Will Whalen: A Man Out of Time
By Greg Hartman
A lone man stands in front of a patio, packed full due to its intimate spacing and the crowd gathered. He quickly checks his guitar’s tuning, plays a few chords, taps a few buttons at his feet, and whispers a chant of “hey, hey, hey” into his microphone. A few more buttons are tapped and the intro to Tool’s “Ænima” is produced from the speakers, causing a stir in the crowd. The man’s look is a mix of hippie, hipster, and grunge, registering as timeless and his stage presence is positive and vibrant. He may be singing about the destruction of California, but he’s welcoming everyone along for the ride.
As the first chorus fades, promising Los Angeles citizens an impromptu swimming lesson, a few more toe taps stops the current loops and the familiar chords of Led Zeppelin's “When The Levee Breaks” ring out of his guitar. It is a song combination that spans decades of influences, summarizing what Will Whalen has become- a man of his time who is not beholden to it.
Starting out, Will Whalen played primarily as a solo acoustic artist. He was a regular at many open mics and began booking solo gigs. After Will had proven his ability as a solo performer, he was offered a regular job at Bailey’s Lounge on Thursdays and Fridays. From about 5:00 to 8:00, Whalen played a mixture of covers and originals on his acoustic guitar. The long sets and regularity of his appearances necessitated that he find a way to mix up his sound. Will found that almost by accident. While looking for a way to hook up multiple ins to one out, a simple two track looping station became the solution. As when any musician gets a new toy, he began experimenting with the features and effects. The live recording and looping became a mainstay for Will’s shows, which lead to him buying even more elaborate looping stations.
Filling out his sound, Whalen has added a keyboard to his live sets. Piano was his first instrument, having started playing at age 8. During a set, he can loop vocal effects, piano, guitar, and basic percussion. Other than some percussion effects, every sound is performed and recorded live- often in the middle of a song. This approach to a one man band has been made popular recently by Ed Sheeran, although Whalen points to Andrew Bird as his primary performance influence. The live performance blends multiple influences to create a full band sound, even with a lone man on stage. His long repertoire of songs ranges from Frank Sinatra to Queens of the Stone Age, any of which he will bring out during a set, along with his original songs.
In November of 2014, Will Whalen released a CD of originals entitled Right Away. The 11 tracks mix modern indie rock with blues sensibilities to make an accessible, yet unique sound. Stand out tracks “The Right” and “Supernatural Blues” defy you to pinpoint what decade they could have come out. The album is very DIY, with self-printed liner notes, and is the last physical recording Whalen plans to release. Instead, he has embraced free, online distribution. Calling back to the decades when singles mattered more than albums, Whalen is releasing one free track a month through the link above.
The most recent track for April tells the story of his previous residency, “The Ballad of Baily’s Lounge”, or at least his take on it. Suffice to say that he and the owner didn’t always see eye to eye. It is told artfully in the tradition of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”and was self-recorded. February’s release was recorded at The Spot Studios in Denver, CO, entitled “Ride Along”, mixing piano and guitar for a modern pop/rock sound. “Lost Limb”, an indie piano-heavy rocker that could have played along with early R.E.M., was recorded with Taylor Riley at Fusion Audio in Grand Junction and released in March. May’s soon to be released track was recorded by “Diamond” Jim Hewitt at Barn Jazz Productions, also in GJ. “All the Truth” is a subtle, haunting, acoustic rock song that is equal parts Radiohead and Paul Simon.
You can catch some of Will’s varied music this Friday, April 22nd, at 8:00 at The Copper Club in Fruita. He has created three distinct set types- instrumental piano, piano/guitar indie, and guitar driven rock. For the Copper Club, he is going to play his heavier material that is designed to get people dancing. When their popular 18 Road IPA and Aspen Street Coffee Porter pouring out of the taps, a good time is guaranteed to be had by all. Whalen will also be kicking off the Fruita Fat Tire Fest at noon on the April 30th. Keep track of Will’s schedule on Grand Valley LIve and his Facebook page, as he constantly makes a tour around the Western Slope. In the meantime, catch some free music at https://www.reverbnation.com/willwhalenmusic.