Those Lavender Whales to reunite, toast deceased leader’s dedication to community

Posted 6/1/23

Those Lavender Whales leader and songwriter Aaron Graves died in 2019 at age 33 after being diagnosed with a brain tumor five years earlier.

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Those Lavender Whales to reunite, toast deceased leader’s dedication to community


Some friendships endure despite obstacles and distance.

Such is the bond between the remaining members of Those Lavender Whales, a Columbia pop-rock band whose lovably shambolic, deceptively complex and always open-hearted music was a key binding for the local music scene during the 2010s. 

Though they’re now spread between Arizona, Tennessee and South Carolina, their closeness hasn’t diminished.

Talking to the Chronicle over video chat, Jessica Bornick, Chris Gardner and Patrick Wall keyed on the rhinestone-centered crafting Bornick worked on during the interview, with Gardner joking that they should emulate the leafy-green beards the band wore in its early days with rhinestone versions (reminiscent of country artist Orville Peck) at their upcoming reunion show at West Columbia’s New Brookland Tavern.

This beaming kinship — and the community that grew up around it — are exactly what the band will look to rekindle in person this weekend.

Whales leader and songwriter Aaron Graves died in 2019 at age 33 after being diagnosed with a brain tumor five years earlier. He bounced back after the initial diagnosis, and the band put out its best and to this point final record, 2017’s “My Bones Are Singing,” before the growth ultimately cut his life short.

Graves was a local fixture for reasons beyond his songs, which acknowledged existential anxieties while finding ways to buoy listeners past them. Graves, Gardner and close friend and fellow musician Jordan Blackmon started the local record label Fork and Spoon, which helped usher forward such artists as eventual Toro Y Moi leader Chaz Bundick. 

The label and its associated artists and friends also hosted frequent potlucks at their one-time home base in West Columbia, which became a defining feature of a music scene as known for its friendly, welcoming vibe as its talented bands.

Graves, who greeted everyone he knew with a hug and wrote songs about just wanting to “see my friends grow,” was crucial to his band and label’s impact.

A year after the 10th anniversary of the Whales’ first album, “Tomahawk of Praise,” the remaining Whales plus Blackmon rallied the upcoming reunion concert to pay tribute, not just to the music Graves made, but the community he helped foster.

The concert will start with a potluck dinner, hearkening back to those previous hangouts and hopefully bringing together friends and neighbors separated in recent years by COVID-19.

“It’s a chance for them to get to visit with the community and for the community to kind of also see itself once again,” Gardner said, “because there’s been so much isolation as a result of COVID and then behaviors that have developed for COVID, a lot of that self-isolation has kind of remained.”

This embrace of community will stretch to the way the Whales will perform their songs. Blackmon will join the group to play Graves’ guitar parts, and the vocals will come from a variety of musicians with a connection to the band, including some of Graves’ initial collaborators who started the band with him while he was attending college in Nashville.

“It was just important for it to be people that were involved in the music but also just like, you know, knew Aaron and were close to him and have that strong emotional connection to the music,” said Bornick, who was married to Graves and now lives in Nashville with their two kids.

“One of the things that Aaron loved most and one of the things that extended to the ethos of Those Lavender Whales was being part of a community,” Wall emphasized.

As to what comes next, the group said there are hard drives full of unreleased music Graves worked on alone and with the other members — some intended for a third Whales full-length and others meant for various other projects, including an EP of funny, movie-plot-ruining songs intended to be released under the title “Spoiler Alert.”

The Whales hope to keep Graves’ memory and spirit alive by returning to this material and readying some of it for release.

“There’s just so much,” Bornick said. “There’s so many little pieces of Aaron that are still around, and it would be really cool to put out more music.”


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