Risk management: Athens rockers The Whigs (now based in Nashville) never play it safe

Lo-fi orchestral: The Whigs look for new sounds on each album. “It’s not like we’re just going to make a garage rock album where every song is a certain way,” says guitarist/singer Parker Gispert. “Hopefully each song has a different vibe.” Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins.

who: The Whigs with Kuroma
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Friday, Nov. 2 (9 p.m. $10 in advance or $12 day of show. http://www.thegreyeagle.com)

“I don’t think we’ve ever played it that safe on records, which I’m proud of,” says Parker Gispert, frontman of The Whigs. "Staying Alive," the opening track to the band’s new album, Enjoy the Company, breaks several rules right out of the gate. It's eight minutes long. It devolves into, first, a mellow amble before revving into a jam session that starts out sort of Southern rock-ish and gets increasingly avant-garde noise-rock from there.

“It felt good as a first song,” says Gispert. “On paper it seems weird, but when I sit down with the record, it feels right.”

Another risk that paid off handsomely: The band’s move, a year ago, from their Athens, Ga., provenance to Nashville, Tenn. “It’s been fun getting to experience a different city for a minute,” says Gispert. But “I definitely still identify us as an Athens band. That’s where the band became a band.”

This year is a special anniversary: 10 years since Gispert, drummer Julian Dorio and original bassist Hank Sullivant (replaced by Timothy Deaux in ’08) got together as students in Athens. They’ve toured with the likes of Kings of Leon (of whom, despite internal drama, Gispert says, “We always learn from those guys. They’ve always been really good to us.”), The Black Keys and Band of Skulls, and released (with Enjoy), four full-lengths. Gispert says he still listens back through the band’s catalog (and he promises the Whigs’ Asheville show this week will be a healthy mix of old and new songs.)

Maybe the new surroundings inspired new ideas, like the addition of the cello on the final track, “Ours.” That song is also divided into two distinct movements. “The front half is a big rock section,” says Gispert. “It just seemed sort of orchestral in composition, even initially. I always like to have a little bit of different instrumentation on the records, and we had never had any strings of any sort.” So he brought in cellist Heather McIntosh.

“I’ve always been looking for something that she could play on because I knew that she’d add a lot,” says Gispert. “The second she started playing on it, it just fit.”

What also fits nicely among Enjoy’s bombast and rock muscle is a selection of quieter tunes that display hearts firmly affixed to sleeves. Two minute acoustic track “Thank You” is the tenderest. Here, Gispert sings, “Baby, I’ve missed you so much / And lately I’ve needed your touch.” But, he tells Xpress, the song doesn’t draw from his love life.

“I was able to play it very casually on the guitar and not feel weird about it. It’s sort of like a subconscious thing for me,” is all he’s confessing. “We’ll go in and record a handful of songs at a time as we’re writing them. There was one cluster that was all slower, softer songs.”

Still, the Whigs are definitely in touch with their collective romantic side. It’s a dynamic, Gispert says that “paints a broader picture” — a style they’ve made their own. “It’s not like we’re just going to make a garage rock album where every song is a certain way. Hopefully each song has a different vibe.”

Even though the Whigs aren’t writing to please anyone else’s expectations, they do road-test new material. The group wrote more songs for Enjoy than they needed, and then toured the potential tracks. “The songs that end up on the record are ones that have the staying power,” says Gispert. “The other ones, we let them die. Which is good, I think. It’s important to be good self-editors.”

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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