whalers – paddle easy

Walking down the stairs of my place, I squint at the evening sun crawling through twisting oak trees and I am greeted by the warm Sunday summer air mashed against my face. I slide comfortably into place behind the wheel of a sparkling silver ’74 bronco to ease past the oak trees and neighbors walking dogs or sneaking back to their respective homes wrapped in beach towels, a sunburn, and the warmth of Mexican beer. On my way to interview the South Austin band the Whalers, I am invited to take a quick break from the endless summer in the cool pool of the endless imagination of the South Austin neighborhood of 78704. At an address delivered via text, I arrive at a small stone greenbelt home, home of Blues Traveler bassist Tad Kinchla and waltz through the front door and out the back door to find the water covered by shadows, music echoing out of the corner, while friends laugh. While sharing a joke with the brunette floating next to me, I am introduced to Gus Smalley, the lead singer of the band, The Whalers. At introduction Gus asks, “Aren’t we supposed to do an interview at my house in 45 minutes?” To which I smirk and blurt, “We are!”
And so begins the story of life in Austin, TX, where your friends are my friends and vice versa. On this particular Sunday, Gus sits under a curling head of hair, floating in the pool, smoking cigarettes and buzzing about the work that the Whalers just finished on their second album, “Paddle Easy.” A small window of time passes and drummer Milos Bertram appears at the edge of the pool in untied top siders and a plaid button down, eager to drag Gus out of the pool and back to the house for the eight o’clock interview. To which Gus rotates to float on his back, exhales a coil of smoke, and tells Milos to relax as he introduces the would be interviewer posted up against the side of the pool. We share a laugh at the coincidence of our meeting and begin the retreat to South Lamar, behind Black Sheep Lodge, behind the high beams of traffic transversing South Austin, and into the home of waiting instruments and band members preparing to talk about their second release.
Instruments piled on top of instruments cover the wood floor where a traditional dining room table and chairs would normally call home. I eye the well of creation as we move through the living room and past the kitchen through a sliding glass door to a wooden deck over looking nothing at all. As the once cool evening of swimming turns into the deck’s summer sauna, The Whalers and I sit in sweat. Sweating out the details of their experiences as an Austin band and a do it yourself ethos regarding writing and recording, the band stretches out in a semi circle on the deck. Guitar player Dan Martin focuses in on the simplicity of their recording which drew inspiration from early Strokes and Walkmen albums. The band agrees that their stripped down sound can also been drawn from their stripped down lifestyle. Much of the writing for Paddle Easy was done on a weekend trip to Gus’s ranch where the group spent a good deal of time eating, drinking, fishing and “taking it easy.”
Receiving “Paddle Easy” a few days earlier, I was drawn to the track, Cheat On Each Other. I was immediately struck by the opening chord and similarity to Del Shannon’s, Runaway. Chock full of early sixties jangled guitar sound without the precious pining of Del or Max Crook’s critical eight-bar piano solo, the Whalers Cheat On Each Other manages to offer up a care free critique on Del’s simple love lost. The title track, Paddle Easy, nestles up to the deep throated dark sounds of Ian Curtis’s, Joy Division, without all the suicidal tendencies or cloudy Manchester aura. Pixel in Your Picture catches your ear the way a figure eight catches your eye with a smart tight loop.
Overall, the record reflects a progression in the Whalers’s writing, recording, and ability to deliver emotion to the listener. Paddle Easy deserves a spot in your Austin play list and in your Austin imagination. As your imagination drives past the neighborhoods South of the Colorado River, you pass our city’s creative class and as you float on by, remember to paddle easy.
Look for the Whalers round town towards the end of October or first of November.

Cheat On Each Other

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