As a vocalist, Johnny Whitney is a visceral, high-pitched shrieker. Formerly the frontman for long- running post-hardcore outfit the Blood Brothers, Whitney regularly transformed the English language into a lethal sonic weapon.
In a late-July interview, however, Whitney is calm, collected and thoughtful. He's in his home base of Portland, Ore., taking a break from loading gear; Jaguar Love, the new trio Whitney formed with ex-Blood Brother Cody Votolato and ex-Pretty Girls Make Graves member Jay Clark, are embarking on a monthlong tour to promote their debut album, Take Me to the Sea. Jaguar Love is as melodic and inviting as the Blood Brothers were deafeningly cartoonish, but they retain a diamond-hard edge.
The band formed in 2007, shortly after the twin implosions of the Blood Brothers and Pretty Girls Make Graves. Drummer-bassist Clark served as a guitar tech on the final two Blood Brothers tours, so Whitney and guitarist Votolato already knew him well.
'We'd become good friends, and we just decided we all wanted to start a new band together,â?� says Whitney, who also handles piano duties.
With Jaguar Love, Whitney has toned down his yarl accordingly, and not just because the less frantic, less destructive music demands it.
'I had [voice] problems a lot in the Blood Brothers, but I think it had more to do with my emotional state, being in a band that was slowly coming apart,â?� he says. 'Anxiety and sleep deprivation didn't help. I haven't had that problem with [Jaguar Love] at all.â?�
Sea finds Whitney in a more literal and settled frame of mind. Unlike, say, his nonsensical, fuck-everything screeds on 2006's Young Machetes ('You're alone/Handcuffed to a picked-clean bone/And your skull echoesâ?�), this project is chock-full of autobiographical bits. This is found mainly in the family-tree pruning and tour-diarisms of 'Bats Over the Pacific Ocean,â?� or the tender, Motown-reminiscent 'Bonetrees and a Broken Heart,â?� an ode, Whitney says, to 'a real close friend of ours who's been fighting cancer for three or four years.â?�
In Whitney's world, the new band represents progress both personally and professionally. 'The vocal lines are a lot more difficult for me, so it's good. It's like the next level. It's just more melodic. In Blood Brothers, I relied more on harder elements of my voice; in Jaguar Love it's more melodic, not so chanty and screamy.â?�
'We started the Blood Brothers when we were 15, but by the time I was 19, I'd stopped listening to hardcore,â?� Whitney adds. 'I was happy in the Blood Brothers, but I wasn't satisfied. It was like a job you don't really wanna do. Mentally I'm happier [now]. [Jaguar Love] is more like a home for me than the Blood Brothers were.â?�