It would be understatement to say that the past two years have been a whirlwind for The Whigs. Since 2008, the Athens, Ga.-based trio has released two albums, headlined tours, captured prominent opening slots on arena tours and appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. But while the band has already tasted success, drummer Julian Dorio says he and band mates Parker Gispert and Tim Deaux remain driven and focused on the future.
“It’s been really exciting and I think we’ve done a lot of the things we dreamt of doing, but at the same [time] we don’t really feel that way,” Dorio says, speaking by phone from Raleigh, N.C. “We’re very grateful, but we feel like we’re still grinding it out and we’re still driving around in the van. It’s a lot of work, but we remain pretty ambitious and we hope we don’t try to relish too much in the great things that have come our way. Once they happen, we’re ready for what’s next.”
On Monday, September 20, The Whigs will perform at the Verizon Wireless Music Center. The band is holding the coveted first slot of a triple-bill tour featuring Kings of Leon and The Black Keys. Coming off a successful headlining tour, The Whigs will be on the current tour for the month of September. I ask Dorio about the mental shift of playing a short set each night having recently headlined shows.
“It’s a different approach,” he says. “We all understand that it’s a great opportunity and a privilege to play in that slot. We could complain about the fact that it’s a shorter set or we can build a strong set and go out there and convert as many people as possible and take advantage of the exposure. There is hopefully a skill in being an opener and getting the crowd up on their feet and ready for the bands that are coming up next. We try to remember that’s it a full night of music – it’s not just us.”
Whether slotted at the beginning or the end of their recent shows, The Whigs are on the road in support of the 2010 release, In The Dark [ATO Records]. Dorio says the disc offers more diversity than either of the band’s two previous releases.
“We had been touring for a long time. We got home—Tim had been with us for a couple of years at that point—and it was the first album we started to make together. In touring together and seeing other bands, a lot of the stuff we saw that was so inspiring created a direction and a unified feel that we all had in working on this. When we chose to work with [producer] Ben Allen [Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective], we were hoping he would push us as a rock band. We wanted to make a rock record that would have ups and downs. [Previous release] Mission Control felt full-throttle all the time, but these songs give us variety and contrast,” Dorio says.
Forging a musical career in the era of iTunes, Youtube and satellite radio, Dorio admits that technology’s role presents equal doses of challenges and opportunities.
“A band goes out and sells merchandise not only to make a few bucks, but to gauge how things are going,” he offers. “Obviously, if it goes well, then you feel like you’ve played well and you sold some stuff. But we always have to remember that we’re concertgoers just like anybody else and I usually don’t walk up to the merchandise table and buy stuff. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the show and that I won’t get it at a CD store later. A lot of people don’t want a physical thing in their hand—I do—but people have iPods and want to download it. It’s not a really bad [thing]—it’s just a different thing. Everyone’s learning to adapt to that world where the Internet is reigning and people can get on there and check out your show on Youtube. It’s easy to forget that anything you do on stage can be videotaped and put on Youtube. You better be on top of your game and ready to play because it’s not just gone the moment that show’s over.”
But while music lovers can spend endless hours downloading music and viewing Youtube clips, home technology will never take the place of live concerts and that’s perfectly fine with Dorio.
“That’s the one thing bands have going for them,” he says. “People have had vinyl and CDs and now it’s digital. But the one thing that hasn’t been—even with web casts and DVDs—there’s nothing like sitting in a room with a band playing loud rock & roll music. I think it’s the one thing we pride ourselves in—we’re a rock band that tours all the time. We always thank people for coming out because that’s the one thing that can’t be replaced.”
So the band will keep doing what it does best—performing—while living the dichotomy of an emerging band. Comprised of both national television appearances and long van rides to play opening slots, gaining exposure remains the key objective. In summing up his band and the music industry in general, Dorio possesses a mature outlook that belies an artist still climbing through the ranks.
“It’s not the fairest industry there is,” he says. “It’s not like everybody that’s popular is really amazing. There are definitely connections and politics and ways of breaking a band that work out for some people. Some of the bands we all know and love—and I’m sure some of the bands you’ve covered—don’t quite get the attention you feel they should. But that should be no excuse—you should have to work hard. We treat this like it’s any other job. If you take that bluecollar approach to it and stick with it, hopefully people will start to recognize it.”
Brent Thompson writes about popular music for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.