Photo: Olivia Bee
Whitney Are Far From The Shallow On Their Sophomore Album, 'Forever Turned Around'
The Chicago band's sophomore album, out on Aug. 30, has them digging deeper, both lyrically and instrumentally
Indie/country-soul band Whitney won fans over their 2016 debut Light Upon The Lake, which primarily featured songs about heartbreak. They were only touching the surface, though, as their sophomore album, Forever Turned Around (out Aug. 30), has them digging deeper, both lyrically and instrumentally.
"I think we definitely wanted to push ourselves melodically, so it's more playful melodies, and then also we poured over the lyrics quite a bit on this one," vocalist Julien Ehrlich told the Recording Academy on the phone from his home base of Chicago. "I'm proud we were there for the first one as well, but there's just a lot of them that we were kind of the first... I don't know, I guess they seem a little bit more shallow at times."
The new album voyages through the stages of romantic relationships—the moments when you can feel a partner slowly start to pull away, not being able to let go even though you want to give up—yet it also goes beyond the impact time has on a romantic relationship. Forever Turned Around represents the stength of Ehrlich's and lead guitarist Max Kakacek's friendship.
Forming Whitney after the 2014 dissolution of their former band Smith Westerns, Ehrlich says Whitney could only keep going because of how strong his friendship is with Kakacek.
"The fact that Max and I can accept criticism between us and not let it really get super personal when we're songwriting... I think we're able to continue doing it because we're still friends," he says.
Below, the Recording Academy speaks with Ehrlich about his bond with Kakacek, romantic relationships, recording Forever Turned Around and more.
Tell me about the first time you two recorded a song together.
Cool. Yeah, it was probably seven or eight months after our band Smith Westerns broke up. It was just a super organic experience, basically. We woke up one morning, I think we were slightly hung over. We were living together, obviously. Max had this old tape machine called a Ross—the brand was Ross. I don't remember the model or anything, but yeah, it was a four-track and it wound up on the first record.
Even when you and Max were in Smith Westerns, did you ever talk about breaking off to form your own project?
No, I think that's probably why that the band was successful because we didn't really have an agenda. I mean, we always knew that we were really close friends. I don't know. I'm sure it was in the back of our heads that we could one day write these things together. But I think not forcing it and letting it come along in an organic way, it was really, really important for us. It was really just a friendship thing and then it just turned out to be a good combination. I think we're able to continue doing it because we're still friends.
Why the name "Whitney"?
You remember at the time of... I don't even know when the reissue was put out, but Light In The Attic?
Light In The Attic, that re-release, I think his name was "Lewis" or something. I think he has a pretty interesting backstory. But yeah, I think we were just really into making a record that we thought sounded like something that a kid would find, you know, 40 years from now or something. And then we just thought Whitney was a catchy name.
Tell me about the experiences that formed Forever Turned Around. What inspired this latest album?
As far as the arrangement and the tools that we used and sound that we found on the first record, we were still very inspired by it, so it's not like I started singing in a completely different way. It's not like we were every thinking about doing like stents or anything on this record.
I think we were more so inspired by just pushing our songwriting to another realm, I guess. We were super inspired by Neil Young and specifically Live at Massey Hall 1971, that live record of his. When were writing the song, we used that as a benchmark or something.
How do you feel you've grown as songwriters since the completion of it?
I think we definitely wanted to push ourselves melodically, so it's maybe more playful melodies. And then also we poured over the lyrics quite a bit on this one, which, I'm proud we were there for the first one as well, but there's just a lot of them that we were kind of the first... I don't know, I guess they seem a little bit more shallow at times. I just feel we actually needed to make sure that we resonated with every single word on this record more than the last one.
The album is hugely about relationships. I feel a lot of times now people, especially at the beginning of relationships, are hesitant to let their feelings out. In "Giving Up" you say, "I can feel you giving up." Do you think being honest with feelings at whatever point in a relationship is worthwhile?
Yeah, I mean I definitely do. I think that song specifically in our eyes was outlining whatever stage in a relationship happens right after the honeymoon phase when maybe doubt or feelings like that would start to creep in into your head. You're like, "Oh, now we're not necessarily on the same exact page all the time anymore." I do feel it is a very important to let your feelings be known in a relationship because that's just communication, but you just need to make sure that you're doing it in a respectful way, obviously.
What's one of the biggest lesson a relationship has taught you?
It is just good to be honest with someone. Just always be honest. If you're trying to... Obviously, feel out the vibe, don't be brutally honest or overshare, or whatever. But if you have something that at first maybe you want to hide from someone, don't do it.
How is it revisiting the moments the album is influenced by live every time you perform?
It's weird because we also just played our first show in a year at Pitchfork Fest [in July.] It's weird. I mean the songs definitely take on new meanings. I'm not really thinking of being in this old relationship that drove me and Max to write the first record. I'm not really thinking about that anymore. But I do think it's important to still put yourself into some sort of a head space that allows you to perform the song in a believable way as well. I'm usually thinking of some sort of maybe personal tragedy or something.
How was it being back on stage for the first time in years? Did you miss it?
Oh, yeah. I mean, the longer that you don't play in between album cycles or whatever, the more the nerves obviously creep in. But then, once you're halfway through the first song, I was just like, "Oh man." I was like, "Fully, I miss this so much." It just felt so good. Really liberating.
You're a part of a duo and that's two different creative processes. How do you and Max come together to make something interesting to both of you?
I mean the only way that we could do it is by being really close friends and to be open to criticism. That also goes with honesty as well. The fact that Max and I can accept criticism between us and not let it really get super personal when we're songwriting, it's just not from experience, like even in Smith Westerns, any band I've been in. That's not always the case that people can handle that. I think we've kind of dropped our egos for this project and that that's how we can come together as one.
How did you get to that point where you just don't take it personally? How do you leave your ego at the door?
I don't know. I feel we realized that we do really just want to push each other to write the best possible thing that we can. I think maybe it was probably early on in the process. Either he came up with an idea and I'm like, "I don't know, I don't know about this. I don't know about like this part of it," or something. I bet he was really mad at first. Or maybe it was me. But then maybe it took a day and then after further discussion, we just realized that if we treat the little part of this idea, it'll just make it a lot better. I think probably throughout writing one of the first songs or something. We probably look back and is like, "Hey, see what happened when you drop the ego or whatever?"
I want to talk about the space where the albums were recorded. It was in the basement of one of your guitarists where you recorded your first album. Is there a particular reason why you decided to record there again?
It was really just a time thing. We didn't take trips to different studios and stuff, but I think we realized that the way that we work on music, if we were actually just renting out a studio for that long, we would've been broke. Being in a basement or an apartment, or whatever, and being able to wake up every day, simply all day, every day, to be walking around and banging our heads against the walls. Yeah, we just needed that opportunity, like a basement or an apartment or whatever. We'll usually do that.
How important is this space for you when you record?
I can't tell. I mean that's a good question because a lot of times we are so deep in our own heads that our surroundings don't matter. I think it really moreso has has to do with the people in the room. But when it comes time to really record, you know, like drums or the latter stuff, I think at that point a proper recording place can matter. But even then, we can recreate drums and stuff and in our apartments.
What inspired the title Forever Turned Around?
Let me see. I mean, I can tell you what we liked about it the most. I just remember singing forever, thinking about "Forever comma Turned Around." We have been working on this one idea for, I don't even know, the better part of a year and never really figuring out how to complete this song until we stripped away the part that we even liked about it the most.
Then, I came up with a new melody, and the saying, Forever, Turned Around." We all got together, me, Max and the others. We're both just like, "Oh my God, Forever Turned Around." That is the perfect thing. Oh, my God." I think pretty much immediately we knew how much we liked it as a title, because it can have five or six different meanings.
That was also just what allowed us to finish the song, taking away our favorite part of the song, which is such a ass-backwards way to write the song in the first place. It offers perfectly described "Forever Turned Around." Complete confusion the point of... Yeah. I don't know. I don't know if I like the term "ass-backwards" but...
There had been a bit of a break between the last album. Have you been writing this album since then? Since after the first one came out or the last one?
There are maybe some really loose ideas that have been around since mid-2016 when the first one came out. But I don't know, for the most part, we would get back home from tour, try to write it in between tours and stuff and it just didn't work for the first years. So I don't feel like we actually accomplished much of anything until the beginning of 2018 or something.
Did the album organically become about love and relationships?
Yeah. I mean Max and I are both still in committed... the same relationships that we were in while writing the record. For about half the songs aren't exclusively about romance or whatever, but we did try to make a point to not just go just go on a hundred percent heartbreak records again.
I think those are the best though.
You think heartbreak records are the best?
Yeah, I think some of the best albums are about heartbreak.
Yeah, and I mean also you can write, you can interpret whatever you want about a lot of these songs too. I feel like definitely tried to make all of the themes and sentiments super universal.
That's totally true. Once you let a song out, it's like it becomes something different to everyone. As a songwriter, are you cool with a song becoming someone else's?
Yeah, I mean that's the whole point, and that was something that we were thinking about the whole time while we were at least writing then. Just leaving, yeah, to leave enough space for the listener, I feel like some of the worst lyrics, if they're way too particular or descriptive, or whatever, it's like, "Oh, I don't want to be exactly where you are." I want to listen to what you're saying, and then also, I guess, adapt it to a memory, a pre-existing memory.
Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More
The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'
In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.
"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.
Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.
"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."
Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American.
"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."
Photo: Erika Goldring/FilmMagic via Getty Images
Perry Farrell Announces First Solo Album In 18 Years, 'Kind Heaven'
The new album will feature a collective of musicians called Perry Farrell's King Heaven Orchestra,plus contributions from Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins
GRAMMY-nominated frontman Perry Farrell, most popularly known for leading '90s rock gatekeepers Jane's Addiction, has shared the first single from his first solo album in 18 years.
Kind Heaven will be out June 7 and is the follow-up to Song Yet To Be Sung, released in 2001. The first single, "Pirate Punk Politician," is "a protest song about the rise of autocratic strong men around the world," Farrell tweeted On Tuesday. The hard rock sound is complemented by lyrics calling out politicians.
"Ask me any simple question/ I'm an information contradiction, go/ Ask me any simple question/ I'll bash you with my fiction diction," Farrell sings. "Pirate, punk, politician/ I got you in a bad position/ Pirate, punk, politician/ I don't need nobody's permission."
At the time of the tweet, the singer said the video for the single was being shot and due to the nature of the song, the video would include "my dancer friends and I did some free forming, and some choreography (which seems daunting but it’s really fun)."
Outside of making music, Farrell, who is the founder of the Lollapalooza festival, took the time to highlight the diversity of the festival's lineup this year, which includes Ariana Grande, The Strokes, J Balvin and more: "Trying to imagine partying with all these people.. It is going to be Quite interesting wouldn’t you agree? Let me say that diversity thrives "@Lollapalooza and diversity is the spice of life that gives one the appetite to bite (how tasteless life would be w/ only 1 tribe)?Thx god!"
Joan as Police Woman
Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo
As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors
As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer/songwriter Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman, whose forthcoming covers album, COVER TWO, includes tracks by The Strokes, Prince, Talk Talk, and more, shares her Quarantine Diary.
Thursday, April 2
[10 a.m.-12 p.m.] Went to bed at 4 a.m. last night after getting drawn into working on a song. Put on the kettle to make hot coffee while enjoying an iced coffee I made the day before. Double coffee is my jam. Read the news, which does not do much for my mood. Catch up with a few friends, which does a lot of good for my mood. Glad it goes in this order.
[12 p.m.-2 p.m.] Make steel cut oats with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom, and of course, coconut butter to melt on top. If you’re not into coconut butter (sometimes marketed as coconut "manna"), I’d suggest just going for it and getting it (or ordering it) and putting it on your sweet potatoes, your oats, anywhere you’d put butter. I’m not vegan but I do enjoy hearing the tiny scream uttered by a strawberry as I cut into it.
Contemplate some yoga. Contamplate meditating. Do neither. Resume work on the song I want to finish and send today. I have a home studio and I spend a lot of my time working on music here. The song is a collboration sent to me from Rodrigo D’Erasmo in Milano that will benefit the folks who work behind the scenes in the music touring system in Italy.
[2 p.m.-4 p.m.] I traded in a guitar for a baritone guitar right before all this craziness hit but hadn’t had the time to get it out until now. I put on some D’Angelo, plugged into my amp and played along as if I were in his band. Micahel Archer, If you’re reading this, I hope you are safe and sound and thank you immensely for all the music you've given us always.
[4 p.m.-6 p.m.] Bike repair shops have been deemed "necessary," thank goodness, because biking is the primary way I get around and I need a small repair. I hit up my neighborhood shop and they get my bike in and out in 10 minutes, enough time to feel the sun for a moment.
I ride fast and hard down to the water's edge and take in a view of the East River from Brooklyn. There are a few people out getting their de-stress walks but it is mostly deserted on the usually packed streets.
[6 p.m.-8 p.m.] Practice Bach piano invention no. 4 in Dm very, very, very slowly. I never studied piano but I’m trying to hone some skills. Realize I’m ravenous. Eat chicken stew with wild mushrooms I made in the slow cooker yesterday. It’s always better the second day.
[8 p.m.-10 p.m.] Get on a zoom chat with a bunch of women friends on both coasts. We basically shoot the sh*t and make each other laugh.
Afterwards I still feel like I ate a school bus so I give into yoga. I feel great afterwards. This photo proves I have a foot.
[10 p.m.-12 a.m.] Record a podcast for Stereo Embers in anticipation of my new release on May 1, a second record of covers, inventively named COVER TWO. Continue to work on music (it’s a theme).
[12 a.m.-2 p.m.] Tell myself I should think about bed. Ignore myself and confinue to work on music.
[2 a.m.-4 a.m.] Force myself into bed where I have many books to choose from. This is what I’m reading presently, depending on my mood. Finally I listen to Nick Hakim’s new song, "Qadir," and am taken by its beauty and grace. Good night.
If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.
If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website.
Hero The Band perform at the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Annual Membership Celebration
Photo: Marcus Ingram/WireImage
Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"
How sound planning for a creative future in our urban areas makes all the difference for artists and musicians
The future, as they say, is now. And for music makers around the world, building a future for themselves often starts at home, in their local creative community and in the city where they live. While technology has expanded communication and made the world smaller, cities continue to grow, making planning for the future a critical cultural mission of the present.
To that end, a new report by global organization Sound Diplomacy titled "This Must Be The Place" examines, "The role of music and cultural infrastructure in creating better future cities for all of us." The 37-page deep dive into community planning and development highlights the importance of creative culture in what it calls "Future Cities."
"The government defines ‘Future Cities’ as 'a term used to imagine what cities themselves will be like," the report states, "how they will operate, what systems will orchestrate them and how they will relate to their stakeholders (citizens, governments, businesses, investors, and others),'"
According to the report, only three global cities or states currently have cultural infrastructure plans: London, Amsterdam and New South Wales. This fact may be surprising considering how city planning and sustainability have become part of the discussion on development of urban areas, where the UN estimates 68 percent of people will live by 2050.
"Our future places must look at music and culture ecologically. Much like the way a building is an ecosystem, so is a community of creators, makers, consumers and disseminators," the report says. "The manner in which we understand how to maintain a building is not translated to protecting, preserving and promoting music and culture in communities."
The comparison and interaction between the intangibility of culture and the presence of physical space is an ongoing theme throughout the report. For instance, one section of the report outlines how buildings can and should be designed to fit the cultural needs of the neighborhoods they populate, as too often, use of a commercial space is considered during the leasing process, not the construction process, leading to costly renovations.
"All future cities are creative cities. All future cities are music cities."
On the residential side, as cities grow denser, the need increases for thoughtful acoustic design and sufficient sound isolation. Future cities can and should be places where people congregate
"If we don’t design and build our future cities to facilitate and welcome music and experience, we lose what makes them worth living in."
For musicians and artists of all mediums, the answer to making—and keeping—their cities worth living in boils down to considering their needs, impact and value more carefully and sooner in the planning process.
"The report argues that property is no longer an asset business, but one built on facilitating platforms for congregation, community and cohesion," it says. "By using music and culture at the beginning of the development process and incorporating it across the value chain from bid to design, meanwhile to construction, activation to commercialisation, this thinking and practice will result in better places."
The report offers examples of how planners and leaders are handling this from around the world. For instance, the Mayor Of London Night Czar, who helps ensure safety and nighttime infrastructure for venues toward the Mayor's Vision for London as a 24-hour city. Stateside, Pittsburgh, Penn., also has a Night Mayor in place to support and inform the growth of its creative class.
What is a music ecosystem? We believe the music influences and interacts with various sectors in a city. We have designed this infographic to show how music ecosystems work and impact cities, towns and places: https://t.co/0DIUpN1Dll— Sound Diplomacy (@SoundDiplomacy) August 14, 2019
Diversity, inclusion, health and well-being also factor into the reports comprehensive look at how music and culture are every bit as important as conventional business, ergonomic and environmental considerations in Future Cites. Using the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture as a reference, it declared, "A Chamber of Culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce."
In the end, the report serves as a beacon of light for governments, organizations, businesses and individuals involved in planning and developing future cities. Its core principals lay out guideposts for building friendly places to music and culture and are backed with case studies and recommendations. But perhaps the key to this progress is in changing how we approach the use of space itself, as the answer to supporting music may be found in how we look at the spaces we inhabit.
"To develop better cities, towns and places, we must alter the way we think about development, and place music and culture alongside design, viability, construction and customer experience," it says. "Buildings must be treated as platforms, not assets. We must explore mixed‑use within mixed‑use, so a floor of a building, or a lesser‑value ground floor unit can have multiple solutions for multiple communities."