco in 2004. "Hannah and I (had) been practicing; we'd never played in front of anybody," Meyers said. "We went and played this open mic, basically because her neighbors heard us playing in the backyard and made us."
As Prater's neighbors rightly guessed, the audience at the open mic was impressed. "Everybody said, 'You're great; you need to go record something,'" said Meyers. From there, the change from acoustic duo to fleshed-out band was quick, as word spread among enthusiasts.
"We went into the studio that September and recorded, and basically got this bassist (Daniel Schacht, who also plays with Jolie Holland), who was a friend of a friend, to come in and just play on the record, and he decided that he wanted to join the band," said Meyers. Then, when it came time for the CD-release party, the drummer they'd been working with--Tim Mooney of American Music Club--had prior obligations. Meyers asked Schacht if he knew any available drummers, and Schacht sent the band's rough mixes to Steve Bowman, who left Counting Crows in 1994.
"Steve totally loved them, and so he came in just to play the release party--he wasn't really joining the band. But it just all clicked really, really well, and then suddenly, Steve actually kept playing with us," said Meyers. Bowman then brought in friend Jerry Becker, and The Bittersweets became a country-rock band with the melodic hooks and emotional maturity of bands you're more likely to see playing sold-out theater shows.
So what is it about The Bittersweets' music that draws people in so readily?
"I think a lot of it's Hannah's voice," said Meyers. "She could be singing something that was terrible, and I think it would still stop people; she can make it sound really good."
Prater's voice is extraordinary; her background as a jazz vocalist shines through on "When the World Ends" and "Bag of Bones," on the band's first album The Life You Always Wanted (Virt, 2006), but then she releases her inner Sheryl Crow on "Rapture." The country-inspired instrumentations and the kind of lyrics that tell it like it is while staying poetic ("You can't find love in a Cadillac / but it's better than living with a hole in your back, I guess") are also a big part of the allure of The Bittersweets.
Meyers is incredibly humble when it comes to talking about how he writes songs: "I really just kind of write, and the songs come out," Meyers said. "I don't really think much. I'm probably the laziest songwriter in the world. I rarely edit. As soon as the song comes out, I'm like, 'OK, it's done,' and I leave it." It's almost as if, Meyers said, they come from "a place I'm not even in touch with." Because they aren't too cerebral, they're able to express the kind of sentiments country music has always expressed, which is no coincidence.
"I got exposed to really good country music in college," he explained. "Actually, in part of my studies, (I) ended up doing a lot of academic work looking at the commercialization of country music, and I discovered this wonderful music from way back, from when country was getting started and getting released to the public. And after that, I started getting into all of these more modern artists who were taking a little bit of that and a little bit of rock and whatever--call it alt-country or 'insurgent country,' or people put all sorts of labels on it--like Lucinda Williams and what Emmylou Harris started doing after Wrecking Ball, and I fell in love with it."
All of Meyers' knowledge and love of country music shines through on The Life You Always Wanted; these are the kind of songs that sound great with a full band, but can work just as well stripped down to just acoustic guitar and vocals, which allows Meyers and Prater to tour without the other members. (The show at Plush will be an acoustic duo.)
"It's one of these patterns we've gotten into where we have basically two shows that sound nothing alike, but I think both really work in their own right," said Meyers. "Some people swear by going to our acoustic shows, and some people love the full band shows." Acoustic or electric, The Bittersweets' solid songwriting creates instant fans.