From Ukrainian Village to the national stage, Chicago band Whitney is on track to be the next big thing.
Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich of Whitney. The duo will play three record release shows in Chicago on Dec. 21, 22 and 23 at Thalia Hall.
Just as COVID-19 shut down the world, Ukrainian Village-based musicians Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek were in search of a fresh start. But, thwarted by the pandemic, the best friends who make up the on-the-rise band Whitney spent the next 14 months inside. In a makeshift studio in their dining room, they did what they do best—write music—and the pair emerged with their recently released third album, SPARK, to show for it.
The band’s melodic beats layered with Ehrlich’s hypnotic falsetto have earned them a global following and a string of slots on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and CBS Saturday Morning. Impressive, yes, but what gives this act panache— enough for Mayor Lori Lightfoot to declare Aug. 30 Whitney Day—is their obvious compatibility, on both artistic and personal fronts.
“Max and I complement each other in ways that go beyond comprehension,” Ehrlich, a Portland native, shares of his relationship with North Center-raised Kakacek. “Our strengths cover up each other’s weaknesses in an endless way.” Ehrlich compares their palpable bromance to a good marriage, and with an unspoken understanding of each other’s artistic vision balanced by both of their hunger for creating music that resonates with the listener, the results are magnetic. On SPARK, Whitney reintroduces itself with a track list that’s sonically different, more akin to a pop album than their previous indie sound, from anything they’ve created before. “It felt natural,” Ehrlich says of the decision to broaden their sound. “Whenever Max and I write together, there’s a shared vision that pops up, and we never even necessarily have to discuss it.” While Whitney’s sound changes, their Chicago roots remain a strong influence in the band’s DNA. “There’s genuine support and warmth here,” Ehrlich says of the city. “No social climbing or competition, and that’s something we’ve come to appreciate throughout the years as we see more of the world.”
As the band closes out the year with a national tour, they continue to evolve. “We’ve always taken years [off] in between all of our records,” Ehrlich says. “But it doesn’t feel like that this time—it feels like the floodgates have opened, and we’ve broken through a creative wall with SPARK.”