Or, the Whale
Welcome to Americana
By Simon McCormack
Or, the Whale's Lindsay Garfield sounds like a flabbergasted Lotto winner when asked whether she ever thought her band would go from playing house parties to performing on "Good Morning America."
"No, I wasn't thinking ... I never thought we'd be ... No, no I never expected it," Garfield eventually manages to spit out before adding, "I just wanted to make music."
It all started when primary songwriter Alex Robins posted a Craigslist ad that read, "Want to Start a Sweet Country Rock Band?" Since then, Or, the Whale has spent the last two and a half years touring, recording and making a name for itself in the Bay Area and throughout the West Coast.
The seven-piece's award-winning sound is thick, rich and wide open, hammering out pedal steel, vocal harmonies-a-plenty and a tempo that has more pep in its step than you might expect from an Americana group that dabbles in the typically sluggish alt.country genre. A pile of percussion, guitar, banjo, mandolin, accordion, keyboards and harmonica all get thrown into the stew—a very satisfying meal.
With a fan base established on the coast, Or, the Whale's next task is to spread the twang. About a year ago, the band set out on a month-long tour across the country. Things got off to a bumpy start when, almost immediately after departing, the group's van broke down in California. "We had to abandon it in Fresno," Garfield says. "Now we ride in a Yukon Denali. It's kind of a soccer mom car, but it works."
Garfield has learned from experience that traveling in a packed vehicle can be trying, especially when personal hygiene becomes tough to maintain. "Touring isn't for everyone, that's for sure," Garfield says. "People get sweaty and they start to stink."
A pile of percussion, guitar, banjo, mandolin, accordion, keyboards and harmonica all get thrown into the stew—a very satisfying meal.
There's also the ominous issue of grabbing a bite to eat in places that don't cater to health-conscious dietary preferences. "We try to choose the best option we can," Garfield says. "You know, you're sitting at a Carrows in Louisville, Ky., and all they've got is fried bologna on the buffet. It's hard."
Sharing a cramped space with six other perspiring bandmates is tough, but it pays off when Or, the Whale gets on stage. The band firmly believes there's strength in numbers, and the group's size can act as a kind of security blanket that keeps members from stressing out about minor miscues. "It takes the pressure off any one person feeling like they have to perform perfectly," Garfield explains. "The audiences respond better to the fact that we have a lot of people on stage. It becomes more of a party."
The ultimate reward for Garfield comes in the midst of the celebratory atmosphere, when a fresh set of ears is exposed to Or, the Whale. "I really like that moment where people kind of stumble upon you," Garfield says. "It's great when people can say they're happy they went out and discovered this cool band from San Francisco they never would have heard before."
The band has hired a company to help it launch a nationwide marketing campaign that will encourage more than 200 radio stations to give Or, the Whale some airplay. The band is also planning to finish recording its second album in November. Garfield is looking forward to an unrushed studio experience after having to record most of the band's first full-length, Light Polls, in just two days. "We have more resources now and we'll have the luxury of being totally relaxed," Garfield says. "We won't have to keep something we're not totally satisfied with."
Fights are inevitable when a group of seven people spend a huge chunk of time together, but Or, the Whale has formed a tangible sense of camaraderie that's built on a common goal. "We all have different personalities and backgrounds," Garfield says. "But ultimately, we're all pretty good to each other, because we all want to make music together."
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