Their name was torn from the pages of a magazine—not the Herman Melville classic, but the members of the Devil Whale are still well versed in literature from Carl Sandburg to Theodore Roethke, blending smarts with rock.
According to lead singer Brinton Jones, a lot of their influences are “the kind of generic ones”—the Beatles, the Kinks, the Velvet Underground. But the band throws in plenty of modern influence from Destroyer to Dear Hunter to Guided by Voices. The result is good old-fashioned, multi-layered indie-pop—a bit melancholy, but rife with sharp lyrics like on the track “Underwater”: “If you wanna be rich like them/don’t rob them—become their friend/but don’t give them your middle name.”
The Devil Whale is rooted in Salt Lake City, a town known more for Mormonism than its music scene, but Jones sees this as a good thing.
“Our friends in Seattle all feel like they have a very good chance of getting signed or getting some type of notoriety because Barsuk (Records) is there, Sub Pop (Records) is there, there’s a lot of industry presence,” says Jones. “But in a smaller town where there isn’t that presence you definitely have a sense that you have to go out and earn it. So I think that’s kind of positive for being in Salt Lake.
And there is a lot of good bands so there is a lot of inspiration from our peers.”
For Jones, much of his inspiration also comes from visual art. He says he often takes a journey through different themes, latching onto the right ones and letting everything fall into place, such as on “Patent Boots” when he sings, “If your dad has many mansions/your dad has many leaky roofs.”
“I like my lyrics to be a collage of images. A lot of the lyrics I like the most have been inspired by visual art more than anything else,” says the 30-year-old singer. “I like certain elements of abstract art or maybe dada, where not everything is meaningful and sometimes it’s nonsensical, but it creates a cool image.”
Some people have told the band that they sense a “disenchantment with America or just an overall quality of being jaded.” Jones nonchalantly says he doesn’t feel that way, but that’s what’s coming across and he doesn’t seem to have a problem with varying interpretations.
The Devil Whale has had trouble keeping their members, going through numerous line-up changes. Why? Jones explains, “Because the Devil Whale isn’t a paying gig. It’s a big commitment financially, so it can be hard.”
But the core of the band, Jake Fish on bass and Cameron Runyan on drums, has stayed constant through the band’s history, which keeps the group consistent, especially when writing songs.
“I’ll usually write songs and bring them to the band, then we’ll arrange them together,” says Jones. “Usually I’ll just write something kind of normal, acoustic guitar and vocals, and then we try to deconstruct that. The goal was always to not have somebody just strumming, you know? The goal is to assemble a bunch of different art to work together.”
Currently on their sixth or seventh tour (they lost count), the Devil Whale is making new friends all over the country and they just returned from Alaska for the first time. The SLC band has even made a few stops in Flag before, indicating a secret love last summer when the band tweeted, “Why don’t we all live in Northern Arizona?”
“The thing I really like about Flagstaff is the Greek Isle (sic), which is my favorite falafel that I’ve ever had,” says Jones. “We all love that town—the weather, the scenery. We’re all big fans of the area, Flagstaff, Sedona, Jerome. We’re excited to play at Mia’s this time. We always play at the Monte Vista, but Mia’s seems like a good local hub.”
Last year was productive for Jones and company—the band recorded their second album, Teeth, set for release this May, thanks in part to a successful campaign on Kickstarter. According to Jones, it has much of the same style as their 2010 EP Young Wives.
“A lot of that was recorded in the same sessions,” he says. “I feel like it’s got an energy to it that feels live, although it wasn’t recorded (that way). It’s fairly guitar heavy, overall fairly up tempo, but nobody’s gonna be shaking their ass to it.”
The Devil Whale’s first album, Like Paraders, featured Jen Wood of the Postal Service and Jenna Conrad of Damien Jurado, among others, and the band has shared the stage with the Autumn Defense, Talkdemonic, Cold War Kids and Richard Swift, to name a few.
This year could be even more promising for the band, who has a slot at the Austin mega-music conference South by Southwest this month and an upcoming Daytrotter session, not to mention the new CD as well as enough touring to circle the country twice.
“This is just kind of the beginning of a lot of things before we release this record. It’s a lot of firsts for us,” says Jones. “So far it’s been great. We’re all excited.”