Times Free Press music reporter Casey Phillips interviewed Parker Gispert, frontman of Athens, Ga.-based garage rock band, The Whigs, about being one of Rolling Stone's bands to watch and why the loss of their bassist resulted in a creative boom rather than bust.
So why The Whigs? Was it that the Tories were too conservative a choice of defunct British political parties to use as a band name?
Maybe so, that sounds like a good explanation (laughs). We honestly just didn't have a band name before a show. I wish we had a better story, but we tossed around names until we found one that we liked. Someone came up with "The Whigs," and that was pretty much it.
You guys were spotlighted by Rolling Stone last year as a "band to watch." How did that make you feel? It must have set a pretty high bar in terms of expectation.
Yeah, it was definitely humbling and a good feeling to know that the writer was into the band. You know, it was cool. It was definitely a good thing.
What about the band do you think makes you worthy of that distinction?
I don't know if we're "worthy of it," per se. At the end of the day, it was someone's opinion about the band, and just as many people might think we're nothing. It hasn't changed anything about the band or made us think differently or anything like that. It was just a press piece that helped us out.
No matter what, you guys must be doing something right, though.
Hopefully so, yeah.
To move on to looking back a little bit, why did (former bassist) Hank Sullivant leave?
You would have to ask him that question.
Are you still on amicable terms?
Yeah, everything's great. I talked to him a couple times this week, and everything's great. He put out a solo album under the name Kuroma and is touring with some friends of his called MGMT. He played with their singer in a band in high school, and he's now the touring guitarist with that band.
How have you guys managed to deal with having that missing element? It seems like you've had a lot of temporary artists filling in that position. Has that been difficult?
No, I think it's actually something that's helped spur creativity and been a really positive thing, in retrospect. Hank quit, and it was obviously a hard thing at first because Hank is super talented and had always done a great job with the band. But at the same time, Craig McQuiston, a guy we used on the record, played in our favorite local band, which is this group called The Glands, who we've been friends with for years. Getting to end up playing with Craig was a big honor for us. I think we made good music together.
We had another guy, Sam Gunn, who's been touring with us, and I've always loved going to see Sam's bands. Adam Saunders, who recorded the album with us and wrote some of the lines to it has been a friend of mine since high school. It was kinda cool. We got to keep writing songs and play with different people and make the new record playing with friends and people we look up to. It kept everything fresh and fun. It was great.
Have you made any headway finding somebody to fill that position permanently? Are you even worried about it right now, since you're having so much fun playing with people you know?
We've been playing with a guy who did the last tour and who is going to continue touring with us. I'm not even thinking about it. It's just sort of stuff that happens. If Tim Deaux ends up being in the band for three years or whatever, we'll just play it by ear and see what happens.
Listening to some tracks on "Mission Control," they have a pretty striking grunge-psychedelic air about them. How strong an influence did artists from those genres have you on your music?
Definitely very strong. We grew up in the '90s, so the fact that the '90s would seep its way into our sound makes sense to me. I don't know, it's just a direct correlation to what you grow up listening to. There's lots of psychedelic pop in Athens that we're big fans of. Yeah, those are definitely two influences that get a lot of airtime in the car and that we listen to a lot.
Any artists in particular you can point to?
The Olivia Tremor Control from Athens, we're big fans of them. We're big fans of Elf Power (also from Athens). We're big fans of the Glands, too. As far as '90s stuff goes, we're big Pavement fans and that kind of stuff.
One group you guys have been compared to in the past and even called "the next ____" is R.E.M. Is that something you agree with? I mean your voice isn't exactly Michael Stipe reborn.
Yeah, I think he's a little bit better than me (laughs).
I didn't mean that, I just mean you're two different animals.
(continues laughing) Yeah, people will write that every now and then, and I've heard that a couple of times. But you know, we've put out one record and are about to put out our second. R.E.M. has put out 10 classic records and are one of the most influential bands in the world. I don't really think we're deserving of a comparison like that when we're a band that's only made two records. I guess we're from the same city, but
That's funny you should mention that because it seems like every band I talk to from Athens has been, at one point, been referred to as "the next so and so." Is that flattering or just irritating to be defined as being similar to an older band or would you rather be known as who you are instead of who you sound like?
No, it's definitely flattering. There's a reason we moved to Athens to begin with. All those bands from R.E.M. to Pylon to the B-52s to the Olivia Tremor Controls and Elf Powers are bands that, to me, are super-important bands I've always looked up to. I definitely would never be irritated by those comparisons. If anything, I would just feel undeserving of the comparisons, but it's definitely flattering.
Well, you guys definitely seem to be on your way up, certainly. You must be psyched about getting "Mission Control" out.
Yeah, it's definitely exciting.
And people have been responding well to it?
Yeah, everything's been positive, and it's been cool. We've toured a lot, and hopefully, we'll be touring just as much this year. It's an exciting time for the band, for sure.
When it comes to "Mission Control," did you guys have a specific goal in mind for it? Were you trying to take the lessons you learned from "Give 'Em All a Big Fat Lip" and apply them to this one?
Absolutely. There were things about the first record I wanted to improve on. The first one was a little slower than the songs were performed live, and we did some more overdubs on the first record, so when we started "Mission Control" there was definitely an effort to be more representative of what we do live.
It seems like a lot of bands deal with that where their live performances differ, sometimes dramatically, from their studio efforts. Sometimes it can be so different. It sounds like you're trying to really bridge the gap.
It just seemed appropriate for this record. First and foremost, we're a touring band - that's what we spend most of our time doing. You're recording a record for two months every year and a half, and the other nine months out of the year, you're out on the road playing songs at shows. That's really, at least internally within the band, where the songs were created - we're playing live in a practice room and then playing them live on stage for months at a time.
At this point in the band, it didn't seem like it made sense to go in and do something completely different. It was just about putting the emphasis on making the album be a reflection of what the band does live.
What do you think characterizes your live performances that you would like to see carry over on to your studio work?
We're loud live, and I think the album is loud,
I'm glad you said that because listening to "Mission Control," you guys do have a very powerful presence, especially considering you're just a three-piece. Is that a product of a lot of time pumping up the volume in the studio or did it just come naturally this time?
I think the volume is loud just because of the way the parts were written for the band. There isn't a lot of covering up what's already there. You have three people hopefully doing three different things - or with vocals, four things going on. Everybody has their part in a three-piece. It's not like a five-piece band where two guitar players are playing the same thing. Everybody has to hold their end up - the bass has to be playing the melody, the guitar is doing its thing. That results in a "bigness" because there are different things going on and different spaces being filled up by different instruments. I'd say that's the formula for that.
What's next for you guys? I would assume you'll tour in support of "Mission Control" when it comes out next month, but are you already thinking about the project or is the road the only thing on your mind right now?
The road is first and foremost, but you definitely can't help thinking about the next record. It's hard to shut that kind of thing on and off. We were writing right until the end of the record. Since we've been done with the record, I haven't really completed that much stuff. We're definitely just trying to figure out what the third record will be about and what kind of things you want to do with it. We're still kind of in that mode of listening to the record we just completed and figuring out what you'd like to do differently or what goals you'd like to set for yourself.
E-mail Casey Phillips at email@example.com