Despite living in different parts of New England for a while, longtime best friends McCrae Hathaway and Bill Scanlan have known since they were little kids, growing up in a suburb of Hartford, Conn., that they wanted to start a band. That was always the plan. It just took moving to Portland — and linking up with drummer and fellow Connecticut transplant Brian Saxton — to make it happen.
They’re now the three members of the power trio Whale Oil, making ramshackle, loose-limbed rock that hearkens back to the freewheeling garage punk of The Replacements, the noisy jangle of Dinosaur Jr. and the wild ruckus of early Creedence Clearwater Revival. Whale Oil will play songs from its debut self-titled LP, which came out in June, at the Three Tides Harborfest Launch Party, 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, at Waterfront Park in Belfast, with the Toughcats, When Particles Collide and The Ghost of Paul Revere.
Scanlan was still living in Connecticut and Hathaway was in Vermont when the two managed to converge on Portland as an ideal place to live. The musical climate was perfect, and Saxton had already been living in town for several years.
“We’ve been best friends for a long time and have always played music as much as possible,” said Hathaway, 24, who by day is the office manager for Portland’s State Theatre. “When we arrived [here] we knew we wanted to start a band and found Brian through a Craigslist ad. It immediately clicked. Two years later, we are tighter than ever and evolving along the way.”
The trio list lots of influences, but there’s an underlying love of punk, garage and classic rock that propels their infectious songs — fast, but with a pop sensibility shining through, like on the barbed, driving “Musketeers,” the grungy punk blast of “Lights Out” or the shout-a-long tribute to Portland, “Hadlock Field.”
“We are all over the map. Bill, Brian and I all come from classic rock roots, driving around blasting Zeppelin, Aerosmith, CCR, stuff like that,” said Hathaway. “I played in jazz and funk groups for a long time, but Bill always kept me in check introducing me to bands like Mudhoney and the Minutemen. We all have our own individual influences, that’s why we meld together so well — we all bring something different to the table.”
Whale Oil’s sound is refreshingly simple and earnest — three guys playing riffy, shouty, no B.S. rock ‘n’ roll. They’ve had the chance to play with fellow New England rockers Deer Tick, and on Aug. 22 will play with Vermont punk band Rough Francis — featured in the must-see rock documentary “A Band Called Death” — at Geno’s in Portland.
“We are constantly seeing local bands that are just kicking ass and making such good music, it’s amazing to see,” said Hathaway. “I think it’s harder being a straight-up rock band in a diverse music scene because there are so many other bands that fit a bill better than we do. We don’t really fit into a specific genre. We have punk influenced songs and then we will play an old school country song. We like our diverse setlist and love what we play — we fit in where we can.”