Approaching the Culdesac with Whitman
By Sean Claes
I've got to admit, as soon as I saw the name Whitman (listentowhitman.com/), I thought the name was a nod to writer Walt Whitman. According to guitarist, Kyle Johnson, they even recorded a track early in their career as a band called "Resist Much, Obey Little." Of course, upon doing more research on the name, I learned that the band is actually named after Charles Whitman, the University of Texas student who killed 14 people and injured 32 others on August 1, 1966 when he climbed to the top of the UT Tower.
Name confusion aside. Whitman is an Austin indie rock band that has a sound compared to Spoon, and The Arcade Fire. They are also playing an INsite Night on October 9 at The Parish with The Pons, Your Kisses Cause Crashes, and Ideal Soul Mart. I had a chance to ask the band (Ram Vela, Kyle Johnson, Ryan Ermis and Eric Jenne) a few questions about how the band formed, their sound and their upcoming EP Culdesac.
Sean Claes: You've been likened to The Arcade Fire and Spoon. Let's give you the chance. How would you describe your music?
Ram Vela: Our music is energetic rock .n' roll that you can sing a long and pump your fists to. Yes, you can drink beer while doing so, but be careful not to punch the person standing next to you.
Kyle Johnson: Whitman sounds like spoons being played inside of an arcade.
Claes: How and when did the band come together?
Vela: Kyle, Ryan and I met while going to UT. We started playing music together our junior year (2004). Eric jumped into the picture after our 17th drummer didn't work out. He's from Ohio, and thankfully, not a Buckeye fan.
Claes: How do you go about writing songs? Do you have a specific place or method to writing?
Vela: An idea for a song can come up at anytime. You could be babysitting your sister's niece, driving home drunk, tossing and turning in your bed because you know you have to wake up at 7am the following morning. Ultimately, it starts with an ear-catching melody. Shortly after, music is written and ideas are thrown into a blender as a band. 8 out of 10 times, the lyrics are the last piece of the puzzle.
Johnson: Ram writes all the hits in the bathroom.
Claes: Have you always had a clear musical direction, or has the vibe changed over the years?
Johnson: We don't care much for direction; we usually just follow whatever whim comes to us. For example we have a project titled "Skinny Pants/Douche Rocket" that should probably never see the light of day.
Vela: Ever since Eric was initiated four months ago, our focus has never been clearer.
Claes: When you play live, do you have a normal set list or do you wing it?
Ermis: No man, making music is fuckin' hard. Do you ever wing an interview?
Vela (laughing): We never wing it. We're showman, we always have a specific set list for each show.
Johnson: When you come to a Whitman show we don't take your presence lightly. We give you everything we have and we expect nothing less from our audience.
Claes: You've toured the country a few times in the last 3 years. Do you have any interesting road stories to share?
Johnson: How much time do you have? Let's just say crazy shit happens every second of every day in this country and most of it goes down in the state of Kentucky.
Vela: Shit...aside from kissing a she-male in Manhattan, I'd say when we literally lost our first drummer in Boston. It was a disgusting afternoon in Beantown. Cold, wet, and soggy. We had time to kill before our show that evening so we took in a matinee. On this particular tour, our drummer had developed gout from binge drinking and eating too much Kentucky Fried Chicken. The kid was limping everywhere and was incapable of loading equipment or riding shotgun.
After we left the movie theatre, the band had planned on hitting up some record stores. Instead, he wanted to head back to the van to rest, so we gave him a key. An hour after hitting up Newbury Comics, we ventured back to the van. He was nowhere to be found. The three of us spent the remainder of the afternoon looking through Harvard square, liquor stores, coffee shops, drug stores, and adult video stores for him. It's pretty ridiculous to go up to a campus security guard and ask, "Hey Mr., have you seen a hurly-burly dude wearing a navy blue shirt and sportin' a limp roaming through here?"
Johnson: He was never seen again.
Claes: Let's talk a little about your releases. You released your first EP Anhedonia Falling in 2005. The name suggests you were in a dark place at that time. Any truth to that statement?
Johnson: Not dark, just over educated. Apparently liberal arts degrees come with an uncanny knack for social critique and a soapbox.
Claes: 2008's Torch Songs was a really strong LP and got you some much deserved media attention. How do you feel about the album, now that it's been a year since the release?
Johnson: Torch Songs could be the sound track to your typical Rocky montage. However, we have not written the soundtrack to the championship bout quite yet.
Vela: Stay tuned as Whitman goes head to head with Ivan Drago.
Claes: Tell me about your upcoming EP. What can we expect? Name?
Johnson: It's a 7" vinyl called Culdesac, recorded live in the studio.
Vela: It's high energy and sounds nothing like Animal Collective.
Claes: Speaking of Culdesac, the title track was featured in a highlight DVD from a kayaking competition. That seems random. How'd this come about?
Eric Jenne: It floats Kyle's boat.
Claes: What is the oddest thing a fan has given you or done for you at a show?
Vela: At my birthday show with Black and White Years at Stubb's, a fan presented a red sweater to me on stage. It was an identical reenactment of a scene from Three Amigos!
Johnson: But all of it pales in comparison to some of the crazy shit we've given our fans at shows.
Claes: So, You're playing an INsite Night at The Parish on October 9. Why should someone come out to the show?
Jenne: Because we're playing.
Vela: It's our last show in town for 2 months.
Johnson: You could get some of that crazy shit!
Claes: What else is coming up for Whitman?
Johnson: World Tour with Taylor Swift
Vela: Ya, that was messed up. What would Kanye's mom say?