Whitley Heights

by E. Ryan Ellis

These California Music Makers are Full of Dusty Sounds
We’re gonna be beautiful tonight. We’re gonna be songstresses,” Jason Ferro spews forth with whimsy as we sit on a couch in a wood-grained greenroom, thirty minutes before his band, Whitley Heights, goes on stage. The self-described ad hoc, homespun music group is named after the Hollywood neighborhood that sits along the steep hillsides above Franklin Avenue. As the vocalist for the troupe, Ferro’s presence is imposing in stature with a beard to match, but his jovial conversation acts as a vocal bear hug. He and guitarist/vocalist Jason Briggs form a design team, most recently known for the Jacob Davis collection. They previously worked for Levi’s, Guess, and every major surf brand. The two have grown together from the time they met in college, fine tuning their design skills and expanding their musical appreciation with a rotating cast of instrumental friends.

On a Friday night in Venice, the band has ditched any traditional lineup for a stripped-down, honeyed version—guitar, harmonica, steel pedal, harmonies. The notion of a ‘traditional’ or ‘ordinary’ musical path was dismissed long ago. “Basically, Briggs and I moved into this house in Whitley Heights. And then everyone just started coming. Total ‘Laurel Canyon,’” Ferro says, referring to the folk movement that took place decades ago, in nearby hills. “It started in the living room. Here were a bunch of seasoned musicians getting together. We were coming from different times of our lives, and had all gone through our shit. We’ve all had ups and downs. So we were sitting there and I’m like, ‘Man this is the band.’” At this point Briggs walks in, dragging their live equipment behind him and smoking a piquant joint. He joins the conversation seamlessly. “We were going to treat it like a clothing line: set the delivery date,” Briggs further explains, “The delivery date was setting the date we were going to go in to record.” And though they had played in bands before, for Whitley Heights, they took with them a businessman’s method.

The band goes on. Their rapport on stage is apparent as Briggs elects to sit comfortably with his guitar and Ferro moves about with a natural ease. The two designers are joined by Buck, their guitarist, and the howling steel pedal of Marty Rifkin (not an official member but often a collaborator) and the four men come together in harmonious union. It’s obvious they take their music as seriously as their brand, but playing also serves a utilitarian purpose—an organic moment of decompression. Briggs explains, “I think that’s where it’s always started for us. And sometimes we’re at a loss for words. Rarely is it ever, ‘Let’s sit down, and let’s write a song like this.’ I sit down, smoke a little weed and then my hands just kind of start doing shit. And I’m like, that’s progression.”

From Left To Right: Jason Briggs, Mike Dipirro, Jason Ferro, James Foster, Michael Faiella

Groomer: Miho Suzuki at Mihomakeup.Com.