Indie-folk duo Whitney will be playing it by ear at an upcoming Columbus, Ohio, show.
The band, comprised of guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer and singer Julien Erlich, will perform at Newport Music Hall Monday evening, following an opening performance by Japanese girl group CHAI, with a setlist Kakacek said is never set in stone.
Kakacek said that instead of sticking strictly to the setlist, the band adjusts its songs to match the energy it feels from the audience.
“After the first few songs, you can kind of tell. Then we’ll just be like, ‘Let’s move this here or cut this today,’ stuff like that,” Kakaceck said.
Tracks such as “Valleys (My Love)” and “No Woman” embody Whitney’s signature sound, featuring cheery, folk-inspired rhythms and Ehrlich’s voice colored in with a lush blend of guitar, vocal harmonies and trumpet lines.
Ryan Matteson, the band’s manager, said he first heard Whitney perform in 2016 at South By Southwest, a mixed-media festival held in Austin, Texas, every March. Matteson said he knew the music was timeless, but Whitney’s live show was what really sold him, and they started working together immediately.
“What Whitney does is singular. Their songs are incredible. Their drummer is the singer. He has one of the most beautiful voices in music. I think Max is one of the best guitar players in music, period. They’ve got a work ethic that is unparalleled,” Matteson said. “So when you combine all those things, it really becomes a magical element where it’s the type of show that, I’ve probably seen Whitney play 100 shows, and I still enjoy it and I still find new beauty in it.”
Naming the band happened somewhat arbitrarily, Kakacek said, and was more of a box to check than a rigorous decision.
“Me and Julien were at breakfast and we were just like, ‘What should we name this project? It sounds like we should name it a singular person,’” Kakacek said. “We were going through like baby naming charts essentially, just saying the names of different things and we got to ‘W’ and one of us said ‘Whitney’ and we just said ‘OK, cool, that’s it, sounds great.’”
Although some bands write while touring, Whitney needed time off the road to write well, Kakacek said. He and Ehrlich benefitted from having a space to themselves to create Forever Turning Around, the band’s sophomore album, in 2019.
“During the writing process, which I think me and Julien needed to do for the second record but don’t want to do ever again, was we kind of isolated ourselves from a lot of outside noise and people — even the band, the live members of Whitney,” Kakacek said.
For the next record, Kakacek said he and Ehrlich want to open up the writing process to include more participants, to keep them from being too single-minded and comfortable with their routine.
“The main thing is we just want to create things that we find really beautiful,” Kakacek said. “I think that’s kind of just been always our aspiration.”
When writing, Kakacek said the group tries to create from a place of commonality with the listener and not worry about whether what they’re saying has already been said.
“I don’t think we consider ourselves special people in a way of, like, us describing our own lives are better than them describing theirs,” Kakacek said. “But I think what we try to do more of is find themes, tendencies or values in our life that we can then generalize that we feel like most people can relate to.”
Whitney and CHAI will perform Monday night at Newport Music Hall. Tickets are $25 for general admission advance and $28 the day of the show, and premium table seating tickets are $50. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Whitney does not use an established set list at all. It has since been corrected to indicate that they may modify it during shows.