Whitacre Brings Comfort to Troubled Souls

Whitacre plays the Bluebird Theater this week.
Whitacre plays the Bluebird Theater this week. Josh Perez / @joshuaedric
With a new album in the works and its first Bluebird Theater concert coming up this week, Whitacre's on a mission to use music to comfort fans with hopeful songs about redemption.

Frontman and namesake Paul Whitacre moved to Denver from Indianapolis in 2016, and since then his band has created a compelling roots-inflected rock that took flight on the group's debut EP, Within the Mountain Shadows, which came out in October 2018. The band's upward trajectory continues with the impending album Seasons, produced by Joe Richmond, who has also worked with Tennis and Churchill.

The group includes Whitacre on guitar and lead vocals, Mark Cunningham on drums, keys and backing vocals, Chase Perry on banjo, accordion, harmonica and backing vocals, Joey Wenberg on bass, and Robert Bullington on lead guitar.

 caught up with Whitacre to learn more.

Westword: I hear you recently got married.

Paul Whitacre: Yeah, last week was a whirlwind. Our banjo player got married on Thursday, and I got married on Saturday, and our guitar player had a baby on Wednesday. It was insane. But it's behind us now, and everything went smoothly. We're back to normal life, and everything feels good.

Well, congrats. You're all in your twenties right?

Yeah, we're all in our twenties. The oldest guy in the band is 28.

What's going on with the new release?

We've got a new full-length album called Seasons, and we're talking with some different managers and labels right now, which is going to kind of determine when the actual release will be, so it's still up in the air. We played Red Rocks on August 19 as part of Film on the Rocks, and we had a videographer come out and shoot a music video for one of the songs. That's as far as we are in terms of releasing new stuff right now.

Are you currently performing the songs from your upcoming release?

Yeah, we've been playing them live, and so far we're getting some great feedback.

Can you tell me about the title of your new album,

It's basically a metaphor for all the different phases of life that a person goes through. We've just gone from being single guys with no children to something completely different, where we're entering into a new time of life. This album was written in different seasons of our lives and encompasses a story that we've all walked through together in the last year or two. So, yeah, it's a metaphor for the different phases of life that we go in and out of. Our EP was focused on going through a rough period of life or a trial, so in a way this is related to it, though the last one was more about a particular trial, and this is about the whole story.

Has your lineup remained the same?

Yeah. We have three main guys that are kind of the core and two other guys that fill in when they can because they have so much going on in their lives. But it's the same group.

So what's the drift of your songs these days?

What the band is starting to trend toward is creating a culture of it being okay to not be okay, and people are reacting to that. We have people from New York all the way to L.A. who have never met us or seen us live, saying, "Hey, I'm struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, and these songs are helping me through that."

And then we've had people come up after the live shows and tell us stuff, like that they're struggling with suicidal thoughts, and the lyrics are giving them a reason to hope for something more. It's been really good to stay true to what we believe and not push it on anyone, but to perform and be ourselves, and people seem to be picking up what we're putting down. It's just been really cool to have people gravitate toward the messages we're putting in there.

Are you writing most of these songs?


Can you tell me about some of the new material?

The first song on the album, "Lost," is a bunch of jumbled-together noises that sound like chaos. There are no lyrics or anything. It starts this concept album of being in a really difficult situation, a bad place in life and feeling like you're aimlessly wandering without a purpose. And then the second song, "Sailor's Son," is pretty short, not a lot of lyrics in it, but it's pretty much saying that even though I'm lost, everything's not over. I'll leave it as generic as that. For me it's a testament to my personal faith, but I put it out there as a message that people can take and use for whatever they need it for.

I grew up in a Christian household in the Midwest, which sounds like a pretty generic upbringing, but I got into some trouble doing drugs in high school, and I went off to college and was drinking heavily, and then made that faith my own junior year, and it's been something that keeps me pointing forward.

Religion is important to us, but we made a promise that we would never force that onto anyone with our music. We aren't a Christian rock band. I went to a smaller, non-denominational evangelical church, which had the approach of no matter what your background is, you're welcome. "Here Again" is a song that accepts the fact that even though you're trying your best to live the right way and go the right direction, you still fall into slumps when you might go back on old habits, but there's still hope to get out of that.

Who are some of your songwriting influences?

Twenty One Pilots and Judah and the Lion are a couple big ones for us. They've kind of captured the same thing that we're going after. They've stayed true to their core, but they're reaching a really broad audience. People of all different backgrounds can vibe with their music and feel like there is something in it for them.

What's the sound of the band now?

We're pretty much a rock band. We do have a banjo and some harmonica, so we have some Americana overtones, but it's a full-on rock band, pretty much, with two guitars and catchy hooks.

Where did the bandmembers live before moving to Colorado?

I'm from Indianapolis. Our drummer, Mark, is from Plainview, Texas, and our banjo player, Chase, is from Wisconsin. Robert, the lead guitar player, is from Arkansas. Joey, our bassist, is from Kansas City. We all live in Denver now.

What's on the horizon?

We're really looking forward to our upcoming Bluebird show. We sold out Lost Lake a little under a year ago. And going from a 200-person room to a 600-person room for us is a big jump, but kind of a testament to how things have gone over the last year, which is exciting. We're going to have a two-week tour in September and October of this year, and that'll be the first time that we're doing headline dates around mostly the Midwest. That's the last big thing on the way to the album release. We're all still working at our nine-to-fives, and we're trying as hard as we can, and we hope to get to where we're playing music full-time within a year.

Whitacre plays with Ghost Revue and Andy Sydow, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, September 12, at the Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue. Tickets are $15 to $17.
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Nick Hutchinson writes about music for Westword and enjoys playing his guitar when not on deadline.
Contact: Nick Hutchinson