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White Whale: From the Belly of the Beast

 story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: Sept. 13, 2006

White Whale
w/ Nada Surf, The Plus Ones
Thursday, Sept. 21, 9 p.m.
Sokol Underground
13th & Martha

"Do you listen to the music you listened to when you were 18?"

The question, posed by White Whale bassist Rob Pope, was particularly significant since we were discussing his old band, The Get Up Kids -- a band that at its apex played to thousands of screaming, faceless fans as openers for acts like Green Day and Weezer. That was back in their heyday, a long time ago.

Could White Whale attract the same sort of rabid fans? "I don't think the youngsters are gonna get it immediately," Pope said via cell as the band headed to Fayetteville, Ark., for the opening night of a tour that brings them to Sokol Underground Sept. 21. "Their older brothers and sisters might play it for them, but I don't think the average 17-year-old will like it."




Listening to White Whale is like moving into your first apartment vs. getting your first driver's license when comparing its musical maturity with The Get Up Kids -- a band that helped define "emo" in the early '00s. Consisting of former members of fellow Lawrence bands Butter Glory and Thee Higher Burning Fire, White Whale washes its hands of all the greasy kids' stuff to create something that's infinitely more dynamic, intelligent and, ultimately, more grown up.

Just released on Merge Records, the band's debut, WWI, sounds like a rock-groove album from the '70s. Songs like the 7-plus-minute head-trip "O'William, O'Sarah," with its rolling bass and shining, echo-static vocal effects, the majestic "The Admiral," with its twinkling keyboard arpeggios, and the strutting rocker "We're Just Temporary, Ma'am" that dances trippingly atop a rat-a-tat-snare, recall such modern-day acts as The Arcade Fire and My Morning Jacket as well as old-timers like The Moody Blues and (especially) The Kinks, thanks to vocalist Matt Suggs' keen sonic resemblance to Ray Davies (complete with quivering faux-accent).

Pope loves the fact that their ambitious debut is headed in no single direction with no destination in sight, unlike The Get Up Kids' angst-ridden emo records. "Back then, there was a lot of pressure from people who wanted us to sound a certain way -- a way that we didn't want to sound," he said of his former band. "It's great to be in a band where there's no pressure like that at all."

But despite the fact that WWI is better than anything that The Get Up Kids ever released, Pope sounds certain that his new band will never reach his former band's level of notoriety. "I think it would be great if White Whale became that successful," he said, "but that kind of shit is like winning a lottery. Then again, who would have ever thought that TV on the Radio would be as big as they've become?"

For now, Pope, 28, says he's put all the old stuff behind him. He hasn't listened to a Get Up Kids album in years. "I'm sure I will at some point for novelty's sake," he said. "The last time I did listen to it, it took me back to when I was 18, which was cool. I still appreciate music I listened to when I was that old, but, really, do you listen to the music you listened to when you were 18?"

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Published in The Omaha Reader Sept. 13, 2006. Copyright © 2006 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.




"Back then, there was a lot of pressure from people who wanted us to sound a certain way -- a way that we didn't want to sound."