Losing a band member can't ever be an especially pleasant experience, but the sudden death of one of your musical comrades, someone you've been playing with since high school, is almost unfathomable. But that's what happened to Katy alt-rockers Jody Seabody & the Whirls last fall, when bassist Matt Johnston passed away in November at only age 23.
Johnston left a wife and two young children behind, and also Summer Us, the album of '90s-leaning guitar rock (Oasis, RHCP, Nirvana) the Whirls had recently finished recording. After some consideration they decided to go ahead and put it out, and recruited another old friend, Dylan Thompson, to play bass. Saturday night, the Whirls play a release show at Fitzgerald's (downstairs) with Art Institute, Kyle Hubbard and Jon Black; it's free, but donations go to Johnston's family.
Rocks Off talked with the Whirls, mostly guitarist/singer Bryce Perkins, via email earlier this week.
RO: Without giving too much away, what exactly happened to Matt?
Bryce Perkins: He was born with a heart condition, I don't remember what it's called, and it turned out to be more serious than anyone thought. It finally just caught up with him.
RO: Had he been sick, or was this out of the blue?
BP: Well, he had that condition, but it was still out of the blue considering he was so young.
RO: In terms of personalities and musical interests, where did Matt fit into the Whirls?
BP: Matt was the backbone musically, in my opinion. Everytime we got together to jam, or anytime we needed to jam at a show, we would just tell him to start up a bass line and the rest of us would follow.
Personality-wise, he was always more quiet and shy with crowds, so onstage he would act as the backbone in that respect as well because the three of us would all be going nuts and he would just be standing in place, nodding his head, playing his bass. It was an extremely comforting thing.
As far as his musical influence, he supplied the soul. He was into everything bass. He is still the only person that I know that would only listen to music for the bass, and because of that, he was into things like The Brothers Johnson, James Brown, anything Bootsy Collins did, etc., so he was full of ideas on how to appraoch his instrument that he was constantly working into our music.
RO: The rest of the band must have been devastated. How long did his death take to sink in? Or has it yet?
BP: I don't think it ever fully sinks in. We all deal with it our own way. In general though, we don't like to dwell on it. We pay our respects while moving forward.
We don't have any regrets with Matt, so it's not like some pity party or anything. Sometimes when people grieve they wallow, and we're just not about that. We love him and remember him and now our goal is to make awesome music because that would make him happy, and it makes us happy.
RO: How seriously did the surviving members consider calling it a day?
BP: We came close, for sure.
RO: What made you decide to keep going?
BP: There were multiple factors, but the main one was the cliche. Cliches are cliches for a reason, and no one is immune to them. I could spell it out for everyone, but that's no fun.
RO: Was the fact that you had already recorded Summer Us a factor at all?
BP: It was for me, yeah. I was listening to it for the first time after the fact, and I suddenly realized, "Oh shit, we haven't even released this yet, and it's not bad." We all put a lot of work into it and I think Matt would pimp-slap us from Heaven if we didn't finish the job.
RO: Has your opinion of the album changed since Matt passed away?
BP: No, not really. Although that is an interesting question.
RO: How long did Summer Us take to record?
Bryce: In real time, it amounted to about three weeks or so, but because of our budget it took us over a year to actually complete and mix and master and all that.
RO: What is going on with "Stereo Ghost" -- Summer Us is mostly an album of poppy alt-rock songs, and the last one is this prog epic that goes on several minutes. What happened?
Clint Rater, drums/vocals: It kind of just came out like that. The album reminds me of an evening that goes into a nighttime that becomes an early morning realization. An epic song is a great ending to an album. Just as an early dawn is a great ending to an interesting night.
Dave Merriett, guitar: The song is more of a celebration of jamming -- very minimal songwriting involved; just listening and feeding off each other. It's not Jody Seabody playing a song its Jody Seabody playing music. When the song comes on it's like the credits rolling to the end of a great movie.
RO: Has the band given much thought to your future after Saturday's show?
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BP: We have some badass new material -- enough for another album, and we have been in talks with another local band about doing a split vinyl in the meantime. I can't divulge who the other band is though, because we're only in the beginning stages of talks and nothing has been confirmed.
8 p.m. Saturday at Fitzgerald's (downstairs), 2706 White Oak, www.fitzlivemusic.com.