Toronto Transplant Whitney Rose Plays Country Music for All Climates
Photo by Jen Squires/Courtesy of Six Shooter Records
It’s highly likely that when listening to the latest album from Whitney Rose, Heartbreaker of the Year, you will also detect a bit of noise in the background. Don’t be alarmed, as you’re probably hearing the sound of keyboards from all over this continent typing out praises for the Canadian native’s expert mix of retro soul, country wit and irresistible charm. Since her recent move to Austin from Toronto, followed quickly by a barrage of successful shows at this year’s SXSW, the intensity of excitement surrounding Rose has only increased.
Produced by like-minded style-shifter Raul Malo of the Mavericks, Rose’s second record showcases a gorgeous marriage of smart writing and razor-sharp country playing. It recently picked up the Country Recording of the Year award from Canada’s East Coast Music Awards, after racking up dozens of glowing reviews from outlets as notable as The New York Times, Rolling Stone and American Songwriter. Rose will be performing this weekend at the Mucky Duck, so we caught up with her and chatted about her moving to Austin without a band, the Canadian country scene and how her grandmother will never pay for a soda again.
Houston Press: Relocating from Canada to Austin is a big move. What led you to make that move?
Whitney Rose: I originally planned on moving here temporarily last November for a weekly residency at the Continental Club, and I just fell in love with the city and all it had to offer.
A weekly show at the Continental Club is a really good gig, especially for someone from outside of Austin.
I’ve loved it. There’s something really special about that place that I can’t put my finger on or define, so I don’t really question it, I just keep going back.
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You played many shows during SXSW this year. Was this your first year?
It was a first for me, so I came in unknowingly. I was in the middle of a tour with Sam Outlaw, and I played five shows during that week, I think, but it felt like 5,000 [laughs]. It was such a circus, but I’m really glad I did it all since it was my first time.
Have you had a chance to stand in long lines for any of the barbecue yet?
I think I’ve gained 20 pounds since I moved here — it’s ridiculous. Between the barbecue and the Mexican food, I’m a little beside myself. I’m very much a carnivore because I grew up in Prince Edward Island, so meat and potatoes is how I grew up. But it’ll be too hot here soon to eat anything, so maybe that’ll help.
You’ll just stick to beer and water, then?
Popsicles and beer, yeah!
As much as we love our rodeos and country music here in Texas, Canada has a proud tradition of those types of Western things too, right?
Oh, there’s a huge country-music scene up there. So much of Canada is rural, and there are very few large cities. I’ve toured Canada so much, and when I would leave Toronto to go to the next major city, it would be a 24-hour drive. So you have all that rural space with so many people, and the kind of music many of them identify with is country music. That’s why I have identified with country music, I think.
Here in the States, artists will move to Austin or Nashville to hit it big in country music. Does the Canadian country scene have similar places that draw most of the talent?
Yeah, Nashville and Austin [laughs]. Actually, there is a great music scene in Toronto, and that’s where I learned how to perform and to play my guitar. There’s a beautiful country-music scene there, and, similar to Austin, there are so many places to play and plenty of people to go see you play.
How did you go about getting a band together when you arrived in Austin?
Raul Malo, who produced my last album, has done quite a bit for me, including hooking me up with Tom Lewis, who I call the Mayor of Austin Music because he knows everybody. I drove 23 hours straight from Toronto to here, got in town at 2 o’clock in the morning, met Tom at 10 a.m., then I rehearsed with the band he had recruited, then we played the next day at the Continental Club.
It must have been cool to win the ECMA Award after you moved down here.
I was pretty thrilled, but no one is more thrilled than my family. It’s kind of hilarious because to me, it’s a big deal because it’s recognition for something I worked really hard on, but my mom called me and told me that she feels, and I quote, 'famous by proxy,'” which I cannot stop laughing at. But the best thing that’s come from my whole career in music is that my grandmother, who plays in a weekly dart league, told me that the bartender where she plays is a fan of mine, and she doesn’t have to pay for her Pepsi anymore. When she told me that, I thought I was going to explode, I was so happy.
Whitney Rose performs at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 30 at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk.
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