By Anna Chandler in Savannah, Ga
In 2011, Brent Collins was landlocked. The Georgia native had uprooted and moved to Texas, leaving his beloved coastal hometown with the bluesy rock group Mantis to pursue a lifelong dream of playing music. No stranger to the road–he was drumming in his parents’ traveling gospel band when he was merely five years old–Collins felt that distinct Savannah call pulling him back to the Lowcountry. A self-taught guitarist, Collins poured himself into songwriting, inspired by the Georgia landscape he longed for. “I’ve always wanted to bring Savannah’s scenery into music,” the Whaleboat guitarist/vocalist shares, “to portray where we’re from, where we come from.”
“I became homesick, missing my girlfriend and family,” says Collins. “I was writing a lot of what would become Whaleboat songs.” He returned to Savannah in fall 2011 to play a handful of final shows with Mantis, sharing bills with Savannah’s Sins of Godless Men (formerly Howler). “That’s where I met [Sins'] Jeremiah [Stuard], and the rest is history,” Collins says. Stuard’s raw energy and hard-hitting basslines proved to be a perfect match for the tidal, shoegazey songs Collins had been writing in Texas. Collins moved back, contacted Stuard, and Whaleboat was formed.
In 2012, their Navigator EP caught the attention of local press and music fans for its fusion of blistery guitars under dreamy swells, Collins’ vocals calling Moby Dick-inspired lyrics from the shore. A new 7″, Blue, drops at their January 25th performance at local Savannah venue The Jinx. The single, “The Socialist,” is guaranteed to be one of the best songs to come out of Savannah in 2013. “The Socialist” is everything one could want from a rock anthem–an intense core driving full speed ahead before falling back into to a chorus powered by vocals that cascade from eerie ambivalence to hook-laden melodiousness. It’s teeming with the signature reverb and delay that drenched Navigator, but the sound has thickened and transformed the three-piece into an unstoppable wall of sound. Even the subtly different treatment of vocals–Collins is grittier, less watery and dreamy–separates past and current recordings, yet added harmonies soften and bring out the pop elements. Collins and Stuard agree that September’s addition of drummer Donald Moats (Habitat Noise) completely transformed old songs and established Whaleboat’s powerful rhythm section for new material. “Having Donald now has brought out the backbone of the songs,” says Collins.
“The Socialist” is the first track that had every band member playing a role in the writing process, building off the sublimely feverish bass riff Stuard had written. A digression from Whaleboat’s characteristically nautical subject matter, Collins uses “The Socialist” to implore listeners to break out of the digital age and get back to genuine connections. “It’s taking over our lives,” says Collins. “Put [the phone] down. Have conversations with people. Go see a show. Go support local bands. Go camping. Go swimming. Just put it down for a little while.” The message is echoed in “The Socialist” music video, filmed in New Noise Studios, a shared practice space at 206 Victory Drive managed by Greg Rettig (Sins of Godless Men). In the teaser, Collins, Stuard and Moats perform in front of a wall stacked high with amplifiers, televisions, and computers, frenzied lights flashing off the metallic surfaces. It’s so uncomfortable–and strangely isolating–that it’s relieving to be immersed in the outdoor shots that cut the interior footage. “There’s chaos, and then there’s this kind of peace,” Stuard describes. “Besides a light, the outdoor shots are fairly minimal. You can’t even tell there’s a background, it looks like an infinity wall.”
The entire video was self-produced by the band using their own equipment and DIY methods for getting the shots they wanted and emphasizing “going out and doing instead of being inside,” says Collins. “Donald took out a car battery and we powered lights with that so we were able to be mobile and go anywhere,” Stuard explains. The video debuts at a release party at Hangfire in February.
“The Socialist” was recorded by Peter Seeba of Bring That Studios, the beard behind some of Savannah’s best records, and produced by Seeba and Brian Lackey of Cusses. Together, they crafted a rock single to be reckoned with. “They took the song and just gave us a mix that came from left field,” Collins excitedly shares.
“[Navigator] was recorded on reel-to-reel,” says Stuard. “It was pretty much all just one take, one track.” On “The Socialist,” the band experimented with doubling guitars, adding harmonies and other enriching elements.“Peter likes to do a lot of overdubs to make the guitar thick. We’re a three-piece band, but it sounds like we have a fourth person in there,” Collins says.
Live, the sound is just as captivating as the recording. It’s a refreshingly engaging shoegaze-influenced performance, with Stuard thrashing across the stage, Moats anchoring the driving rhythms, and an impassioned, collected Collins leading, kneeling over his pedalboard to tweak the swells and crashes of builds. The band is currently soliciting remixes of “Socialist”. All who are interested in creating their own remix can find the stems and submission information online at Soundcloud.
After their release show, Whaleboat will hit the road for the first time with Cusses and Columbia’s Can’t Kids. They’re currently recording new songs with Peter Mavrogeorgis at the newly opened Dollhouse Studios and plan to spend the rest of the year writing, recording and releasing new material, and touring the Southeast. “We spent the whole year playing here, helping bands from out of town get here and get shows, and now we’re hoping to continue that communication with them and try to hit their hometowns and keep bringing more bands to Savannah in the meantime,” says Stuard. This new material will be put towards their upcoming EP, Cold Love Wars, which you can catch a preview of on their bandcamp (whaleboat.bandcamp.com) on February 19th.
Regardless of where their music takes them, Whaleboat will always come home to Savannah. They credit the tight-knit music community for creating a space for their own music to emerge and thrive. Moats, who has fronted Habitat Noise since 2010, has seen a significant change in the way Savannah bands work together. “It seems like about three years ago, everybody started talking to each other instead of just doing their own thing.” “Everybody’s a musician here, and everybody wants to help everybody else out,” says Stuard. “The scene will get bigger because of it,” adds Collins. “I’ve been trying to play music all my life in Savannah, and I’ve never seen the scene like it is now. Ever.”
Whaleboat has just been confirmed to play one of the marquis shows at this year’s Savannah Stopover Music Festival on Saturday March 9th. They will share the stage with Atlanta’s Ponderosa and Athens’s The Whigs at a ‘Spotlight on Georgia’ showcase at Knights of Columbus Hall at 3 West Liberty Street. Festival Passes are available at Showclix.