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Heart & Soul: The Whigs pledge allegiance to old-fashioned, barnstorming rock & roll

It's a strange time for rock & roll. In some ways, one could argue that rock music has never been more popular — considering that it feels like everyone is in a band (Rock Band counts, right?), hosts a DJ night, writes for a music publication/blog or owns a "recording studio."

But it can also be argued that rock is old, tired and exploited. It's hard to be as experimental and ground-breaking as, say, Sonic Youth was when it de-tuned and started jamming drumsticks between the strings of its guitars in the mid-'80s. It's also way more difficult to have an impact with an ironic cultural statement, like Kurt Cobain did when he wore a dress on Headbangers Ball nearly twenty years ago.

The pessimistic view is that everything has already been done and that everybody sold out a long time ago. Punk went pop. Metal went soft. Everybody went country. And today, PR firms promoted more indie rock bands than anyone could possibly have the time (or inclination) to listen to.

The Whigs: Purveyors of no-frills, old-fashioned rock & roll music.
The Whigs: Purveyors of no-frills, old-fashioned rock & roll music.

But even with so much saturation, so many years of experimentation, reaction, parody, genres, subgenres, sellouts and so-called saviors, it's still rather simple to judge the caliber of a live rock band. Ask yourself one simple question: "Do I believe this?" And when the Whigs step on a stage, it's hard to imagine how anyone could answer that question with anything but a resounding "Hell yes."

The Athens, Georgia, trio released its second album, Mission Control, earlier this year and since then has played everywhere from tiny clubs to an enormous outdoor stage at Lollapalooza. The band has slowly broadened its fan base through opening slots for the Toadies, the Kooks and Kings of Leon — all while exuding headliner-quality stage energy. Singer/guitarist Parker Gispert flails around the stage in a goofy dance that pays homage to Neil Young, and nearly knocks over his amplifier on a regular basis. And even though the Whigs employ no strange time signatures, crazy effects manipulations or gimmicks, the band exudes an honest, soulful vibe that makes it easy to be won over by the primal, raw, sweat-drenched spectacle.

Control flies by in just over a half an hour, faithfully capturing the light-speed energy of the band's live assault. "Right Hand on My Heart" is a grungy anthem with ferocious guitars and rock-solid drums which gradually crescendo to Dave Grohl-like unrelenting, furious pounding. But the band has range as well. The bouncy "Production City" calls to mind late-era Clash, while "Already Young" is a dead ringer for the Who's youthful angst and apathy.

RFT had a chance to talk with Whigs drummer Julian Dorio just before the band embarked on its latest touring stint in support of the Kooks.

Shae Moseley: What do you think you've learned about each other through all of the touring the Whigs have done?

Julian Dorio: [Bassist] Tim [Deaux] decided to be a vegetarian, which I found impressive.

When did you guys start playing music around Athens?

Parker and I grew up in Atlanta, but I'd say we started while we were in college about five years ago. It took some time to really get a lot of shows outside of Athens. We started playing regionally, but we were in school so it made it difficult to go too far.

You guys built a studio and recorded your first album, Give 'Em All a Big Fat Lip, there, right? What made you decide to take on that project on your own?

I guess a lot of people try to wait for a label or someone to pick the band up before they do an album, and we hadn't found the right kind of situation for that. So it boiled down to where we thought that we had to make something. We had faith in the songs so we ended up just doing it on our own in Athens in this big old mansion that we were lucky enough to have access to.

And you went out on a limb and purchased the recording equipment to do this?

We didn't really have much on the horizon, but we thought that by getting the house for free we could have a place to record, use any money we had to buy this equipment, and at the end of it we would just basically sell everything on eBay. So it was basically just a product of our situation and the resources we had or didn't have.

After releasing that album yourself, initially you were approached by a fairly big label, ATO. Was that intimidating considering how independent you had been up to that point?

We were really excited about it, honestly. We had worked really hard and done so much on our own, and we didn't think it was too big where it was scary or anything, so we were into it.

The production style changed on the second album [Control, which was produced by Rob Schnapf], but you still managed to capture a very "live" sounding record.

We batted around ideas of producers that we would like to work with, and Rob was one of those because we had been fans of stuff he had done with Elliott Smith and Guided by Voices. So we sent Rob the first album and he came to a couple shows and we decided it would be a good fit. It was definitely a privilege to work with him.

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