The winter of 2014 was one of the coldest on record in the U.S. Temperatures in Chicago dropped as low as 16 degrees below zero. The National Weather Service even likened the city to the Arctic region of Siberia, with the hashtag #Chiberia.
The band Whitney formed in Chicago that frigid winter. Guitarist Max Kakacek says they used all that time indoors to be creative.
"While everyone else was watching Netflix marathons we were starting to write this album. It made us be productive 'cause we couldn’t do anything else."
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It was also a time to process some losses. Kakacek and drummer Julian Ehrlich had played together in the Chicago rock band Smith Westerns, which had achieved critical and commercial success. That winter, the group had begun to dissolve and would officially split later that year.
Ehrlich was also grieving the death of his grandfather. But he says the initial writing sessions helped him move forward and address his grandfather’s passing, like on the song “Follow.”
"We used it as therapy for everything we were going through," Ehrlich says. "It just helps to focus on something when everything around you is disaster."
This year Whitney released their debut album, “Light Upon The Lake.” While the lyrics reflect the difficult times that birthed the record, Ehrlich says the music is warm and inviting.
"At heart we like to look up and dream of happier stuff. The melodies we'll always write will probably be injected with a bit of happiness. People need that sometimes."
Music writers have likened “Light Upon The Lake” to country rock records by The Band, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. But Kakacek and Ehrlich cite more obscure artists as influences: The Zambian rock band Amanaz, Kentucky country artist Jim Ford and sibling duo Donnie and Joe Emerson -- none of whom ever achieved commercial success.
The bandmates discovered these unsung musicians on the Internet. Kakacek says it helped feed their passion for making music.
"Something great the internet did for a good seven years was vinyl rips of old records that people would just like share them on the internet," Kakacek says. "I think there’s something really special about something that has lost and only found because of kids like myself and Julian would go to these blogs."
But as far as their own band, Kakacek and Ehrlich are thrilled to get exposure with some music festival appearances this summer -- hopefully, they’ll enjoy the warm weather while it lasts.