Vulture Whale. Photo courtesy of Tell All Your Friends PR.
Music writers, label reps, publicists and hundreds of musicians will descend on Austin, Texas, next week for one of the industry’s most notable festivals, South by Southwest Music and Media Conference. For several days, these folks will hop from venue to venue, listening out for the Next Big Thing. And more than a few Birmingham bands will put their music on display.
But first, they’re playing it in Birmingham. Tonight at WorkPlay, GAS MONEY will showcase several of those bands. Tonight’s lineup includes Preston Lovinggood’s Indian Red, The Grenadines, Vulture Whale, Through the Sparks and 13 Ghosts. After giving away tickets to the show, last night I sat down with Vulture Whale to talk about what you’ll hear tonight, the upcoming trip to Austin and the road they’ve traveled so far.
Members: Wes McDonald (lead vocals), Lester Nuby (guitar), Keelan Parrish (bass) and Jake Waitzman (drums)
History: McDonald, Nuby and Waitzman all graduated from Mountain Brook High School. “We’ve all been jamming around since back in those days,” Waitzman says. They met Parrish, originally from Clanton, and the Vulture Whale lineup coalesced in 2005. “It seems like when we first got it together, we were playing a lot of old stuff from [Wes’s] last couple of albums,” Waitzman says. “We weren’t even called Vulture Whale at that point.”
Previous bands: Each of the band members has played his instrument—or multiple instruments—since at least adolescence. They’ve each also been part of several bands in the past, sometimes together, sometimes not. Nuby was in the rock band Verbena, and McDonald was in The Ohms.
Democracy: The guys toyed with what to call the band before settling on a name. They considered leading with McDonald’s name, for recognition, but decided against it in the end. “Who are you going to see—Wes McDonald and the Fizz, or are you going to see Vulture Whale?” McDonald asks. The band settled on a group name, and the group mindset followed. “Things are a lot easier in a democracy,” Nuby says, “… as opposed to the three of us being silly and it being Wes’s problem.”
Vulture Whale vs. Vulture Whale II: As we began talking about the music, the guys eagerly asked if I noticed that both albums are self-titled. (Guess they saved the inspiration for the music!) Parrish backs that up, with his assessment that II is more creative than the first release. The band’s sound is even tighter this go-round.
Behind the music: Although the lyrics are primarily McDonald’s, all four band members write the music. A song can totally change from the writer’s original idea as the band sits down to arrange it. “Everything is split into fourths,” Nuby says.
Gas Money: “The lineup will start strong and end up strong, and in the middle we’re playing,” Nuby says. Each band will play a 35 to 45 minute set, much as they will during the March 21 showcase at Austin’s Creekside Lounge. I asked if playing Austin with so many industry folks in town amped up the pressure to do well, but with the show a week out, the band seems calm. “We sort of have a stock set that we’re playing right now,” explains Nuby, who also said they’ve been rehearsing regularly. Parrish elaborates: “I can’t foresee getting all up in arms about what you’re going to play and what you’re going to wear.”
Things get started tonight at WorkPlay at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12 and are available at workplay.com or by calling 380-4082. For more information on these and other band’s appearance in Austin during the South by Southwest festival, check out Vulture Whale’s blog.