No Athens band captured the back-to-basics rock swagger of the early-to-mid 2000s better than The Whigs, a scrappy trio of college-aged buds brought together by mutual friends and shared music tastes. Capitalizing on the post-Strokes boom, the band created a significant groundswell in town by bringing together both sides of the Khaki Divide. That swell eventually surged across the country, and it wasn’t long before the buzz around The Whigs’ live shows caught the attention of both RCA Records and Rolling Stone, which named the band one of the best unsigned acts in the country.
The Whigs were riding high following the release and tour in support of their 2005 debut album, Give ’Em All a Big Fat Lip. But despite the early accolades and attention, the band found itself at a crossroads after bassist Hank Sullivant decided to leave the group to tour with New York City up-and-comers MGMT and focus on his psych-tinged solo project, Kuroma.
“We found ourselves in a situation where we now had a record deal, we had some good momentum going for the band, but we didn’t have a third member,” says guitarist and vocalist Parker Gispert. “It was kind of a weird time where there was sort of this question mark as to what to do, but at the same time I felt like I was writing really good songs.”
In the face of uncertainty, Gispert and drummer Julian Dorio decided they’d come too far to hang it up, and continued making strides towards creating their breakout sophomore album. The band brought in a friend, Adam Saunders—from local group The Pendletons—to learn Sullivant’s parts and contribute new material for demo recordings. “It was a pretty tough thing to be dealt. He kind of had to learn these other parts, kind of master them as if they were his own, and then also perform the ones that he did,” says Gispert. “But he nailed it."
The addition was natural, but temporary; Saunders signed on just to help with recording, and didn’t plan to tour on the record once it was released. In need of a permanent new member, The Whigs’ label at the time, ATO, held auditions in Los Angeles to find a replacement.
“There are multiple people there who, that’s what they do: They source people for bands,” says Gispert. “So, we have a group of maybe 40 people who are relatively our age,” he continues with a laugh, before listing a sample of inquiries included on the questionnaire, like “What are your favorite bands?” and “Do you party?”
The search was a bust, and the pair were running out of options as they progressed towards the new album’s imminent release date. “We had booked a tour with Jason Isbell that start of that fall [in 2007], and, no joke, it was two weeks before the tour and we had nothing,” Gispert says. Finally, when he and Dorio had seemingly exhausted all their options, they thought to ask a pal they knew by proxy, Tim Deaux. “He had 10 days to learn the songs, and then we were on tour,” says Gispert.
With the existential crisis handled, The Whigs released their much-anticipated second album, Mission Control, in January 2008. “There was definitely a pretty dramatic change,” says Gispert of the record, which quickly gained traction thanks in part to radio support for the album’s lead single, “Right Hand on My Heart.”
In addition, The Whigs got their first opportunities to play late-night TV, making appearances on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Around the same time, the band was receiving offers to open for bigger acts, including Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Kooks and Kings of Leon.
Now, as the band prepares to celebrate Mission Control’s 10th anniversary with a one-off show at the 40 Watt, Gispert is able to look past the anxieties of a then-changing lineup and appreciate the record that came to be. “The whole recording process and figuring out who was going to play and all that stuff was pretty stressful,” he says. But “I’m definitely super proud of it, and when I listen to it, it feels good hearing it now.”
THE WHIGS Hard-driving former Athens rock trio with heavy pop sensibilities. See story on p. 11.
THE ARCS Long-running local rock four-piece with power-pop influences.