This interview was originally posted in January 2008.
I first stumbled across The Whigs at a packed show in Athens’ intimate Tasty World bar about five years ago. I was in awe of the frenzied crowd supporting this young band, and my first impression was that “damn, these guys must have a lot of friends in town.” I don’t know for sure if The Whigs had any formal fraternal connections, but it certainly felt that way at the show; a crowded room of drunk, dancing fanatics all raising their beers in appreciation of The Whigs’ rollicking, energetic performance. Sure, it’s a good time now, but where will these fans be in four years once everyone’s graduated?
Turns out, The Whigs had a lot more than a local following. Their debut release, “Give ‘Em All A Big Fat Lip” made a connection with listeners and media critics across the nation. The homemade recording was enough for Rolling Stone to herald The Whigs as one of the top artists to watch, and the accolades kept coming. Before long, they were picked up by the prestigious ATO label, and now the boys are gearing up for the release of “Mission Control,” their highly anticipated sophomore record.
TA live had a chat with singer Parker Gispert about the upcoming release and the band’s big plans for 2008.
TAlive: Hey Parker! So, this looks like a huge year for The Whigs. It’s amazing I saw you back at Tasty World and now… Letterman?
Parker: Yeah, Letterman is going to be insane! It’s going to be great.
TAlive: Is that something ATO hooked up for you? How did that happen?
Parker: I’m not really sure. Our manager Josh [Rifkind] just called us up and said, “Hey, you’re playing on Letterman in three weeks on January 28th.” And we’re like, “Hell yeah!”
TAlive: Do you feel like there was a specific turning point in your career when you knew that, yes, this band is going places? A time when you realized that things were really going to happen for this band?
Parker: Not really. Everything has been gradually positive for us since the beginning. Not in any crazy quick fashion. Just sort of slowly but surely been going well for us. We always had high hopes in terms of wanting to make a lot of records, and have this be what we do with our time.
TAlive: When did you first get connected with you manager Josh? Was it by winning his battle of the bands contest Open Mic Madness or did he know you before?
Parker: No no, we met him through Open Mic Madness. And, if you win his competition, you go on this cruise ship with him; play a show on it [The Rock Boat]. So, we drove down to Florida in a car with him for eight hours which was pretty eye opening if you’ve never met Josh before. Haha! But yeah, we just got along with him very well, and I think about a year later he started managing us.
TAlive: Athens is such a transient town with students coming and going all the time. Does it still feel like the hometown crowd when you return, even though many of the people that were there when you got started have since graduated or moved out?
Parker: Yeah, it’s actually really cool like that. It’s nice to go home, and, you know, it is home. You have your bedroom…But like you said, it’s just always a different town even six months later. It seems like all the time your friends will just be gone. Have you ever spent a summer in Athens? Like for summer school or something?
TAlive: Yeah, it’s pretty dead…it’s a totally different place.
Paker: Yeah, it’s kind of like you get home and there’s different people back home, and you kind of end up hanging out with people that you might not have hung out with if everybody always stayed in town. So, it’s kind of cool to be at home but to always be meeting new people. It’s a really cool place to live.
TAlive: On the last record you went over to L.A. to record. What was it like in that very professional studio environment? Did you feel uncomfortable at first, or was it just exciting
Parker: It actually felt really comfortable going from recording the first album in a house…Before, we were doing a lot of the micing ourselves and with a friend of ours. When you can just go into a place where they’ve made thousands of records and work with a producer whose made a bunch of albums you love, you can just relax and worry about playing guitar and singing. You know it’s going to sound really good. There was never a doubt about the quality of the producer or the studio we’re in. It just allows you to have your head in the right place and just focus on having a good performance and that kind of stuff. So it was really comfortable and really relaxing, actually.
TAlive: Besides the quality of the recording, what other differences do you see between this album and your first? Has your approach to songwriting changed at all?
Parker: Yeah, hopefully we’ve learned some things from the first record. You know, you always set those personal goals for yourself. Hopefully the lyrics are a little better and hopefully the songwriting is a little more focused. There’s definitely an effort to not really change a ton of the things that were important to us on the first go ‘round. It wasn’t like we set out to make a completely different record. We knew that sonically it was going to sound different. It being two years later, there were going to be changes that we probably couldn’t even see that were going to be happening to the music, you know?
TAlive: And as of fairly recently you have become labelmates with Radiohead!
Parker: That’s true. Pretty awesome!
TAlive: What was your reaction to the way they handled their last release?
Parker: They’re one of the only bands that really has the power to do that and to really make it work. I don’t really understand why a lot of bands that are where they are wouldn’t do that. For instance, Pearl Jam on their last record. They were in the same exact scenario and they actually signed with RCA, with J Records, and I thought they were going to do what Radiohead did, and they didn’t. It was cool to see Radiohead actually do it and then even cooler to see, once they did, decide to go with the label that they went with. The ATO guys, having worked with them, I know what they are all about it. It just made sense that Radiohead would see all the great things about the label and want to work with them.
TAlive: You guys were fairly selective in going with ATO. A lot of other labels had approached you before you finally settled with them.
TAlive: So, there must have been something special that you saw in ATO as well.
Parker: They were just straightforward people which is not always the case in this business. There wasn’t a lot of talk or, for lack of a better term, bullshit. They just said, “We really like your band. We like your album. We don’t want to re-record it. We don’t want to do anything weird. We just want to make it so more people can hear it, and we want to help you in any way we can for the next record.” There wasn’t really a lot of courting or anything. They said they were interested and they showed that they were interested by offering us a deal, which was much appreciated.
TAlive: I noticed that at the Flagpole Music Awards in Athens this past year, Of Montreal won a ton of stuff and the audience’s reaction a little…bitter? Cynical? I don’t know, it definitely didn’t feel like enthusiastic support for a local success story. The Whigs are another one of the few Athens bands that has really achieved a great deal of national exposure… have you felt any sense of resentment from the other bands in Athens?
Parker: That’s a good question. We’re not really home that much, so, I don’t know if we could really get a sense of that resentment if there was that kind of thing. Flagpole thrashed our first album pretty hard… I don’t know. It seems like people have been really supportive. I think it helps that we’ve toured a lot, and we’re known for being a hard working band; not just someone who just tours a little bit and got really lucky or something like that. So, I think that helps and I think Of Montreal is kind of the same way.
There are just so many bands in Athens and there are so many great bands, so it wouldn’t surprise me if people were feeling that way about us. You can’t help but identify with that mindset because there are probably lots of bands who are equally deserving of maybe some of the accolades that we’ve been given. For me personally, I can’t really worry about anybody’s resentment or any of that kind of stuff. We’re proud of what we’re doing and we’re working hard.