For an avid music fan, picking apart a song from Gainesville’s rising southern jam band, Whale Feral, is a delightfully unique experience. Listeners can press play on a song once, twice or a dozen times and still hear things that were unnoticed the first time around.
The band, which consists of Ricky Cagno (guitar and vocals), Will Bethea (bass and vocals), David Havens (drums) and Matt Urban (lead guitar and vocals), has mastered the ability to blend a variety of genres that, when played together, create an irreplaceable, electrifying sound.
“We describe our sound as southern fusion because our sound is influenced by multiple genres,” Urban said. “A big part of our sound is the responsive stream of consciousness that we have while playing; it allows us to have complete musical freedom and gives us the ability to improvise while maintaining the collective groove.”
Playing music is a collaborative experience, and for all members to orchestrate this fusion of rock, the relationship between band members needs to reflect that same unified bond between genres in their music. Thankfully, Whale Feral goes way back.
Two of the band members, Cagno and Urban, would play music together while going to high school in Tampa. Cagno ultimately moved to Gainesville and later convinced Urban to move out with him. Bethea, who was Cagno’s roommate at the time, used to play the sax but quickly learned bass to join in on Cagno and Urban’s routine jam sessions. It wasn’t until Havens was introduced by a mutual friend that the band was finally born.
While only having officially formed in December 2016, Whale Feral has quickly developed a devoted fan base, becoming a force in Gainesville’s bustling music scene.
“Gainesville is a really cool town because of how much it celebrates creativity,” Cagno said. “This place is full of artists of all kinds. Videographers, photographers, audio engineers, writers, musicians and concertgoers have, together, created this community that is bound to keep churning out great stuff.”
On the band’s Bandcamp, listeners can enjoy a live recording from the High Dive of some of Whale Feral’s most popular songs, like “Alligator” and “Tommy’s Song,” from the comfort of their homes. It’s here that fans can get a taste of their indistinguishable blend of rock, jazz and reggae.
Relix Magazine, the second longest running music magazine in the United States after Rolling Stone, was attracted to Whale Feral after discovering their 5-track live album on the band’s Bandcamp site.
The publication then invited the band to perform at their studio in New York City on March 6 after selecting them as of one of their up-and-coming artists.
“Relix is the magazine for the jam band community, and just the fact that they noticed our music on bandcamp was huge. Add in that they offered to let us come play for them in New York as well as be in the magazine; it’s almost too much,” Urban said.
The band said they have a couple songs in mind of what they want to play at Relix, but they won’t be entirely sure until they’re in the room.
Whale Feral also announced that they’ll be starting a tour March 2 while they travel up to New York for the performance. In addition to their Relix Magazine show, they’ll hit Washington, D.C. on March 4.
It’s hard enough for a musician to battle the stress of a life-changing show, but members Bethea and Havens, who are currently UF students, have to put just as much time with the books as with the instruments.
“Organizing our school load prior to the road and the use of downtime allow us to keep our head above water with our workload overall,” said Bethea.
The band strategically plans shows so they don’t conflict with exam schedules. With a concert like the Relix show, it was important to take advantage of the upcoming Spring Break. This is a perfect example of how when band members respect and look after one another, the music reflects that same intimacy.
As for now, the future of Whale Feral is limitless. After the Relix concert, the band said they hope to grow as people, expand their horizons and start taking their music across the country, hopefully going to Europe as part of their dream tour.
While no one knows for sure what the future holds, there is one thing for certain: We’re going to be hearing a lot more from Whale Feral.