Why Whitney is ‘Forever Turned Around’
It’s a Tuesday afternoon and Max Kakacek has all sorts of plans.
He might check out the Andy Warhol exhibit at The Art Institute of Chicago. He might catch a showing “1917” with his parents. Or he might even hit another Bulls basketball game—which are apparently a bargain these days.
“They’re terrible,” Kakacek said. “I went to a game that was $12 the other day. It’s like going to the movies. I grew up in the ‘90s in Chicago, so I had to be a Bulls fan.”
The guitarist and co-songwriter (with Julien Erlich) for Whitney knows how to maximize spare time because he doesn’t get a lot of it—unless post-show beer and billiards with audience members counts (which they’re all totally down to do, by the way).
The band has been on tour for five years and counting, lately promoting the album “Forever Turned Around.”
The title feels more appropriate than ever.
“The reason we were drawn to that album title was because it’s very fluid and seemingly means something very different every time I think about it,” Kakacek said. “The phrase itself is confusing, which is purposeful. What it means to me now, I’m not really sure. After this three months of touring, the majority of our band came back and got dumped from being on the road and the stress that puts on relationships.”
So the band’s basically primed to write another record, I joked.
In theory, yes, he said. The band decided to rent a house together in Oregon to work on music.
“It’s a space to work while we’re in between—everyone seems to be in between where they want to live, and no one’s really sure of what’s happening in their life,” Kakacek said. “So I think ‘Forever Turned Around’ is literally indicative of being constantly in flux for a lot of members of our band.”
Whitney will always be a Chicago band—three of the members are from there—but they need to escape for a moment. Being in Oregon with mountains and more affordable rent feels right.
“A few of us just need to take a break from the city to mend,” Kakacek said. “I don’t think that would be possible if we were here. Ya know, classic breakup shit.”
Being on tour wears them down, but it’s everything they love, too, Kakacek said. They’ve even been wearing suits on stage—because, why not? It’s nice to get dressed up, he said.
Every night is different, and how the songs affect the crowd is different, too.
“If a crowd is a little more on the louder side, definitely a song like ‘Giving Up’—that has a little more energy to it—seems to hit harder,” Kakacek said. “If a crowd is more into being quiet and listening to subtleties, songs like ‘Day and Night’ hold a little more emotional weight.”
Their headspace while writing the record was all over the place, Kakacek. Some of the songs were written while they were on tour for their 2016 album “Light Upon the Lake.”
“We’d been on the road for arguably too long, so some of them were written from a point of falling back into the writing process and not real sure where we were headed with them,” Kakacek said. “Some of them were meticulously chiseled—for better or for worse. Obsessed over, as we tend to do.”
Kakacek thought they might never cross the finish line with track “Friend of Mine.” They wrote the music first.
“It took a long time to get our heads around it,” Kakacek said. “It obviously ended up being written about losing touch with an old friend, through addiction or some glaring issue that was wrong with the friendship … it’s almost like a light, happy Neil Young song we’ve written or tried to write. It’s funny that it ended up being such negative, or dark, lyrical content.”
Being on tour so frequently also influenced the lyrical content.
“I can’t complain about my life in any sense, but one of the harder things I think touring musicians all grapple with is essentially the nomadic, transient aspect of our lives, where we see old friends moving on, settling down, starting a family,” Kakacek said. “Seeing these friends move on with their lives while we’re living on the road … I’m not saying that from a point of jealousy or being upset at the reality; it’s just appreciating that is a reality.”
“‘Song for Ty’ is an example of that. An old Chicago friend that was pretty much
someone I’d see every day for years, then we started touring and he lives in L.A. now and
we see each other once a year now—barely even that.”
In some ways, “Forever Turned Around” maximizes the sound and ideas on their previous record “Light Upon the Lake,” Kakacek said.
“We needed to put a punctuation mark on the sound we stumbled upon on the first album and try to perfect it in our own heads before moving on from it,” Kakacek said. “In our minds, it was, ‘How do we perfect this blend of country soul and a little bit of folk and widespread arrangements and make a concise, straightforward album?’ I think that was our goal with that one. Looking forward, we’re probably going to try to switch things up.”
Before the interview ended, Kakacek was kind enough to clear up a bit of conjecture over their band name. When they came up with Whitney, they were listening to the 1980s musician Lewis and a band called Rob.
“We were like, ‘Man, having a single name to represent a group of people seemed like the most interesting thing we could do,’” Kakacek said. “It became a persona we wrote from, from the very beginning, to understand where we were coming from. Whitney became this thing outside of ourselves. It only lasted the first few months before we took ownership of our identity.”
WHAT: Whitney with Chai
WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
DETAILS: whitneytheband.com, vinylmusichall.com