Almost exactly one year ago, Whitney — an indie-folk group from Chicago — made their live debut in San Francisco, opening for dream-poppers Wild Nothing at the Independent.
Suffice it to say, things have changed significantly for the band since that trip.
But the band’s rapid ascension should come as no surprise. The group’s founding members and core songwriters — guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer and vocalist Julien Ehrlich — were both members of popular indie groups (Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, respectively) before teaming up to form Whitney. By the time they were opening for Wild Nothing in San Francisco, they had nearly eclipsed the fame of their headlining act, due in large part to, “No Woman,” a ghostly, gorgeous Americana tune from the band’s debut album, Light Upon the Lake.
In the past 12 months, Whitney has toured relentlessly, playing on four continents and at countless festivals. During that time, fans of the band have been given unusual access to the group’s inner workings, courtesy of Ehrlich’s candid and unabashed Twitter use. (Sample tweet: “im so high. It was a mushroom high.”)
Ehrlich’s daily musings are a pure reflection of the 25-year-old songwriter’s persona. A gifted, unfiltered storyteller, Ehrlich has been a professional musician since his teenage years, but instead of being a jaded veteran, he retains a refreshing outlook on his trade.
Ahead of the band’s April 17-19 shows at the Independent, SF Weekly chatted with Ehrlich and got him to list five highlights from the last year.
Ehrlich got super high at the Lowlands Festival.
“I mean, we like to have a good time on tour. There were a couple of 5 a.m. nights during our record release party in New York City, but I think the craziest moment was from the Lowlands Festival, which is somewhere in the Netherlands. We decided to have a couple of van parties, and there were some illegal substances involved, which we probably shouldn’t mention in this publication. I ended up taking a bunch of pictures on my phone, and I swear that everyone just looked like cartoon character versions of themselves.”
He moved into a new pad:
“Max and I actually just got a new apartment, which is really nice. When you’re touring all the time, it’s kind of hard to get into the songwriting mindset. But with this new spot, we can kind of escape from everything and get our thoughts together. It has really helped with the creative process. Returning to the apartment helps us get in the groove.”
He worked on material for the next Whitney album:
“The new album is going to have some real bangers. Seriously. I mean, it’s not going to have any crazy synth tunes or anything, but we’ve written some songs with super blown-out choruses that are going to surprise some people. We want to keep the same vibe from our first album, but make things a little more accessible. That can actually be hard at times. It’s difficult to write really simple songs, which is what we’re trying to do.”
He’s still best friends with his band mates:
“It was really important for Max and I to be part of a band where we are all friends with each other. We felt so lucky that the guys in our group just happen to be our closest buddies from Chicago. We toured so much in the last year, it could have been tough to maintain those friendships, but we’re fortunate to have such a big group. You know, I can hang out with Max one day, or Will [Miller, the group’s trumpet player], the next day. We can kind of hang out in different groups within the band, which eases the tension.”
He made plans to return to the woods:
“We have already made plans to rent out this cabin in Oregon out by Mt. Hood to record our second album. It’s almost the same exact recording setup that we had for our first album, when we kind of escaped to the woods in Wisconsin. That really worked well for us, so we decided to do the same kind of thing. We’ve got this plan to just be in the middle of nowhere for about a month. I’m super excited for that.”