“Yeah, I guess I’m scared for my life over here.” Julien Ehlrich is calling from his friend’s house in Chicago. He explains he’s just remembered she is a designer who makes clothes from her apartment, and there are pins and needles all over her house. “I’m sitting on her bed on edge right now.”
Vocalist and drummer Ehlrich (formerly of Unknown Mortal Orchestra) and guitarist Max Kakacek make up Whitney – a band whose sound can only be described as ‘feel good’. Ehlrich’s voice, an enviable falsetto, accompanies the retro, Americana arrangements composed by he and Kakacek, breathing fresh air into electro and R&B-dominated airwaves.
Forming in 2015 after the dissolution of their previous outfit, Smith Westerns, the band knew they wanted a name that spoke of a distinct persona, an overarching entity who could tell the story of their music. “We knew my voice sounded pretty weird,” says Ehlrich, “and we just wanted the name of the band to be a singular person – something from one either guy or girl. We thought, ‘oh [Whitney] works for a million different reasons’ you know, no one’s used it for a band name, it suits the sound.
“Also my first kiss – my first girlfriend ever – was Whitney too. So it all made sense.”
Whitney is the culmination of a long-running collaborative friendship between Ehlrich and Kakacek, who have lived together for years. “One day Max brought a tape machine and we just wrote Dave’s Song on it and we thought that sounded kind of cool,” Ehlrich says. “We kept writing more songs, and after that it was kind of off to the races.”
Their songs, much like their name, reference past loves. Whitney’s debut album The Light Upon the Lake was inspired by “personal struggle, most of the time. The album was a lot of relationship … almost like, trauma, and trying to deal with it. Which basically everybody has to go through at some point in their lives.” Writing for the sophomore album has already commenced, this time exploring the course of life changes. “We’re only a few songs in, like a few true keeper songs … The one that we’re working on finalising now we might start playing live potentially at Laneway in Australia. We’re really happy with it. All the songs that we’re working on for the next one we’re pleasantly surprised with.”
While they’ve garnered plenty of success in the states, Whitney will be testing the waters with their Australian fans for the first time touring as part of St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival. The festival kicks off in Adelaide on January 26, ending in Sydney on February 4. Their lyrics preach: “I’m aching/ I’m searching for those golden days”. One listen to Whitney feels like those golden days are already here.
“We’re still able to just laugh at ourselves when we’re writing because we know that not all our ideas are good. But if me and him see an idea through we know it’s the best it can possibly be.”