Whitton’s music has been featured in Dexter, Gossip Girl, MTV’s Catfish, She Wants Me, Meth Head, The 5th Quarter, and Exit Strategy, and her sound has been described as soulfully evoking the 1940s. That touch of nostalgia makes complete sense given the fact the singer/songwriter cites as her influences Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, among others of that bygone era.
Whitton’s currently hard at work putting together her next album as well as performing live in front of appreciative audiences. And in support of her involvement with the San Diego Indie Fest, I had the opportunity to chat with this talented artist who’ll be taking the stage on August 17, 2013 at the event which promotes independent music and artists on the rise.
Have you felt a change in the independent music scene over the past couple of years? It would seem that with YouTube and social media outlets it’s easier to get your work out there now, but does that also make it more difficult to get noticed and separated from the pack?
Whitton: “Well, I think because of the internet there’s definitely a strategy change, meaning if you’re going to promote yourself online you have to be pretty online savvy. You have to know YouTube and all these social media places and make videos and upload songs on a consistent basis. So, yes, it takes a little bit of learning and if you’re not good at that, then it’s a little bit of a struggle for sure. Playing out live is always, I think, really, really good. It’s pretty difficult to play out in Los Angeles all the time because it’s such a competitive city. Maybe not so much ‘competitive’, but there’s such saturation here and to get people out to your shows and all that kind of stuff can be tough, so that’s a little stressful on the independent musician. I really try to focus on doing street fairs or benefits concerts like the AIDS walks or the breast cancer events, especially in LA.”
That allows you to do good and to get your music out there, so it’s a win-win situation. What does performing live bring to you as an artist that you can’t get from going into a studio?
Whitton: “They’re completely two different worlds. They’re both very intimate, but in different ways. Performing live, you literally, at least for me, I get to connect with my audience and if they know my songs, I hear them singing along with me or just looking into their eyes, feeling that connection. That’s a really special feeling and I think that’s one of my favorite things about music is performing and that connection. Studio is intimate in a completely different way because you’re alone in your vocal booth or you’re just there with your engineer and you get lost in the emotion and why you wrote the song and kind of reliving that a bit.”
Does the emotional response you had when you first wrote a song come up every single time you sing it?
Whitton: “Yes. Since I’m an original songwriter so everything I write really stems from the roots of my being. All my experiences or if I write about somebody else, I was there experiencing that with them. I’m a pretty sensitive and emotional person. It’s hard for me not to go to that place.”
Isn’t writing a song cathartic? Isn’t it a release from some of those emotions so that you don’t have to necessarily feel them all the time?
Whitton: “I’m a totally glutton for punishment. [Laughing] I kind of harbor a little bit of that pain or happiness, just depending on the situation so yes and no. It is a release. It’s good to get it out, but when something is so special, granted there are some songs that affect you more than other songs, but there’s a reason why I write the song and obviously it affected me in a way, so I write about.”
Is there one particular song you’ve written that stands out from the pack? Is there one song that feels as though you’ve channeled every emotion you could possibly get into it and every time you sing it, you feel it more deeply than the others?
Whitton: “Gosh, I’ve written so many songs… If you’re speaking of the albums, the last two albums I’ve released, if I had to pick one of those songs, it’d be ‘Bee Sting.’ Every time I sing it, it’s more of an upbeat song and it’s about a summer fling. It’s living on the edge and that anxiety, not anxiety, but then you’re anxious or you have butterflies because you’re going to see this person. That’s a pretty fun one. Also another one is ‘I Fell in Love’ which is my most promoted song. [Laughing] It’s a really happy song and I don’t write a lot of happy songs. Every time I sing that one, it’s definitely a true happy point in my life.”
Writing songs that are so personal and so close to you and may involve people you are in contact with or are in your circle of friends that you love and respect, they must know you use your actual experiences to write songs. Do they ever say to you, “This is not going to be a lyric in the next song?” Do they ever tell you to keep anything private?
Whitton: “Oh, yes, and that’s usually old relationships. I like to stay friends with my old relationships and they’re just like, ‘Is that song about me?’ [Laughing] I always get these questions so yes, that happens often. But I’m a songwriter and that’s what I do and I’m not going to change just because somebody’s like, ‘I don’t know about that.’ I’m not too revealing, like, ‘Here’s that person’s name.’ It’s not that bad.”
How does the songwriting process work for you? How many drafts do you go through before you get the final finished lyrics?
Whitton: “I’m an artist where I, if I’m playing the guitar and if I play a chord that stems from a certain emotion, like a sad emotion or an aching emotion or a happy emotion, my lyrics are based on the how the music feels to me. Which is, I guess, really different from a lot of people. But for me, a lot of my lyrics come when I’m playing so obviously it’s a present situation. If I start singing about something, it’s obviously in my present – if that makes sense.”
It does, but I would have thought it would be the other way around.
Whitton: “Yes, and there are times – I’m terrible at keeping a journal which is really bizarre for a songwriter, a daily journal that is – but there are times I discipline myself to write a whole page and then I go back to those lyrics if I’m stuck on something. As far as my first draft, I have so many songs that are my first draft that I haven’t changed. But, that’s something I’m going to discipline myself to do, to make a couple rough drafts and really hone in on making things clear for people because I forget sometimes that I’m the one in a box and the others are outside hearing it. Sometimes I write a little abstract.”
Have you felt yourself evolving as an artist over the years and changing from when you first picked up a guitar?
Whitton: “Oh my goodness, absolutely. I started as just a vocalist and I’ve been singing since I was 6 years old. By the time I was 22, I picked up a guitar because I was in a band and I was vocalist. The band split up and I’m like, ‘What am I going to do? I don’t know how to play an instrument. I’m stuck. I don’t have a band and I’m aching to write music.’ So I picked up a guitar and of course heartache and tragedy always kicks you into gear. [Laughing] I learned guitar. Actually, I didn’t learn how to play guitar; I just played guitar and throughout the years since then I’ve learned a lot on my own. I’ve never gone to school for writing or playing guitar or any vocal. I’ve learned from a lot of other musicians, just watching them and just being creative on my own.”
Who have you learned the most from?
Whitton: “Well my parents decided to have six kids because there’s a movie, Sound of Music and we are totally the Von Trapp family. And, ironically, my mom played ukulele growing up and she sings all the time and my dad was an actor in Hollywood. They decided to have the six kids and all of my siblings are in their own musical endeavors, so I’d have to say definitely my family was my beginning, my roots and where it all started. I think that’s probably why I choose to write music my own way rather than to going to school for it, because it was just constantly around me.”
You’re lucky to have that influence and that support.
Whitton: “Oh, incredible support. Honestly, I don’t know if I could continue, especially independently, without the support of my family.”
What’s the weirdest place you’ve been physically when you’re inspired to write down a song? Are you one of those people who are in the shower and all of a sudden something comes to you?
Whitton: “Actually, that happens for me at any place at any time. Sometimes I have a little recorder in my car and if I think of something as I’m driving, which is always really dangerous because you know how you’re driving and your mind covers your vision a bit? A lot of my songs come up that way – and I drive all the time. I drive an hour a day in my car so I have a lot of time to think, so I’d totally say that’s where I come up with a lot of my ideas.”
What are you currently working on?
Whitton: “Well, I have 40 songs, acoustic songs, that I’m weeding through to make a 10 song album right now. It’s been the last year I’ve been working on it because I’m in the studio constantly, every day.”
How do you judge which songs should make the cut?
Whitton: “Well, that’s really interesting. I separated all my songs into three different albums and you know how certain albums have certain colors or certain emotions? For me, I like to hear albums that have a nice thread, a consistent thread of emotion. When you put in a CD in a car, you’re usually going put a CD that you can drive through the whole way and not skip any songs. I have the album that I choose to do for this one has the colors of yellow and light blue and more of the positive, long car ride kind of CD. Then I have another album that’s very dark grey and blue, kind of like a Joni Mitchell album or very eclectic album. Anyway, so they all have different colors, but the one I choose to do has more of the positive pop.”
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For more on Whitton, visit her official website.
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