A few hours before Free Times spoke with Julian Dorio, drummer for Athens, Ga., trio The Whigs, the group announced a new record and debuted its lead single. Emerging via the increasingly revered Spin.com, the song — called “Hit Me” — is exactly what you’d expect from a raucous rock band nine years into its career. A throbbing bass line is met by danceable drums and jangly strums, as the song blossoms with effervescent ease. But it’s got some bite, too, mainly coming from beefy and distorted licks, a hint of how feisty this song is likely to get if you see The Whigs on the road. It is, Dorio agrees, the sound of musicians who know exactly who they are.
“We’re a three-piece rock band,” he offers. “We play together on tour all the time, and when we’re home we’re rehearsing all the time. The thing, whatever you want to call it, that happens when the three of us play, for better or for worse, is a thing. And I think it can be lost when you’re piecing together the performances, and you’re removing those people from just being in the room together.”
But The Whigs — Dorio, singer and guitarist Parker Gispert, and bassist Timothy Deaux — lost themselves a bit on 2012’s Enjoy the Company. It’s not a terrible record, by any means, but it forgoes the group’s typically relentless verve in favor of loose Southern rock with a marginally distorted edge, one blunted by the album’s overly polished production. The opening “Staying Alive” lingers for eight minutes, getting by on predictable guitars and an amiable twang. The horns help, and the chorus is admittedly pretty cathartic, but it’s also an expression of the song’s essential problem: “Staying alive way too long.” The rest of the songs are mercifully much shorter, but they pull from the same unexciting playbook.
Modern Creation, due in April, promises a corrective. While Enjoy the Company found The Whigs questioning and retooling their songs as much as they ever had, the recent sessions aimed to capture the energy of the group’s live performances. Tracking with Jim Scott, who has worked with Wilco, Weezer and Tom Petty, among many others, the trio played their takes together in one room. If something felt off, the part wasn’t re-done separately. They kept playing it together until they got it right.
“I think naturally for a band, the pendulum swings,” Dorio says. “If you’ve done a record this way, then you want to try doing it another way. And I don’t mean to say just for the sake of messing around. We take it seriously, and we want to do what works. But I think we learn so much every time we work with these producers, and we get older and hopefully more experienced making albums. We’re always looking for the best way to make the best Whigs record yet.”
It remains to be seen whether Modern Creation lives up to its promising single, but this method of recording should suit The Whigs just fine. Their most striking records, such as 2010’s dogged In the Dark, are made up of surging rock songs that maintain a gritty vibe without impeding consistently infectious hooks. The group missed the mark with their last outing, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost their way; if the rest of The Whigs share Dorio’s philosophy, it’s likely that the band never will.
“Let’s say [a take’s] technically perfect but lacks spirit or energy or some raw element,” he postulates. “Maybe that’s the best take, but what’s the best take? It’s just a lot of different ways to do this. What does perfect really mean? To different bands, it means different things. We’re kind of this raw and loud three piece, so you want some sweat and some grit and some dirt in there.”
The Whigs play New Brookland Tavern on Thursday, Feb. 6. Dear Blanca and Keath Mead open. New Brookland Tavern is at 122 State St. Music begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10. Visit newbrooklandtavern.com for more information.
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