“When Sturgill won the Grammy it felt like a victory for a team that I feel that I’m part of” In conversation with Whitney Rose

Canadian country singer Whitney Rose is a stranger to the UK. Not only is she relatively unknown but also her recent tour was her “first time ever stepping foot on UK soil”. It’s the latest step in her attempt to cross the pond, started in 2015 with her debut record, Heartbreaker Of The Year, and continued this year with her EP, South Texas Suite. We had a chance to chat to her about her time in the British Isles, her music, and her thoughts on Nashville.

So how are you finding the UK? Is it what you expected it to be?

Yeah, pretty much. I mean, it’s beautiful. There’s so much more history here than where I come from, so I find that aspect of being in the UK, and Europe in general, absolutely fascinating.

And so how are you finding the shows? I know you’ve got London tomorrow, but you’ve done at least one show so far, right?

Yeah, we did Nottingham and we did Sheffield and both shows were fantastic. Because when you’re hitting somewhere for the first time, you never really know how it’s going to go. And so having the only two shows that we’ve done here so far, be so good, it’s a wonderful feeling and it’s also testament, I think, to citizens here, taking a chance on an artist who they’ve certainly never seen before.

Do you think people know you, people know your songs and stuff when you’re playing to them? Or do you think they’ve come out because they’ve kind of heard of you somewhere?

Um, it’s kind of a mixed bag, because… and again it surprises me, because people have shouted out requests. I’m like “oh my God, you actually know my repertoire and you know my songs. That’s amazing”. Because even back home, it can take quite a bit of time as an independent artist to build up an audience. And certainly to acquire actual fans who actually know your music and all that. But it’s been a mixed bag. I think that some people have come out because they’re curious, and I think that some people have come out because they have a tap into the underground, Americana, Countrypolitan, whatever you want to call it scene, and so they have followed me for a while.

That’s a good point, about the scene. I struggle these days, because obviously there’s country music as people appreciate it and the new country music which is a bit more mainstream and poppy for want of a better term, and then there’s Americana which covers loads of stuff. So how do you see yourself as an artist in that kind of mix of things?

Well, I certainly don’t fit into the mainstream area. I’m not there. And that’s also completely fine with me. I would say, it’s an interesting question. If I had to label myself as anything which I generally don’t really like to do, I guess I would say I’m a newcomer in the Americana scene, which is headed by artists like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell and those kinds of artists. Margo Price.

There’s definitely a scene, and it’s certainly headed by certain artists. Very deserving artists, I should mention as well. But I’m certainly still new to it all. I only moved to Texas two years ago. And even though I’ve been putting out music since, God, I think 2013, until I signed to Six Shooter Records there was never really any actual push behind it. And so I’m just kind of starting to get that now.

Absolutely. It’s interesting, isn’t it, you mentioned mainstream there, and people like Sturgill Simpson. And there really is this scene now that sits outside of any radio airplay thing. But there are really successful artists who win Grammys who are not recognised by what you’d call mainstream Nashville.

It’s incredible because, yeah, it’s basically like you just said, Sturgill just won a Grammy for country album of the year, but he doesn’t get radio play on mainstream country radio. And so, most of the population, they still don’t know who he is. But I feel the day that that happened I was so happy. I was beyond happy. I’ve never come close to doing anything like winning a Grammy. But it felt like a victory for a team that I feel that I’m part of, and so that was really cool. I was like a four-year-old on Christmas morning when he won that Grammy.

Because it kind of seemed like the beginning of a renaissance. And it was kind of crazy, because even when it happened, it wasn’t televised. I think that country album of the year is usually televised and when he won it, it was not. And so there’s still an effort to keep this kind of music underground. And maybe I’m just too hopeful or naïve, but in my heart it feels like the beginning of a renaissance, which is so cool.

You mentioned radio airplay; things like that just don’t interest you, you’re not bothered about getting on radio particularly, you’re just interested in making music and playing to people who enjoy it?

That’s right. I would not be able to sleep at night if I wrote a song and basically followed a cookbook of how to make a hit. That’s not art, and that’s not making the world any better. And it’s certainly not being true to myself, and that’s probably the most important part of all of that. No, I have zero interest in that, even though it’s kind of the easy way. But I would rather build a very slow but very solid foundation and make it a career that will last, and a career that I can be proud of. And by doing what mainstream quote unquote country is right now, that’s just not my thing. [laughs]

Things like pitch lists feel weird to me because it’s so manufactured, isn’t it, that kind of thing?

Well yeah, because that’s not art, it’s maths. It’s been proven that what people like to hear at the end of the day. And it’s not a crime. If you took familiarity, it’s comforting. And so when you hear the same song over and over and over again, it becomes comforting. And if terms are simplistic, and universally applied, like who doesn’t like to let loose? That’s not a crime. But you don’t need ten thousand songs about running loose. It’s so mundane, and it’s so empty, and it’s so contrived. And it’s not art.

So the fact you live in Austin, and doing the kind of music you do, most people maybe think there Nashville was a more obvious place to move to from Canada. Did you choose Austin for a particular reason, was there something that drew you there rather than somewhere else?

Absolutely. I mean, there are a number reasons. I’m naturally a roamer, a bit of a nomad by nature. I decided to move Stateside because my music was doing so much better in the States than it was doing in Canada. And that’s for a number of reasons as well. It’s a population thing, but it’s also, there is just a much larger audience for the kind of thing that I’m doing in the States. And so I knew that I had to move there. Then it became a question of “okay, am I going to do Austin or  Nashville?” Because both are incredible music cities. And I love both cities.

But it was basically just the fact that I had spent some time in Nashville, and I really liked it, I loved it. But there was a feeling, deep in my gut, that I might be able to make Austin my home. Because I have never felt that with Nashville. When I go there, I love being there, but it never really feels like home. But I had never been to Texas at all. And so I kind of just wanted to take a chance and see what it would be like, and I’m really glad I did. Because as soon as I got there, I felt like I was home. And I met so many wonderful people within days of living there.

A big part of that is that Nashville is kind of where shit happens. You do need to spend time in Nashville, because it’s the music business city. But Austin is just all about the music. Quite literally. The business side of music takes up very little space in Austin. I will probably will move to Nashville at some point, but just being in Austin and seeing that kind of camaraderie and the security of it just being about the music was just what I needed at that time. So I’m really glad I moved to Austin first.

And you’ve got some great musicians that you play with on your EP.

Well everyone on the EP I met pretty much as soon as I moved to Austin. And then the people who I’m on tour with right now actually are musicians who I know from Toronto. It’s been really cool to reconnect with the Toronto music scene, because that’s really where I started playing my own tunes live, and learning how to put on a show.  It’s really cool because we’re all kind of in the same boat, because it’s all of our first time in the UK. And so many of the countries that we’ve been in on this tour, all of our first time there. So all of us, we have this mutual, consistent awe of the world around us.

I really like your EP, South Texas Suite. I was going to ask you just about song writing. How do you approach it? Is it something that you sort of sit down consciously and do bits of, or do you pick up bits and pieces when you’re on the road?

Well, there’s nothing more inspirational than being on the road so I’m constantly just coming up with song ideas when I’m out. But in terms of having a recipe for a song, it’s very inconsistent. Sometimes it’s an idea or a feeling, sometimes it’s a melody; I hear a melody in my head, and what would be good to put forth with this kind of progression, and this kind of feel for the song. It’s very inconsistent. I don’t really have a protocol. [laughs]

Do you do snippets of things then, so rather than sitting down and thinking “I’ll do a week’s writing”, is it kind of a bit more as things come to you you make notes and play out those melodies and write those lyrics down?

Of course, that’s exactly it. For example, I’ve been on the road since mid-February, so I’ve had very limited time to myself. That means I haven’t written a full song, and this is the longest I’ve gone in years without writing a complete song, but I have like twenty songs that I’ve started but I just don’t have the time, specifically the alone time, to get it done. So that’s what I always look forward to most, when I get off the road, basically locking myself in a room for days, and just fleshing out ideas that are kind of sprouted while I was on the road but didn’t have time to finish them.

When I get back to Austin, I’m so looking forward to basically being a hermit. Hopefully finishing these twenty songs that I’ve started, some are close to completion. But after this trip, just because I’ve seen so many new places and I’ve met so many new people and I’ve heard so many new stories, I’m particularly inspired.

That leads me onto my next question, which is, is this leading onto a new album for you, or do you think you’ll release another EP? Or are you still figuring that out?

Oh no, you are wrong my friend. I can’t remember if we finished it in February or January, but right before we started this tour in February I was in the studio in Nashville. So I have a full-length album completely done now.

So I’m talking about the next one. [laughs]

I’m guessing we can expect that some time this year then?

This fall. It’s funny, because we’ve had very limited days off, but every day off that I’ve had has been completely committed to this new release and basically planning a new tour around it.

Does it have a title yet, or are you not allowed to tell me yet?

It does, but we’re not sharing it yet. But I hope I get to talk to you again, because there’s a really good story behind the title.

Whitney’s South Texas Suite EP is available to stream for all good streaming services. You can find out more about the Canadian country singer at her website, follow her on Twitter, or check out her Facebook page.

Max Mazonowicz

Updated: Aug 02, 2017

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“When Sturgill won the Grammy it felt like a victory for a team that I feel that I’m part of” In conversation with Whitney Rose | The Digital Fix