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The Whigs riding high on new release

Four years ago, The Whigs were just a trio of guys going to the University of Georgia and playing high-energy garage rock gigs around the Athens, Ga., area. These days, they're being labeled as an "artist to watch" by Rolling Stone and performing on Letterman and Conan.

They'll appear on Late Night with Conan O'Brien on Feb. 20. As for the January Late Show appearance, drummer Julian Dorio says it was an odd experience -- playing live in a cold theater with a seated audience.

"It was definitely a surreal day," Dorio says. "I had a great time, but it's just so odd to be on that set after watching the show for that many years. It was a total thrill."

As for their inclusion on the 2006 Rolling Stone list, Dorio doesn't put too much weight behind it, though he's happy with the honor. "I don't think it put a lot of pressure on us," he says. "I think we were flattered. We were the only one of 10 that weren't signed. It was cool for them to go to bat for us."

Dorio attributes some of the attention the band is receiving to the positive reactions on the new album, Mission Control. He feels it's a better representation of their live show. With time, they can only hope that more people will witness it.

While the band is focusing on performing, it's hard to ignore a group that seems to be popping up all over the country in various media.

"We never really look at that and it doesn't stir us too much," Dorio says by phone on the road to a recent gig in Minneapolis. "I think it might feel different if we were selling every place out and selling a million records. We've been on the road for a while and work fairly hard to stay out as long as possible. We hope there's a natural progression."

The cover art for Mission Control is garnering nearly as much attention as the music -- it's a dated photo of a man with yellow spray paint dripping down over his eyes. Designed by Green Day and R.E.M. cover artist Chris Bilheimer, the band was looking for something that would stand out.

"We wanted it to be simple and iconic and that cover did a great job," Dorio says. "I don't want it to have an adverse effect or be too weird, but it's a good thing if people take notice."

One other thing they may easily notice is the band's energy. While the two men up front -- singer/guitarist Parker Gispert and bassist Tim Deaux -- may be dancing around or going through mild contortions, Dorio sits behind his kit and flails away without missing a beat.

"I think we've always wanted to make sure going to a show of ours wasn't the same as sitting at home and listening to the record," he says. "I grew up to my father's vinyl which was all classic rock. Those bands -- there was a lot of room for the performance side. We learned from that and I've always played with a lot of enthusiasm."

It should be noted that the musicianship runs in the blood for Dorio. His brother, Michael, is the guitarist Trances Arc. The two bands also play together from time to time.

The Whigs haven't always been full-steam ahead as they've gone through a few lineup changes. Original bassist, Hank Sullivant, left the band in '06. They had a few temporary replacements before Deaux filled in full time in October of 2007.

"When the original guy quit, it was a bummer, of course," Dorio says. "You also get reminded that the band is only as good as everyone puts into it. No matter how good one person is, if they're not into it, it won't work and it won't be fun on the road. It's been great to have Tim out because he's a whole new ball of energy and who's pumped to be out here on the road."

The band's name comes from the old political party, though Dorio is quick to point out it's not because of an affiliation. They chose it because it didn't give any clues to what the music sounds like. It also brought an unexpected guest at a show in San Francisco who claimed he was the last surviving member of The Whig party. "He sang a political chant for us," Dorio says. "And he looked like Santa Claus. It was bizarre."

The Whigs also seem to have a sense of humor about one fact that consistently pops up in stories about the band -- as it will in this one. The band performed at a show where Jessica Simpson was also on the bill. However, it's not a show they would take back.

"It's nice to have the experience of an arena show under our belt," Dorio says. "The bill was so bizarre. I think that show wasn't something we seek out or the environment we see ourselves in. We don't sound like those bands and never will, but we challenge ourselves to play in front of different crowds. Instead of running from it, we'll just play and see how well we can play in front of different demographics."

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