Whitney Rose will release We Still Go to Rodeos on 24 April via MCG. Produced by Paul Kolderie (Radiohead, Uncle Tupelo, Pixies, Toots & Maytals, Hole, and Morphine), the collection features 12 songs which Rose penned on her own. Inspired by Texas luminaries such as Lucinda Williams, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, and Jerry Jeff Walker, she has delivered a collection that embraces the Lone Star State’s tradition of rugged individualism and courageous singularity.
Joining her on this adventure are a variety of guests, including guitarist Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams, Warren Zevon), drummer Lisa Pankratz (Dave Alvin, Billy Joe Shaver, Hayes Carll), bassist Brad Fordham (Jerry Jeff Walker, Dave Alvin), guitarists Dave Leroy Biller (Texas Playboys, Deke Dickerson, Hunt Sales), and Rich Brotherton (Robert Earl Keen, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan).
The single “In a Rut” exemplifies the defiant spirit that runs throughout the album with Rose squaring off against a world that can be unkind and uncaring. Take your pick as to which Keith Richards-sung Stone tune it feels like, though “Before They Make Me Run” might be a good start; this is as rebellious and soulful as any of those old Stones sides; the groove is authentic and familiar without relying on cliché.
Speaking with PopMatters from her home in Austin, Rose discussed the inspiration for the track.
“I was on tour in February 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina,” she says. “I’d been touring for a long time without many breaks. I was going hard. Maybe too hard. During my set, I felt a panic attack coming on. I had to put down my guitar. I finished the set, but I was just singing. When I got off stage, I had a full-on panic attack in my dressing room. I had to cancel the rest of the tour and come home.”
She adds, “About two days after I got home, I started playing three chords. It felt amazing to be playing guitar again. It was just IV-V-I. Really comforting. I started singing, ‘I’m in a rut / I’m in a rut / I’m in a rut.’ The release of the song is probably pretty good. I think a lot of people are feeling that way. But that wasn’t intentional. I didn’t start this pandemic so that people could relate to my songs.”
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Do you work on an album-tour-album cycle?
I wish I could tell you that everything in my career is intentional, but it’s not. I had a batch of songs I was really proud of. I had the time. I wasn’t on the road. [Paul Kolderie] reached out to me, things came together, and I knew it was the right time to make the record.
Did you whittle this down from a larger batch of material?
Very much whittled down. I think I had about 50 songs to choose from. We recorded 12.
There are hints of thematic connections in the material.
Most of the tunes that made the record were written in a pretty small window. That was in the early part of last year. When certain things are on your mind, they’ll sneak their way into your writing.
You mentioned working with Paul. How did he come into your sphere and how was it working with him?
His team reached out to mine and said that Paul liked what I was doing. I’m usually wary of that kind of stuff, but after looking at everything he’d done, I was impressed. He lives in New York, and I happened to be passing through. We met, talked, and brought a lot to the table. He had great ideas and was receptive to my ideas. After that meeting, I knew I wanted to work with him, and I was honored. He was a dream in the studio.
How much time did you put into the sequencing of the songs? I think that comes off very well on the album.
The latter. I basically smoked a joint with my partner, and we made a sequence. [Laughs.]
I opened the doors of perception, man!
I love how the album ends with the title track. It has just a tiny bit of a departure from the other material.
I didn’t really know where else to put it. I like that track because it is different. To me, it had a “Love” from the Robin Hood soundtrack vibe. I think when a lot of people hear this record, they’ll think I’m departing from country music. The title implied a lot of things: Don’t worry, I still identify as a country artist. The song reminds me that you can still do fun things when things are shitty. I think it’s a nice way to close the record.
You had plans to go on the road with this record and now the future for everybody in the industry is so uncertain. How have you been coping with that?
I’ve been reading a lot and trying to read books more than I read the news, which isn’t always easy. It’s obviously a hit. It’s my primary source of income. That’s scary, but I’m not going to lose my home or starve to death. I feel very fortunate for that. So many of my friends have no income right now. I just wake up and thank God that I wake up in a cozy bed, and I’m not at risk of losing it.
It’s good to see people taking all of this seriously.
The more we stay apart, the sooner we’ll all be together. That’s how I look at it. I canceled a few things, and someone said to me, online, “I didn’t realize you were the kind to put yourself in bubble wrap.” I thought, “Are you fucking kidding me?”
I didn’t respond to that. I’m getting better at not responding to haters and trolls. But it’s not always easy.