Smith Westerns Reborn as Whitney After Year in the Dumps
The local country-rock newcomer will play at Pitchfork this summer.
By John Hardberger
Published April 28, 2016
When the local band Smith Westerns broke up in 2014, guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer Julien Ehrlich found themselves homeless and jobless in Logan Square. So the two made a fresh start, spending a month in Kakacek’s family cabin in Wisconsin and eventually forming the band Whitney. On May 3, the septet premieres songs from the debut album, Light Upon the Lake (out June 3), at Thalia Hall. Here, Ehrlich and Kakacek recount the group’s uphill battle.
On the new album
JE: It’s a culmination of everything we went through last year—breakups, deaths, the shittiest winter imaginable. MK: We wanted to believe there was something less desolate out there.
On their Chicago roots
MK: Me and [bandmates] Malcolm Brown and Will Miller all went to CPS schools. When Whitney played Schubas, it was like a high school reunion.
On a dream collaboration
JE: I personally think [R&B singer] Jeremih would find something in our melodies. We’re both playing Pitchfork this summer, so who knows?
On being a singing drummer
JE: I grew up idolizing Levon Helm. He’s the blueprint for what I’m trying to do.