Exposure: The Whispertown 2000
- Thomas Meek
- 8 September 2009
From tap dancing with Dick Van Dyke, playing with Jenny Lewis (being namechecked on more than one Rilo Kiley record) and pretending to be in love with Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Morgan Nagler has already done her fair share of living. But the former child star still has a lot to offer, teaming up with some fellow country loving Californians to go back to her first love - old school Americana. The Whispertown 2000 (formerly Vagtown 2000, but changed to protect innocent grandmothers) create the sort of folk tunes fit for fans of everyone from Conor Oberst to Dixie Chicks, via Emmy Lou Harris. She spoke to The List.
Can you tell us a bit about the background of the band? Who's involved and how did you get together?
We all grew up in different beach communities of Southern California. While not knowing each other, we started out with like minded sensibilities and senses - of humour. Our mutual friend, Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley and solo fame) paired me up with Tod Adrian Wisenbaker, admiring his rolling guitar stylings. And so it was, we were an acoustic duo. Later, we were fortunately joined by his then girlfriend, Vanesa Corbala, who had no idea what she getting into when one night I told her she was in the band without ever hearing her sing a note, and also the creative, robust charm of bass player, and Tod's brother, Casey Wisenbaker.
What was the reason you all got into music?
I have always been surrounded by music, and I've always written words, but it wasn't 'til I was 20 that I began writing songs all the time and decided to go down a different road. The feeling that followed the writing of a song and its process – that’s why I play music. It's the only thing that feels true to me. Tod and Casey have always played music. Tod is an amazing song writer himself, and both grew up playing in varying bands together and apart, ranging from punk, hardcore, to folk. Vanesa has always sung her way through life. She grew up learning traditional Mexican ballads, and her father is into latin jazz and is dedicated to percussion and drums. They had a drum set in their living room. I think it just makes us all the happiest.
How much are the more traditional elements of American folk music an influence on your work? You seem to blend long-established sounds with the contemporary very naturally.
Traditional folk music, gospel, and soul, are all extremely influential in the writing. I grew up listening to my parents records from the 60s mostly, and never have gotten far away from that. It's in the blood. But we are modern people in the world, so that's why it naturally collides and blends.
You've played with some of the bigger names in the American alt-country scene, including Rilo Kiley and Bright Eyes. Is there a yearning to reach that kind of level?
We just wanna do our thing how we do. To do what you do naturally, and a make a living at it, is the best of lives.
Like Rilo Kiley's Blake Sennet, Morgan was a child actor too. Is there a favourite moment from that time? Meeting Dick Van Dyke on Diagnosis Murder?
Dick Van Dyke was cool - he taught me a few tap dancin' moves. My favourite thing to think about is The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, where I played a nerd who was in love with Carlton. They had a DJ on the set.
You've released two full length albums so far. How would you describe them?
Livin' in a Dream is very self descriptive. That record was made from a much different angle than the sophomore Swim. We were much less solidified as a band then, and the songs were recorded at varying locations and times. Jake Bellows, of Neva Dinova, and I spent a long time mixing it, and making it cohesive and dreamy. ‘Swim’, on the other hand, was all arranged and rehearsed and we really all came forward as a band with a clear vision for each song. It's more of a rock record as well, I feel. It's vibe to me is best described: ‘It acknowledges the sink option, and chooses to swim.’
What's the nicest thing anyone's said about your work?
Jenny Lewis said I was her favourite songwriter and that meant the world to me. Also to be likened to a chinese proverb was the nicest.
Why should people listen to The Whispertown 2000?
To be connected to the world and to relate to what's new and ancient. And to be ...
The Whispertown 2000 play Captain’s Rest, Glasgow on 16 Sep, and Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh on 17 Sep.