An Interview with Beth Whitney

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Image Credit: Eratosthenes Fackenthall

From the deep woods, Beth Whitney emerges with a stunning follow up to The Wild Unrest. Recorded just weeks before lockdown in 2020 with her long-time producer, Brandon Bee, Into the Ground examines unlamented laments and uncovers wisdom from the wilderness with orchestral sweeps on a bed of shimmering strings and earthy rhythms. Beth introduced the album’s first single, “Wild Roses,” on her late brother’s birthday in August of 2020 and will release the full album in 2021 with Tone Tree Music.

Beth Whitney’s songs, written mostly in a log cabin outside Leavenworth, WA, with husband/upright bassist Aaron Fishburn, hum with whispering and broken tones and what has been called an “almost medieval approach” to modern Folk. Born to a poetic carpenter and a singing painter, Beth was raised with her five siblings at a much lower elevation on a small farm nestled between dark waters of the Puget Sound and sleepy foothills of western Washington.

Beth has shared stages with friends and heroes such as Courtney Marie Andrews, Brett Dennen, Anna Tivel, Jeffrey Martin, Damien Jurado, JJ Heller, and Jamestown Revival. If you would like to learn more about Beth Whitney, you can head over to her website and dig in.

Bio courtesy of www.bethwhitneymusic.com

Andrew:
Beth, I appreciate you taking the time today. How have you been holding up over the last year or so? What have you been up to?

Beth:
Thank you for having me! Ya know, before 2020, I would sometimes dream of an open slate…a blank calendar that stretched out for miles. There were things I wanted to do, like plant a little garden that wouldn’t die the first hot weekend we left for shows or play with my kids without looming obligations in the back of my mind. I’ve been up to those things for the most part. A lot of homeschool and a lot of dirt. Those are silver linings on a pretty dark cloud of a year. As much as I am a natural hermit, isolation takes its toll, and cabin fever is real.

Andrew:
Before we dive into your professional career, let’s go back a bit. What first got you hooked on music?

Beth:
It might have been hearing a relative play Jet Plane when I was 6 or 7 at a family reunion. I was transfixed by the song and her performance. Or maybe later in life when I saw Jewel at Bumbershoot in Seattle. She played a gorgeous solo set, then yodeled for the encore. I grew up singing with my family a lot while we were squeezed into the back of our cinnamon Volvo station wagon. I’ve lost a couple of siblings since then, and it’s a great comfort to wander back in my mind to this warm and simple time of us singing together. 

Andrew:
Who were some of your early influences?

Alison Krauss, Mindy Smith, Hans Zimmer, Tracy Chapman, David Gray, Rogers and Hammerstein, Eva Cassidy, Jeff Quill, The Chicks, John Rutter, Boys II Men, Raffi…it goes on and on!

Image Credit: Eratosthenes Fackenthall

Andrew:
Let’s talk recent events first. Tell us about your new album, Into The Ground.

Beth:
When we first moved to the mountains, I wrote my previous album, The Wild Unrest. It was an embrace of some harder things I’d been running from. That album turned to face the giants, in a way. Into The Ground goes further in. Now that we are in the wilderness where anything is possible, now we look into the ground beneath us. What makes up who we are? What are we consuming that feeds who we become? What does the wilderness have to teach us about what it means to be a human being?

Andrew:
What lyrical themes are you exploring with your new music?

Beth:
The experience of living in the mountains really pours into the songs. “Wild Roses,” “Moonlight,” “Huckleberry,” and pretty much all the songs on the album tie in what you might see on a backpacking trip. It wasn’t on purpose, but I’ve found a lot of the songs coming out of me are looking for some vague sense of home or, to be taken in somehow. Maybe it’s hoping for that feeling of being squished between siblings in the back of that Volvo again, with hay on the top and a goat in the back. Though, goats and hay bails are not highlighted lyrical themes this time around.

Andrew:
How about the production side of things? Do you self-produce, or do you bring in outside voices?

Beth:
Brandon Bee has produced almost everything I’ve recorded in the last ten years. I’ll have a loose vision for how I want the songs to go, but then I try to bring in some of my favorite musicians and let the song build like a conversation. I have edges to my creativity, and recognizing where my strengths start to trail off has made all the difference, I think. My husband, Aaron, is remarkable at taking a meandering melody and adding in pulse and dynamics with the upright bass. Then Brandon comes in to help tell the story musically even further. He is like a bumblebee in a field of wildflowers in the studio when it comes to finding textures and tones for a song, and he has a way of making the studio feel light yet still meaningful for everyone. Recording is a blast.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Cassettes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? What are a few of your favorite albums, and why?

Image Credit: Eratosthenes Fackenthall

Beth:
I listened to Tracy Chapman’s self-titled album on cassette probably 100 times in 6 months during an exchange program in Australia. I’m so glad it was on tape and that it was the only music I had during the program. You can chew on good lyrics and music for ages, and that album (on tape) taught me that. I do like vinyl for the same reason because it forces us to slow down and really dig into an album, but we have too many little hands around the house at this point to have a great setup. So we do CDs in the car and digital at home. I love the Gladiator Soundtrack. The movie came out around the same time I lost my brother, and the songs in there were loyal grief companions. I also love Mindy Smith’s One Moment More album. I had a moment living in Nashville many years ago… just the height of loneliness…sitting in the parking lot of a TJ Maxx, and her song “Come to Jesus” comes on the radio. I laid my head on the steering wheel and just let the song do its work. She has a way of writing and singing; honestly, that wakes me up. Also, Courtney Marie Andrews’ Honest Life,  Anna Tivel’s The Question, and Jeffrey Martin’s One Go Around.

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Beth:
I grew up helping my dad restore old homes. He would find really tired-looking homes and decide they were beautiful. I think this is more of a popular thing now, but my dad…he would restore things that you would never see…something in the crawl space that wasn’t quite right. If you asked him to help you refinish your kitchen floor, it’s not unlikely that you’d come home to him waist-deep where your floor had been because something wasn’t quite right with the original floor. A couple of us kids caught this same bug of restoring old homes. I think this lingering on seemingly insignificant details and always being open to reworking something until it’s right is similar to how I approach songwriting and recording.

Andrew:
In your opinion, what is the state of the music business these days? Should artists be hopeful? Scared? Both?

Beth:
The music business itself can be a fickle monster and its globalization is sort of a new and strange phenomenon really. But it seems like the reality is, people are listening to music all day, and musicians are making good music. The puzzle pieces are there, and there are many ways to connect those pieces. It may be that a communally focused shift would be beneficial. I think, as artists, we should embrace whatever it is we’re feeling, and then keep creating.

Andrew:
Last one. We seem to be nearing a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of COVID-19 restrictions. That said, what’s next on your docket? What are you looking forward to most in the post-COVID world?

Beth:
It would be a dream to play these new songs for some of the folks I’ve met on the road over the years. I also started putting on songwriting retreats a few years ago, and I look forward to getting back into a rhythm of hosting those once or twice a year. And you know what? I miss seeing goats and pigs at the fair.

Image Credit: Eratosthenes Fackenthall

Interested in learning more about Beth Whitney? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.
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