Foto-© Tonje Thilesen
Es ist schon manchmal schwierig, wenn das Debütalbum plötzlich zum großen Erfolg wird und man als Künstler gewissermaßen gezwungen ist den Erwartungen an Sound und Inhalt entsprechend gerecht zu werden, statt sich vielleicht neuen Strömungen und Entwicklungen hinzugeben. So passiert beim Chicagoer Duo Whitney um Julien Ehrlich und Max Kakacek, das plötzlich mit ihrem Debüt Light Upon the Lake (2016) mit sanft verzerrter Psych-Folk-Vintage-Melancholie im Scheinwerferlicht stand und sich für ihren 2019er Zweitwerk Forever Turned Around gezwungen fühlte daran anzuknüpfen. Je weiter die Aufnahmesessions voranschritten, desto mühsamer wurden diese, da Julien und Max daran arbeiteten, Versionen von sich selbst zu sein, die sie nicht mehr waren; um Songs in einer Form zu schreiben, die einfach nicht mehr passte. “What are we doing? How do we fix this, together?” Max erinnert sich diese Frage Julien oft gestellt zu haben, als die beiden mit kaputten Bandmaschinen zu kämpfen hatten, die sich wie Metaphern anfühlten. Es fühlte sich nicht mehr wie ihre Musik an, sondern lediglich wie ein Überbleibsel ihrer anfänglichen Begeisterung. Sie hatten kaum genug Material oder Energie, um fertig zu werden.
Drum kam den beiden zugute, dass durch die plötzlich einschreitenden Lockdowns und auch das Ende einer jahrelangen Beziehung, samt Umzug nach Portland bei Julien einiges auf den Prüfstand kam bei Whitney. Max folgte Julien, in der Hoffnung, mit seinem besten Freund und Co-Autor dem langen Winter in Chicago zu entkommen. Vier Tage später wurden die Flüge gestrichen. Anstehende Tourneen wurden abgesagt. In den nächsten 14 Monaten arbeitete die Band mit einem Eifer und einer Entschlossenheit, die an ihre Anfänge erinnerten, bevor der Erfolg die Erwartungen bestimmte. “We had time to just sit and watch the body of work grow in real time”, erklärt Julien. “We were just stacking stronger and stronger songs on top of each other”. Max fügt hinzu: “Our favorite way to make records, the way we made the first one.”
Auch wenn der Weg ähnlich war, sind die Ergebnisse bemerkenswert unterschiedlich – eine erfrischende Erinnerung daran, wie mühelos sich ein Umschwung anfühlen kann, wenn er eine echte Kurskorrektur ist. Das Ergebnis ist SPARK, das dritte Studioalbum der Band, das heute erschienen ist und mit den Produzenten Brad Cook und John Congleton aufgenommen wurde und im Namen doppeldeutig daherkommt: für die Inspiration von etwas Neuem oder das Niederbrennen von Altbewährtem. Für uns hat das Duo ein Track by Track zu den Songs mit allem Wissenswerten dazu geschrieben!
1. Nothing Remains
Julien: It was the first song we made. I had, like, written the verse and Max and I feel like we didn’t see each other for like a month and a half or something and we hadn’t even really talked. We had done a lot of touring on ‘Forever Turned Around’. And I feel like we were like at a more distant point in our relationship or something. We had maybe sent like, occasional ideas back and forth, but then I feel like when I sent that verse, it was like an immediate, like, alright, we know what we’re going to work on next and then finish the song relatively swiftly and we’re really excited about it.
2. Back Then
Max: ‘Back Then’ was a really fun song to make. I mean, it’s kind of the first time that we’ve ever really started a song, like kind of jumped into a song with four on the floor in that specific way. That song has it. But it was started with Julien playing something on piano and he was just kind of looping it and then I kind of like loop like the string kind of sample over it. I feel like we were struggling or keeping ourselves from writing about what the pandemic felt like because we kind of just didn’t want to fall into that pitfall of like, this is what we’re experiencing and we’re only going to write about this one thing. And when we started writing back then, I think the lyrics kind of popped out and then we realized it ended up being about that and was put in a way that felt like the most natural.
Julien: Max had, like, gone back to Chicago for Christmas and I was just, like, alone at our kind of big Portland house and was, like, feeling weird and was just playing piano for a really long time. And that chord progression, the chorus, like, descending progression just kind of popped out. And it was another situation where I sent it to Max and it was like, all right, we know what we’re working on next time we see each other. When we finished it, it was like, oh, this is like a single for sure. And you can feel it when you write the pillar, or at least like the commercial pillar of an album or something. It felt like a big milestone in the record, sort of immediately. And we sent it to the label. We were, like, excited to send it to the people who put it out. And they were immediately like, Whoa, which is cool, and it’s a love song, which is…people relate.
Max: ‚Twirl’ was definitely, like, you know if we’re able to eventually will most likely release the demo and I think it will show a lot of light a certain process on this album of how taking kind of like a simple maybe more guitar based song into the studio and really experimenting with how far we could push something to sound less organic and more existing and not a sincere world but just something that didn’t feel as much like someone’s hands on a guitar the entire time. ‘Twirl’ is like a perfect example of that kind of ethos that I think we care to do with the album. Most of the choruses are heavily lyric based and to me this is like the one where it is really just like a chorus or kind of like Julien singing in ad lib which I think is really powerful next to the other songs on the album.
5. Real Love
Julien: We kind of felt like a freedom with ‘Real Love’ because we had a pretty solid record and a great group of songs that we were like we could go into the studio tomorrow and make a great record. But we still just booked our studio session three months in the future and we were like, well, what do we do besides continue to write and just kind of make stuff that really excites us? And we had just moved back to Chicago, and it felt like the pandemic was letting up in a way. So we just decided to make something really playful and just almost simple in the way that it’s arranged. And we just fell in love with the song immediately.
Max: ‘Memory’ took the longest to write to get right. For some reason, the verse came out of trying to write a chorus to another song. And so it’s kind of like we took a break from “Self” to work on ‘Memory’ and then it took a while to get it together. But I mean, ‘Memory’ is the most exciting for me personally. Just kind of like the first time that we really took what I consider a very poppy idea and really glued it together with this kind of more sprawling outro. In a way that I think is pretty abrupt and kind of daring for us in a way. And that was like a really fun process to get happening correctly.
Julien: You can’t really, like, fully play favorites. But that’s, like a song that I think we both feel like a special connection to because it is just, a pretty clear example of the ways that we were trying to explore and the emphasis that we put on exploration during this whole process. I just feel really like we’re really lucky to have captured that song and to have written it and discovered what we discovered while making it. I just have vivid images and memories of the room that we wrote it in. We definitely wrote that one really, really late at night, like 04:00 A.M. Definitely on some psychedelics. I love that song.
8. Never Crossed My Mind
Max: There’s a point in the writing process where some friends were staying with us and the studio became, like, pretty much unusable because there’s too much stuff happening. And I think one of the first times Julien and I left the house and sat outside and tried workshopping lyrics. Not in the studio. We were just kind of sitting together outside in the park in Oregon. Just going through ideas, and that process ended up being something that we’ve learned to use throughout the rest of the writing and never really done before, and I think in hearing the song, it’s kind of light and a little bit more like an outside feeling.
Julien: It’s fun to listen back to the record, which I haven’t done a long time, but doing a track by track, it’s like, oh, yeah, that song is kind of, like, in between a couple of lighter feeling pop songs and I think we just wrote it at one of the dark, most vividly or explicitly depressing points in the pandemic. And just, like, truly experiencing and witnessing and feeling all the death, that was sort of adding up around us.
10. Heart Will Beat
Max: It’s maybe looking back at what we’ve created before and giving a nod to, like some of the references that we used to pull for in the pool from the first two albums and giving that an updated take on what that means to us. The way that song sounds and the way the lyrics work and everything it’s just kind of one of the more like uplifting happiest parts of the album. But it’s also very, like, kind of subdued and instrumentation is like a little bit cuter and less serious than some of the other songs.
11. Lost Control
Julien: That song was just really fun to make. I remember multiple points during the writing of that song just being like what even is this? Kind of being, like, why does it sound so like boy bandy? I think we just felt like we were making a Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC song or something, which is really just like a Max Martin song. He’s like the pop god. I’m not saying that we’re like on his level or anything, but that song feels like immediate like that to me.
12. County Lines
Beide: The song was a piano ballad. For longest time we kept it that way taking to the studio and pretty much left the studio sounding that way. And we were talking to Brad Cook how to finish the song and we always wanted strings to play on it and he sent it to Rob Moose and we just kind of got the song back with this massive string section on it and it was the first time we’d ever done anything like that. And it was a very cool moment to kind of hear the song back without being a part of the process and just hearing something it got and how well he was able to capture the emotion of the song with strings. Also, Sam Gendel, he added some flourishes and touches on that song that like always, they’re so tasteful. We’re just thankful, grateful that we got to make that song with people that we respect and have always wanted to collaborate with.
10.11.22 Köln, Bürgerhaus Stollwerck
11.11.22 München, Freiheitshalle
13.11.22 Berlin, Columbia Theater
15.11.22 Hamburg, Mojo Club