IN CONVERSATION WITH: WHITNEYMay 12, 2016
Despite the fact that they’ve released only two singles to date, Whitney has us hooked. Their whimsical, dreamy folk sound has us dreaming of languid Sunday afternoons and sun-dappled summer days. Led by Max Kakacek (formerly of Smith Westerns) and Julien Ehrlich (formerly of Unknown Mortal Orchestra), the band has been touring the US on the back of great expectations combined with word of mouth. Their sound is filled with sweet vocals, trumpet fanfares and gentle guitar riffs. Wistful and nostalgic, Whitney are creating acoustic songs that make you wanna kick back and crack open a beer to.
We caught up with Max and Julien about how the band came together, getting behind a drum kit at age two and fostering a healthy obsession for Elliot Smith.
UO: Can you tell us a little about how ‘Whitney’ came together?
After Smith Westerns ended, both Max and I kind of went into our own seperate headspaces and started working on solo stuff. It was a funny period. The solo stuff was pretty all over the place and not always good, but it was necessary to shed a lot of the pent up ideas that we had been holding onto since the end of SW. After almost a year of working on solo stuff, we just randomly woke up one morning and wrote a song together on this little tape machine Max bought.
Max and I were super close friends throughout all of the SW stuff and I think we were always open to the idea of writing songs together, but in hindsight it was very important that Whitney wasn’t forced out of us directly after the band broke up. That period of working on our solo stuff was incredibly important to the writing of Light Upon the Lake.
UO: Do you come from creative families or is your creativity something you’ve nurtured independently?
Both of our sets of parents definitely helped us out in their own way. My dad started teaching me drums when I reached the point that I could hold the sticks (two years old). Max’s parents put him in classical piano and supported all of his musical endeavors when he showed his passion for it.
Having supportive families is so incredibly important but at the end of the day there’s really only so much that they can do when it comes to nurturing your taste level. When I was in high school, Jake Portrait (bass in Unknown Mortal Orchestra) gave me a bunch of really important records that I never would’ve heard otherwise. I’ll always remember that when thinking about how my musical brain has developed. I know Max had someone in Chicago do that for him as well. We can’t wait to do that for a young musician down the line.
UO: What kind of music filled your childhood? Do you think this has influenced your sound now?
Growing up in the northwest, I naturally became obsessed with Elliot Smith. I probably went through that phase in Junior High. Then it shifted to Sam Cooke in High School. Whitney is definitely more reminiscient of Sam Cooke and the crazy amount of time I spent listening to him.
Max had a phase when he dropped guitar for a few years and solely focused on the banjo. Although there isn’t banjo on our record, a lot of the riffs and picking patterns are pulled from his days on the banjo.
UO: What is it about country music that drew your interest?
We love how honest and vulnerable a lot of older country music can be.
UO: Can you tell us a little about the inspirations and time spent on the upcoming record?
Both of us were dealing with an immense amount of change in our lives. Going through break-ups, losing our apartment of multiple years, grandparents dying, dealing with the band break-up. I know it sounds incredibly cheesy and intense, but writing the record was the only thing we were really holding on to. It took over our lives and we put a lot of our hopes into it.
UO: Do you have a creative process from initial idea to finished track or is it different every time?
This isn’t how all ten of the songs came about but the general formula is that Max comes up with a rough musical idea and I come up with a rough vocal idea, if the two ideas seem like they’re worth seeing through then we bounce it back and forth between both of our brains until it’s perfect to us.
UO: What’s the best part about being in a band and touring with your friends?
Ocassionally kissing them on stage to see people’s reaction.
UO: Are there any themes you find yourself repeatedly drawn to when songwriting?
Love is an obvious one. There are a lot of sad lyrics due to the strange transition we were going through at the time, but it was important for us to pair them with more hopeful instrumentation. We are happy people at heart.
UO: What do you enjoy about recording straight to tape?
I think we were first drawn to using tape simply because it felt more appropriate for the project to be recorded onto a physical object compared to recording it right into a computer. There is something about seeing and hearing the reels turning and pressing the buttons on these machines that are relics of the recording process–I think it just put us in headspace to make the record what we wanted. Also, using tape limits the amount of tracks you are able to record, so we were forced to focus on arrangements and make each instrument/voice as effective and efficient as possible.