For a band like The Devil Whale, making it in today's music business means not just putting out an excellent full-length album, like the Salt Lake City indie folk act did this spring, but also putting in some serious miles on the road and obtaining more than a few bruises along the way.Not all trips are as smooth and low impact as the string of free shows The Devil Whale is playing throughout Oregon as part of McMenamins' Great Northwest Music Tour. For example, sometimes a band like this, which plays highly melodic throwback folk rock, will get booked in the middle of a death metal lineup. This actually happened to the men of The Devil Whale and as front man Brinton Jones can tell you, it wasn't exactly an ideal gig.
"We showed up at a club in San Diego and it was a death rock night. I'm an open-minded guy, but there was a guy dressed as a witch with cobwebs and stuff like that all over himself. We obviously weren't going to win anybody over," says Jones, having just wrapped up a day of rehearsals in the band's hometown at the tail end of a rare five-week break from touring.
Jones found the promoter, who was wearing a corset and had the center of her head shaved with the remaining hair spiked up to make for a hirsute gothic crown of sorts, and said The Devil Whale - which does kind of sound like a death metal band name, right? - was going to take the stage. But before they even struck a chord, the promoter came up on the stage, took to the mic and said, "This band came from Utah and if you could be patient with them, that would be great."
She then left the stage to the band, who, still stunned by the fact that the promoter had effectively said "hey everybody, this band sucks, sorry about that," nevertheless played the catchy tunes coupled with Jones' poetic lyrics that have brought them rave reviews for their new album, Teeth, and a spot opening for surging folk rockers The Head and the Heart (friends of The Devil Whale) this fall. Then, they got the hell out of there and went camping in Joshua Tree National Park.
The Devil Whale could easily be, and deservedly so, the next band to ride the wave of interest in throwback sounds that's been so popular over the past few years, thanks to bands like Fleet Foxes and Mumford and Sons. But The Devil Whale, despite the fact that their record was produced by Seattle wiz Shawn Simmons, who also worked on The Head and the Heart's smash debut, is a little louder, a little more raw and, all around, more rock and roll than those aforementioned bands.
"We're more guitar driven and they're more vocally driven. We have at least two electric guitars most of the time," says Jones when the conversation bends to discuss some of The Devil Whale's contemporaries. While Jones is still the primary author of the band's songs, the Devil Whale became more collaborative when recording Teeth. Jones doesn't want to spend too much time trying to classify his band, but he acknowledges the act is influenced by an older sound. And if you figure in Jones' penchant for writing highly descriptive, emotive and poetic lyrics, the band's sound doesn't always seem like something you'd hear today.
"In a way, the approach of our band is that we're a mix of old things and new things. We like a lot of old music and we get lumped in with the throwback classic rock stuff. That's fine, but I still think of what we're doing as new," says Jones.
That's not the only misconception people might have about The Devil Whale. There's also the fact that they reside in Salt Lake City, which although not as conservative as the rest of the state in which it's found, still isn't thought of as a bastion of rock and roll music. As they've toured the country over the past few years, Jones and company have heard all the stereotypes that come along with being from Utah.
"I don't think any of us really care. It's obviously a unique place to be from, but it's great to play music in a smaller town like that," says Jones.
Again, he doesn't mind the misconceptions or being stereotyped - as long as no one preemptively apologizes for The Devil Whale's performance and/or books them in the middle of a death metal lineup.