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Voodoo Preview: The Whigs

Many college students would argue that being a full-time student is somewhat equivalent to maintaining a full-time job. Most college students would scoff at the idea of leaving the University of Georgia on a Tuesday night, loading a van with gear, driving 14 hours to New York city, playing a gig, then driving back to Athens, Georgia in time to make it to class the next morning. Parker Gispert and Julian Dorio were not your average students.

Whigs frontman Gispert and drummer Dorio attended the same high school in Atlanta, Georgia, but did not become friends until graduation. After high school, the duo moved to Athens and enrolled at the University of Georgia. School ties and spirit remain strong; Gispert slipped in an unsolicited “Go Bulldogs!” when reflecting on his alma mater. The pair played together for a few months before recruiting fellow Bulldog and bassist Hank Sullivant, giving birth to the Whigs and cementing the original band roster in 2002. In 2005, the band independently recorded and released their first album Give ‘Em All A Big Fat Lip. In 2008, Sullivant left the Whigs to pursue his personal band Kuroma and hit the road with MGMT. Correspondingly, Tim Deaux joined forces with Gispert and Dorio, making the Whigs what they are today—a classic, straight-forward, song-oriented rock ‘n’ roll band.

From the beginning, the Whigs were prolific and thrived on the road. “While we were still in school, we had actually begun touring,” Gispert says. “We would take the weekends – like a Thursday, Friday, Saturday block – and do regional shows. We started going to and from New York while we were in school, which was pretty insane. That’s what we wanted to do, and we were able to actually build a decent fan base while we were in school.” Before the trio had received their college degrees, they had shared the stage with bands such as the Drive-By Truckers and Franz Ferdinand. Today, the band continues to gain exposure from large-scale tours, most recently opening with the Black Keys for Kings of Leon in an amphitheater tour across the United States while supporting their third studio album In the Dark, which was released in March. “We graduated school in 2006, and have really been on the road ever since,” Gispert says.

In 2008, the Whigs played their first show with Kings of Leon in France. “The show was amazing. We went out that night in Paris, had a great time, and that night, I felt like we formed a bond,” says Gispert. The same evening, the Kings asked the Whigs to open their album release show for Only By The Night, which took place a few months later. “We did that show, and then went on a tour with them that fall, and became friends,” says Gispert of the touring partnership. “I’m a big fan of their music, and I was before, so for us, being able to do those tours with a band that we probably would have been paying to see anyway was pretty amazing.” In addition to supporting Kings of Leon, the Whigs have toured with the Kooks, Tokyo Police Club, the Hold Steady, Dead Confederate and many more, continuously adapting their always energetic live show accordingly.

Opening for Kings of Leon has not only given the Whigs large-scale exposure, but has drastically changed and shaped their live performance. “In a club,” Gispert explains, “if I move 10 feet to my left, I’m going to literally hit a wall. If you’re playing the arenas or the amphitheaters, everybody becomes a lot more animated on stage because you can run 30 feet to your left. So our show on stage has taken on a different persona.”

During their September run with the Black Keys and Kings of Leon, the Whigs alternated between large and smaller scale shows, playing clubs in support of the Keys during Kings of Leon travel and off days. On September 21, the Whigs played such a show at the House of Blues New Orleans – capacity 843 – opening an electrifying, sold-out show. “For us, we’re really in an odd place in a sense,” says Gispert. “We go from playing clubs ourselves, which are pretty small. We might play a 200-person club. The next show might be a 21,000-person amphitheater, and the next show might be a 1,000-person club. The next show might be a 100-person tiny club.”

For the Whigs, bouncing between drastically different spaces and crowd sizes means that shows never become stagnant. “It keeps the sets changing every night,” Gispert explains. “Certain songs definitely work better with bigger stages. Certain songs really blossom in the small clubs.” And sometimes it is a matter of practicality, as stage size can create limitations. When a stage is physically too small to allow for the use of a piano, the Whigs adjust their show and corresponding set list, taking such a restriction as a source of freshness rather than frustration. “We don’t really have room to put the piano onstage, so I guess there is not going to be a piano song tonight,” Gispert responds, using a tone that implies a corresponding shrug of his shoulders. “I really just enjoy playing every possible kind of show, even though they are different. We thrive on that.”

On June 30, the Whigs played in front of their largest crowd to date, opening for Kings of Leon at Hyde Park in London. “I remember sending a text message to the band after that day,” Gispert reflects. “I was just thanking them for having us on the show, and kind of definitively saying that it was probably the best day of my life. We went on early in the day, but we probably played to 40,000 people. It was so much fun. We’re not the kind of band who gets intimidated by a big crowd. We don’t get scared. We don’t get nervous. We don’t think, ‘Wow, this is so weird.’ We just get fired up. We’re so excited. Playing for that many people, to us, that is why you are onstage. You like playing to people.”

Gispert elaborates, “When you get to do something like that for the first time, it’s definitely surreal. You find yourself doing things that you don’t normally do.”

When asked if the Whigs plan to follow in the footsteps of Kings of Leon and other major rock bands, headlining amphitheater and arena tours of their own, Gispert examines the band’s progression before answering. “We’ve played hundreds of clubs. We tour in a van with a trailer. We’ve never had a tour bus. We’ve never done a tour with a semi. It’s not that we necessarily strive to do that, but it would be exciting.” He continues, “For us, I think it’s a very simple thing of always being up for a new challenge, to always be up for something that you’ve never done before. We’re the opening band on these bigger bills, and yes, I can definitely say that we would love to be headlining bigger shows like that, and kind of catering the evening to the audience.” Gispert pauses for a moment, then remarks, “That would be fun. I hope so.”

The Whigs play the Voodoo Experience Saturday, October 30 at 4 p.m. on the Sony Make.Believe Stage.