Whitney have released one of the most well received debut albums of 2016. What started out as a healing process for two ex Smith Western band members wallowing in their Chicago apartment to help through a troubled time, has turned into a feel good album that they’re playing all over the world.
We sat down with drummer and lead vocalist, Julien Ehrlich to chat about the debut album, Light Upon The Lake.
When you were writing the album did you think it was going to resonate with so many people across the world?
It’s funny, this question has come up a lot. It’s made me think about it a lot more and the fact that when we were making the record, to be honest, I would have been really happy to change maybe one person’s life. I feel like this is a cliché, but it’s true.
At a certain point, we were just thinking about putting it out ourselves and working some shitty jobs to fund a limited vinyl release to give it to our friends. If 200 people heard it I would’ve been happy. To know that people around the world are responding to it makes me very happy!
The album has that Americana feel to it but it also has a global appeal. Did you keep that in mind when making the album?
No, there’s obviously some kind of Americana influence because where we’re from, but we were just trapped in an apartment for way too fucking long and ended up writing this record. I guess, my answer would be we didn’t have an agenda.
When Smith Westerns broke up it would’ve been the worst idea to try to come together and be like, ‘hey man, let’s make some take-over-the-world type shit.’ We never wanted to do that. We never even wanted to have an act that was associated with Smith Westerns because it would seem like a ploy or something.
Once we started writing music we were like, ‘oh shit, yes, let’s do this’ but we still didn’t want to hit up our old publicist and be like ‘hey man, we’re back at it again.’ No, fuck that, we’re just going to play music and play a bunch of shows until people respect it as its own thing. And now people have and I’m really, really happy about it.
we’re heading to australia in january ? so unbelievably psyched for this run. more dates to be announced pic.twitter.com/XtYWWR4iEe
— Whitney (@whitneytheband) September 13, 2016
It’s well documented that you and Max wrote this album together in your apartment in Chicago. The melancholy lyrics and the upbeat music make it seem like the kind of album that’s written from the road. Would you agree with that or am I reading too much into it?
No, it’s true. I’ve been asked about writing and being on the road and I hadn’t even thought about it but I realise now that I was just legitimately fantasising about being out on tour.
From the time that me and Max were both 18 to the time we were 21 or 22 we were just completely on tour. But when we were writing the Whitney stuff we were in this weird dormant period where we were in the same place for so fucking long and it came out in the lyrics. I didn’t think I was fantasising about being out on the road.
How did you feel about the prospect of being a vocalist?
I’ve always been a singer in my own head. I’ve always tried to come up with melodies and create melodies that make people happy but this is the first time I’ve been able to showcase that. It makes me really happy. I hope it makes other people happy.
On the album, I can hear a lot of influences like, The Band and Allen Toussaint – is there any influences on the album that you drew on that might surprise people?
Yeah, Shania Twain.
No way, really?
Yeah, you know Shania Twain?
Of course! Is she a big source of inspiration?
Well, she influenced ‘No Matter Where We Go’ really hard and no one would even know that. It was just a very personal thing. I had come up with a chorus melody I really liked but pre-choruses are really fucking hard because melodically you have to do something so interesting that it leads into the chorus, and I wanted to do justice to the chorus I’d written. So I did this weird vocal run and laid it down on record and listened to it back and I was like, “Holy shit.”
It wasn’t actually a Shania Twain song but I just thought, “this is something that Shania Twain would do on this song. Oh my god, this is what she’d do.” It’s the part where it goes (Julien sings) “No matter where we go, I wanna take you out.” She definitely helped out on that song.
I’ve read in other interviews that both you and Max were going through break-ups in the making of this album. Throw in the country and soul influences on this album and you have the potential for a fucking depressing album. How did the music come out sounding so upbeat?
That’s just who we are as people. We were going through a crazy transition, the end of a band, the end of romantic relationships, my grandfather died, we lost our apartment, our families were going through weird stuff and we developed that into the lyrical content but we’re just optimistic humans.
I don’t roll around all day thinking about how shitty things can exits or wondering which friend is going to fuck me over next or something. I legitimately walk around thinking how beautiful everything is and Max feels the same way. We had the shittiest cards dealt to us but played them in the best way we possibly could, which was the musical backdrop to the sad-sack lyrics. We were trying to look up instead of looking down.
theres no hope. every relationship ive ever been in ended because im dating someone that’s too beautifully stubborn to deal with a musician
— Whitney (@whitneytheband) September 30, 2016
Now is a great time for Whitney. Will the positivity impact the content of the next album?
No. I mean we would naturally just draw on everything that’s happening. We have the first demo for the next record down. It’s beautiful actually.