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The Whipkey Three

The Whipkey Three: Perfect Harmony

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: Oct. 22, 2008

The Whipkey Three
w/ It's True
Oct. 25, 9 p.m.
729 No. 14th St.

There's a relationship at the core of Omaha band The Whipkey Three that extends beyond friendship.

Frontman Matt Whipkey and bassist/vocalist Sarah Benck are more than just bandmates. They're boyfriend and girlfriend -- or as puts it, they're soulmates -- which can make band practice kind of weird.

"I can see when there's tension between the two of them that had something to do with something that happened before I got to band practice," said drummer Scott "Zip" Zimmerman, quickly adding, "These guys are my best friends; it's part of the fun of hanging around with them."

In fact, it was Zimmerman who had the idea of bringing Benck on as the band's bass player. He and Whipkey began playing as a duo a little over a year ago, shortly after Whipkey's previous band, Anonymous American, stopped performing.



"We had reached the point where we weren't having much fun," Whipkey said of his previous band. "And if you're not the Rolling Stones, what's the point of not having fun playing music?"

That didn't stop Whipkey from continuing to write new material, however. He began playing the new songs with Zimmerman, who also plays in Citizens Band, The Ground Tyrants and Sarah Benck and The Robbers -- the legendary Omaha band Benck has fronted for years.

"He learned a handful of songs and it was fun until we realized it was stupid to not have a bass player," Whipkey said. His first thought was to ask Anonymous American's Bobby Carrig to join them. But…

"Sarah told me she had a bass and would like to play for us," Zimmerman said. "I told Matt to ask her."

Maybe Whipkey hadn't thought of the idea himself because at the time Benck didn't know how to play bass. But she was willing to learn to fill out the trio. "It was a completely new instrument for me," she said. "Some of the theory passes over from guitar, but when you're singing and playing guitar, you can stop and let it ring. When playing bass, you have to be there the whole time. When it's not there -- or when you mess up -- people notice."

And that's when it can get kind of awkward.

"It took a little time for me to not have my feelings hurt by band leader Matt if I did something wrong or played the wrong note," Benck said. "It wasn't my band mate pointing it out, it was my boyfriend."

"Over the course of a relationship, you develop a more frank communication," said Whipkey, who's been with Benck for a couple years. "There's not a lot of tip-toeing around."

"He never yelled at me, but it was hard for me not to put up my defenses," Benck said. "I felt so unsure about the instrument that anything pointed out automatically made me more defensive." That tension would ease as Benck quickly learned to master the bass, but other issues involved in soul mates becoming band mates also took time to work out.

"I'm kind of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) about things, and this is certainly one of them," Whipkey said of the band. "If anything, I jabber on and on about band stuff and it probably annoys the hell out of her. I've never been in a situation where I was around a band member this much."

"We both respect each other, that's part of why we're together in the first place," Benck said. "We understand what music means to us. I know when I hear him playing a song 50 times and it gets on my nerves to say nothing, because I know that it means so much to him. I guess it's just a respect thing."









The Whipkey Three CD

"These were written during a period of time when I wondered if I was meeting my own personal expectations -- when you find yourself at 26 and 27 and things haven't happened for you yet."












The Whipkey Three

"Over the course of a relationship, you develop a more frank communication. There's not a lot of tip-toeing around."

Their close proximity extends to their day jobs -- all three work at Dietz Music -- and ultimately to the songs heard on the band's debut full length.

Recorded in December 2007 at Bassline Studios, the 10-song opus mixes flavorful Americana with '70s-era FM pop for a collection that's radio ready and easily the best thing Whipkey has created with any band. Fans of Anonymous American's crunch-twang will be pleased with shiny, anthemic rockers like album opener "Lucky" and Creedance-flavored "Had An Understanding." But it's when Whipkey swerves off the Americana course that things really get interesting. The chiming "Separation" is a smooth ballad that borders on doo-wap, while "Don't Believe in the Evening" has the down-low kick of a classic Soul Asylum track.

At its best, the lyrics are introspective, and ask questions about making the most out of life. "These were written during a period of time when I wondered if I was meeting my own personal expectations -- when you find yourself at 26 and 27 and things haven't happened for you yet," Whipkey said. Other songs are about friends caught up in the nightlife, a place Whipkey knows all too well.

"I'm further removed from that now," he said. "Those aren't fond memories." 

He hopes to make fonder memories as the trio heads on the road to support the album later this year, spurred on by radio support provided by national promoter Tinderbox Music, a company that works with a network of more than 500 commercial and non-commercial radio stations. "It lays the groundwork," Benck said. "It gives us a better reason to tour."

But isn't being stuck in a van for weeks on end with your significant other (and your best friend) reason enough? Maybe having your girlfriend in the band isn't so weird after all.

"I don't think it's weird," Whipkey said. "Here's someone who learned how to play an instrument just because she wanted to play with me. How cool is that?"

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Published in The Omaha Reader Oct. 22, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.