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Unpacking Whitney’s Midwestern Mindset

Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek talk Chicago, Secretly Canadian, and more

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Photo by Roberto Campos

For Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek of much-loved indie rock band Whitney, the road has become a pretty familiar place in recent years. When the duo aren’t out touring the world, however, they find solitude in their Midwestern stomping grounds.

“People-wise, it is the best city in the world, I think,” says Ehrlich of Chicago. “We get to visit New York all the time, and we go to L.A. But it’s just a different vibe. I feel like the truest, most honest and best people are here.”

In fitting fashion, Whitney will kick off their fall tour in support of 2019 album Forever Turned Around with a headlining show at The Bluebird in Bloomington on Monday, Sept. 9. Beforehand, Seth Johnson caught up with Ehrlich and Kakacek for an interview, discussing NBA basketball, Secretly Canadian, and much more.

SETH JOHNSON: I follow you guys on Twitter and have noticed you talking about the NBA from time to time. Are you big basketball fans?

JULIEN EHRLICH: Pretty huge. It’s happening rapidly. It’s becoming our other focus besides music.

JOHNSON: Who are your teams?

MAX KAKACEK: I grew up in Chicago, so I’m a Bulls fan. He’s a Blazers fan.

JOHNSON: You’re signed to Secretly Canadian, which is based in Bloomington. What do you like about being on the label?

KAKACEK: One of the first proper shows we played was actually at the Bishop. Because we sent them [Secretly Canadian] the demos, and they wanted to see us live.

EHRLICH: And the only people at the show were Secretly staff because we hadn’t even released anything.

KAKACEK: The next day, we met up with them, and they were like, “We wanna do this record.” We actually celebrated at Steak ’n Shake. [laughs]

EHRLICH: I remember calling my dad outside of Steak ’n Shake and being like, “Hey. I think we’re gonna sign a record deal.”

It’s important because A) they’re good people, and B) they were the first label to really care. Because after that, we did the last CMJ, and we could’ve basically chosen whatever label we wanted at that point, but we aren’t that type of band. We cared that they cared. And they were the first people to care, so it just made sense to commit.

KAKACEK: Also, just in general, all the Secretly Group labels offer such a diverse group of music, and it’s really sick to be part of a larger project like that instead of something so insular.

JOHNSON: I’d like to dig more into your Midwest ties, being that you’re signed to Secretly Canadian and also live in Chicago. Where are you both originally from?

EHRLICH: I’m from Oregon, but I moved to Chicago seven or eight years ago.

KAKACEK: And I grew up in Chicago. Pretty much all my family has been here for a minute.

EHRLICH: It’s like a love/hate relationship with the Midwest.

KAKACEK: We get to tour so much that whenever we’re getting bogged down by it, we get to escape it a little bit. But it’s a great place to call home and come back to.

JOHNSON: Macie Stewart of the Chicago band Ohmme (signed to Indy’s Joyful Noise Recordings) contributed strings to your latest album, Forever Turned Around. What has the Chicago music community meant to you and your success?

EHRLICH: There’s a reason why the people that play music in Chicago are hanging out all the time, whether or not we post it on Instagram. They’re just our favorite people. We hang out all the time.

KAKACEK: You go to a show, and everyone in a band from Chicago is just there hanging out.

EHRLICH: You all wind up at the same functions, no matter what.

JOHNSON: You guys were touring so much in support of Light Upon the Lake. How did that strenuous touring schedule affect the making of Forever Turned Around?

EHRLICH: It delayed it, for sure. We didn’t intend on there being a three-year gap in releases, but we aren’t very good at solidifying songs on the road. We can come up with little bits and pieces that could turn into songs, but we need peace and quiet when we’re writing.

JOHNSON: What did you learn about yourselves during that stretch of nonstop touring?

KAKACEK: I don’t know if you learn anything about yourself more than you just become a little blank. You just become a little lost. Having a routine and getting a coffee in the morning is amazing, but you don’t get to do those things [while on tour]. You just become kind of like a zombie.

EHRLICH: A little piece of you dies. Immediately after writing Light Upon the Lake, we all let our leases go and were excited to explore the world. But then after exploration was almost finished, it was like, “I cannot fucking wait to settle down and go back to normal life.”

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Seth Johnson can be reached by email at sjohnson@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-254-2400 or on Twitter @sethvthem

Writer - Music, Comedy & Sports

An Indianapolis native, I love all things music, especially of the local variety. My other passions also include comedy, social justice, and the Indiana Pacers.