When Athens, Georgia garage rockers the Whigs were preparing to hit the studio for their third album, In the Dark, (out March 2nd), their label sent over a highly recommended producer who just happened to be an old pal from their earliest shows. "They were like, 'Hey, this guy Ben Allen, he's worked on that first Gnarls Barkley record and did Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion,' " Whigs' singer-guitarist Parker Gispert tells Rolling Stone. " I was like, 'Yeah, I talked to him last week.' "
Allen wasn't the only new addition to the band's arsenal in the studio. In the Dark marks the Whigs' first album with new bassist Tim Deaux, who had an immediate impact on the songwriting process. "When we first started putting the record together, I was talking a lot about [the Rolling Stones'] Beggars Banquet. I don't think the record sounds anything like Beggars Banquet, but the whole time we were really just open to doing things that we hadn't done before," Gispert says. "Ben had just done Animal Collective record, so we knew that Ben was capable of doing things that aren't normally on our rock records, so we just kind of opened ourselves up to anything we were listening to."
Gispert also found himself opening up lyrically, as years on the road had taken a toll on many of his personal relationships, and he began connecting with the straight-forward, layered lyricism of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and other country greats. "The whole country thing, for me, was just about lyrics, and trying to be a little more direct," Gispert says. "Being a child of the '90s, with the Becks and Steve Malkmuses, the more word collage-y lyricists were my inspiration for a long time. I'd never listened to country, and I was just falling in love with how direct someone like Johnny Cash is."
That different approach is apparent in songs like "In the Dark," which find Gispert drawing comparisons between a blackout and a communication breakdown. "I wrote that lyric when we didn't have power in our house, and I was literally sitting in the dark," Rispert says. Inspired by his newfound love of country and their tourmates the Kings of Leon, the Whigs traveled up to Nashville following their sessions with Allen to record with Kings producer Angelo Petraglia and Jay Joyce, who worked on the Cage the Elephant disc. What came out of those sessions were a handful of reworked songs, including the anthemic "Kill Me, Carolynne."
Two songs off In the Dark, the title track and "Hundred/Million," are both available as free downloads on the Whigs' official site. The group is in the midst of their own headlining tour, where they're showcasing In the Dark tracks on a nightly basis. Check out the remaining dates below:
Dec. 1 - Austin, TX @ Emo's
Dec. 2 - Dallas, TX @ The Loft
Dec. 4 - Atlanta, GA @ The Variety Playhouse
Dec. 5 - Chattanooga, TN @ Rhythm & Brews
Dec. 8 - Charlotte, NC @ Visulite
Dec. 10 - Washington, DC @ Black Cat
Dec. 11 - New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
Dec. 12 - Philadelphia, PA @ North Star
Dec. 14 - Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506
Dec. 15 - Charleston, SC @ Pour House