Whitney Rose expounds on her classic approach to music with We Still Go To Rodeos, a solid collection of jangly, alt-country flavored tunes that twang and pop around catchy hooks and excellent riffs. Elevating Rose’s already considerable writing is a band consisting of Gurf Morlix (Blaze Foley, Lucinda Williams), Lisa Pankratz & Brad Fordham (Dave Alvin & the Guilty Ones), Matt Hubbard (Willie Nelson), Rich Brotherton (Robert Earl Keen), Dave Biller (Dale Watson), and Nichol Robertson. WSTGTR features well-crafted narratives, sweeping ballads, and righteous rockers that could hang around the top of the charts as easily as they do around the stage at the Continental Club. Speaking from her home in Austin, the Canadian turned Texan is steady writing new material but anxious to bring her latest recording to life on the road.
AI- You have been associated with a more traditional vintage style on your previous records. We Still Go To Rodeos, I think it sounds fantastic, and it really feels like a new Whitney Rose. Tell me about the shift.
WR- I guess I had some more rockin’ feelings that I needed to get out of my system song-wise. And so it just kind of happened. It wasn’t really intentional. I just felt like rocking’ out a little bit more. I wouldn’t say it’s a new me. Obviously, that’s fine if that’s what it sounds like? It’s just getting some stuff out of my system. And it’s so funny because I’ve been writing a bunch and I find that I’m shifting back to like you said the more traditional stuff. I have no idea what I’ll do for my next album. Maybe it’ll be in the same vein as this new record or maybe it’ll be more in line with what I did before that release.
You say you’re writing a lot. I believe I read that you had narrowed down somewhere to the tune of 50 songs, narrowed it down to the twelve that appear on the latest album. Were those the cream of the crop or just thematic selections for the album?
Basically, the way that we selected it was what felt the best with the band that I was working with for this record. I do have a pretty big arsenal of songs, but I think we rehearsed probably close to 20 and the 12 that we chose were just the ones that felt the best with that particular band. I even let the band chime in with what tunes they thought should be on it. ‘Cause it’s so much more fun in the studio if you’re all workin’ together, instead of just like giving someone a job. Like handing something to the drummer like, “These are the twelve songs you’re going to play.” It’s so much more fun and everyone is so much more into it if they have a voice, which I really think they should have because it’s a very important part of making a record,
Not to mention– what a panel to poll! I mean, the band that you have on this record is absolutely amazing. Who put it all together?
Well, I’m very, very lucky to get to work with such amazing musicians. Everyone on the album is Austin-based. The core band is who I play with or who I used to play with every week at the Continental Club. We started with that core band and from there we called in some help.
You’re used to bein’ able to play the Continental Club every week. What’s it been like durin’ the pandemic to be there in a city that generally eats, sleeps, and breathes live music 24/7?
Oh, it’s definitely weird. I’ve been pretty good at practicing social distancing. I’ve seen friends… Maybe twice since I started the distancing on March 13th? For the most part, though, I’m looking at my backyard right now. I’ve basically just been sitting in my backyard. I don’t really even know what the city is like because I’ve hardly left. I’ve really only gone to the grocery store and that’s about it.
I’ve been talking to a lot of artists this last week. It doesn’t seem like anybody quite knows what’s going to happen next. Even the venue operators I’ve spoken to, they don’t even want to start makin’ plans ’cause they don’t have a clue at all. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as up in the air as the music business is right now. How do you see things moving forward?
I just hope that, collectively, we all make the right decisions– venue owners and agents and promoters and artists. I hope that we do the right thing because clearly, we’re not out of this yet. Restaurants are definitely open and I haven’t attended, but I’ve seen that some venues are actually opening here for live music. A friend of mine actually played a show a couple of nights ago at a new venue that just opened. Obviously, it’s scary because it’s our livelihood, but at the end of the day, the only thing that’s more important than your livelihood is your life, right? And the lives of others. So I just hope that everyone is responsible. As Austin and the entire country slowly opens up, I hope that everyone is cautious and aware that there is still something going on. Just practice caution.
In addition to makin’ a dynamite new album, you also took the leap and started your own label, MCG Recordings. What made this the time to do that for you?
I wanted to own my music. That’s the simplest answer, I guess, and it’s probably really boring, but I wanted to own my art because everything that I’ve put out in the past has been on a label. As a result of that, I don’t make as much money (laughs)! And I wanted to make all of my own decisions. I felt like I had done it with labels enough times that I knew kind of what I was doing– but I really, really didn’t! I learned so much doing this. It’s crazy. So also, it gave me a new appreciation for the labels that I’ve worked with in the past because it’s a shit ton of work getting everything together to put out a record. I wanted the education as well. I wanted to learn and I definitely did.
What are your plans movin’ forward as a label owner? Do you intend to work with other artists?
Oh, God! You’d have to be out of your mind to sign with me! (Laughs)
But on the other hand, you’re comin’ from a place where you appreciate the importance of being able to own your work and have that say in what you do. Surely you would be tailor-made for an artist to be able to have that kind of freedom.
Certainly, I would. And the first thing that I would tell them would be, “Keep your music!” It’s yours. You wrote it. Keep those babies for yourself!
Brent Cobb, not too long ago, re-released his very first album. And I thought it was strange that he did that until he had released a statement saying that the reason he’d done it was because he had just been able to acquire the rights to those songs and to that music. He was so proud of that first album and so happy to be able to do it, that he wanted to re-release it. Do you have any plans to try to get a hold of your back catalog?
No. The labels that I’ve worked with in the past, they treated me very, very well, and I have really fair deals. I just wanted it all for once– and I don’t even know if I’ll do it again. Maybe I’ll release my next record on MCG or maybe I’ll make a record and shop it around to different labels. I’m not sure. But no, I definitely won’t be re-releasing anything. I have too many new songs to do that.
It sounds like you have been extremely busy doing that. Some of the folks that I’ve spoken to, that’s been their primary focus durin’ this time, bein’ at home. I’m sure you hoped that you were goin’ to be out on the road full blast, promoting We Still Go To Rodeos, so at this point in time do you see yourself going into the studio much sooner than you had originally planned?
Not really and only because I really like this record. I like the energy of this record, and I really want to tour it. I feel like if I go into the studio right away then I would be abandoning this album, and I want to give it the attention that I think it deserves. I really want to sing these songs live. That’s where I want to put my focus, and that’s what I want to do as soon as I possibly can.