By Susanna De Martino
At first glance, the buzz surrounding “No Matter Where We Go,” the first single from Chicago-based band Whitney, doesn’t make much sense. It’s one song from a recently formed band; they have no other music online; information about them is scarce. Then names of band members appear, and it starts to come together. Whitney’s backbone is Julian Ehrlich and Max Kakacek, each of whom did time in Smith Westerns or Unknown Mortal Orchestra (Ehrlich was part of both). They’re joined by Ziyad Asrar, Malcolm Brown, Will Miller, and Josiah Marshall, most of whom played in another Julian Ehrlich band, Touching Voids. Within this context, the sound of the single comes together: the sleekness of musicians with previous experience playing together and the jangly, rambunctious pop influence of Smith Westerns. "No Matter Where We Go” hints at the past, but is also a strong recommendation for what’s to come. Rare Candy spoke with Whitney frontman and drummer Julien Ehrlich to talk about the origins of the group, as well as an upcoming album likely to be released next March.
Rare Candy: How did Whitney come together?
Julian Ehrlich: Both Max and I were a part of Smith Westerns. After that band broke up, I went and wrote an album with Ziyad, and Max was doing some solo stuff too, but the two things weren't really clicking. But then Max got this tape machine and there were two straight mornings that we woke up and just sat down and wrote a song, and both of those songs are going to be on the record that we’re doing. I guess it started that way.
RC: Is this the first time you and Max are writing together, or did you do that in Smith Westerns too?
Ehrlich: I wasn't really a part of a writing process in [Smith Westerns] at all. [Whitney] was the first time Max and I really wrote songs together, but it seemed like we were always going to at one point, we were just waiting for the right time.
RC: Is it your first time songwriting?
Ehrlich: I’ve always dabbled, but it’s my first time lead singing.
RC: On your Facebook page your hometown is listed as “Portland and Chicago.” How does that work?
Ehrlich: I grew up in Portland, and one of the other members of the band is from Portland too. We’re thinking about moving back there, but we’re based in Chicago for now. Chicago right now seems like the best place to launch [Whitney], but then I can see album two being made in Portland.
RC: What is it about Chicago that makes it appealing for the first album?
Ehrlich: There are better people here. It seems like people are more open—people want a new band here. I can see us being more secluded in Portland.
RC: Are you working on a second album already? Or is that far in the future?
Ehrlich: [A second album] is totally just our prospects. As far as the first record goes, we have the whole thing written, and I think we’re going to go out to LA and record with someone that we’re psyched to do it with.
RC: I read you have an EP coming out in September.
Ehrlich: That plan has changed, actually. We banged out the last few songs and decided that we want to dive straight into a full length and not waste time with an EP, cause we’re happy with what we have written. I would expect it around March of next year.
RC: You’ve been writing most of this in Chicago. Do you think the city informs the music that you’re writing, or is it just a place where you’re playing?
Ehrlich: I do think it shapes the sound a little bit. It might have shaped the process. This is a place where you kind of have to grind a little bit. Maybe this album is ground out—in a good way.
RC: Are there any particular influences—anything else—you could point to for this album?
Ehrlich: Max and I were listening to this dude named Jim Ford—I think Light in the Attic just put out one or both of his records. That was someone we started looking to halfway through writing the record—it was like, “Oh, shit, I think what we’re writing sounds like this.” That encouraged us to explore it a little more. He’s a fucking amazing songwriter.
RC: You played drums in Smith Westerns, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Touching Voidz—which of those three bands is your Whitney drumming closest to? Or is it its own thing?
Ehrlich: There’s some soul in it, it could be slightly similar to Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
RC: A lot of the writing I’ve seen about the “No Matter Where We Go” describes it as a “summer jam.” I’m wondering what you think of that classification.
Ehrlich: There’s probably like one or two other very summery songs that we’ve written that’ll be on the album, but the next song we’re releasing is very not summery. It’s definitely influenced by the ass of Chicago winter, just like the darkest hole of Chicago winter.
RC: Is there a timeline for a release of the next single?
Ehrlich: We want to release in the next couple weeks, cause we’re currently in love with it. Then there’s one more song we want to release [before the album], a demo of another song we’re in love with.
RC: If you weren’t doing music right now, what do you think you’d be doing?
Ehrlich: I was just having this conversation last night—I think actually nothing. I think I would just be like sleeping in a dark hole or something. That’s kind of the “grind it out” aspect.
RC: What’s the worst show you’ve ever played?
Ehrlich: The third Whitney show. We played at 1pm at a food truck festival, and I was so incredibly hungover, and there were some little children with their moms—it was that kind of vibe, little kids running around, and I accidentally said the f word super loud. I’ve been getting used to being a frontman, and everyone in the band just looked at me like “What the—what are you doing??” and I just like checked it off the list, like okay, this is the worst I’ve ever felt on stage. I’ve never been the dude that was expected to talk to the crowd before.
RC: What’s the best show you’ve ever played?
Ehrlich: [Whitney] opened for Tobias Jesso Jr, and he’s the shit. But overall the best show I’ve ever played was with Unknown Mortal Orchestra, at this music festival in Australia. It was straight up 10,000 people, the biggest crowd I’ve ever played. That was an amazing night.
RC: How does it feel going from huge crowds back to small stuff—house shows, DIY venues?
Ehrlich: I’ve never even done that, so it’s new territory and very fun. It’s easier to talk to people afterwards, even just not having a stage says a lot about it.
RC: What’s in the future for Whitney?
Ehrlich: We have a weeklong tour coming up, and we’re recording in the near future.
RC: Whitney is just starting out, and you’ve been in a bunch of bands previously—do you think you’re starting this with some kind of new or different mentality?
Ehrlich: We just want to work. You realize that there’s no reason to take it for granted—when people start to pick up on and enjoy what you’re doing, you just have to put your head down and work.