In today’s tumultuous times, Whitney is a godsend — a band that’s making unapologetically pleasant music during a moment when it’s more difficult than ever to find the inspiration to do so. Still touring in support of last year’s excellent Forever Turned Around, the Chicago indie outfit will soon travel to the 305 for its first headlining show in Miami since an opening set for Phoenix at the Fillmore Miami Beach two and a half years ago.
On an uncharacteristically warm January day in Chicago, Max Kakacek, guitarist and half of the songwriting duo that’s the band’s creative core, spoke with New Times in anticipation of the group’s upcoming show at the Ground on Wednesday, February 5.
The band’s music threads together many styles — dashes of jazz, soft rock, folk, and traditional indie rock can be heard in any given Whitney song — all with a consistently positive vibe.
“I think, generally, melodically, Julien [Ehrlich] and I are very pop-forward, and that kind of tends to make it sound a lot happier,” Kakacek says of the band’s pleasant sound. “The melodies and chords we use are mainly major key, so it leads to happier melodies.”
For a band known for its laid-back and warm sonics, it should come as no surprise that Whitney has a lot of fun onstage. The bandmates were all smiles during a show last fall in Atlanta, and any one of the seven members could be caught cracking up at random intervals throughout the gig.
Kakacek sums up the group’s attitude toward performing by succinctly explaining what all the laughter is about during its sets. “When we’re really laughing up there, it’s usually when one of us makes a mistake that only we can hear, and we’re making fun of the person for messing up,” he says. “We’re all kind of perfectionists and have been playing our instruments for a while, so every show someone is gonna slip up at one point. That’s just kind of the nature of live shows and that’s why they’re awesome, but we always like to jab each other as that’s happening.”
Not only do the bandmates often make one anther laugh, but frontman and drummer Julien Ehrlich isn’t afraid of cracking wise with audience members as well.
“Sometimes you’ll play a city where people are less talkative, but if the audience opens up that avenue, we’re happy to oblige,” Kakacek explains. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously in the sense of not talking to someone if they express an opinion about something.”
Because Whitney has spent plenty of time over the past few years playing festival gigs and opening slots, Kakacek says the band is excited to play a headlining show in Miami.
“As musicians and performers, getting to share a space with people who are coming just to see you, to feel a little bit more intimate and play songs that are deeper cuts — instead of just fitting all the bigger songs into a 45-minute festival set — affords us a little more personality,” he says, before adding that “there are benefits and negatives to both.”
Kakacek is an ardent believer in winning over audiences who might be unfamiliar with a band through strong live performances, and he recognizes not everyone who comes to a concert might know Whitney’s discography from cover to cover.
“Considering how it’s 2020 — and this is in no way combative or competitive — but we’re a seven-piece from Chicago, and we all play our instruments live onstage,” he says, emphasizing Whitney’s live instrumentation “defines [it] as a band.”
“All of us actually play an instrument, and when you come see a live show, you’re gonna see a bunch of musicians trying to essentially outdo any recording that they’ve made, without using any tracks or any sort of supplemental material that’s not someone playing an instrument,” Kakacek says. “I think that’s important to the personality of our band: We pride ourselves on playing the music as live as possible in an age when lots of people [don’t] — and again, more power to those people — but I do think it separates our band from others.”