Tuesday, February 7, 2012
William Elliott Whitmore is disappointed in the weather.
He’s rigged a pretty awesome sled together from an old car hood, he says from his farm in Lee County, Iowa, but with no snow it hasn’t gotten any use.
No matter; he’ll find another project. From woodworking and carpentry to subsistence farming, he likes to keep a lot of irons in the fire.
Oh, and there’s his increasingly successful music career.
Whitmore has gained praise for his folksy ballads, experimentation with literal field songs — natural sounds recorded on his farm — and powerful voice. But for all his love for Americana, he came up touring with a lot of Midwest-based hardcore and punk bands, experience that he says granted him a wider audience and better ability to put on a raucous live show — even when it’s just him and his guitar.
- Friday, February 10, 2012, 9:30 p.m.
- Granada, 1020 Mass., Lawrence
- All ages / $10 - $12
From Lee County, he talked about his most recent album, “Field Songs,” his view of Lawrence and his upcoming show here Friday at the Granada, and how it feels to be a disillusioned political songwriter.
Alex Garrison: I know you like to talk about your roots in Iowa quite a bit. Here in Kansas, of course, we’re not far away from farming communities and that life, too. Tell us about where you’re from and how it affects your life and your music.
William Elliott Whitmore: I’m a very proud Midwesterner. Iowa is where I was born and raised, but Kansas isn’t very far away. I consider Kansas kinda my home, too — all us Midwesterners gotta stick together. I really like to come down to Lawrence for that reason — even a town like Lawrence, you’re not very far away from the countryside, you know.
I’m very connected to the land here. I’m still living on the farm I grew up on, the old family farm, and feel very fortunate to have that. I can’t help but look outside my window and be inspired by the landscape and by the weather and the people and the farm that I live on; it’s very beautiful. It’s not really a working farm anymore — I don’t plant row crops, but I have my little subsistence garden and workshops and it’s great.
AG: Does working on those other projects help keep your creativity going in the songwriting process?
WEW: I’ve always felt the need to get my irons in as many fires as possible and it kind of helps me relate to other projects in a different way. I come from a long line of carpenters and jack-of-all-trades like a lot of us do and you’re sort of born with that need, and I like making things that weren’t there before — it helps me approach songwriting in a different way and helps clear my mind. It’s real relaxing and satisfying.
AG: A lot of your music has a political tone to it, though I gather that’s less so on “Field Songs.” Does your connection with Iowa — and all the attention it gets in the presidential race — inspire your views?
WEW: Sometimes I’m so disillusioned with politics. I wish I didn’t feel this way but I do, I’m disillusioned with all of it. But it’s kind of my job as a writer to put different views out there. I don’t want to put my views on anyone in any way, but just to get people thinking.
The caucus sort of doesn’t matter, but it sets the tone for the whole thing. I just wish they could get it together and think about what’s best for the country rather than slingin’ mud at each other, and sometimes I feel like the big political game is actually to the detriment of real Americans who need help and who need services and things. I wish it wasn’t so.
When I write songs, I like to kind of put in two cents without being overtly political, because I’m not — I wish I could be as good a political songwriter as Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan, though I’m not sure how overtly political they were, either, but I’ve never been especially good at that. I just like to put in my two cents on certain issues just to get people thinking.
This record does have a couple of statements about factory farms. I hope to see getting rid of this monoculture of corn and soybeans, this industrial factory farming — it’s just not good for the land and I don’t believe it’s good for the people. But that’s about as political as I get.
I want listeners to think but also to just enjoy a good song. And to remember that there’s good in the world, with all that’s wrong, with all this political mudslinging, there’s beauty in this world. If we can remember that, I think things’ll be OK.
AG: This record is different, too, in that it’s a lot sparser than the last, more like your first few albums, before you were on Anti- Records. Is “Field Songs” a return to form?
WEW: My last record had a lot more instrumentation on it. I was going for a different feel and had different things to say. This latest record though is a record I’ve been wanting to make for a long time. It’s very much farm-themed and rural-life themed and I sort of wanted to feel like you were on the front porch with me. That’s why I added extra noises — the farm sounds, birdsongs, the creek running — and my cousin and I recorded those sounds here on the farm. My cousin is my musical partner in crime and we came up with the idea of incorporating those sounds — sort of the idea that we’re all just animals.
Hopefully even if you don’t live on a farm, you can relate to the ideas. I try to write in a universal way that anyone can relate to — you don’t have to live on a farm to enjoy it, hopefully.
AG: Are you touring with a band this time? What can we expect from your show?
WEW: It’ll just be me. You can expect to see me have a good time on stage and sing my heart out and expect to have a good old time. Like I say, Lawrence has always had a special place in my heart.
— Reporter Alex Garrison can be reached at 832-7261.