If you’re looking for the most rock ‘n roll experience in Cleveland, you’ll find it in Coventry. Nestled near shops that cater to the free-spirited and the kid-at-heart types is Grog Shop. Walking in you just get that vibe: it’s dark with walls sporting murals of the world’s end by local artist John G; there’s strange things hanging from the ceiling. Even the bathrooms have been vandalized with nearly illegible graffiti from years past. I’ve seen some of the wildest shows at the Grog—shows where bands are swinging from the exposed ceiling rafters or crowdsurfing to the bar to take shots or even one show where a particular long blonde-haired frontman was going around the crowd after his set pouring honey on people. My point is, it can get messy at the Grog and that’s part of why we love it.
The wildness I’ve seen Grog Shop hold in its walls is the perfect setting for a band that caught my eyes in another messy way: a food fight. In their latest video, Staying Alive, The Whigs explore roles as restaurant employees who snap and a food fight ensues. In anticipation of their Thursday performance at the Grog, I caught up with Parker Gispert to discuss the making of that video as well his journey as a performer and ultimately why music became his chosen path. Get to know the frontman before your grab your tickets.
Hey is this Parker?
It’s Amber. How are you?
I’m doing good, how are you?
Sorry I’m a few minutes late.
Oh, it’s alright. Where are you? Where are you right now?
I’m in Cleveland, Ohio. Where are you right now?
I’m in Nashville, Tennessee.
Oh, well, you’re like ten hours away!
Yeah, you’re right around the corner.
Pretty much. So, I have a whole slew of questions for you, kind of some that talk about the beginning of making music because that’s the stuff that intrigues me and then some about your new album that’s coming out next year.
Why don’t we start off with talking a little bit about what drew you to playing or singing.
Well, I guess, I don’t know. As a kid, when I was really small I liked performing. I guess I also don’t like. The earliest memory I have of singing is the national anthem opera style which I would do at restaurants, at parties, you know, when I was like three or four, really small kid. I don’t know, I guess that I had seen it on TV and thought that it was funny and I used to just kind of go into this character and it became like an event or performance that I’d be known for, that I could do. It was always really thrilling to do that and we had a piano at our house growing up. Later on I had lots of lessons and learned to play the piano properly but I’d say, as for the genesis of me being drawn to it, I would just kind of combine the operatic scene that I’d started doing and just sit down and make noise on the piano and try to play and sing at the same time.
When did you start to take lessons?
Probably when I was nine. Yeah.
So, you’re kind of classically trained on the piano and then you transitioned over to guitar?
I did, I wouldn’t say that I was classically trained. I mean, I could read music and I could sight-read, but against my parents better judgment, eventually I didn’t think it was cool anymore to play piano. So I stopped around 13 which is when I started playing guitar. Excuse me, around 15, I guess, I started playing guitar. It was a smooth segue. It was always a vehicle to be able to write a song. I always wanted to play piano to accompany to a song idea or play guitar so that I could imitate Bob Dylan. Whatever instrument was always as vocal accompaniment.
When did you meet the other members of your band?
I met Julian, our drummer, in junior high school. We were in the same school and we knew about each other early on, but we didn’t actually start playing music until he had graduated high school. So, probably his senior year. Probably when we were about eighteen. We first met when we were kids. We ended up going to the same junior high and high school and then eventually the same college. That’s a long time.
Which one of you was the cool one in junior high?
I’d say we were probably equal level of coolness. Good question, I like that.
What did you go to college for?
I have a philosophy degree and Julian has a psychology degree and our bass player has an art history degree.
How did your family feel about your career switch?
They were pretty scared. Even when I was in high school, they would always emphasize that music was a hobby to me and not something that I wanted to pursue professionally. It is hard to make money as a musician and I think they were just trying to guide me towards a more stable profession. I had been educated well, and I guess there were other career paths I could have chosen while also still playing that probably would have had them sleep a little better at night, but after they saw that I was really serious about it, after we enjoyed a little bit of success, they became more supportive. And now they’re very supportive but it took a minute to maybe see that it was possible to make a career out of music. It took some commitment.
Why was it important to you to follow through with pursuing that career choice?
It was something that always was a lot of fun for me. All the different aspects of it. I loved performing. I was in plays growing up. Or just even like, socially I would do funny characters that would make people laugh or maybe I’d play guitar at a party. I love the performance aspect of it, the competition aspect of it, being a songwriter and creating something that would outlast me as a person, outlast all of our time. It’s something that also came really naturally to me. It kind of consumes me, and I guess technically I’m working pretty much all the time, but it’s not work. It’s what I’m naturally interested in. It naturally is thrilling to me. I knew that it would be something, a profession that was rewarding and something that I was already doing and didn’t want to stop doing.
I get that. That’s how I feel about writing.
Yeah. You’d probably be bummed if someone was like, you can’t write anymore. You need to do something else.
I feel like my dad has told me that multiple times I can’t write anymore, but you know…
You can write instruction manuals! You can write poetry! You can write screen plays! I don’t know, autopsies. There’s all types of writing and I think a lot of time people don’t see how useful a skill, like being able to write is, and how all-encompassing it is. If you’re writing medical journals or whatever the hell you write.
That is true! Let’s talk about the albums. Your first album was an independent release. Why was it important for you to do it that way?
We were pretty young. The first band and still is, that our drummer and I had. We’d been a band for about three and a half years, we were doing well at our shows. People were coming for a while and we were selling out concerts. People knew the songs. We basically had a situation where, for lack of a better term, our industry was kind of trying to sort of change what we had done to suit an audience that was imaginary or something. We felt like we had gained attention for doing what we had created on our own, what was getting a response at shows. It just felt dumb to us to go out and release something that was anything but that. We also understood that labels or whoever might not want to get behind what we were already doing, they might feel more comfortable if it was something that they had a hand in creating or manufacturing. It was no bad blood, it just seemed like the logical thing for us to do. Record the album ourselves, make it how we should sound, and release it ourselves. That seemed the right way to take our first step. We weren’t opposed to the idea of being on a record label or doing things that later happened to us, but it seemed like the first step should be that one.
And you’ve released three more albums since then and then the one that will come out in April. How have you selected the producers that you’ve worked with on the other albums?
Well, the second one was the first with a label and we’re all pretty geeky about reading credits on albums. It’s been something that the labels have played a big part in, just like exposing us to different people. Hey, why don’t you check out this guy or why don’t you check out this guy and a lot of times I wouldn’t know their names. But say for our second record, we worked with this guy Rod Staff. When we pulled up his credits it was like, wow look at all the stuff he’s worked on that I’m a fan of. Or Jim Scott who did the newest one. You get exposed to some people who’ve made a lot of records that you’ve listened to a million times and it’s like, what a great opportunity to learn how they actually did that stuff. There’s pretty much one person that you can go to and say, “Hey, you recorded this song. What guitar did you play? What amp did it go through? What microphone did he sing into?” And those people are able to say, “Oh, he played that guitar over there and he sang into this mic that I have in my hand”. I guess suggestions by people who have made a lot of records and know a lot of producers and also know our taste. And are able to line us up with people who we’re really excited about.
How do you feel this album differs from your other albums?
I don’t know. I think it’s the most honest. It’s the shortest that we’ve ever taken to record an album. It was basically recorded and mixed in eleven days. We spent as much as eight weeks on an album, so it was significantly shorter than the rest of them. I’d say it’s probably the most raw. It’s probably the rawest.
Do you think the turnaround on this album was quicker because you’ve been playing together for so long?
Yes. It would have been a logistical impossibility on the other albums. The first album we had no idea how to record. We didn’t know what microphone to use, nothing worked. It was broken. The second album we were transitioning from a band member quitting. We didn’t really have a full band at the time. We put it together, if only with help from friends. The third record was the first time that the three of us that now comprise the band and have for seven years had done. So, by the time we got to do this album we had been playing together for a long time and we also rehearsed really before we got to the studio. We were writing and playing these songs in long rehearsal sections, five or six hour practices. Pretty consistently until we got into the studio. So by the time we got there, we were able to perform quickly and we were also working with a guy who is a veteran. He knows what mics to use, he knows how to make it sound great. It was definitely a luxury to be able to do it in that short amount of time.
How do you continue to keep your sound fresh after playing together for so long?
Yeah, it’s weird. It’s probably one of the easier things. The band naturally evolves and naturally mutates. We get excited about different groups all the time that we haven’t heard in the past and there’s so much. It’s our fifth album, which I don’t know, it’s not a lot compared to a lot of people who we’re big fans of, who have long careers and made a ton of albums. I feel like there’s a lot of ground we have yet to cover as a band. We wanted to make an album in this way, in a finite amount of time, a couple of years ago. It’s something that we’ve worked towards. There’s a lot of stuff that we want to do so it’s not a problem to keep things fresh. Equipment-wise, you use a piece of gear you haven’t used previously and all of a sudden you sound a little different, a little freshness also. Each time so far we’ve always had a different producer. I think trying to keep it intrinsically different, different studio, different producer, different songs, different way of writing the songs, keeping something always different will result in freshness.
When did you guys leave for tour?
We started NYE in Athens.
How long will you be out?
As of now we have dates going through March, oh shit. I guess we have a show in May.
At what point on all of that tour will you guys get sick of each other?
I think we’re really far past that. I just had lunch with our drummer, Julian, and we had band practice today for three or four hours getting ready for the tour, so you know, we’re with each other a lot. There’s a party in a couple of hours, and we’ll all go. We’re just used being around each other so much that I think if we were going to get sick of each other it would have happened by now. You just grow closer.
Yeah, it’s good.
Last question and then I will let you go. How involved were you for the premise for the “Staying Alive” video?
It was suggested to us by the guy who directed it and he’s been a long time friend, so it was his suggestion. I guess not involved. I thought it was cool.
It was a cool video! It looked like it’d be a lot of fun to participate in.
It was! It was like, they came out for a food fight and I’ve never been in a food fight. None of the guys, maybe our bass player time had, but I’ve never been in a food fight and I’ve always wanted to be in a food fight. This was our opportunity to be in a food fight. So know I’ve been in one. Documented. It was fun. Have you been in a food fight?
I have not. Maybe I’ll start one when you’re at the Cleveland show. I’ll just be like, yep, going to bring this to life here.
Definitely made a mess. We were definitely cleaning up for a little bit after we threw everything around.
I’ve seen things get messy at the Grog Shop before, so if a food fight happened, I think it’d be okay…
Oh man. They’d be pissed! I like that place. Well, we’ll see.
I should note, I’m not actually suggesting a food fight on Thursday. I do, however, strongly suggest you purchase tickets and meet me at the show. It’s going to be a blast!
Also playing with the Whigs will be Sweepyheads, Silent Lions, and Mobley Hits Back. Tickets will only run you $10. Doors 8:00 PM; Show 9:00 PM.