Backstage At The Hangout Festival: The Whigs

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Last month, we talked to Whigs drummer Julian Dorio about the band’s name, their new album, and their friendship with Kings of Leon at the Hangout Fest in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

So what’s your impression of this festival compared to others you’ve played?

It’s cool. We got here today and it dawned on us that it should be more obvious to do a festival on the beach like this. It’s beautiful; it’s really nice. We’re from Georgia, so it’s only a state away, and we haven’t been to Alabama’s beaches before and it’s cool — they’re really nice. Yeah, I hope this catches on. I hope it’s big.

You’re about to go out on the road with The Black Keys.

Yeah, soon. We will do some Black Keys and Kings of Leon dates. But first we go out with The Hold Steady, which I’m really excited about. Obviously, a great rock band and then we do some more Black Keys and Kings of Leon dates. Some of them we’ll do just with the Black Keys and some will be all three bands. We’ve been out with the Kings of Leon before and that’s always a good time –- we’ve sort of become friends. And even though they’re this huge massive band and we play these massive venues with them, it’s fun. There’s a good camaraderie there where we watch them play, they watch us play. It’s not disconnected; it doesn’t feel like they don’t know that you’re on their tour.

With this new album, In The Dark, and the tours you’re doing, have you seen your fan base catapult to a new level? Do you feel like this is kind of a breakout album for the band in some respects?

I don’t know. I hope. I can’t really tell. We’ll see in an hour when we play. So many people they will be standing in the water.

So no groupies yet?

I don’t know. My mom might watch this. That’s hard to answer. No, we are excited about the album. We just put it out. I hope that it reaches more and more people of course. We always try to hone the craft of songwriting and get better and make music that we’re happy with, and hopefully people also like it. And we’ve been lucky to get the exposure opening for these other bands that are huge now. But I don’t know, I hope people like it.

American Songwriter Interview: The Whigs from American Songwriter on Vimeo.

How do you guys go about writing songs?

There’s a few different ways. Parker plays guitar and sings which, as you might imagine, as a songwriter, brings in songs. Something I guess that’s a little more unique on this album is that Tim, who plays bass, this is the first album he’s done with us, and he’s been with us for almost three years. But he and I on this record, sort of just to make as much music as we could, started writing a lot of songs from the drums and bass side of things. So, we would sit down and write full songs that we could give to Parker and let him react, instead of him always having to start the song, and it just yielded more to choose from.

So the album has a little bit more of that drum and base groove thing going on. And then Parker would sing on top of that and play guitar last. And it made this one a little different. It’s still a rock record like you might imagine from us. But it was fun to just have different ways to go about it. It felt natural but it took us out of our comfort zone, too.

What did you want to do differently on this album that you haven’t done on past ones?

I think we worked a lot on dynamics. We tend to be a loud rock band and our last record, Mission Control, is sort of a straight-ahead trio-driving rock record. To make things rock as much as you want them to, sometimes stepping back or kind of working some dynamics will make those parts hit a lot harder. We worked with a producer, an old friend, Ben Allen, on this album, who is a great producer, great engineer, and a great friend. He definitely encouraged that not everyone be full-throttle all the time, and come in and out to add to the track. I think it’s been a lot of fun now that we’ve taken this album to the stage and can mix it in with some older songs, and create some breathing space and some hard moments. I hope it creates some diversity in there.

The band is based in Athens now but you’re from Atlanta and Parker’s from Atlanta.

Yeah, yeah.

So did you know each other in high school?

Yeah, we went to high school together. I was a grade above Parker. I was really cool and he was like, not really cool. Yeah, that’s not true. But we didn’t start playing or hanging out that much until we went to UGA in college, and that’s when we started The Whigs thing. It took us a while writing those first few songs. Took us a year just to get a set of music long enough to play at a show. Tim went to the University of Florida, which we try not to talk about.

So an SEC band?

An SEC band. He’s a Gator fan, and it shows. It’s pretty terrible.

Yeah, I’m an Alabama fan but that’s better than Florida.

Oh yeah. We can unite as an SEC bunch of friends.

Where did the name “The Whigs” come from? The Whigs were a 19th century political party that went belly up before the Civil War.

Honestly, the last thing we had on our mind was a band name. Like I talked about, we were just writing and trying to get enough music to play a show. I actually booked our first show and was stupid enough to completely overlook this, or almost overlooked it, and the guy said, “Sure, whatever, Saturday night, April 21st, gotcha. What’s the band name?” I was like, “I have to call you back.” And of course that guy probably thought I was an idiot. I went to the guys and was like, “We don’t have a band name; that’s pretty bad.” So somebody suggested Wigs, like what you wear on your head. Parker said, “Why don’t we put an ‘h’ in there and make it a little different.” We’re not really political. Maybe we should be really political.

I looked up the Whigs on Wikipedia and apparently they stressed the power of Congress over the power of the President.

Of course, yes, that’s how we feel when we play. Yeah, it stuck. And in college, it was the end of the school year and we played a room about the size of this tent, and we thought maybe we’ll play next semester, so if it doesn’t stick, well, whatever, we’ll just think of a new name. But it stuck, so quickly, so badly, so greatly, so whatever that we never changed it.

I know the band is into sustainability, and we’ve got this oil spill going on right now. I don’t know of a music festival that’s ever happened in the face of an environmental disaster.

We caught wind of it and we were reading about it a little bit. We’d been on the road. I admit it’s difficult to keep up with the news like we should. You hope that bands that have microphones and can talk to thousands of people at once will make people aware and make them take care of Alabama and their beaches and everything.

I know that we don’t tend to be overly vocal as much as we could be on stage. But I think everyone here at least, as I’ve been walking around talking, seems to have a good positive energy about this area and this festival and what it could be if we just took care of it. It’s sort of a shame that something like that had to happen but maybe it’s timely to have a really positive festival right after it. And it just kind of reminds people about our priorities and where they should be.

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