2016 Exit Interview: Whitney

Julien gives us a crash course on the band’s stellar year since releasing “Light Upon the Lake.”

“We’re just really happy to be doing what we’re doing,” says Julien Ehrlich, one half of the self-described “country soul” band Whitney, as he starts to reflect on how crazy 2016 has been for his band. He pauses to think about how to accurately describe the whirlwind of accolades and praise: “We recognize that this shit is the fastest that any of the projects that we’ve ever been part of has grown. I don’t want to say exploded or anything, but yeah … ”

If Ehrlich won’t use that word, we’ll take that baton from him — 2016 was the year that Whitney exploded. After releasing lead single “No Woman” in January, the Chicago band’s earthy, yet dreamy sound seeped into all the corners of the indie rock world. By the time Ehrlich and Max Kakacek released “Light Upon the Lake,” their debut full-length, in June, Whitney was responsible for one of the strongest albums of the summer and beyond. It’s no wonder they have fans in high places — like the one and only Sir Elton John.

Now, after a year full of touring (with more right around the corner), Ehrlich actually has time to review: “At night, when we’re not playing a show and I’m not wasted, and I’m drifting off to sleep, I’m like ‘Wow.’ [Laughs.] We’re really in the position that we imagined a year ago when we were writing and recording the debut.” Well, they’re almost in the position that they imagined, Ehrlich is still waiting for Damian Lillard — Portland Trail Blazers’ point guard — to show up at one of their shows (“I put him on every single list. I haven’t tweeted at him in a while though because I don’t want to be a thirsty internet person.”).

Regardless, it’s been one hell of a year for the band. We caught up with Ehrlich to see the five ways his life has changed since Whitney took off in 2016.

More vivid dreams

“I think I have more paranoid dreams now, a lot more negative emotions coming out in dreams. I would say that paranoid is probably the right word. My dreams have been like fully controlling every single part of my brain to the point where I wake up and I don’t know where I am and it will take me like five seconds and I’ll be like ‘Oh yeah, I slept here the night before.’ And it’s not even that I’ve dealt with shit the night before it’s because my dreams are like taking me to an entire different universe. My dreams have gotten way more vivid since all of this stuff have been happening.”

Less toxic relationships

“Max and I just have such a good working relationship and that’s really the core of [Whitney.] It’s just like keeping people around us that aren’t going to be toxic, people that have similar personalities and want what we want. In Smith Westerns there was just a lot of toxic shit going on, a lot of ego I guess, ego can kill you. [Of course ego is] still involved, but we just check each other really well. We’re just not dumb. That’s a crazy thing to say in an interview, but we just know that we want the same things and we want this ride to last as long as it should, which is probably 10 years. I’d like to do 5-6 albums.”

Whitney
Whitney

Better stage setups

“We saw the way that the back [cover art] of Neil Young’s “Harvest” is set up and we just said ‘Wow!’ They’re just all playing in a weird circle — it’s like they’re practicing but they’re still all somehow facing the camera? And that’s where our idea came from, it was like shit, this is how we should all play the whole drummer singer thing.”

New music discoveries

“I haven’t really stopped listening to [Frank Ocean’s] “Blonde” since it came out. I get pretty obsessed. If I’m really going to let myself dive in an album, I don’t really see anything beyond it and that’s “Blonde” right now. It’s fucking amazing. It’s so crazy, I’ve heard some stuff about how it was made, which I can’t share, but it blows my mind … [Also] Sampha has the most beautiful voice out of any singer right now — and he uses it really well. He writes fucking incredible hooks. He’s definitely just got something special. I know he was just on a Kanye song, but he’s just getting fucking huge how. He’s out there, but not enough people praise him the way that they should.”

The best crowds

“People have really responded to our live shows and it’s just the best feeling when crowds are genuinely enthralled and are even paying attention! People don’t realize that doesn’t happen often. I’ve been to shows in Chicago and a band is playing really, really well but the whole crowd is talking and texting and like totally disinterested. It’s just the saddest thing to see. It’s like, what the hell did you come here for? So anytime we see a show and the entire crowd is just staring and is entranced, that’s just the best thing. Those are the moments when Max and I look at each other on stage and are just giddy as hell. So happy.”

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