Artopia: Ride the Black Whale(s)

Making a splash in a saturated sea of pop.

Black Whales hasn't put out any albums yet, but in 18 months of existence, the band's nevertheless built a reputation on live performance alone. And that's not due to a preoccupation with showmanship. There's nothing flashy about Black Whales' sets. It's just a few scruffy guys playing your standard rock-band instruments: vocalist and guitarist Alex Robert, drummer Davey Brozowski, bassist Ryan Middleton, and lead guitarist-slash-keyboard player Alan Foote. What stands out is the songwriting—feel-good melodies paired with relatable, poignant lyrics—that caught Seattle's attention. And it doesn't hurt that Black Whales have carved a small sonic niche in the nether region between one popular genre and another, bridging the gap between twangy bands like the Maldives and the Moondoggies and straight-ahead indie-rock acts like Telekinesis and Say Hi.What's most remarkable about Black Whales is the speed with which they've established themselves in a scene overstuffed with like-minded pop bands. Black Whales formed in January 2008. A few months later, the fledgling band was booked for the Capitol Hill Block Party, with nothing more than a four-song demo to prove their songwriting prowess. "We never really had a release," Robert explains. "It was just a demo we gave out at shows for free." And yet that demo was enough to help Black Whales get a slot at this year's Bumbershoot and ink a deal with Mt. Fuji Records, a local indie label that's home to bands like the Whore Moans and Portland pop band Point Juncture, WA.Recently the band added a new member, Mike Bayer, an organist who lent his talents to "Young Blood," a song from Origins, the band's first EP. While Robert is happy with that one, he says he'd like to take a more experimental turn on the band's first full-length. Black Whales has already begun writing, and the songs they've produced so far, he says, reflect that aim. "In my mind, it starts out really light and gets more and more experimental," Robert says. "It's definitely beyond [the second EP we're going to] put out in September.In the next six months, [we're going to] split away from that kind of shiny-indie-pop comparison."

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