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Smith Westerns Reborn as Whitney After Year in the Dumps

The local country-rock newcomer will play at Pitchfork this summer.

Julien Ehrlich (left) and Max Kakacek   Photo: Dominique Goncalves

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.


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