The Wherewithals
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The Wherewithals

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"Riff City: Love--hate songs"

The first words you’ll hear upon a visit to local indie-rock band the Wherewithals’ MySpace page are ‘Pack up your shit/ Pack up your shit and get out of here.’ It’s a fitting introduction to the band’s oft-bitter, melancholic oeuvre of failed-love songs—and certainly not unfamiliar ground in the realm of songwriting.

Heartache and those who cause it have long been the subjects of great pop songs. From Dion’s semi-playful warning about ‘Runaround Sue,’ Clapton’s epic ode to ‘Layla’ (George Harrison’s once-wife Pattie Boyd, whom Clapton longed for, won and married, and then cheated on and divorced) or even Alanis Morissette’s screaming about how ‘You Oughta Know,’ the paramount accomplishment of such songs—and the reason they’re often so successful—is their ability to resonate with audiences. But what if the person ‘packing up their shit’ is you?

Wherewithals lead singer Ben Firestone is my ex. In fact, he’s my ex-fiancé and someone I spent six years of my life with. Though he hasn’t spoken to me in three weeks, he’s been singing about me every Saturday for over six months (assuming band-practice day hasn’t changed). And much like I’d imagine it sucked for Joan Baez to hear Dylan’s ‘Visions of Johanna’ (whether it’s truly about her or not), it isn’t always easy for me to listen to the Wherewithals. As Baez probably knows, the only thing harder than hearing a song about how much you suck is hearing a great song about how much you suck—as is the case for me with the Wherewithals’ Band of Horses-esque ‘Let You Go.’

The song starts with a lone, brightly strummed guitar before the meandering lead steps in and hooks you. Then, Ben’s gruff, world-worn voice (think Jeff Tweedy or Bill Janovitz) spits out such biting sentiments as ‘I should have let you drown/ I should have let you burn/ I should have let you go/ A long time ago.’ The Wherewithals also play cute/clever pop like ‘Robot’—which tells the story of a robot whose hard drive has been broken—and pseudo-romantic tracks like ‘Slow Again.’ And though the latter’s lyrics—’You’ve got personality/ You’ve got all those things that I need/ You’ve got a smile that kills me/ You’ve got eyes that bring me to my knees’—probably seem sweet to listeners, they fucking kill me.

And, much like an average-looking guy or gal becomes hot onstage, most of the ugly emotions accompanying my breakup with Ben, believe it or not, melt away when I’m watching him do what he loves. He’s at his absolute best onstage, and it makes me feel immensely proud and sad all at once. It also makes me wonder what his songs would be about if things had turned out differently.

I was clearly not welcome at the last Wherewithals show I attended, but I stuck it out because, however narcissistically, I love their songs. I stood face to face with my ex-lover and listened to him sing, vehemently, about me. But it feels like the passion in this band’s music is, in some way, mine, too. I’m not sure I’ll have enough of the Wherewithals’ namesake to attend the next one, but you should, because you just might know exactly (well, not exactly) where their songs are coming from. - Willamette Week

"The Wherewithals at the Tonic Lounge"

Ben Firestone was very happy to be playing a show last night. Most bands wait a few songs to thank whoever they need to thank, but the Wherewithals frontman jumped onstage and ecstatically gave appreciation to Tonic Lounge booker Dave Gaysunas and opening act, the Morals, among others.

And why shouldn’t he have been happy to be there? His band—which is very new and has yet to release anything—drew a decent crowd of 30 or 40, which isn’t bad at all for a two-band bill with a cover charge on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. And although the Wherewithals need to gel a little more, that will come with time and there’s definitely some talent on their roster. Guitarist John-Paul Longenecker certainly has some skills for leads and melody, although sometimes his distorted rock guitar was a little overbearing for the often-times gentle rock of the group. Chuck Townsend plays keys on half the songs and guitar on the other half, and the half where he sits down is the best half. Bassist Stacey Roseberry and drummer Sean McCormick–who, in shades and a scarf, and straight black hair and a thrift-store tee respectively, make the band look pretty sharp–play pretty basic parts but they do it well: I found my feet moving on “Show Your Teeth,” a song that’s dramatized by descending group “ohh” vocals, and among the Wherewithals’ best.

Between songs and before and after the set, Firestone was all handshakes and hugs, grins and thank you’s. But during the songs, there was the potent combination of heartbreak and sweet revenge. At the end of one of the choruses to “Let You Go,” Firestone turned to the left, bent over, stared straight at Townsend who was sitting at his keyboard, and repeated the last line of the chorus (adding a swear word) loud enough for us to hear him without a microphone: “…long fuckin’ time ago!” Written on his face were simultaneously the regret that the line expresses and the joy of sharing a stage with some pals who aren’t off to a bad start as a band.

That moment was exactly what I skipped the Local Cut Portland Lounge Series for (shame on me!). After reading Amy McCullough’s column last week about how most of the Wherewithals’ songs are about her and the demise of her engagement to Firestone, I just had to hear those songs and see how they are delivered. Not only because I’ve worked with Amy and been friends with her for the past year, but because sometimes knowing just what a song is about makes it all the more fascinating.

I’ve been listening to Nevermind a lot lately. Why, you ask, have I pulled this mid-school favorite from the shelf and put it back in regular stereo rotation here in the home office? Well because until last week I didn’t know that half the songs on that record are about Tobi Vail of Bikini Kill fame. After reading Charles Cross’ biography of Kurt Cobain, Heavier than Heaven, and learning about how the young frontman actually vomited after meeting Vail because his attraction to her was so overwhelming, the line, “Love you so much it makes me sick” took on a whole new meaning.

An album about how a woman he loved didn’t love him back won Cobain the love of the entire world, which, in turn, he spurned as well, in some weird way inverting the role he had played in his relationship with Vail. A beginning of that process—the revision or reconquering of history through the life a song takes on after it’s written—is what I saw on Firestone’s face last night. Except so far, he seems to relish the companionship of his bandmates and the affection of their growing audience, many of whom sang along to the line, “I hope you’re not expecting to be friends.” These somewhat prosaic words can become very interesting to listen to when the person in the song is your friend, but also if she’s the drummer in a legendary band or the music editor of the paper you read. - Willamette Week

"Music Fest NW- Towne Lounge"

The Wherewithals play foot-stomping breakup songs that make heavy drinking a prerequisite for every set. Not that one has to be drunk to enjoy the band’s boom-chuck beats, dueling guitars and growling vocals (frontman Ben Firestone has a wide-mouthed drawl à la Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz). But they do say, “When in Rome...,” and the Wherewithals’ Rome is as close as the nearest barstool, where sorrows are drowned and, you know, they’re always glad you came. CJ - Willamette Week

"Up and Comers"

...First off, there’s the roots-rocky Wherewithals , a local quintet that wears its heart somewhere far more apparent than its sleeve. Crafting bar-rock anthems built on meandering guitar lines, cacophonous keyboards and gruff vocals, the Wherewithals stay grounded in honest storytelling, bass-led grooves and dynamic drumming.... - Willamette Week

"Bourbon and Gin"

Portland Oregon based The Wherewithals sure aim to please, whether with their local shows (a recent great one in SE Portland) or their on-line song submissions, you can see the pure lyrical power and orchestration that they gladly present to the world. With a vocal talent comparable to Tom Waits mixed with Modest Mouse front-man Isaac Brack you get the clear and immediate picture that this band will be big and in our opinion soon. It sure doesn’t hurt being located in Portland, OR - the new hotbed for indie artists and talent including recent relocated Spoon that now calls PDX home. -


Burnin' Bridges (to be released very soon)



The Wherewithals originally started as a project between singer-songwriter/guitarist Ben Firestone and guitarist/vocalist John Paul Longenecker in September of 2005. Originally from South Bend, IN by way of Chicago, Ben moved to Portland in the summer of 04 and met John Paul at work and became friends. When Bens longtime friend and musical collaborator Chuck Townsend moved to Portland shortly after, it was only a matter of time before Sean McCormick (drums) and Stacey Roesberry (bass) filled out the lineup, making Ben and John Pauls rough songs into the melodically textured creations they are today.