Formed in 2002 by grads of Atlanta’s Westminster Schools-turned-UGA buddies Parker Gispert (vocals, guitars) and Julian Dorio (drums), The Whigs recorded their breakthrough album—2005’s Give ‘Em All A Big Fat Lip—in an empty frat house, using equipment they bought off eBay, and then released it independently. But when a 2006 Rolling Stone article named the band one of 10 Artists To Watch, calling them “maybe the best unsigned band in America,” the band’s profile exploded overnight.
Six years later, the trio (including Tim Deaux, who replaced original bassist Hank Sullivant in 2006) still isn’t what you’d call a household name. Perhaps that’s because, rather than cater to the fickle whims of the record-buying public, The Whigs have been content to crank out solid records and tour the country, taking the journeyman’s route to rock ’n’ roll salvation.
The band’s latest album, Enjoy The Company, finds them on a new label, New West Records, and working with a new producer, John Agnello of Drive-By Truckers/The Hold Steady/Dinosaur Jr. fame. We recently caught up with Gispert to talk about where the Whigs fit into today’s music scene, why he opened the album with an eight-minute epic and how, sometimes, simply enduring is enough.
Last time you and I spoke, in 2010, you were on ATO Records. Why did you make the transition to New West?
New West had seen the band play from its inception, before we even signed with ATO. [New West founder] George Fontaine had seen lots of our shows, and they opened an office in Athens, and we’re from Athens. We have a relationship that has developed over the years, and it seemed like a comfortable way to release the
In The Dark seemed like your most accessible record, with Ben Allen’s production giving it an accessible sheen. Was it your intention to get away from that on Enjoy The Company?
It’s weird, because when we were making the last record I thought that it was going to be a little more sonically challenging. I guess not everybody heard it that way. This one is more organic technically, with less production, so it will probably hit most people’s ears as somewhat contrary to the last album.
Talk to me about working with John Agnello, who’s known for his raw, organic sound.
We’ve played with bands going back to 2003 that had worked with John. The Drive-By Truckers and Dead Confederate have worked with him, and The Hold Steady, who we toured with. The Kurt Vile album he did in 2011 was one of my favorite records of the year, and we’re big Dinosaur Jr. fans. So it just seemed like it
What’s he like to work with in the studio?
He’s really positive and he works really hard, and quickly. We wanted to record to tape, and John has been in the business for a while and is comfortable with cutting a piece of tape and working with it. As far as an idea-bouncer, he feels like more of a mutual collaborator. He’ll throw out ideas and we’re good sports, so we’ll try them. Usually everybody is either unanimously into it or not.
Enjoy The Company has been being described as your raucous ode to rock ’n’ roll. How would you describe it?
I feel like it’s a well-rounded rock album. My favorite rock albums all have moments of not-rock, with varied dynamics and different kinds of songs. It’s not all 100 mph, blowing-your-face-off rock. Hopefully it has valleys and contrast that make the rock parts rock really hard.
Are you more influenced by the rock of today, or classic rock?
I’d say we’re influenced by things that age well, and by default that could be some older things. It’s important to us that we try to make something that’s going to sound good once the prevailing trends of today are long gone. That being said, I go to shows four to five times a week when I’m off the road, and I go to the record store a lot. I feel very up-to-date with new music, but I don’t know how we fit in.
Talk to me about the strategy of putting an eight-minute epic like “Staying Alive” at the beginning of the album.
Initially, we were thinking it would be the last song. But when it came time to sequence the album, I felt really strongly about the song and wanted to make sure that people heard it. I also felt like it was peppy and a good vibe to start with. Maybe it’s kind of a line in the sand: “Do you want to be in for the whole album or not?” It’s one of The Whigs’ songs I’m most proud of.
It sounds to me as if there’s no fame-and-fortune end game, no need for you to be a huge “rock star.” What motivates you in your career?
I think about that sometimes. Playing music is all I’ve ever done. I started playing guitar in eighth grade, and I knew Julian all through school. We went to junior high, high school and college together. The Whigs is the only band I’ve ever been in, and it’s the same with Julian. By the time we graduated college, music was a full-time gig. I guess I’m unfamiliar with the alternative. I’ve never really thought about stopping all of my natural inclinations and getting into investment banking. There hasn’t come a point where I’ve been unhappy. I feel lucky to do it and support myself.
When you look back on what you’ve done with The Whigs thus far, what are you most proud of?
I’m really proud that we like each other, and that we have endured. Most of the bands we started playing with are not bands anymore. I guess it’s just about keeping it going, not killing each other and genuinely enjoying it. If I wasn’t enjoying what we do daily, that would not be cool.