Whitney Rose's We Still Go to Rodeos sails (“Just Circumstance”) and soars (the title track) with effortless elegance. We caught up with the South Austin resident to talk about the new collection, her all-star producer and watching her biggest touring year evaporate during the COVID-19 crisis.
“It's been a little heartbreaking sitting at home and seeing all the show cancellations that come in pretty much daily,” Rose says. “Everything was normal just a few months ago. This was supposed to be my busiest year, so seeing all that go away has been a little disheartening.”
Alt-Country Specialty Chart: Describe how the new record took shape.
Whitney Rose: I keep a list of my songs that haven't been recorded and also went through this insane writing spurt. The team for Paul Kolderie (Radiohead, Lou Reed, Uncle Tupelo), who produced the record, serendipitously reached out around that time. He's based in upstate New York and I happened to be traveling through New York right after that. I looked into him and we agreed to do lunch. I had a bunch of very, very fresh tunes, so why not? We met and I adored him and gave him some demos that I'd made at home. He said he'd be happy to make a record with the tunes. “Okay,” I said. “Let's do it.”
Paul has an impressive resume.
Yeah, he has a very, very impressive resume and some really great stories, but unfortunately those aren't mine to tell. You know, there are so many horror stories about being in the studio, but I must have a horseshoe stuck up my ass. Obviously, I've had some stressful moments, but I've never had a negative studio experience. Paul was always pleasant and always had good ideas as well as being respectful of my imput. That means a lot to any artist recording the songs you've written.
Explain how these songs fit together.
Making records is so funny because they're so dependant on some days in the studio. Maybe you're supposed to be recording a really upbeat song, but you're not feeling it. So, you offer a different track. “Yes,” you say, “this is the one we ought to tackle.” It wasn't, “Oh, this is better than that song.” It's more that everybody in the band is feeling this one today. We record all the beds live on the floor and add other things later. Everyone's mood is so important – at least to me. I feel like that comes across.
Recording live is the way to go.
Oh god, yes. I can't imagine doing it any other way. I'm interested in learning other ways to do it, but I've never done any other way.
Tell the story behind writing 'Just Circumstance.'
I've spoken to my songwriter friends who travel a lot. We all watch crime television. You don't always get the food you want or see the people you want, but I'm convinced that by being on the road a lot you have one constant: HLN is always there with Forensic Files. The narrator (Peter Thomas) has become like a lullabye for me. HLN is always on a different channel, which can be a pain in the ass if you're a little tired or really tired or maybe a little stoned or really stoned. You have to flip through to find his voice and fall asleep at a reasonable hour. True crime got my into watching Orange Is the New Black. I started watching that around the time I wrote this tune. I became really interested in the criminal justice system and the experiences for imprisoned women. Some stories out there are crazy.
Interesting that true crime lulls you to sleep.
Yeah, I'm fully aware that it's very weird, but his voice is so lulling and soothing. I'll watch a couple episodes if I'm not totally tired. Sometimes I'll just watch an episode if I'm really tired. I'll go to sleep within thirty seconds.
So, that opens the album. Explain why you closed with the title track.
It wasn't overly intentional. The name of the title track originally was “Things We Ain't Got.” I was listening to my final masers and I heard the line “we still go to rodeos,” which punched me in the face because it could mean so many different things. Now it's weird because none of us can go to actual rodeos right now, but it stuck me as being symbolic that there's always something good.
Also, I never like to be too precious about naming songs. I just thought it was a cool song and record title because there's a lot of heartbreak on the record. I wanted the title to show that I'm not a huge curmudgeon. Things can drag on for way too long if you get precious. It's not the last record I'll make by a long shot and I wanted to get it done so why not?
Yeah. Hopefully, you'll get to tour the record at some point.
Yeah (laughs). I hope so, too, but I just keep reminding myself that everyone I love is healthy and not everyone is having that experience. I would never complain about it because that would be really shitty. I lost a few gigs? It's a lot less than some people are losing.
- Brian T. Atkinson
Mando Saenz crafts narratives with equal measures heart (“Cautionary Tale”) and home (“All My Shame”). The top Nashville songwriter – whose songs have been recorded by Miranda Lambert, Lee Ann Womack, Stoney LaRue and many more will showcase each on his as-yet-untitled forthcoming album tentatively due by year's end.
We caught up with Saenz last week to talk about how the new collection took shape. “My management at the time with the backing of my publisher Frank Liddell booked some time with producer Ken Coomer to make a five-song EP,” the longtime Nashville resident says. “Basically we were just wanting to get some new content out there since it had been awhile since my last record."
So, you've extended your EP into a full length.
Yeah. After tracking those songs I was pleased with the direction and the treatment. We were taking creative risks, which seemed to work well with the songs I had been writing. I thought it would be good to go ahead and track another batch and make it a full-length project while we were in a good place
Were these all new songs or ones you have been working on?
A bit of both. They were new in the sense that they were written after my last record, but some had been around for awhile. I had to go through everything I’d written since my Studebaker record, most of which were work tapes in my voice memos. There had to be at least 60 songs, so yeah some of them went back awhile.
Tell the story behind writing 'Cautionary Tale.'
I wrote “Cautionary Tale” with Zach Dubios. We started fresh with this one, playing a progression that led itself to some cool melodic vocals and random lyrics. The title “Cautionary Tale” was spat out. Apparently that title has been used before, but I don’t care. We kept writing lines supporting the title in circles. We changed the cadence in chorus while not leaving the circle. The lyrics are abstract but simple and right there in front of you. “Fool me once, shame on you. Do it again, what’s a fool to do?”
Describe the albums common lyrical theme.
This record has a lot more co-writes than any of my others. Mainly because I had been co-writing so much for my publisher. I think we picked these songs, however, because they had a lot of my point of view in them lyrically. As far a common theme, I would say your typical glimpse into the inner landscape dealing with love, fear, weakness & strengths. Which I guess I’ve always kind of written about. But at the end of the day it’s all over the place. Which I honestly don’t mind. Too much of the same thing might lose interest.
Tell the story behind writing 'All My Shame.'
I wrote this with Chris Coleman. He showed up with a kick drum, so that helped set the groove. I’d known Chris for a bit but had never played music with him. We just started jamming and let the kick lead the way, which makes sense now when I hear it. I started mumbling unwritten lyrics, which I like to do. “All My Shame” must’ve came out in what we thought might be the chorus. Then we started talking about how the title related to us in the sense of writing and performing and putting yourself out there naked in a sense. It’s empowering as much as it is frightening at times. This song celebrates the empowering side of it. I always think of strippers when I play it for some reason.
Explain how these songs show your evolution as a songwriter.
I think lyrically these songs may be a bit cleaner than my older stuff. They're less vague. However, it could be argued that there’s a certain charm to not being too literal. I think co-writing lends itself to cleaner lyrics because it has to make sense to everyone in the room. These songs are still pretty open to interpretation though. I’ll always cling to that quality I think. I did take some musical liberties with some of these tunes. They're ideas a bit left of what I’ve done before.
Explain how the pandemic situation has affected your songwriting.
I’ve been writing a lot more on my own, which has been nice. Along with the occasional writing session on Zoom and a weekly live stream, I’ve kept fairly busy. I've been getting back to writing mostly on my own has been the biggest change though. It really hasn’t been much different for me. Writing has always been a form of escape. I tend not to think about everything going on when writing lately. In fact, it takes me away from it all.
Talk about your tour plans when you can get back out on the road.
I plan on touring heavy in the states as soon as possible. Pre-release and beyond. I’ve gotten a lot of interesting from the UK as well to play there when it’s safe, so that is definitely on the horizon a few months after my release.
- Brian T. Atkinson
May 1, 2020 --Ray Hennig has passed away. His son, Steve Hennig, confirmed that his father died Thursday in Austin, Texas of natural causes. He was 91 years old, according to Joe Burris' Facebook page.
Ray Henning opened Heart of Texas Music in Waco in the early Sixties and an Austin location followed in 1973. His Heart of Texas Music store on South Lamar Boulevard in Austin closed in 2012. “I bought several guitars and a couple amps from him,” says Texas born but Nashville-based songwriter Noel McKay. “He was a wonderful, generous, colorful man.” “For a long time, Ray's was the only music business that believed in musicians enough to give them credit and deals, and a professional discount on equipment and strings,” says Diana Finlay Hendricks, author of Delbert McClinton: One of the Fortunate Few. “There is a special place in Heaven for Ray with all-access passes to everything.”
Of course, Henning was the one who sold Stevie Ray Vaughan his iconic Number One Fender Stratocaster in 1974. The singular instrument had previously belonged to hitmaking singer Christopher Cross and was comprised of 1959 pickups, a 1962 guitar neck and a 1963 body with a “brutally worn finish, upside-down tremolo bar, and cigarette burned headstock,” according to the Austin City Limits website blog. Ray Hennig was a father figure and a great friend to many Austin musicians. His son said that a celebration of Ray's life will be held at an appropriate time in the future.
James McMurtry frames a politically divisive middle American family on his latest single “State of the Union.” Now, the singular songwriter aims directly at the president as he watches the COVID-19 pandemic grow. McMurtry recently expanded on his recent Rolling Stone Op-ed for us.
“I must ask you, Mr. Trump,” the longtime Central Texas resident says. “Can our economy and your political ambitions absorb two million dead Americans? Do the math, for once, and ask yourself, 'How many people do two million people know?' Two million dead will leave a lot of living who remember.
“This pandemic would be a trial under any president,”McMurtry continues. “(but I fear it’s more of a trial under no president. No one is truly presiding over our government at this time. We don’t have a Roosevelt fighting off fear itself, we don’t have an LBJ with a flashlight under his chin promising help to New Orleans after a Hurricane, we don’t have Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter in hazmat suits walking through Three Mile Island to show their faith in the scientists that saved the east coast.
“We don’t even have George W. Bush, who after cowering in the rabbit hole on 9/11, pulled himself together, crawled up out of the ground, went to Ground Zero and did his level best to do the job of being president, being there for us. All we have is a real estate pirate trying to save his businesses and his political future.
“Trump says this country wasn’t built to be shut down, as if any modern country was built for such. There is open talk of having to balance dollars against deaths.It’s true, we might not be able to weather a depression in our time. The last one was weathered by people who were born in the nineteenth century and had seen depression before. The country was largely rural, the supply chains were more localized, but are we to just give up and let people die so their grandkids can waterski?
“And to you, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, I must ask, what if the virus takes one or more of your grandchildren rather than yourself? A virus can mutate quickly. The U.S. has seen quite a bit of coronavirus infections in young adults. Children have died from the virus. You don't get to tell the virus whom to kill. Would you risk burying one of your grandchildren to keep from being called a socialist? I will humbly await your answer, sir.”
Artist: Steve Earle
Hometown: Schertz, Texas
Album: Ghosts of West Virginia
Release Date: May 22, 2020
Record Label: New West Records
Album's lyrical theme:
“One of the dangers that we’re in is if people like me keep thinking that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist or an asshole, then we’re fucked, because it’s simply not true. This is one move toward something that might take a generation to change. I wanted to do something where that dialogue could begin.” – Steve Earle
- Brian T. Atkinson
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