Precious few listeners notice the drumming in modern-rock bands. But Julian Dorio, stick man for the Whigs, is an exception to this rule. His agitated skinsmanship on Mission Control, the band's new full-length, not only anchors the album, but provides just as many of the hooks as do frontman Parker Gispert's voice and guitar. As a result, Dorio was recently quizzed for profiles in future issues of Drum and Modern Drummer, the nation's two leading percussion-nerd mags — a weird development for someone who doesn't consider himself to be a virtuoso. In his words, "I learned when I was like nine years old that I wasn't going to be as good as Dennis Chambers. It occurred to me that I wasn't Dave Weckl."
The mere fact that Dorio is familiar with Chambers, who's kept time for jazzbos such as John McLaughlin, and Weckl, known for partnering with Chick Corea, proves he's not a typical indie pounder. However, he didn't hone his skills at some fusion-oriented music college. Instead, he learned lessons as a member of the Flying Dorios, a trio that teamed him with his father, an amateur guitarist, and his older brother, Michael, a strummer for Atlanta-based Trances Arc. Julian first took his seat behind the kit at age six, and before long, he and his kin were cranking out classic-rock covers at parties and family gatherings. "My dad had us play in front of people whenever we had the opportunity, whether it was five people or a hundred people," he recalls. Along the way, he became inured to stage fright: "I've never been nervous once in my life playing any show we've played."
Thanks to this experience, Dorio was more than ready when he formed the Whigs with two fellow University of Georgia students, Gispert and bassist Hank Sullivant (recently replaced by Tim Deaux). The three made their debut, 2005's Give 'Em All a Big Fat Lip, on a shoestring budget, purchasing recording equipment on eBay and then selling it back after they were done. But upon signing with ATO Records, an imprint co-owned by Dave Matthews, whom the boys still haven't met, they got a chance to cut Mission Control in a high-rent facility under the supervision of onetime Beck producer Rob Schnapf.
The disc that emerged has earned plenty of spins on college radio and brought Dorio to the attention of a growing legion of drumming aficionados. Nevertheless, he's not interested in showing off to keep his new cult happy. "My job is to make the song as good as possible," he says, "and if that means I need to play something simple and stay out of the way, that's what I need to do."
Hope he didn't say that to the folks at Modern Drummer.
Visit Backbeat Online for more of our interview with Julian Dorio of the Whigs.