High Times for Low Lives: Chris Whitehall dishes on breaking America and The Griswolds’ homecoming

For those playing at home, The Griswolds have clocked some of their biggest headline shows to date in the US in recent weeks. Their hard graft Stateside has led them to enjoy headline status and the acclaim that comes with successful shows around the large territory, while their sophomore album High Times For Low Lives continues to produce chart-climbing songs off road.

During a brief moment of calm, I chat with frontman Chris Whitehall to get a tiny insight into how the band had been weathering the chaos. Reflecting on their recent headline American tour, Whitehall admits that though the band has spent more time than not on the road, this last run was more significant than any other.

“This has probably been the most fun we’ve had on tour,” he says. “All the pressure was on us to deliver because it was our tour and we did. It’s even more rewarding. We’ve done so much touring everywhere now and we’d done a headline run in America before and that was amazing too, but that was off the back of another support tour. This one really felt like it was our turn to go, ‘Alright these are our wares. This is what we’ve got, this is what we’re showing off’. We’ve got two albums to play now instead of one, which is also exciting.”

“For me personally, I really felt like we finally got to deliver a show. Not just playing a bunch of songs. We actually got to deliver a real performance; throw some medleys in there and have some really down moments where it’s just a piano and singing, as opposed to delivering just rock in your face for 30 minutes. We definitely thought about it differently. We went into it really thinking, ‘Cool – we have to go into this and impress. This is our first tour we’ve done since releasing our sophomore album and the pressure really is on. It’s time to get really, really professional; not just drink and party before the show.’ With each show, a bunch of people are expecting a fucking great show and we had to go give them that.”

The making of High Times For Low Lives and its subsequent release saw some of Whitehall’s most honest and candid songwriting come to light. Trying to keep one’s sanity and sense of self within a bubble of chaotic on-road action that keeps you away from family, partners and the familiar comforts needed to be healthy is a challenge, one that ultimately bled into the creative process and the result listeners have now been able to sink their time into.

“It was unfortunate for my mum,” Whitehall laughs. “She had to listen to those songs and be like, ‘Oh shit – that’s what boy’s gone through? Oh my God…’ – it’s a really honest place, all the songwriting and lyrics, they’re really raw. That’s something I really prided myself on, with this last album. Not to say that we’re the only ones doing something like that but when we wrote Be Impressive, there was a lot more candy and there was lot more fun and upbeat [moments]; just writing party tracks. There’s nothing wrong with that but we got to a point where we were like, ‘Cool – let’s write something real.’ These were experiences that were obviously on our minds and in our hearts; it was too hard to ignore. I don’t think I could’ve written any different lyrics if I tried. It was literally a thing of what goes in, comes out.”

“There’s a whole new depth to the band now,” he admits. “A new professionalism within the band. We’ve also made enough mistakes to learn from. For me personally, the last tour that we went on in the States a year ago, that was another amazing tour and there was a great amount of people, but I wasn’t present. I wasn’t present on that tour. I was in a bad place. I would play shows high off my tits or completely preoccupied with other things. My thoughts weren’t about the show and they weren’t about the band. It was all about what was going on after the show. I made a pact with myself that I would start delivering the frontman duties that the fans pay money to come and see.”

Photo: Benjo Arwas

The support of band mates and their management, crew and tour family would go miles in helping to be rid of the toxicity that can often cloud a musician’s career and being away from home? It’s almost an essential part of being able to make it.

“You definitely need something.” Whitehall agrees. “If you can talk to your brothers in the band and go, ‘Hey I’m going through this right now, help me,’ or, ‘I really don’t want to take drugs tonight, help me,’ or ‘I don’t want to get completely shitfaced drunk tonight, help me,’ … Jumping on a phone call to anyone back in Australia – family or girlfriend, wife, whoever it may be – I feel like that communication is such a strong part of keeping the band strong and being accountable. That is something we’ve really learned, it’s how we stay sane.”

“Every band with their crews all around the world, their stories are so different; our band and our crew are really the only ones who understands our story and exactly where we’ve been and what we’ve been through. They’re closer than family, I couldn’t put it any better. I’ve got my friends, I’ve got my family and then I’ve got my band – they’re the only ones who understand the depth of everything that we’ve done.”

While the band’s profile continues to surge internationally, the wait for The Griswolds to return home is getting shorter. Though they’ve been welcomed by the US with open arms and the audiences continue to grow for them, The Griswolds haven’t forgotten about fans back home in Australia. A homecoming tour is lined up for April and May, where the Sydneysiders will return home no doubt triumphantly, with a new sheen coated on the shows we already know they’ve been capable of producing. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, goes the saying and for Whitehall, it couldn’t be more applicable.

“I’ve been over here now for over a year,” the now Los Angeles based Whitehall says. “I’ve come back to Australia four times in that year but it’s only been for a day here, two days there. I literally came back last year for a show; landed on the day of the show and then left the next morning to come back here. I’ve been back, but I haven’t spent any time there. I am ridiculously excited to come back to Australia and spend some solid time there. Spend some time with family, spend some time with the fans out there. I can’t wait to play those shows and finally show off what we’ve learned and the band that we’ve become now. Show the hometown crowd what we can do.”

THE GRISWOLDS AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES

April 28th | Oxford Art Factory, SYDNEY
April 29th | Howler, MELBOURNE
May 5th | Woolly Mammoth, BRISBANE
May 12th | Jive, ADELAIDE
May 13th | Jack Rabbit Slims, PERTH

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