Or, The Whale - Biography
One of the most intriguing bands to form by way of Craigslist, Or, The Whale is a San Francisco-based seven-piece country rock band that codifies contemporary Americana. After core members Alex Robins (vocals/guitar) and Matt Sartain (guitar/vocals) placed an ad in 2006 with a general inquiry that read “Wanna Form a Sweet Country Rock Band,” they found vocalist Lindsay Garfield, who was searching for a guitar player for her own musical endeavor. With chance bringing them together, they recruited Julie Ann Thomasson (keyboards/backing vox), Justin Fanti (bass), Jesse Hunt (drums) and Tim Marcus (pedal steel) and named themselves Or, The Whale, based on the alternative title to Herman Melville’s classic book of literature, Moby-Dick (Or, The Whale). The band has three English majors in it, and being a “democracy” as much as a good-timing jamboree with a little kick, the name has paradoxically come to suit the music.
Or, The Whale’s roots-styled Americana contains a familial down-home vibe not unlike a tight-knit group like The Band; their premise of high-energy, fun country music grew popular enough that they’ve appeared live on Good Morning America. They’ve also been lauded critically in publications such as Billboard and Magnet, while having toured North America to SRO shows on the coasts, with the likes of Fleet Foxes and Devil Makes Three.
Or, The Whale would self-release its first full-length album less than a year after coming together. Titled it Light Poles and Pines (2007), the album was recorded during a three-day weekend on a narrow budget and sold primarily at shows. The band’s bucolic feel with warm harmonies made an immediate splash with fans, though, particularly on songs like the near-gospel track “Life and Death at Sea” and the awareness-raising single, “Call and Response,” which was soon in rotation on over 100 radio stations across America. They toured in the album’s support that summer and gained a head a steam as packed houses greeted them on both coasts. “Call and Response” went to #7 on the NMW Indie chart, and #18 NMW Country Main Chart. The album propelled the band into earning a Hollywood Music Award for “Best American/Roots Artist” in 2008.
After touring and penning new material for a new album while on the road and back in the Bay Area, Or, The Whale signed to start-up Seany Records, which re-released Light Poles and Pines in 2009. Later in the fall of that year, their eponymous Or, The Whale (2009 Seany) came out. The sophomore album came together more slowly than the previous effort, and the production quality showed this. Tracks about getting high on jimson weed—the title given to the Latin, “Datura”—and the tear-jerking “Rusty Gold” harken back to days when artists like Merle Haggard smiled through his taboos and vices in good fettle. “Datura” became a cult staple on underground college airwaves, being played on more than 100 radio stations.
The band continues to tour in support of Or, The Whale, and also did an esoteric cover version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” on its MySpace page.