Interview:10 Questions with Todd Whitener - Tantric
By Don Dawson
Guitar.com: Hey Todd, how goes it?
Todd Whitener: Not too bad, man. We just landed in Norfolk, Virginia.
Guitar.com: Are you guys out with 3 Doors Down right now?
Todd Whitener: We sure are.
Guitar.com: So are you playing the Hampton Road Coliseum or whatever they might be calling it this year?
Todd Whitener: You know, I don't know where we're playing to be honest with you. I think it's somewhere around Old Dominion University or something like that.
Guitar.com: So much has happened for Tantric, and so quickly, may I add, starting almost immediately with the release of the first record. I read an interesting comment you had made about songwriting regarding inspiration. I've spoken to many songwriters from all walks and many of them recognize distress, upheaval, emotional breakdowns, whatever you'd like to call it - as an exceptional breeding ground for great songwriting. You've referred to that in a manner of speaking after the fallout from Days. Now that things have settled a bit for Tantric, where did you turn for inspiration for the songs on After We Go?
Todd Whitener: Well, I went through a lot of bullshit as far as ... well, let me rephrase that. I went through a lot of beautiful things and ugly things and I ended up having a baby between now and the
last time we talked, which was a beautiful thing.
Todd Whitener: Thanks, man. That was totally inspirational. She's about two and a half now. But also through that time, I went through putting up with my baby's mom. That on top of being on the road. Somehow, I didn't have the lack of inspiration or the lack of things to write about. Plus with all the crazy things going on in the world, you know, with post 9/11 stuff. Everybody sees the latest headlines and there's a lot of crazy shit going on in the world, I definitely didn't run into any writer's block when it came to finding some inspiration.
Guitar.com: Right. Now do you write collectively? Do you and Hugo do the bulk of the writing? Or do you come in with completed songs individually?
Todd Whitener: I write all the guitar parts and I'll write some lyrics. Then Hugo will write some lyrics. Matt and Jesse always come up with their own parts. No one is instructed on how to play specific parts. We all just get together and just play what feels right.
Guitar.com: As long as it works.
Todd Whitener: Exactly.
Guitar.com: After We Go comes out on the 24th of February, right?
Todd Whitener: I gotta knock on wood cause it's been delayed a couple of times, so I hope that's the real date this time (laughs).
Guitar.com: Well, I'm sure that will bring a great sense of relief and release, once that hits the streets, all the more since it's been delayed twice. Now during this time, you're back out on the road, doing press, keeping very busy, obviously. Are you continually writing during this timeframe as well?
Todd Whitener: It's funny you should say that because right before I called you, I was in the middle of writing a song. So I take breaks from it. There will be times when I don't even pick up my guitar for a little while, especially when I get home. I find that that's best. I never force myself to try and write a song but after some amount of time that goes by, usually, with anyone's life there'll be some amount of bullshit happening around them. When you hit one of those points - I mean like last night, when a few different things hit me that were going on and the next thing you know I'm writing a few different songs. Moments like just kinda happen and after a couple of years of touring, and having a few different moments like that - next thing you know, you've got an album's worth of material.
Guitar.com: It's probably different for just about everyone but if you don't write on the road, there's a longer lag between records. After you complete the tour for the first record, you have to then pick up the pen and start the creative process in preparation for the next recording.
Todd Whitener: Yeah, which is probably one of the reasons that this record was delayed so much. The first time we tried to go into the studio, we only had about five of the songs for the album and we tried to write the rest of it as we went into pre-production. We found out that that wasn't really the way we come up with our best material. It's not as heartfelt and there's not as much passion. The label heard that and they said "why don't you take some more time off and go write." We hated to have to take more time off but then again, at the end of the day, we're really happy that it happened that way because I think this album is the best album we've ever done, and I think it IS because we had a lot of time to contemplate and get serious about the process. More like, get our feet back on the ground - experience life again 'cause it gets a little crazy out here on the road. It's like living in this fantasy world where you're in a different city every night, playing shows to packed crowds. And then you go back home and you're changing diapers and stuff and that kind of puts things back in perspective.
Guitar.com: That it does! That's an interesting thought, actually. Imagine that you'd have to go out on the road to get some sleep, with a new baby in the house.
Todd Whitener: It is funny. But that's the truth. At home I don't get any sleep but when I'm out on the road, I get plenty.
Guitar.com: You chose to work with Toby Wright again. Everyone I speak with, where his name comes up (Jerry Cantrell, Munky, Taproot), has nothing but accolades about working with him. I'm guessing that Tantric's experience with him was equally brilliant.
Todd Whitener: We definitely work well together. Toby understands us and where we're going. I think he knows what we want out of our sound. He was with us during our last record where we were trying to form our sound from the roots up.
Guitar.com: Yes, your formative years, so to speak (laughing).
Todd Whitener: Right, yeah, he definitely understood what we were after. I think it really shows on this album. We just kind of went for it. He knew the ambient sound we were after. It was really just a great thing for all of us.
Guitar.com: The first single is "Hey Now" and it seems to be doing pretty well. It has a bit of an "F-U" edge to it. Is that directed at anyone in particular - or - is it directed at anyone who's name you can mention?
Todd Whitener: To be honest with you, Hugo wrote all the lyrics to that particular song so I can only guess.
Guitar.com: Oh, right. Quite the mystery.
Todd Whitener: When we saw it, we thought he was talking to us, actually (laughs). Yeah, we were like "well fuck you buddy" (laughing more).
Guitar.com: Yeah, well that's what lead singers are all about (laughing). You definitely threw in a bit of a twist on your new release. You chose to cover Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain." Interesting choice. Are you a fan of Lindsay Buckingham's playing? Or was it merely happenstance?
Todd Whitener: In a way, the label was really pushing for us to do a cover song in general. We didn't really want to have to. Me, in particular, I've always taken the stance that once a song is done once, why do it again. That's the way it was supposed to be done.
Guitar.com: I think that's a pretty true statement. It's very rare when a song is redone and improved upon, dramatically.
Todd Whitener: I've never been a fan of that but we were kind of backed in between a rock and a hard place with the label and being forced to do one. It was the day before we were going into the studio and we still had no idea what we were going to record. And we were like "dammit, we've got pick something or else we going to have this album delayed again." We were in this hotel room and that's when Hugo goes "I tell you what, I'm going to turn on this clock radio here and the first song that's playing when I turn this on, that's what we going to do." And we were like "fuck it, let's do it." So he turns it on and there's "The Chain" playing. We all kind of lit up over it. We were like "wow, I can hear us playing that." So then Hugo goes, "well, let me change the channel once more, just to make sure." So he changes the channel, the first channel he hits, it's another Fleetwood Mac song, so we were like, "fuck it, let's do it."
Guitar.com: Well, it's a good thing it wasn't "Dancing Queen" by ABBA or something ... .(laughs)
Todd Whitener: Yeah or some old Dan Fogelberg song (laughing).
Guitar.com: (still laughing) yeah, so it could have been much worse, but it actually played out well. But I think that could easily be your second or third single. I think it would do well.
Todd Whitener: You know I'm tending to agree now because we're out and playing that song live every night and believe or not, it's one of the best reactions we get.
Guitar.com: Well that's a good sign.
Todd Whitener: Yeah, so I think it would be a single at some point. I'd rather have it be the third single because there's another song that I'm dying to have out. Regardless, it'll be out there at some point.
Guitar.com: Well, let's get back to your guitar wrangling. How old were you when you first started playing guitar?
Todd Whitener: I was 14. I've been playing for 11 years.
Guitar.com: And what did you start playing? What was the impetus?
Todd Whitener: The first song I learned was Metallica's "Sanitarium." I learned that before I even bought a guitar. It's just one of those riffs that almost anyone can pick up and sort of fumble through. So I was inspired by that. My buddy taught me that. I was like, this is really cool. Maybe I should just get a guitar because I really like playing. So I ended up getting a guitar and the next thing I knew I had every Metallica songbook, trying to learn every Metallica song ever written.
Guitar.com: Did you start taking lessons at that point?
Todd Whitener: Well, I was self-taught until I was in my sophomore or junior year in high school. I had been playing for two or three years and I started taking classical and jazz lessons just to better my playing. I had no idea I'd be lucky enough to get a record deal and I just wanted to play guitar in some fashion. I wanted to try and enroll in college for guitar so I figured I was going to have to buckle down, take some lessons, and get a bit better.
Guitar.com: And look what happened ...
Todd Whitener: Right ...
Guitar.com: So do you consider James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett your earliest influences?
Todd Whitener: No doubt. For the first three years that I played, it was all about the Hetfield and Hammett. That was all I ever played. I remember sitting in my room and I had this little tape player. I'd keep hitting the pause and rewind button, 'til I wore them out (laughs).
Guitar.com: (laughing) That's right, wearing 'em out. I think a lot of younger players would cite the boys from Metallica as their main influence.
Todd Whitener: Yeah, I think that's pretty true. I know it is for me, anyway.
Guitar.com: So you're taking out PRS Guitars with you on tour ...
Todd Whitener: Yeah, that and Line 6. I'm taking the Variaxe out with me as well.
Guitar.com: Which models are you using on the current tour?
Todd Whitener: I've got a couple of the McCarty's and a couple of the Custom 22's.
Guitar.com: Very nice.
Todd Whitener: I'm hoping to give one of the hollowbodies a try, somewhere along this tour.
Guitar.com: And you're also using the Variaxe?
Todd Whitener: Yeah, I end up playing a few songs with the banjo sound and the 6- and 12-string modeled sounds.
Guitar.com: I would imagine the whole modeling concept can make playing live way more convenient in some cases.
Todd Whitener: Yeah, and it sounds really great, as well.
Guitar.com: Now, you had Joey Stamper playing guitar with you on the last tour. Are you taking a second guitarist out with you?
Todd Whitener: We actually hired another guitarist. His name is Kevin McCreary. He was actually the guitarist for the band Outspoken. They have a CD out as well. He's a phenomenal player. He's just one of those guys that can play any chop you can think of. He can play Nuno Bettencourt stuff or - just about anything you can think of. Plus he can sing really well, so he's a good guy to have out with us.
Guitar.com: Sounds like he'll add a lot to the Tantric show. What are you using rig-wise for this tour?
Todd Whitener: Well, I've downsized on my pedal arrangement. I no longer use external pedal. I only use the Line 6 Vetta II. The Vetta II has every effect I've ever needed built into it. So I'm pretty lucky to have that because I just throw that pedal board out in front of me and I'm good to go. It's certainly made my life a lot easier.
Guitar.com: Did you find locating your sounds or effects or setting your effects difficult?
Todd Whitener: Not really. Once you get the hang of it, it's pretty simple. The only bad thing I've found is that there's a millisecond time delay between channel changes so I've had to learn to compensate. I have to punch slightly ahead of when I normally would want to.
Guitar.com: Right, well the good thing is that it's teaching you how to anticipate changes. (laughs)
Todd Whitener: (laughs) Right. But besides that, it's really great.
Guitar.com: So what does 2004 hold in store for Tantric?
Todd Whitener: Hopefully, we'll just be able to tour and keep playing. That would make me the happiest, just to be able to keep doing what we love to do, and that's just to play music. If we were able to keep this going that would be great. Anything beyond that would be a blessing.
Guitar.com: Todd, well I wish you and the band much success and we hope to catch up to you when you come through Boston.
Todd Whitener: Thanks man. We're planning on doing a headlining tour after the 3 Doors Down tour and we'll be having Shinedown doing dates for us then. They're the other band on this tour with us, as well.
Guitar.com: Very cool. Look forward to catching up with you then.
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