Sometimes, it just takes a slight shift in chemistry to change something bright and shiny into precious metal.
Brent Collins, a musician and songwriter who'd been kicking around Savannah for years, couldn't quite capture the sounds he was hearing in his head. In mid 2011, he was drumming in the band Mantis, and playing the odd solo gig as a singer/guitarist augmented by numerous pedals and effects. At home, Collins had a notebook full of non-linear lyrics that cried out for ... well, something else.
Then he met Jeremiah Stuard, whose melodic basslines in Howler gave that band an extra layer of spiky atmosphere, and Paul Spangle, a creatively muscular drummer who'd cut his teeth in a series of punk and hardcore groups.
From the first rehearsal, it was special. The sound was vast and wide, like a great grey ocean. They called the band Whaleboat.
"It's always been in my head to have a three-piece," Collins explains. "I've been a real big fan of the Police for a long time. I like the way they have space in between the instruments. It gives you a lot of space when you're playing music, because the bassist does one thing, the guitarist can do one thing and the drummer can do another."
Whaleboat's music isn't power-pop, proto-punk or any other convenient label with alliterative letters.
It's evocative and somewhat melancholy, drenched in reverb and marinated in a dreamlike atmosphere. "I'm really big into shoegaze music from the early ‘90s, like My Bloody Valentine, Slow Dive and all that stuff," says Collins. "So it's always been in my head to bring it out."
Because they were weaned on a "heavier sense of music," Collins says, his bandmates contribute a significant amount to the forward motion of Whaleboat's music, giving it an uncharacteristically (for shoegaze) hard edge.
"When I moved here to play with another band, they already had an album," says Spangle, a Maryland native. "So it was like playing over the shell of something somebody else had already made.
"With these guys, I actually had to sit down and work on stuff. I like working with them because they're very open. Jeremiah and I work so well together. Brent will have a song pretty much written, I'll come in and sit down and it completely changes from what he originally had. It's not like ‘OK, we're you're backup band.'"
Stuard, originally from Indiana, says he and Collins played for several months, gelling as musicians, before Spangle joined up. "I've been in multiple bands before, and I kinda wanted to do something a little different," he explains. "I checked it out. We meshed pretty well."
When they found their drummer, he adds, "That kind of solidified everything."
(Stuard still does double duty as bassist for Howler, which is now known as Sins of Godless Men.)
Whaleboat debuted last fall with the "Advice" single, and in February released Navigator, a five-song EP recorded at Studio 2-10 in the Starland district.
Navigator has elements of My Morning Jacket melancholia, Coldplay grandeur and the eerie pop drama of bands like the Cure. And like the best of the shoegaze indies, it paints a gauzy aural picture.
But there's much more to it. Whaleboat has muscle.
"I didn't want to have just a shoegaze band," says Collins. "Because I like structure and intricacies in songs, too. I'm a big Radiohead fan. I didn't want it to be with the vocals totally in the background, because shoegaze music is not about the vocals. It's more about the atmosphere. The vocals are in the center, a little bit back in the mix. It's more about the sound.
"I didn't want it to totally be that way, but to have a little bit of a sense of shoegaze sound."
Coming shortly is a new single, "The Socialist," and hopefully a full-length album in the fall.
Using a multitude of echo delays, fuzz and reverb pedals, Whaleboat in performance re-creates the moody yet vibrant atmosphere of the records. It is an exciting live show.
Among the first to take notice of the new trio's talents were Bryan, Angel and Brian of Cusses, who sponsored the earliest Whaleboat gigs at their No Control venue.
"Without them," Collins says, "we wouldn't be where we are today. They've helped us out so much.
"And what they're doing for Savannah's music scene ... being from Savannah, I can say the music scene is at its peak right now. From what it was before. It's crazy how the music scene's grown so much."
With Henrietta, Habitat Noise
Where: The Jinx, 127 W. Congress St.
When: At 10 p.m. Friday, June 15