"We're playing this weekend, so they love me," says Sullivant, blushing. "I can't get them to talk to me otherwise."
The blonde's intermittent attraction is symptomatic of the dual nature of the Whigs -- vocalist/guitarist Parker Gispert, 21; bassist Sullivant, 20; and drummer Julian Dorio, 21. On stage, the three University of Georgia students appear 10 years older than they do at any other time. Mid-song, they are sophisticated, forceful, sensitive, precise and meticulous.
But before a chord has been strummed, the Whigs are just standard college-age kids -- mired in a world of hormones, mischief, keg beer and the occasional textbook. They make fun of one another, complain about having to study and can't stop worrying about what their parents might think of their music, their clothes and their behavior.
Sometimes their naivety bleeds onto the stage. At the Earl in October, the guys beguiled the crowd, appearing lost on stage. Gispert wandered around the small stage clumsily looking for his keyboard stool, which was tucked under the instrument. Sullivant, unable to control the feedback from his bass rig, stared helplessly and pressed buttons to no avail.
But, as usual, while playing, the band was a well-oiled machine. The Whigs blitzed out their sing-along, alt-country-influenced indie pop and sold the few dozen attendees on their validity as a top-tier local band. Because of the sheer quality of the songs, many excused their earlier faux pas -- the trio actually came across as charming rather than dim.
99X DJ Jay Harren was in the crowd, and indicated he was interested in playing them on his "Sunday School" local music show. The Earl's doorwoman, Jennifer Dames -- who probably hears more bands per year than anyone in Atlanta -- approached the boys backstage looking for a CD.
Unfortunately for her, and for the band, the Whigs don't have one yet.
"I just don't even think we're ready yet," says Gispert, of the prospect of recording an album. "I don't think we have enough songs yet. I mean, we probably have like 20 or 30 songs, but the ones that recur in [live] setlists are probably like eight or nine."
When the Whigs finally record, though -- which they plan to do during their upcoming winter break -- they'll be doing so in style. As part of winning the Open-Mic Madness band battle at Smith's Olde Bar in August, the trio won two full days in the recording studio with producer Don McCollister, who has twidled knobs for Indigo Girls, Shawn Mullins, Sister Hazel and Dorio's older brother's band, local modern rockers Trances Arc. They also won a Labor Day Weekend trip on the Rock Boat, where they shared the stage with acts like Tonic, Cowboy Mouth and Edwin McCain.
And now, the Whigs will close out the year opening for Maroon 5, Sarah McLachlan and the Barenaked Ladies at Star94's Jingle Jam. Jessica Simpson is the show's hostess.
Though neither the Rock Boat nor the Jingle Jam seems like appropriate forums for the Whigs' brand of wide-open, catchy rock, one of the group's most bankable virtues is its accessibility -- they seem to connect with audiences, no matter if it's a Top 40, modern-rock or indie-rock audience.
Still, Sullivant will admit he doesn't exactly sing Barenaked Ladies songs in the shower. "I just think it's funny how the bands we've been fortunate to hook up with are bands that I was never ever really crazy about at all," he says, "which it makes it kind of interesting."
Gispert, who's partial to bands like the Dismemberment Plan and Wilco, agrees. "I think it's more of a challenge to get up there and play a show like [the Jingle Jam]. It's going to be a bunch of 9-year-olds and 45-year-olds. You would do it, wouldn't you?"
Perhaps, but most bands wouldn't get offered a gig like that less than a year after playing their first Atlanta show. But as the blonde at Tasty World knows, the group produces a sound that's way beyond it members' years.
So where did this group attain its measure of sophistication? Inferring from their backstory, a lot of it probably comes from Gispert spending a large chunk of the summer of 2001 in the hospital.
"I got mono," he says, "I got tonsillitis twice. I couldn't breathe 'cause of my tonsils. I was in the hospital for, like, 13 days. Got out, then I got the shingles. And then I got Hepatitis A. And I guess my body was just worn out and my liver just totally failed. And so I was in the hospital for a couple weeks. And I was supposed to go in for a biopsy or whatever, and I just got better."
While the string of illnesses kept Gispert from matriculating to UGA in the fall of 2001, it did free him up to do some self-discovery -- and listen to plenty of music. While he was sidelined at home in Atlanta, he decided he wanted to start a band. He had just rekindled a friendship with former Westminster Schools acquaintance Dorio, at the time a UGA sophomore. The two began playing together just for kicks, but soon it blossomed into a real band.
"Every other weekend, I would just get in the car and drive to Atlanta and sit [in Gispert's basement] for four hours," says Dorio. "Or I'd stay there for a night, and we'd just sit there and play for 10 hours. And then I'd get back in the car and come to Athens and go back to school."
When Gispert finally made it up to UGA in January 2002, the two searched for a bassist. Singer/guitarist Sullivant, a freshman from Memphis, was simultaneously looking for a band -- but he wasn't an ideal fit. "The thing was, we needed a bass player, and Hank's a guitarist," says Dorio. "But [Hank] was like, 'Look, I just want to play music, and if you need a bass player, I'll play bass.'"
During a Whigs show, Sullivant is often the visual focal point. He is a ball of energy with shockingly orange hair, hopping around the stage to the rhythms that he and Dorio create. Meanwhile, his guitar solo during "Half the World Away" -- at a recent show, he fell to his knees arena-rock-style while playing it -- attests to his being an excellent guitarist as well.
"Ever since I started playing bass, the dance aspect of music has suddenly entered the way I think about music," says Sullivant. "And all of a sudden, I move around on stage and it's kind of a natural thing for me."
Sullivant joined in February, and two months later, the band began playing around Athens, eventually opening for Jason Lowenstein (formerly of Sebadoh) and Kindercore band the Sunshine Fix in October 2002. A year later, they're opening for a former MTV darling, a women's music icon and a ditsy pop starlet.
Regardless of the leaps and bounds the Whigs have made this year, Gispert still thinks there's plenty of work to be done. "I don't want it to sound like we're at all content with our 2003," he says. "I mean, we've done good, but, like, we don't have a record out, man."
Well, there's something to look forward to in 2004.
come on man you know you got a bromance. you probably still rock that OutKast…
Yes, 14 is the correct answer. I'll pass your info along to the group's manager,…
That was January of 2007, and they are 21 now, so I'm guessing 14?