Denver’s Whitacre didn’t shirk on ambition for their debut album, Seasons — including the track “Prodigal,” premiering exclusively on Billboard below.
“I think it’s kind of, in a way, a concept album,” frontman Paul Whitacre tells Billboard. “It’s a story of going from a sense of hopelessness to a sense of hope. We want the songs to take the listener through a story that arrives in a place of hope.” The theme comes from a personal place for all four band members, too, according to Whitacre.
“I don’t think there was a single moment that inspired that concept,” he says, “but I think the guys in the band, probably over a little over a year ago, realized we were struggling with different things at a single moment, and we all felt like an album that told that story of restoration would be something that meant a lot to us and would be universally accepted for listeners as well.”
It’s an impressive first statement for the quartet, following the 2018 EP Within the Mountains’ Shadows. Whitacre recorded Seasons with Joe Richmond (Tennis, Churchill) at Third & James studio in Denver, the largest facility the group has ever worked in. It provides a full earful of a sound the group calls “mountain rock,” an eclectic combination of rock ‘n’ roll and roots music that frequently showcases Chase Perry’s banjo and the group’s rich vocal harmonies.
“It’s totally unintentional,” Whitacre says. “Every member of this band has wildly different tastes in music. Our drummer [Mark Cunningham] loves punk. [Perry] loves bluegrass. I love pop. It’s all over the map, and it’s really random that it all comes together in the way that it does. Sometimes I scratch my head wondering how it works the way it does, but I think we do blend it really well.”
“Prodigal” is the first song Whitacre co-wrote as a band, during a practice and starting with a banjo lick from Perry. “Probably within 10 or 15 minutes that song was fleshed out,” Whitacre recalls. “That really opened my eyes, as the person who was usually writing the music, to see I’ve got these other amazing musicians who could help with that process. I think it’s one of the most hopeful songs on there, towards the end of the record. And in a live setting it reenergizes us and the crowd like no other.” The track also breaks into the Albert E. Brumley hymn “I’ll Fly Away” at the end, which Whitacre credits to the way the group approaches its live performances.
“We’ll write the songs and play ’em out and things start to naturally develop,” he says. “That one happened in the soundcheck one night; ‘Hey, these chords are similar to ‘I’ll Fly Away.’ What if we do a quick transition?’ It’s been a ball to play like that, so we kept it when we recorded [the song].”
With Seasons out April 17 and touring plans largely on hold at the moment, Whitacre is using the enforced off-time to start working on what will come next.
“We probably have another four songs in the arsenal right now,” Whitacre reports. “Usually we record really quick, but this time I think we want to play those live and see what they become over time so that whenever we do take them into the studio they’re fleshed out and locked in and see where that takes us.”
Listen to “Prodigal” below.