The Bonnie Whitmore Interview

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When the quality of music suffers, its seems to weigh more heavily on women in part because the music industry is run by men who are more visually than audibly stimulated. That in a nutshell is what the problem is with the music biz, period. 

~Bonnie Whitmore

Bonnie Whitmore and Her Band are based in Austin Texas, where they’ve been churning out stirring blues and country tinged rock with an authentically feminist message. On October 28 they’ll be releasing their new album, F*ck with Sad Girls. (You can listen to the single “She’s a Hurricane,” here.) Supporters of the album’s successful PledgeMusic campaign received a complimentary concept album Coyotes: Life and After Life.

Recently Bonnie took the time to answer the Mindful Bard’s questions about creativity and being a woman in the music industry.

(More of this interview can be read at http://www.voicemagazine.org.)

Tell us a little about the album Coyotes: Life and After Life.

This is a conceptual and collaborative project. The idea was to showcase the arc of a song’s beginning and the potential of where it can go.

I’ve been wanting to do a project with Juicy the Emissary for a long time. Since high school, in fact. I loved his R&B style and beats, but didn’t know how to get to that place myself. So a couple years back I approached him with this idea. I wanted to do it predominantly on vinyl because of the A verus B aspect of the project.

Side A, “Life,” is the bare bones of the song, just acoustic guitar and vocals. Side B, “After Life,” is Juicy’s melody interpretation of that same song with only the vocal to go off of. What he created is beautiful and completely out of the realm of my norm.

I know it’s not for everyone, but I do love what we created together. It took me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to hear this song of mine in a new and different way.

How easy is it for a woman to break into the music industry— and stay there— these days?

First of all, you have to be good and most of the time better then the men.

It’s not easy to be in this business as an artist, period. The industry side is lazy. They want what will help their “bottom line,” but their formula is outdated and doesn’t really create anything, just repackages the same sound in pretty wrapping.

If you look at the history of music, to me the most creative and diverse contributions were in the ’60’s and ’70’s. That period wasn’t about what you looked like, or what sex you were, but the quality of the music. Carole King, Aretha Franklin, Carol Kaye, Emmylou, Dolly Parton . . . just to name a few women who shaped the sound of that time and still influence music today.

The resurgence of female-powered rock in the ’90’s was uplifting, but went by the way of the Disney powder-pop. Teen angst is good, but everyone gets tired of being yelled at, and that’s not all we as women artists are.

When the quality of music suffers, its seems to weigh more heavily on women in part because the music industry is run by men who are more visually than audibly stimulated. That in a nutshell is what the problem is with the music biz, period. Sexism is still strong and outspoken in this and many industries, and there’s no point in denying that.

I do think we are at a turning point, but that has more to do with women supporting fellow women and likeminded men who can see past the genitalia to the quality of sound and song. For me personally, I want to hear quality music, not just equal parts men and women.

Carol Kaye said it best: “the (music) notes are not male or female, they are only good or bad ones.”

What advice do you have for other female musicians?

We do have to be better than our male counterparts, but that’s the easy part. If you love it and this is what you want to do with your life, then do it. Don’t let anyone or anything get in your way. Don’t apologize, don’t lower your self-worth or expectations; just be honest with yourself and your art. That’s what’s important and should be put above all else.

Turn the narrative. If they say it’s because you’re a woman, then show what it really means to be a woman. Because that’s what we are, and it’s not something you apologize for or think of as “lesser than.”

Do you have any advice for adolescent girls— advice that you wish had been given to you?

I was lucky and was usually given great advice. The things you get in trouble for are usually the things that people will praise in you as an adult.

Listen to what they mean and not always to what’s being said. The best advice is the hardest to hear and usually has to do with being patient. If you’re willing to grow, you have all the potential in the world. Talent is good, but the work you put into it is what will make you great.

What conditions do you require in your life in order to go on being creative?

I don’t really require anything to be creative other than to give it an outlet. I write when I’m processing emotions or issues, and I practise when I have something I want to learn. I admittedly am a procrastinator, but I try not to set myself up to fail.

What do you feed your muse? Are there any books, films, or albums that have deeply influenced your development as an artist?

Life is the best muse. All art forms are influential as well. Collaborating is another great creative outlet. I’m always up for borrowing or elaborating on truths. The main thing is to realize when your muse is calling.

Do you think that artists have a responsibility to do what they can to straighten out the world a little?

Is it something you think about and possibly hope for? Sure. Responsible for, no. Art is supposed to be an honest expression of your true self no matter the dark or lightness. It is first and foremost the art. You can’t predict how it’s going to be interpreted. Once you give life to that art, it becomes it’s own entity. You can have the intention and want for it, but not the control. If it turns out as you plan? Well that’s the luck of it.

If you had an artistic mission statement, what would it be?

I live by two mantras. “Breath in the suffering, breath out the love.” That’s the basis of most of my meditations.

When that doesn’t work, then, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

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