On 8th February 2004 at 00:09 Anonymous 1138 wrote...
nice interview. Like the way you coped with the fact they were difficult tossers for the it too. in fact, its perhaps better for it.
Whirlwind Heat talk about Detroit, Jack White and monkeys and explain why everything is random...
Whirlwind Heat are cold, very cold, we're sat backstage at Joseph's Well in a room that would conform to the government regulation temperature for storing raw meat. Even for a band who hails from chilly old Michigan it's a bit much. The figures before me look are near foetal with cold and are dressed like they are auditioning for the lead roll in Kes (the boy not the bird, of course).
The first thing you notice about Whirlwind Heat is that they're miniature, almost child-like in stature, which makes their shaggy-hairdoed heads look kind of big in proportion, this coupled with their 'working class Yorkshire in the 60's' dress sense makes for a look that is only out-wierded by the amazing noise they make on stage. The band look tired as well as cold and stories are abound of a band member going AWOL in London last night, but they don't seem to want to talk about it 'Err, we were late getting up here, but... not for any exciting reason, we just got drunk.' Although later, on the subject of the Soledad Brothers, David lets slip that Soledad drummer Ben Swank 'contributed to the whole fiasco AWOL situation last night'- this rather sums up Whirlwind Heat, they are very contrary, they may say one thing but there may be something else on their minds entirely.
The band hail from Grand Rapids in Michigan (not Detroit as is widely thought) and met in elementary school at the age of ten. By sixteen they had formed a band, bassist Steve Damastra points out 'We just played Nirvana covers and Sonic Youth covers'. So what happened to take these boys out a small, conservative, snowy town in Michigan and into headline tours and the recording studio with Jack White behind the mixing desk? Vocalist David Swanson explains: 'Well we started writing our own songs eventually and that was around the time we started to go to Detroit. We put out three singles on random labels, Italy Records was one and two Grand Rapids labels. And we just kept touring, just small tours of America where nobody knew who we were, with the White Stripes. And then eventually Jack got his own record label when they signed with XL, and we wanted to put out a record so we asked if he'd do it.'
Having Jack's endorsement is not to be sniffed at, but the band are keen to play it down, 'It's just natural' says David, 'he's a well-known man. We knew him when the first album came out, so we've known him for, like, six years something like that. We were friends with Jack long before anybody knew who he was, so it was kind of like this friendship thing of being creative with each other and having ideas about music. We'd play shows with the White Stripes all the time on small trips around America, and it just kinda built.' But it's not all good, 'It kind of dampers you too, having Jack's name on the record, it can have a negative effect because people think it's going to sound just like the White Stripes and it actually doesn't. Jack's really into different ideas than just what he's doing'. The band's influences remain loyal to their elementary school beginnings, with Steve citing Sonic Youth, the Melvins and Mudhoney as inspirations, however he identifies more with those closer to home: 'I think we're more inspired by the people around us, friends and people we look up to, just that whole ethic of doing stuff and not being lazy, working hard at what you do'.
It is within the Detroit scene that they feel most at home, despite coming from two hours away. David describes it: 'It's basically just a load of local bands who are friends. We'd just always play together and always set up parties, or play at parties or art galleries. But see, we're from Grand Rapids, Michigan which is around two hours away from Detroit, so we went to Detroit just to play a show, then we stared meeting Dave Buick who owns Italy Records, and we met Jack, Meg, the Von Bondies, the Soledad Brothers, and we became friends and just kept playing shows with them in Detroit. We have a different thing to what, say the Soledad Brothers do, you know, or the Dirtbombs or someone like that, but there's definitely a scene there as far as we're all friends'. But the geographical isolation the band grew up in has taken it's toll on the bands sound: 'I don't know if we do fit [in the scene]' says David, 'Our music doesn't sound like a lot of the bands that are from Detroit, they have a real rock ethic to their music, which is really good but I think us coming from two hours away we didn't have that influence. Our town is really conservative, it's pretty small'. And Steve is keen to keep things in proportion 'I think the scene is probably by now a little 'created' because I think maybe people are blowing it out of proportion, it's like there's not hundreds of amazing bands playing everyday!'
But despite the bands small town upbringing, their performances are far from conservative, in fact the word insane seems to follow the band like an over-zealous groupie. David explains: 'We really get into what we're playing and we like dancing to music. I think it's boring to see a band just stand there and stare at the crowd. If the audience are just staring at you and they're bored you don't get into it as much. But if the audience is going crazy and the show's going really good, you're having a lot of fun it's nice to keep building and building and building, till it gets crazier and crazier.
Consciously it is contrived, as far as we know we're going to move around and not just stand there, because I feel that's boring for someone to watch, but when it gets to insane- that kinda thing just happens sometimes'. I ask the band if they read their press and can't resist quoting to them a choice extract from the NME: 'If you put 1000 monkeys in front of 1000 guitars, eventually they'd write Revolver. For the first half hour, however, they'd play a Whirlwind Heat set.' Whirlwind Heat take this barb in their stride however, and even throw down a challenge for more: 'It sounds like it's supposed to be a bad thing, but I kinda like that quote' says Steve. 'We don't really read our reviews or anything, we just do it for ourselves. People can write whatever, it's actually better for people to really hate us or for people to really like us, if you're in the middle you're just boring'.
The other word that seems to be a favourite of Whirlwind Heat is random, for example the animal imagery used in the album. David points out: 'It was kind of random. We base a lot of our stuff on random things that happen, and then just follow it, we're not into planning things out. I think we just chose a monkey (for the photos in the album sleeve) because we thought 'Wouldn't it be great to do some pictures with a monkey' and it wasn't even for the album, it was just to do them. And Steve met someone who owns the monkey, and we were like, 'Ah, let's take photos with the monkey!' and we did'. Also when I ask them about all the songs on the record being named after colours, again David calls in his favourite answer: 'It was just pretty random' he states. 'We had titles for only two songs, they were stuff like the chorus or whatever the lyric said, we just thought it was kinda boring and we didn't want to do that, so we wanted to do something that was different'. If it's one thing Whirlwind Heat are not, it's boring. Their ethic seems to be one of hard work and fun. This was shown by their enthusiasm at this year's Leeds festival: 'Leeds and Reading were a lot of fun this year, we had a lot of friends there so that was inspiring, and everyone was just having a good time'. The weekend peaked for them at the end of Brendan Benson's set: 'At the end of his show Meg came up to play drums and we all came out on stage'. The event has become near legendary as all the faces of the Detroit scene came together on one stage. David sums it up: 'Friends are the best thing'.
Yes, Whirlwind Heat seem to have some pretty good friends, and whilst they can't do anything about the ridiculously low temperature at Joseph's Well, they can stick together and make the world a louder, cooler place to be.