The Griswolds’ Chris Whitehall on Nonstop Touring, Hitting Rock Bottom and Moving to the United States | Music Feature | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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The Griswolds’ Chris Whitehall on Nonstop Touring, Hitting Rock Bottom and Moving to the United States

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The Griswolds - COURTESY OF LEANN MUELLER
  • Courtesy of LeAnn Mueller
  • The Griswolds

Australian pop band the Griswolds — who take their name from the Griswold family of the cult-classic film National Lampoon's Vacation — were still in their infancy when they won a slot at the 2012 Parklife Festival in their hometown of Sydney. Riding that momentum, the quartet garnered more exposure as a featured artist on Australian radio station Triple J Unearthed and considerable blog love for their first single, "Heart of a Lion."

Their debut album, Be Impressive, spawned a whirlwind of massive tours, most of which took them far away from the land down under. But the rock-and-roll lifestyle took a toll. Eventually, lead singer and co-songwriter Chris Whitehall hit rock bottom after years of unbridled hedonism and debauchery. But amid those hazy nights, Whitehall forged important relationships here in the States, both personally and professionally. Because of these, Whitehall moved stateside last year and now resides full time in Los Angeles.

The Griswolds' recently released second album, High Times for Low Lives, takes a hard look at the depths of depravity into which Whitehall and his bandmates descended. It also marks a stylistic shift. High Times edges away from Be Impressive's jaunty indie-electro sound and plants the boys closer to a darker, soulful Justin Timberlake territory.

The Griswolds perform on Saturday, March 4, at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge in South Burlington, with support from Dreamers and argonaut&wasp. Seven Days recently caught up with Whitehall by phone.

SEVEN DAYS: Is it OK if I ask how old you are?

CHRIS WHITEHALL: No. That's actually a huge band secret.

SD: Oh. OK...

CW: No one in the fandom knows how old any Griswolds member is. It's actually become a really, really googled thing. There's no reason behind us keeping it a secret, but people just kept asking. I even got offered to be on some website called Celebrity Birthdays or something, and I was like, "Nope! That would ruin the joke."

SD: In reference to High Times for Low Lives, you once said, "Sometimes we are just lowlives and make horrible decisions. The main factor here is learning from those." Can you give me an example?

CW: We wrote that album about the two years of touring we did after Be Impressive came out, because we didn't really expect it to be that successful. We toured for two years straight around the world, and I think it kind of took its toll on us. Having vices so available to you when you're in a weird mental state can be quite trying. I definitely did things I'm not proud of in that time, and I'm glad I'm not in those kind of things anymore. We're all going to make mistakes no matter what. It's [about] how you learn from them and how you deal with them moving forward.

I changed so much [since] starting in the band. I feel like I did things I never thought I would do. [I] made decisions I never thought I would make. About a year ago, I was drinking like crazy. I was taking way too many drugs, because they're just way too available. I was sleeping around a lot. I felt like those were some pretty shitty things to do, and I didn't feel great. I wasn't proud about them.

Chris Whitehall - COURTESY OF NAOMI CRAIG
  • Courtesy of Naomi Craig
  • Chris Whitehall

SD: Which song would you say distills that most perfectly?

CW: Probably "Rufio." Rufio was the leader of [Peter Pan's] Lost Boys, and that song [is about] being lost boys on the road. It's a bit darker [and] tells the story of waking up next to women that you don't know. As you're waking up, maybe [do] a line of cocaine. [It's about] waking up to that and being like, "Shit. What have I done? What is this? This doesn't feel like something I would do."

SD: You picked an interesting time to take up residency in the U.S.

CW: Yeah, I agree with you on that one for sure.

SD: What are your impressions of the election and postelection seasons?

CW: I'm still really in shock that this is actually the truth. I'm very, very anti what happened. This is a time for everyone to try and unite under love and [put] more effort into speaking against the things they don't believe in and fighting for the things that they do. I don't agree with any of [President Donald Trump's] policies or any of the bullshit he says. I think the guy's a moron.

SD: Have you picked up any American slang after spending so much time here?

CW: I don't think I know that much American slang. Australia [has] so much ridiculous, stupid slang. It means nothing. I haven't heard its equivalent in America. I get weirded out by certain terms, just everyday things. Going to get groceries with my girlfriend is always weird, because she'll be like, "Can you go get this?" And I won't know what it is, or I'll come back with something completely different.

SD: I noticed an "Ask Us Anything" section on your website. Does the band actually see those questions?

CW: Yeah. At this point, all of our social is run by band members.

SD: What's the best thing you've ever been asked?

CW: A few years ago, somebody asked to be sent a little bag of pubes. That was interesting.

SD: Did they receive it?

CW: No, they did not receive said bag of pubes. I think there were concerns about witchcraft and voodoo and shit like that.

SD: I tried to read the story of your most embarrassing high school moment, but the link was broken. Care to tell it again?

CW: Oh, God. Do you know what a shart is?

SD: Of course!

CW: Well, I don't know if I need to go into more detail. In the middle of class, I totally sharted.

SD: What class was it?

CW: I think it was Spanish.

SD: I wonder what the Spanish word for "shart" is.

CW: I don't know. I could ask [guitarist] Dan [Duque-Perez]. His parents speak Spanish.

SD: I understand you worked in carpentry before the Griswolds. Do you still get the chance to build?

CW: I built my girlfriend a little jewelry shelf for Christmas. It was kind of fun to get back on the tools for a second. It definitely wasn't easy. I think I've lost a lot of my knack.

SD: Do you have any musical guilty pleasures?

CW: Yeah, absolutely. I'm a big fan of Britney Spears. [And] Nick Lachey.


The original print version of this article was headlined "Permanent Vacation"

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