Jeff Whalen (Tsar)


bellfuries Jeff Whalen (Tsar)

After such an explosive well received debut, the band took a long 5 years before a follow up, and now an 7 year hiatus. Do you feel the original label (Hollywood Records) didn’t promote you properly?
JW: Mistakes were made rolling out our first record, for sure.  There were a number of good people at Hollywood who really believed in us and in the album, but I’m not sure they really knew how to get us off and running on the radio and such.

I think there was a sense that the album was strong enough that if we could get just one of the songs to hit, then we’d have like five or six or seven big singles from it, and we’d be really famous and awesome and we could put out as many albums as we wanted and our biggest problem would be how to deal with the burden of all this terrible, terrible fame, you know?  And then I’d crash and die in an illegal street drag race, lonely and stoned, and wearing a fake mustache, and Dan would join some Urantian cult, and Solomon and Coulter would put out a series of critically derided, but commercially successful, bubble-jazz records, and everything would be great!  Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.

Tell me the story of re-uniting the band after all this time. Why now?
JW: Even though we weren’t playing together for a couple years, and we were each working on other aspects of life—grad school, girlfriends, trying to get a TV show on the air, whatever—I think we have always been in Tsar even when we weren’t.  Potentially, being in Tsar is the single most important part of who we are as people.  It has changed the shape of our brains, it is the thing we have tried to do on this planet.  So, we said, let’s get the band back together and do the show right here! (Points to head.)

What is the biggest difference between making music now, as opposed to 12 years ago?
JW: Much has changed, but probably the bit that strikes me the most is that the scope of the rock and roll dream is so much smaller now.  Bands used to aspire to impacting the culture in a big way, now they just hope to get their song used in a Chips Ahoy commercial.

Tell me your biggest influences in the music business. Who gave you the best advice?
JW: Interesting questions.  I think a lot of our advisors—managers, lawyers, label people—tried to do good by us, but their advice never worked out for us.  I think I’ve learned more from talking to other musicians about their experiences in this wacky racket.  Butch Walker from the Marvelous 3 and Max Collins from Eve 6 come to mind.  (I guess I should have asked about musical influences instead of mentioning “business” – oh well.)

I read that in the early days you toured with Duran Duran. What was that like?
JW: Well, in retrospect it was a terrible idea from a promotional point of view—we should have been out on tour with a contemporary band—but I gotta say it was fun fun fun. It was great. To be out on your first tour ever, with your first record about to come out, and you’re on tour with Duran Duran, one of your top ten bands of all time? That’s some good stuff.

What do you find works best for your creative process when bringing a song together? Does it evolve from jams, riffs, lyrics?
JW: It virtually never comes out of a jam.  More often, the songs I write come from sitting down with a guitar or piano or bass even sometimes, and start strumming and singing until a song reveals itself.  Sometimes a lyric or a title or a melody or a riff or something will spontaneously appear in my mind out of nowhere when I’m not trying to write a song but, maybe surprisingly, those ones don’t usually make the transition when I attempt to flesh them out into actual songs.  They were just little melody dreams that only exist in my mind, kind of like a joke that cracked you up in a dream and then you woke up and wrote it down and then you went back to sleep and when you read it in the morning, it made absolutely no sense at all.  A couple exceptions would be the title “Kathy Fong is the Bomb” from our first record, and the “uh-huh” melody for “Police Station” off our new EP thing.  Those just sprang into my mind when I was going about my business, driving around, buying food, whatever.    

Will you follow up this EP with a full length album?
JW: Absolutely. That’s the next step. EPs are cool and everything, but they don’t feel like a complete statement somehow. You need an album to do that. After The Dark Stuff, I think our full length will be more optimistic and epic, poppier in some ways, but harder, too, or at least that’s how it’s shaping up so far.

Thanks Jeff, that was an great interview. – I can’t wait to hear the next Tsar full length album.


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