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Whitley - Submarining Homesick Blues

Author: Jane Stabler
Sunday, 11 May 2008
Based in Victoria, signed to a Brisbane label, currently finishing up a six-week tour of the US and about to embark on a lengthy Australian tour, Whitley is the definition of a musical troubadour, but all he really wants is to be home.

Having released his debut album less than a year ago, Whitley’s success and tour schedule suggest he has been in the business a lot longer. Casting spells wherever he seems to turn his hand, praise for this young Melbourne musician is certainly not scarce, nor, it seems, are the opportunities that continue to open up for him.

Speaking from the US, where he has spent the last three weeks touring with another three to go before heading back home, Whitley is working his way through almost every one of the 50 states. Although touring the US has provided him with some definite career highlights to date, he does admit it’s tough going.

“The American people are very hospitable,” Whitley says somewhat carefully, “and it’s nice to see all these places that I’ve heard about, like playing Café Du Nord in San Francisco, and playing on the same stage as some of my idols is pretty cool. There’s a lot more offers from American bands and stuff to come back. It’s flattering, it’s good and I’m enjoying it but I’m incredibly homesick and I really want to come home. I love the Australian audiences and I miss that. Playing here you feel like you have to prove yourself again, you have to captivate people who have no idea who are.”

One of the bigger events at which Whitley had to captivate was South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. Designed to showcase musical acts from around the globe and provide the opportunity for delegates to network and do business, the event is a massive opportunity for those attending to mix it with the right people. Although it sounds like the ideal forum for an emerging Australian artist with a plethora of accolades constantly running after his name, Whitley admits he struggled a little.

“I kind of struggle with the networking thing,” he admits. “It was never really my thing, so my manager had to fly with me and do the networking for me. The people I’ve made friends with over here are because they’re really nice and genuine people. I can’t actually do the networking thing. And I’m horrible for it when people try to do it too. If people try to network with me I get really jaded and it’s like, ‘don’t pretend to be my friend’. I’d respect someone much more if they said ‘Here’s my CD, I rock. I should support you because I’m actually better than you’.”

Although his success means he has a legion of fans who would kill for the chance to play alongside him, Whitley himself still has idols that leave him star struck. After arriving in the USA, Whitley found himself sharing a stage with his song writing hero Mason Jennings, and his aversion to networking meant he didn’t handle the situation exactly how he would have liked.

“Do you know the story of how that happened-” Whitley asks. “My manger [and I], we run a tight shop, but occasionally we get a little loose with details and we were cruising some breakfast radio thing at the Four Seasons lobby and we expected a small thing and there were 100 people there listening to one of Austin’s biggest radio shows. So I had too much Red Bull and Mason Jennings walked in the room just before I started playing and I was like, ‘this is not cool, this is my song writing hero’. Afterwards we had an interview together and I hadn’t spoken to him, and they asked who our musical influences are and I had to say it was [him] and I got really nervous and got this facial twitch thing and I had to leave. But he showed up later and we have a mutual friend so I got to hang out with him for the day and he’s just a really cool, tall person.“

They do say great minds think alike, and the reception Whitley has received for his debut album The Submarine, and the reception he is receiving in the States indicates that he needn’t feel as nervous around his idol as he states. He is fast approaching the league he aspires to with a sound that has been described as sublime, and mature beyond his years. While those Whitley fans amongst us are happily captivated in the bubble of soul soothing sounds he produces, when Whitley plays, he says that he too is transported to another place.

“Every time I play well, if the fold back is good, or in a pure recording when it works, you feel weightless, really free, its like a real meditative feeling, it just feels really nice,” he explains, saying it’s difficult to consider what he does as a job. “Sometimes touring can be like [a job] but I love the studio, I love recording, but being on the road can at times [feel like work.] But I’m excited about the May tour. I’m really looking forward to touring to the people who have cottoned on to it and that have supported me. Some tours you really look forward to, like the May tour and the Powderfinger tour, but with this particular tour I just want to get home and get it over with. Depending on the gig it can be a bit of a chore, and before and after always sucks, but for that hour on stage it’s just really, really fun. But it’s good, you can’t bitch about it. I’m one of those people who can’t really settle for something that’s second best. This is all I could do, even if I really sucked at it and if I had to live off my parents to do this, I would be doing it.”

WHO: Whitley
WHAT: Plays Annandale Hotel / The Submarine through Dew Process/Universal
WHEN: Friday 16 May / Out now