Whitey Houston will always love you

Bassist/vocalist Lyle Bell perpetuates a Canadian stereotype with a big fur hat.
Bassist/vocalist Lyle Bell perpetuates a Canadian stereotype with a big fur hat.
Photo courtesy of www.whiteyhouston.com
Whitey Houston put up their dukes ... and a tambourine.
Whitey Houston put up their dukes ... and a tambourine.
Photo courtesy of www.whiteyhouston.com

Interview: Whitey Houston @ The Grad Club, Sept. 14

For the last time, Whitney Houston is not coming to Kingston. But Whitey Houston is.

In fact, Whitey Houston doesn’t even take its name from the aforementioned songstress.

“Whitey, [the moniker of the bassist and singer], used to draw a cartoon character named Whitey Houston for a small paper,” Gravy, the drummer, explained over the phone. “But it only lasted two issues, because Whitey didn’t have any pants.”

After five years of playing together, the band finally released a debut album last May, and is currently touring the country.

“It was about time that we released something,” Gravy said. “We’ve actually managed to chart on some college radio stations. I’m really happy with our success and overwhelmed that other people are willing to get on board.”

This Wednesday the band is coming to the Grad Club, and it’ll be their first time in Ontario since the North By Northeast Festival in Toronto last summer.

“North By Northeast was good—quite a few people showed up,” Gravy said “I’m looking forward to playing Kingston. It’s nice to get out to new cities we’ve never been to.”

Although the band has the same instrumental line-up as fellow Canadians Death From Above 1979, Gravy is adamant that Whitey Houston sounds nothing like them.

“We’re completely different,” Gravy said. “DFA 1979 is more dance-y than us. We’re more ‘stompy’, like, more rock and roll. People who compare us to DFA 1979 probably haven’t listened to our record. And they probably don’t know that we’ve been playing for five years—long enough to develop our own style.”

Judging by their influences, more rock-oriented style is understandable.

“I grew up listening to hair-metal bands,” Gravy said. “To this day Tommy Lee is my favourite drummer. Whitey is more into 70s bands, like T Rex.”

As a result, not even their stage presence is all that similar.

“Occasionally we get all dolled up to perform,” Gravy said. “But usually it’s pretty standard—just two guys givin’ it.”

Comparisons aside, the band has garnered some success since their release. Perhaps it’s because, amid the barrage of typical indie-rock-oriented bands hitting the scene lately, Whitey Houston stand out of the crowd as a rock-driven Canadian band. Writing songs about such topics as an unfortunate encounter with Liberty Mutual, Whitey Houston’s amusing lyrics and hard-driven instrumentation is catching the ears of music fans.

They’re realistic about success, though. As Gravy explained, Whitey Houston won’t get ahead of themselves.

“We’re hoping to do well as long as we can keep selling records,” Gravy said. “I don’t expect to make it big or anything, although I did quit my job at a shitty tire warehouse.”

While working at that warehouse, however, the day before their album was set to be released, a less-than-pleasant encounter with his then-insurance company inspired him to write the song “I Got Fucked By Liberty Mutual.”

“They called me at the workhouse, and basically told me I didn’t have any coverage,” Gravy said. “Needless to say I was pretty pissed. Apparently I had an outstanding amount of $41. When I asked them if I could pay it, they told me it was too late. So, I had to sign up all over again as if I hadn’t had rates to begin with, and that sent my new rates through the roof.”

Although the story behind the song is clearly one that would make any sane person want to rip out their hair, the band invited the receptionist at Liberty Mutual to their CD release show.

“She liked the song,” Gravy said.

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