All photos (c) Laura-Lynn Petrick
Whitney have just finished three consecutive dates in New York City. Drummer and vocalist Julien Ehrlich lets out a cough before admitting they haven’t really slept for the entirety. “We’re super tired and hungover, but it was definitely a fun time,” he laughs. Whitney have pretty much been on the road non-stop since the release of their debut record Light Upon The Lake, with extensive tours across America and Europe. “We’re driving to Vermont right now, so the scenery is pretty amazing,” he says.
Full of introspective poignancy and soulful flair, the album was rightfully received with open arms. Though a sound that’s wholly ingrained in past influences, there’s an undisputed, forward-looking aspect that gives comfort to those of us who need a little light at the end of a dark tunnel. Written over the course of a bitter Chicago winter, Ehrlich and fellow Whitney co-founder Max Kakacek were both going through pretty bad break-ups, concerning their girlfriends and previous band Smith Westerns.
“Now it can be a time capsule… Like ‘dude, this is what I did when I was in my twenties.’”
What started as a way to mess around and distract themselves from a crappy time soon turned into something that would see them living out their dreams. “I feel super lucky to be doing what I do,” Ehrlich explains. “During the writing process for the first two songs we had this goofy persona in mind. Even though we knew the songs were good solid songs, it just helped us learn how to write together in a weird way.”
In the past, Ehrlich has described the persona of Whitney as some “old-ass dude living alone” but has recently retracted the statement, saying that Whitney doesn’t really have a gender. “It put both of our creative brains in the same weird space that didn’t really even exist,” he says. “I wrote the melody for ‘Golden Days’ and then it was like ‘okay, we need to put real feelings into this’. It feels like now it can be a time capsule for this crazy transitional period in our lives that we can honestly show it to our kids and be like ‘dude, this is what I did when I was in my twenties.’”
Writing the album through such a dark period in their lives, Ehrlich says the acclaim it’s received hasn’t put pressure on their relationship. “Me and Max are exactly the same; even our process is completely intact. It’s probably strengthened it now that we’re seeing all our hard work come to fruition; experiencing something that we feel can take us clear into our thirties,” he continues. “I guess we’ve been through this whole kind of band on the rise scenario before and we’ve actually seen people not deal with it very well so we’ve kind of used those situations as an example of what not to do.”
The tour has seen the now seven-piece band become almost like a family, as Ehrlich explains how he’s become “a lot more distant” with his actual family back home. “It’s sad but it can’t be helped, y’know? At this point, each member of the band definitely knows each other inside out. We speak in code words now and make really dumb jokes that only us seven dudes understand.”
“There’ll always be an element of soul with Whitney.”
While he relishes touring life, it’s clear that Ehrlich also enjoys a bit of alone time. “It’s so refreshing if I get half a day by myself – that happens sometimes when we’re back in Chicago and I’ll just walk around the city with headphones on; go get my favourite meals,” he laughs. “Eating and sitting down in a restaurant alone is kind of the best. It’s so nice to be able to be in your own head all day. I need that sometimes.”
In September, the band were welcomed to End of the Road festival. Ehrlich explains that the band had been looking forward to that particular slot for “six or seven months,” describing founder Simon Taffe as “amazing”. With a downpour that lasted hours, the sun managed to rear its head during the chorus of ‘Golden Days’ – something which Ehrlich will never forget. “How can you explain that? It was the most perfect thing ever. It was such a beautiful moment,” he says before revealing the band – in true Whitney style – partied until the morning afterwards. “It was a crazy night,” he laughs.
With the band out on another European tour, Ehrlich and Kakacek have somehow managed to begin work on Whitney chapter two. “The first demo that we’re working on right now is the perfect balance of that soul influence that we have and the country inspirations that we have too,” he says. “There’ll always be an element of soul with Whitney.”
Undeterred about the pressures of the next album – “I only really see what’s right ahead of me” – Ehrlich says that it’s undoubtedly the fans that keep him excited. “I had a kid tell me last night that our record is helping him through a really tough time; that’s the best feeling. The topics are ones that a lot of people try to write about and I’m just really proud of the way we did write about them.”
Whitney play Thekla on Wednesday 9th November. Their album ‘Light Upon the Lake’ is out now on Secretly Canadian. Check out ‘No Woman’ below.