The Whitehalls: innovators on stage and off


New World Record

[audio: New World Record.mp3]

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Band Members:
Drew Smith: Lead Vocals and Rhythm Guitars
Neil Smith: Lead Guitars and Backing Vocals
Bill Shupp: Drums and Percussion
Paul “John” Castro: Bass and Backing Vocals

Tech Industry Affiliations:, Aldon (software), IT for Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, Bite Communications

SVR: Tell us about your band. How did you get started? How long have you been playing?

The Whitehalls: The Whitehalls lead singer Drew Smith was taught his first chord by older brother Neil (who has spent time in such notable SF bands as Kingstreet and Kiss the Girl); there was really only ever going to be one outcome. It’s your typical “older sibling with formal music training teaches younger sibling how to play guitar only to find younger sibling is a songwriting genius who himself discovers he still needs older sibling to help him put a band together and get his songs recorded” rock ‘n’ roll fairytale.

After hearing Drew’s remarkable songs at a small open mic night, Neil insisted that they should form a band. Born and raised in England, the Smith brothers have called San Francisco home for more than 10 years. From the day they began playing together their relationship was one that occasionally struggled to contain the ambitions and opinions of the two musicians but which at the same time always found strength in it.

Of course, it takes more than two musicians to form a rocking band. In The Whitehalls’ case former LA-based session drummer Bill Shupp and fellow American, bass player Paul “John” Castro (formerly of Bay Area’s Torn and Two Way Radio) proved to have the energy and passion for the songs (and an appropriate level of musical talent) to round out the line-up.

SVR: Who are your major influences?

The Whitehalls: Some of our influences include Oasis, The Beatles, The Who, Jane’s Addiction, Neil Young, Radiohead, Soundtrack of Our Lives, Foo Fighters, Supergrass, Ash, Blur, Kula Shaker and Stereophonics.

SVR: What’s your ultimate direction for your band? Are you seeking fame and fortune in the music business?

The Whitehalls: The Whitehalls believe that there has rarely been a more exciting time to be artistic and creative, especially in the Bay Area, where music and technology meet in such innovative ways.

Our #1 goal is to make great music and get it out to the world! If that brings fame and fortune so be it, but more important for us is the opportunity to make the music we want to and to get it out for people to enjoy.

In the end though, The Whitehalls are simply The Whitehalls: 4 musicians with something to say, 2 countries of origin, 2 occasionally squabbling brothers, and some damn fine music!

SVR: What are your day jobs?

The Whitehalls:
Bill Shupp is a senior developer at Paul “John” Castro is an account manager at Emeryville software vendor Aldon. Drew Smith is an account executive at Bite Communications in SF. Neil Smith is director of IT, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco.

SVR: How does your music influence your work or vice versa?

Drew Smith: When you are working directly with the companies and people that drive innovation and technology in the Bay Area, then you are bound to find sources of inspiration!

Neil Smith: Having a decent job means I no longer have to focus so much on making money playing, which means it is easier to concentrate on the music. Also, since I work in underserved communities with kids who face tremendous challenges, I feel I’m exposed to life beyond a typically affluent and cosseted technology career, a perspective that hopefully provides me with a deeper set of experiences to draw upon when I’m making music.

Bill Shupp: Being a developer for a leading technology company means you have to apply perspiration along with innovation to have success. The craft of songwriting and performing requires the same and the rewarding feeling when you pull it off is very similar.

Paul “John” Castro: Music is what makes it possible for me to work and vice versa. I’m also working on a project for indie music distribution, called MusixShare, that is aiming for launch next year. This is a subject near and dear to my heart as a musician who is truly excited by the many new opportunities today for musicians to create and distribute content directly to fans.

SVR: Why is music education important?

The Whitehalls: Music Education is important for a few reasons:

  1. to ensure the future of music we have to encourage the growth of future musicians; and
  2. people who study music learn valuable skills that translate into having success down the road in areas that expand outside of just music.

SVR: What was your own experience learning music as a kid? Who flipped that switch in your brain?

DS: For me it was my brother Neil — he taught me my first guitar chords. But it was a love of bands like Oasis and brit-pop that started my song writing and I’ve never looked back!

NS: I was entirely self-taught and learned by listening to and figuring out guitar parts from my favorite songs — very quickly I was completely hooked on playing. It was a friend in high school who flipped the switch — he was an amazing guitar player and introduced me to the music of guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Albert King. I wanted to be like this guy, so always had something to strive for in those critical first 2-3 years of playing.

BS: Having played drums, as well as bass, for many years (including stints in the Dallas and LA music scenes), I’ve been exposed to many various styles which I hope come through when I play.

PC: I was lucky in that I had a number of strong music influences as a kid. My dad was a folk singer, my mom sang in a choir, and my uncle played in a rock band. This ensured that at every family gathering instruments and music were mandatory!