Chicago band whysowhite back on stage after a period of misfortune

By Jake Krzeczowski February 7, 2013 5:32PM

IMG_8804Any band has its growing pains, but for Chicago funk-fusion band whysowhite, there have been more than a few.

Its show and coinciding debut album release Friday at Martyrs mark a milestone for the eight-piece band, which started recording the project in 2011.

After a period of setbacks, the band is playing its first gig together in more than a year and a half. “It has seemed like every year is a set-up year for the next one, which is why I think we’ve been successful,” said rhythm guitarist Charlie “Uncle Funk” Dwyer. “We’re excited to get things rolling finally.”

The band started as the brainchild of eclectic front man Nick McMillan, who began his stage career as an actor before slowly drifting toward music. Over time each member seemed to fall into place.

“Even since our last show at Martyrs, our numbers have grown,” McMillan said. “Davis [Haines, vocals and percussion] dropped out of school and came back to Chicago to play with us and start recording our album.”

IMG_9556In July 2011, just after the band began work on its self-titled debut album, Haines was run over by a semi while he was on his bike. The accident left Haines with a shattered pelvis, broken femur, fibula, ribs and two collapsed lungs, and quite near death. “I pulled through, but we weren’t sure really how the whole thing would affect the band,” said Davis, whose twin brother, Charles, also provides the band’s lead vocals.

The Davis twins retreated to their home Birmingham, Ala., to recover physically and mentally, leaving whysowhite in a state of hiatus for about six months.

“We were in a whole different world, there was no time, and day to day, business was just ambiguous. We felt like the band was a passing fancy we would tell our kids about,” Charles said. “We weren’t sure how to be in a band after our world had just shifted.”

After their bandmates took a road trip to visit the twins in late 2011, there was renewed faith in the group. With Davis on the mend, whysowhite enlisted help from newcomers Hannah Shefsky, a Northwestern grad, on keyboards and supporting vocals, and DePaul graduates Dave Sumberg on bass and Andrew Ambromawitz on percussion.

IMG_9391The steadily growing band began playing again, with shows at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas; Martyrs and Abbey Pub. But the show Friday at Martyr’s represents the first time the full band has performed together since Davis’ accident.

As they jam in their practice space, a converted fire-house on the North Side, it is easily evident that the close friends put heart and soul into their work. The sound is a mix of funk and rock with a hint of hip-hop flavor, lent by Charles Haines and McMillan.

“We spend 10 hours practicing every week, but probably like 40 hours together just hanging out,” said lead guitarist and in-house engineer Chris Miller. “The reason for our sound is because we said maybe to everything and didn’t say no to anything.”

With the album finally out, the band isn’t certain what the future holds, but it plans to charge fully into whatever it is.

“We’ve had every reason not to stay together, and we’ve been through tough times, which makes hanging out that much more important. This music is what we make when we hang out,” Charles Haines said. As for the future, “We have no idea; there’s no precedent for that in life.”

Jake Krzeczowski is a locally based free-lance writer. Follow him on Twitter: @jakekrez

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