Chris Whitehall talks navigating a huge year of international touring with The Griswolds (Sydney) & returning home with a new sound!

It’s been some time since I’ve been able to properly catch up with The Griswolds. From the beginning of this year, the Sydney band’s international profile has skyrocketed considerably ever since they landed their first support slot alongside breakthrough US pop giants Walk the Moon. The release of The Griswolds’ debut album Be Impressive in 2014 sent the boys around Australia on a well-received album tour that definitely built upon the positive waves they’d been generating over the course of much triple j play and various headline shows, but it would seem that this year has definitely seen the Americans claim the Sydney four-piece as their own in a lot of ways.

Currently seeing out the final dates of their latest US tour (this time, alongside Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness), months after their debut headline American tour, The Griswolds are finally returning home. The boys have a run of summer festivals to get amongst including a spot at The Plot Festival, which will see them performing their first hometown gig in Sydney for quite a little while. As frontman Chris Whitehall mentions, the band’s homecoming is one they’ve been looking forward to eagerly.

“We love home crowds so much,” he says, on the phone, the band in transit to a show in New York. “One of our favourite shows was in Sydney at the Metro last year, when we did the Beware the Dog Tour. There is nothing quite like playing at home. We’re really excited to bring the show home. I think that we’ve done so many shows internationally now and we’re saddened by the fact that we didn’t play that many shows in Australia this year.”

Terminal 5, New York - 2015
Terminal 5, New York – 2015 (Credit: Luis Ruiz)

“We’re really excited to bring it home and show fans what we have and what we’ve learned from the endless touring and the work we’ve put in. I can’t wait for our next headline tour, I can’t wait for our next single to come out in Australia and see how that goes. I think the whole band is just ready for the next step now; we’ve been touring for what feels like a year and a half straight, now, since the first single came out in Australia, Europe and Canada. We’re ready to take a break, write and get ready!”

Having turned a fun, sweaty indie-pop club show into a formidable and dynamic live presence that has seen The Griswolds play on huge festival stages to thousands in the recent year and a half alone, the band has proven their worth and have turned heavy bouts of touring into the perfect sets of opportunities to further develop themselves as a creative collective.

“This year has probably added ten years to my life,” Whitehall laughs. “It’s been a lot of fun. I’m excited and tired and all the emotions at once. I think we know each other better than anyone now! I mean, Lachy [West] probably knows me better than my mum because we share a room together every day. Honestly, you do become family. You have to become family just to be able to deal with each other on the road for that long. You’re either in a van every day, on a green room, on stage, in a hotel room…whatever it may be, this whole unit is a family unit and it works really well. It’s tough sometimes, but we’re just loving it and we’re having the best time and we appreciate where we are.”

Firefly Festival
Firefly Festival (Credit: CJ Harvey)

Indicating a new sound is coming, Whitehall’s keen to explore the influences the band has been picking up and adapting since Be Impressive was released. Given how fluid commercial pop, indie and even R&B is becoming (especially Stateside), it’s not really surprising that come 2016, we could be seeing The Griswolds really take their music in a different direction.

“We never really had rules when we started writing,” Whitehall admits. “Then [with] the first album, it was the exact same thing – we wanted ups and downs, we wanted the album to be a journey. This new album that we’re writing now is going to be a whole new thing. We can’t wait for 2016 to start, just so we can get this show on the road and release new music. it’s going to be really, really exciting. It’s not like a Vampire Weekend/MGMT sound, we’ve taken a much more R&B/hip-hop road – we’ve gone down a kind of Drake/The Weeknd/Kanye type of road. Also, the new Tame Impala record, which we all love more than anything. It’s still a lot of fun, in that Griswolds type of way.”

The band’s bromance with their American brothers in Walk the Moon is one in particular Australian fans will be able to witness firsthand, speaking of 2016 for The Griswolds – the two bands will be linking up for Walk the Moon’s full Australian tour in the New Year.

“I’m not sure these little Ohio boys are ready, to be honest.” Whitehall says. “We’re going to show them how we do it over here – there will be a lot of beach parties, skinny dipping…we’re going to show them how Australians do it. It’s going to be amazing. I’ve been talking with them to try and get them out a few days early so we can actually go and spend some time and take them to a reptile park or something, see some kangaroos and some crocodiles, stuff like that. Just so we can freak them out a little bit.”

On how their fan base in the US has grown exponentially off the back of touring with Walk the Moon (for an inkling, head over to Twitter or Instagram), Whitehall admits that it’s been a slight whirlwind to have been whipped up in.

“It’s crazy!” he laughs. “Before we did that tour, we really didn’t know what to expect but once we did the tour, social media was blowing up and I was like, ‘Whoa – what is this all about?’ One moment actually, that I’m sure Australians will love but Americans didn’t love as much, I put a photo of sneaky nuts up on the internet, not really thinking. I thought, ‘We have an Australian fan base and Australians will love it’, but we had this whole new American fan base that I didn’t really know about and they hated it. I copped so much hate for that one! I stick by it and I’m proud of it; I loved watching Angry Boys, I’m a big fan. Sneaky nuts for life.”

The Griswolds (Credit: Nicole Fara)
The Griswolds (Credit: Nicole Fara)

Chris Lilley love aside, the vocalist and guitarist notes the importance of remaining connected to loved ones back home while being away for long periods of time.

“To be honest, talking to people and communicating as much as we can with people back home has kept us grounded,” he says. “We try to talk to family and friends back home and it’s hard, you know? You need something to keep you how you are and who you are. I think it’s the people around you [who help] and that’s basically us as a band, we just try and talk to each other as much as we can and try to communicate through any type of bullshit or tiredness that might make touring stressful. Everything makes touring stressful I guess, it’s not an easy thing; it’s not something a lot of people understand, especially when you’re touring for nine months straight. It can be really wearing. I think the main thing you can do is try and keep in touch with your friends and family around you and just talk about it.”

With The Plot in Sydney first on the boys’ list when they get home, fans should be excited to see what The Griswolds have up their sleeves. For people who may be coming to the band for the first time, perhaps this long time away will work to the band’s advantage in being able to return and introduce themselves to a whole new lot of people.

“I really do believe that we’re going to be introducing the new Griswolds,” Whitehall agrees.”We’re not just a band from Sydney that makes indie music anymore. When we started out, our biggest goal was just to write fun music and play around Australia. That was a great goal and we did that but now, things have changed so much and everyone’s headspace is different. We can’t wait to show the new Griswolds off, it’s so far from where we started and so much more in a direction that we always wanted to go.”

Catch The Griswolds at THE PLOT FESTIVAL, taking place at Paramatta Park in Sydney on December 5th. Head to The Plot‘s website for tickets!

You can also catch the boys performing over summer at the below dates – head to The Griswolds’ website for more info:

January 21st | Astor Theatre, Perth | with Walk the Moon
January 23rd | The Gov, Adelaide | with Walk the Moon
January 25th | 170 Russell, Melbourne | with Walk the Moon
January 29th | The Triffid, Brisbane | with Walk the Moon
January 31st | Metro Theatre, Sydney | with Walk the Moon

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