Whitney is built around the core songwriting duo of Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek, both formerly of Smith Westerns. Led by Ehrlich's soft falsetto, the group's debut album, 2016's Light Upon the Lake, landed on several Billboard side charts, including rock, alternative, and vinyl.
In late 2014, after three albums, Chicago indie rock outfit Smith Westerns announced that they were disbanding. Frontman Cullen Omori launched a solo career, and, with Ehrlich singing lead from the drum kit and Kakacek playing guitar, bandmates Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek formed Whitney. Their first single, "No Woman," appeared in January 2016, and two months later they made waves with an appearance at the South by Southwest music festival. With a fluctuating lineup of supporting players, Whitney quickly followed that with opening spots on tours for NE-HI, Wild Nothing, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra (Ehrlich was a one-time drummer for UMO). They had secured festival spots at the Governors Ball, Bonnaroo, and Pitchfork Music Festival, among others, before their debut album, Light Upon the Lake, arrived via Secretly Canadian that June. With the official lineup of Ehrlich, Kakacek, Malcolm Brown, Tracy Chouteau, Charles Glanders, Josiah Marshall, and Will Miller, the LP appeared on Billboard's rock, alternative, and independent albums charts, reaching the Top Ten of the Vinyl Albums sales chart.