It is not every day I hear a new song that reshapes the way I listen to music. Indeed, in a world so saturated by all kinds of music, it is too easy for a lot of the good stuff to fly right under my radar. Luckily, in this particular case, the opposite was true.
Enter Whitney. Their song “No Woman” and its accompanying video flew right into my lap when it was needed most. The tune is an exercise in tasteful and artful songwriting and though it is a relatively simple one, it is full of substance. Somehow they pull this off effortlessly and in the most relatable of manners which probably speaks a lot when gauging the band’s future potential. “No Woman” was inspired by a relationship drummer and vocalist Julian Ehrlich found himself out of. In other words, as its title clearly implies, this is a breakup song. It manages to assume its role as one without being overly emotional or sappy.
In the music video, the guys are simply shown walking through a wooded area carrying beer (PBR, of course), swinging hatchets at trees, and lighting smoke grenades. Pretty much the standard of what goes on when a group of boys find themselves with no women around. Just guys kicking it and slightly fucking shit up. It was this kind of relatability that drew me to the band so I decided to reach out to them and arrange a meeting for a short conversation during this year’s SXSW.
After watching their show, I had a much clearer idea of what they were going for as a band and until then having only been exposed to the single song, I was extremely pleased with all I got to hear. Even though their midday set was cut short due to some scheduling conflicts and there was a loud band playing the outside stage of the venue next door (SXSW after all!), their songs somehow managed to shine through.
However, they do it, it works. The band has been getting much praise from the public and recognized media outlets around the world for their music and they haven’t even released their debut album. But Whitney are not to be another victim of excessive hype. The songs, at their core, are damn good. “No Woman,” second single “Golden Days,” and every other song in their live set exhibit the kind of songwriting that only tends to happen when everybody is on the same page musically.
“When we did the album, each of us recorded our own instrument and it worked out really well because it was a full band thing,” says Ehrlich.
The 24 year old singer tells of the songwriting process:
“It’s very collaborative. Neither Max [Kakacek] or I have quite learned how to write a song all on our own. Instead we each contribute different parts to the music. Max has a knack for writing guitar hooks and chord progressions and I have a knack for writing vocals. I think this is the best way we could be writing our music because we kind of take the burden off each other.”
That spirit of collaboration and teamwork definitely shows in the band’s recordings with each element of their songs sitting perfectly in its own space without overshadowing any of the others. The outfit’s unique music can only be described as “Country Soul” which Ehrlich does readily. While that is a combination I would’ve never expected to be drawn to, Whitney execute it so effectively, it was really like love at first listen.
For guys who claim not to know how to write songs on their own, they seem to know exactly what a song needs and nothing more. That is what makes this band so special, their ability to not overcook a tune and allow its true essence to shine. From the lyrics to the horns to the guitar work, every single aspect of Whitney’s music comes across as being so genuine it hurts. It’s thrilling that the public has been responding so positively to the sort of openness and honesty in their music. On the subject, Ehrlich alludes to this genuineness.
“I like to think it’s due to the fact that we don’t try to hide behind too many effects,” he says.
Whitney’s sound is smooth and slick but never bland. The silky double tracked vocals add an amazing sonic quality to their music and the instrumentation sounds incredibly organic. At the risk of sounding corny, they’re real.
“Julian and Max have had plenty of experience playing in renowned touring bands such as Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Smith Westerns. Max and I were both part of Smith Westerns for about two years but it got to a point where things were winding down and we were both like ‘what the fuck are we gonna do?’”
Luckily the pair found that they could write songs well together with each complementing the other and pretty soon the band Whitney was formed.
“And then this happened,” says Ehrlich nonchalantly. When asked whether he expected to get this reaction to Whitney’s debut single, he responds “you can never know if a song will be well received. You just put it out and hope for the best. In this case, it worked and people really like it.”
It being a very laid-back conversation, that naturally leads me to ask the obvious.
“Well, we’re not really focused on that… but yeah there are definitely some women now…”
The rest of the band snickers away.
Whitney’s debut album Light Upon The Lake featuring “No Woman” and “Golden Days” is out June 3rd on Secretly Canadian.