By Max Stewart
The Whigs have always stood out to me because they not only have the grit and authenticity of a rock ‘n’ roll band, but they manage to write superb songs without the pretense that comes with some of the ‘garage rock bands’ of their era. The band’s triumphant sound is remarkably produced by just three members (Singer / Guitarist Parker Gispert, Drummer Julian Dorio, and Bassist Timothy Deaux), who are able to push their songs into powerful new territories in a live atmosphere. Being from Georgia, I always appreciate seeing a band come out of my home state that has substance. It has been said before and will be said again, but there really must be something in the water down in Athens, GA. I mean where else has a little college town produced a wide range of top-quality musicians that include R.E.M., Widespread Panic, the B-52’s, Drive By-Truckers, Pylon, Neutral Milk Hotel, Futurebirds, The Whigs and many others?
The Whigs really took off on the wings of their 2008 album, Mission Control, which is when I was hooked as a fan. Cover to cover, Mission Control is about as solid a release as a band could hope for: songs like “Right Hand On My Heart,” “Like A Vibration,” “Production City,” “Already Young,” and “Mission Control” could individually anchor an entire album for most other bands.
Needless to say, I sprung at the opportunity to see them back in January in good ole Athens, GA, where they played a show at the 40 Watt to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of Mission Control’s release. The energy in the room was monstrous as the band leveled the audience during a sequential performance of the album, with some additional songs and surprise sit-ins throughout the night as well. The crowd included fans who travelled near and far to see the band as well as a handful of musicians (Mike Mills from R.E.M., T. Hardy Morris, Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson of Band of Skulls). Despite the fact that The Whigs had not played together in a while, the concert proved that the band has not lost a bit of their edge and in fact they looked to have a renewed spirit as they dusted off some old tunes.
The Whigs will be playing two additional shows to celebrate Mission Control’s 10th Anniversary this year: May 3rd at Terminal West in Atlanta and May 5th at The Basement East in Nashville. Additionally, Parker Gispert will also be releasing a solo record this year and will be touring to support the record starting in April, including on April 24th for the “Through the Canvas” single release show at The Foundry in Athens, GA.
I was able to catch up with Gispert after their show in Athens, where he reflected on Mission Control and the anniversary show, spoke about why the band is alright with taking it easy, and his upcoming solo release.
MS: I gotta say, as a longtime fan of The Whigs, the Mission Control 10th Anniversary show at the 40 Watt was really something special. There was a great energy in that historic room, and I really felt the whole communal Athens vibe as I saw folks like [R.E.M.’s] Mike Mills and T. Hardy Morris enjoying it too.
PG: I didn’t know Mike Mills was there, you saw him there?
Yeah, he was standing by the side stage and looked to be digging it.
Very cool. I love that.
How important was it for you to perform at the 40 Watt and celebrate such an important album to the band? Any major takeaways from the show as a whole?
Yeah, a lot of stuff. It was very special. If not the most special show, it was one of them for me because of where I am at right now. We played one show last year and it was an opening slot for The Hold Steady for an annual thing they do in Brooklyn. And this was our first headlining show in a long time. The three of us hadn’t really played together in like 15 months other than that Hold Steady gig. And everybody has been doing their own stuff and I have been getting my solo career going.
It is almost like there is less pressure on the band, and it was just a really fun night reliving these songs. The album itself was kind of a weird record for us. Hank Sullivant, who started the band with us, had left the band and we were in a weird position where we didn’t have a record label or booking agent and people knew who we were but we didn’t really have a group.
And I had to really take a good look in the mirror and buckle down and not blow it, ya know? I had to make sure that I wrote a record that I was proud of and I think I did that. We added a bass player, Tim [Deaux], who has been with us at this point for 10 years.
I had never been outside of North America so you know the record took us to Europe, Japan, late night TV shows (check them out on the Late Show with David Letterman performing “Right Hand On My Heart”) and stuff that I had always dreamed of doing kind of came out of this one record and this one collection of songs. So, it was just sort of a cool moment to be up there playing that material and reflect on all of those experiences the songs gave me and still give me.
Yeah, it seems like Mission Control certainly catapulted the band’s success, with the TV appearances, heavy touring, and a lot press. It is unbelievable the amount of great songs that exist on that record.
I am always interested to hear about the process and contributing factors that lead to a ‘big bang’ of solid songwriting material for a musician. You mentioned the changes in lineup and label leading up to the record, I would assume you must have been pretty inspired during that time period?
I was. It really was born out a few specific things. We had made our first album (Give ‘Em All A Big Fat Lip) and we had signed this disastrous development deal with RCA that went south and made our first record ourselves. And when we released it ourselves, nobody was really interested in us from a label perspective and we were still booking our own shows. And I had dropped out of school with [original bassist] Hank [Sullivant] but we had gone back to school and were finishing up, and I remember we had our CD release show at the 40 Watt for the first album.
And I was just sitting in class thinking that I really wanted a couple of new songs that were better than anything that was on the first album, ya know? I wrote “Right Hand On My Heart” and “Like a Vibration” in the same afternoon after school and recorded the demos. And I had that “Right Hand On My Heart” drum beat, thinking it was more of a Beck-type song, like a beat-driven song but when I played with Julian [Dorio] it just really came to life. So those songs we worked up before the CD release for Fat Lip, and the first time we played the songs it was obvious that the crowd was going crazy during “Right Hand On My Heart.” And we have played it every single show since then. That’s the story on those two songs.
We had a couple other songs that we tried with Hank: “Mission Control” and “1,000 Wives.” “Need You, Need You” was one of our first songs ever. And when Hank left, there was this sort of internal thing for myself that I just really wanted to prove that I could carry the load and that I wasn’t gonna let the band fall apart. Julian had put a lot into it and I had put a lot into it. We were genuinely happy for Hank, but at the same time I didn’t want to let it collapse. I put a lot on myself to see it though and I think that was a big inspiration point for the rest of the record.
It is interesting that the best artistic product often comes from a struggle. Rarely do the best records get made by someone whistling on a beach, taking it easy. You have to be inspired and sometimes be pushed by a difficult situation.
Totally, totally. Yeah, historically I am definitely aware of those kind of scenarios producing some of the best stuff. When you are dealt some unfortunate scenario, you can recalibrate and remember that it is something that can be used to your advantage, hopefully.
Had you guys ever played the album sequentially live before the 40 Watt show?
We hadn’t. We did it for Fat Lip’s album anniversary show and when Modern Creation was released, but other than that we had never played Mission Control in its entirety. And to be honest, it was funny… when we got together to rehearse, a lot of the songs we never even played off of the album. “I Never Want To Go Home” we never really played. “1,000 Wives” we never really played. We might have tried them out a couple of times, then for whatever reason you don’t put them in the set every night. “I Never Want To Go Home” was just hard for me (laughs).
Well I know fans appreciated seeing songs like that which don’t get played in a routine set. Y’all also had original bassist Hank Sullivant sit in on “Technology.” How did that come together?
Hank was definitely the night before, I went to Taco Stand [in Athens] the night before and Hank came and met us for a beer at the Globe. And at the very end of the night, like 1:00 in the morning or something, we were just sitting there and I said, ‘Dude, you should maybe..?’ Cause I had asked him maybe a few weeks before if he wanted to do anything, and he was very appreciative but said honestly he would just rather hang out and watch. Which I totally understand. But then, the night before he was like, ‘Maybe I should get up there!’
And it is just a dream of mine to one day not have to play the guitar, and just be able to sing. So we did “Technology” with him which was a riff that he wrote anyways, so it was fitting and it liberated me to just kind of jump around and have some fun with the audience.
You could tell the crowd was feeding off the energy of the band as it was clear you guys were having a great time.
I was having so much fun, we all were. After the show, Tim texted us when we all got home and it was obvious that we all just genuinely had a lot of fun. And with everything the last few years just being up in the air and everyone doing different stuff, we just don’t see each other like we did before. I mean, you see someone every day for 15 years just about, and when you are not seeing each other as often you just wonder: Is this gonna be weird? Is this gonna suck? Do we still like each other?
There are just more question marks, but the second you are all together and on stage, it just feels great. I have been really energized by the past couple of shows that we’ve done because it has just genuinely surprised me how much fun it was and how fresh it felt. We have been playing these songs for years and years on the road, so nobody’s like worn out during these shows. Everybody is sort of attacking the material with a new freshness and the shows just felt really fun.
Being away certainly has seemed to add new life to the material. I also saw Band of Skulls’ Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson at the show, and they also sat in for a cover of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma.” Was that another impromptu thing?
So we brought Band of Skulls to the 40 Watt on the In The Dark tour, where we did like a co-headlining tour with them. The three-piece to me seemed like a common thing to do, but we sort of learned the more years that we were at it that there weren’t as many three-pieces as we thought. We were always kind of the odd man out and so when we toured with Band of Skulls, we kind of bonded over the fact that we were both these three-piece rock bands.
And their drummer left their band at some point, maybe last year. Having gone through something like that ourselves, you know it’s not like when you’re in a five-piece band and somebody leaves it might be detrimental but you don’t lose as big of a piece as it would be for a small group.
It is vital to the sound and chemistry, I’m sure.
Exactly. So, Julian stepped in and drummed with them for some shows in the U.K. They were recording in Nashville, so when this show got scheduled, everybody kind of checked their calendars and they extended their trip so that they could come down and see the show, hang out and have fun.
I brought a crew of friends, some UGA grads and we were all blown away. I think when you guys perform live it really adds a new life to your songs.
Very cool. Yeah that was always the thing with the group. A lot of bands write a record, record their record, put it out and if there’s interest then they go on tour. And we were always the reverse of that. Kind of like what I was saying with “Right Hand On My Heart” and “Like A Vibration,” it was more the goal to write songs so that our set could morph. Like, ‘Hey I really wish we had this kind of song at this point in the set,’ so we would then compose a song for that moment.
We always think of the stage first, so I think that is why people always connect to us live.
So with the exception of some shows here and there, doesn’t sound like there are major imminent plans for The Whigs?
We kind of have no major plans. Tim is playing with Kings of Leon and Julian is doing stuff with the Band of Skulls and other stuff. But if there is something like show at the 40 Watt or the Hold Steady thing, if there’s something that comes up that is fun that everybody thinks will be a good idea and everybody is available, that is great (Note: since our conversation, the band booked May 3rd at Terminal West in Atlanta and May 5th at The Basement East in Nashville). But other than than, we haven’t really talked about a new record.
We started recording a new record after Mission Control and maybe got nine songs, and we didn’t really ‘can it’ but we just stopped. Nobody was really feeling it enough to get behind it or finish it. It just sort of dissipated and since then it has been an exercise in really taking the foot off the gas pedal. And to be honest, it really feels good. And it was hard for me to see at the time, but it definitely gives us the best chance for kicking ass in the future when we take the time to genuinely be consumed with something else. Whether that is being a parent, doing a solo record, or being with other groups. Not having your life revolve around the band 365 days a year, ya know?
Makes sense. To round it out, I am sure you have many a great musical experiences in Athens, both as a musician and as a fan. Do you have a favorite musical memory as a musician but also as a fan in Athens?
Ohhh, good question. As a fan, it’s seeing The Glands. They were my favorite Athens group and really inspired what our band became. They were sort of this combination of fun rock that you could dance to but it was also introspective and artsy. So seeing the Glands at Tasty World as a fan was great.
For myself, it is a tough one. Cause I was thinking about it, we have played so many shows in Athens. Probably not a great answer to the question, but every single time we play there it is really special in its own way. And every time we do it I think, ‘Man, that was really cool.’
I have seen so many great shows at the 40 Watt and hopefully will in the future. I tell people all the time that is the best rock club that I have ever been to. Obviously there’s theaters and bars, but like a ‘rock club’ is a specific type of room. And just the blackness and lighting in there is just the right atmosphere for music.
It really was just a lot of fun playing the 40 Watt and I was just feeling the love from the fans and the folks that had travelled and the other musicians in town that were at the show. It was just good vibes.