It's a strange time for rock and roll. In some ways, one could argue that it's never been more popular — considering that it feels like everyone is in a band (Rock Band counts, right?), hosts a DJ night, writes for a music publication/blog or owns a "recording studio."
But it can also be argued that rock is old, tired and exploited. It's hard to be as experimental and groundbreaking as, say, Sonic Youth was when the NYC art-rockers de-tuned and started jamming drumsticks between their guitar strings in the mid-'80s. It's also way more difficult to have an impact with an ironic cultural statement, like Kurt Cobain wearing a dress on Headbanger's Ball nearly 20 years ago.
The pessimistic view is that everything has already been done and that everybody sold out a long time ago. Punk went pop. Metal went soft. Everybody went country. And PR firms are promoting more indie-rock bands than anyone could possibly have the time (or inclination) to listen to.
With the Kooks, 8 p.m. Friday, October 3, at Meridian, 1503 Chartres, 713-225-1717.
But even with so much oversaturation, so many years of experimentation, reaction, parody, genres, subgenres, sellouts and so-called saviors, it's still rather simple to judge the caliber of a live rock band. Ask yourself one simple question: "Do I believe this?" And when the Whigs step on a stage, it's hard to imagine how anyone could answer with anything but a resounding "hell yes."
The Athens, Georgia, trio released its second album, Mission Control, earlier this year, and has since played everywhere from tiny clubs to an enormous outdoor stage at Lollapalooza. The band has slowly broadened its fan base through opening slots for the Toadies, the Kooks and Kings of Leon — all the while exuding headliner-caliber stage energy.
Singer/guitarist Parker Gispert flails around the stage in a goofy dance that pays homage to Neil Young, nearly knocking over his amplifier on several occasions. And even though the Whigs employ no strange time signatures or crazy effects manipulations, the band exudes an honest, soulful vibe that makes it easy to be won over by the primal, sweat-drenched spectacle.
Control flies by in just over a half hour, faithfully capturing the light-speed energy of the band's live assault. "Right Hand on My Heart" is a grungy anthem with ferocious guitars and rock-solid drums which gradually crescendo to unrelenting Dave Grohl-like pounding. The bouncy "Production City" calls to mind late-era Clash, while "Already Young" is a dead ringer for The Who's youthful angst and apathy.
The Houston Press had a chance to talk with Whigs drummer Julian Dorio just before the band headed out to support the Kooks.
Houston Press: What do you think the band has learned about each other through all the touring you've done?
Julian Dorio: Tim [bassist Deaux] decided to be a vegetarian, which I found impressive.
HP: When did you guys start playing music around Athens?
JD: Parker and I grew up in Atlanta, but I'd say we started while we were in college about five years ago. It took some time to really get a lot of shows outside of Athens. We started playing regionally, but we were in school so it made it difficult to go too far.
HP: You guys built a studio and recorded your first album, Give 'Em All a Big Fat Lip, there, right? What made you decide to take on that project on your own?
JD: I guess a lot of people try to wait for a label or someone to pick the band up before they do an album, and we hadn't found the right kind of situation for that. So it boiled down to where we thought that we had to make something. We had faith in the songs, so we ended up just doing it on our own in Athens in this big old mansion that we were lucky enough to have access to.
HP: After releasing Fat Lip, you were approached by a fairly big label, ATO. Was that intimidating?
JD: We were really excited about it, honestly. We had worked really hard and done so much on our own, and we didn't think it was too big where it was scary or anything, so we were into it.
HP: The production style changed a lot on the second album [Control, produced by Rob Schnapf], but you still managed to capture a very live-sounding record.
JD: We batted around ideas of producers that we would like to work with, and Rob was one of those because we had been fans of stuff he had done with Elliott Smith and Guided by Voices. So we sent Rob the first album, he came to a couple shows and we decided it would be a good fit. It was definitely a privilege to work with him.
HP: How was he able to help you guys capture your vision?
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JD: We didn't want to get to L.A. and make something that was a grand departure with, like, massive overdubs and string sections or whatever. And we had known from the first album that since we didn't have a proper studio or the best equipment, that we hadn't quite hit the nail on the head when it came to making a really live, energetic record — which is what the shows are like. But this time we felt like we had the tools for it, but we still wanted to make a raw rock record instead of overproducing it, so Rob was great for that and understood where we wanted to go.
HP: Overall, have things moved faster or slower than you expected them to when you started?
JD: Things have been especially great this year, and we've been having a great time. We have goals and things we think should be happening, but we try not to say, "Well, if we're not huge right now, there must be something wrong." It's just not really that kind of industry, and it usually doesn't work that way.
For us, I guess you could say that things could be a lot worse. In many ways, we've probably already outgrown most of our original intentions for starting a band. But at the same time we always have goals to keep us going — [and] we try to be realistic.