Georgia Rockers the Whigs Uphold Hometown's Vibrant Legacy
The Whigs: Parker Gispert (vocals/guitar), Julian Dorio (drums), and Timothy Deaux (bass).
Joshua Black Wilkins/New West Records
There is one thing that rock trio the Whigs would like the general music public to know: the Athens, Ga.-based group has nothing to do with the '80s/'90s (and since-reunited) alt-rock band of a similar name, albeit with the addition of a certain well-known central/south Asian country in the moniker.
"We understand that the Afghan Whigs are well-respected, but coming up with our name was just a coincidence. And even that just came from the suggestion we call ourselves just The Wigs," says drummer Julian Dorio. "And they were [inactive] at the time. It hasn't caused problems. Although maybe the confusion is just starting!"
Dorio, along with singer/guitarist Parker Gispert and bassist Timothy Deaux, aren't likely to confuse listeners either. The trio's latest release, the vibrant, punchy, and hook-laden Modern Creation (New West), sounds nothing like the other group.
The Whigs formed when three University of Georgia students -- Dorio, Gispert, and original bassist Hank Sullivant -- got together in the musically rich town that has also nurtured R.E.M. and many others. Their first record was 2005's Give 'Em All a Big Fat Lip.
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Sullivant left in 2006 to tour with MGMT and then pursue his solo project, Kuroma. Deaux came onboard two years later. Modern Creation is their fifth record, but one they had a specific goal in mind for when they entered the studio with producer Jim Scott.
"We wanted to make this one as live as possible, and not just piecing it together to make it sound like we played in the same room together at the same time," Dorio offers.
"There's nothing wrong with [overdubs] at all, and even we have a couple in there. But we're a live band, and wanted to capture that as much as possible. At the core, we wanted to try and count off the song in the room and just nail it."
Catchy rock numbers like "Asking Strangers for Directions," "Friday Night" and "I Couldn't Lie" permeate the record. Lead-off single "Hit Me" even had a funny video (and the band performed the number on The Late Show With David Letterman). But it's Dorio's inventive drumming that actually leaps out of the speakers, an anomaly for a lot of bands. The observation surprises even him.
"My job as a drummer is to serve the song. And if it calls for playing that's more involved or complicated, yeah, that might catch more people's attention. But sometimes it just means playing a simple beat. Or not playing at all!" Dorio laughs.
He also give credit to Scott for the end result of Modern Creation, noting that his vision was both in sync with the band's, and his skill behind the board helped the overall sound and environment of the recording. And while he notes that drums serve mostly as a backing instrument in pop music, with rock they can absolutely move more to the forefront.
"All the great drummers from decades past, you wouldn't consider them being in the shadows at all because they made such an impact on the songs," Dorio says.
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Making an impact on the Whigs, both in the past and now, are the litany of groups and came out of Athens before them.
"We are fans of all those incredible artists. I mean, growing up in Atlanta, R.E.M. were gods," Dorio recalls. "But later, we also loved all those Elephant Six acts, Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, The Glands, and Of Montreal. And we take it seriously between the three of us. We want to represent Athens well."
One Athens-originated band that they've grown particularly close to is Drive-By Truckers, for whom the Whigs have opened shows as recently as last year.
"Patterson [Hood, Truckers singer/guitarist] stays really in tune with all the up-and-coming acts in Athens, and he has given them -- including us -- a stage," Dorio says. "And seeing how they perform sometimes three-hour shows and how they treat their fans, it's a lot to aspire to. And they were always welcoming, like, 'Hey, come on the bus and have a beer!'"
As for the band, Dorio hopes that they can tour on the record "for the rest of the year," though currently they're only scheduled until the end of the month and a handful of other dates in July. But don't expect a show with that other, similarly-named band. Audiences might Whig out that way.
The Whigs perform Thursday at Fitzgerald's (downstairs) with special guests Buxton. They will also play a free "intimate performance" with free adult libations at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Cactus Music, 2110 Portsmouth.
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