Whitney RosePhoto by Jen Squires, courtesy of Whitney Rose
Burn-through-your-boots summertime Texas heat. Raucous honky tonk nights. Packing everything up and moving from the comfort of home to a completely unfamiliar place. Sharp objects. Success.
This is a brief list of things which do not intimidate Whitney Rose, a list we compile over just 20 minutes of phone interview time with the Austin-based country music chanteuse. Rose is a rising star whose sound is classified as Ameripolitan, a hybrid of country music sub-genres with, in Rose’s case, a bouffant-ed nod to 1960s pop and soul. She sails into Houston from her adopted hometown to close out Goodnight Charlie’s Summer Music Series this Thursday night.
We tell her we're captivated by her fearlessness. Tellingly, there's even a track on her new album titled "You Don't Scare Me." She's got the mettle that’s necessary to make a name and a career in the mean ol’ music industry.
“That is very kind of you to say. It is entirely possible that I’m just too dumb to be scared,” she says with a laugh.
The self-deprecation is endearing and a sign of someone who is confident but humble. She’s been in Rolling Stone magazine a few times now. The New York Times has commented on her unique voice and sound. She’s a multiple nominee in the Nashville Country Music Critics’ Poll. Her songs have been featured in the Ashton Kutcher Netflix series The Ranch and she has an ongoing brand partnership with Wrangler. This year alone, she’s traveled to 17 countries in North America and Europe for dozens of headlining shows and festival dates.
Consider those accomplishments, then consider the title of Rose’s most recent album, Rule 62. That’ll tell you what you need to know about this exciting young artist.
“It’s a saying from Alcoholics Anonymous and it means, ‘Don’t take yourself so damn seriously.’ When I was in Nashville recording the album, we recorded it at Blackbird Studios, which is a really awesome studio in Nashville, and one day, I think it was almost around halfway through recording and I had no idea what I was gonna call the damn thing, and…I’m playing with a safety pin and I just poked myself,…”
That’s not part of the recollection. She is literally handling sharp objects during the interview. Fearless!
“Anyway, we were about halfway through recording and one day a member of my team who was working on the album, he’s a recovered addict. So, quite often for lunch break or dinner break, he wouldn’t go eat, he would go sponsor someone at a meeting. And, he came back one day and he was wearing a pin and it said ‘Rule 62’ and it really piqued my interest.
“I asked him about it and he told me what it meant – ‘Don’t take yourself so damn seriously’ – and he told me the background story of how that came to be at AA a number of years ago, a few decades ago, and it just clicked,… well, that has to be the name of the album because that sentiment is very much what I had in mind when I was writing a lot of the songs for Rule 62,” she continued. “Because I was taking these pretty shitty situations like divorce and infidelity, but putting a light-hearted, almost comedic twist onto them. And so, it just rang really true.”
Rose hails from Prince Edward Island in Canada. The undercurrents of her sound were formed there at a bar her grandparents ran. She rummaged through music her mother and grandparents collected to build her foundation. She began her music career there but came to Texas to advance it.
“It’s definitely opened a lot of doors for me. There are a lot more opportunities here for what I do than really anywhere that I’ve lived previously. I absolutely love Texas. I love the people, I love the food and yeah, the live music scene in Austin has been just insanely inspiring and educational,” she said. “I can go out pretty much any time of the day, any day of the week and see some incredible live music. So, it’s just inspired me to up my game and I hope that I am in terms of songwriting and also in terms of performance.”
She’s anxious to play Goodnight Charlie’s this week.
“I haven’t been yet but a bunch of my friends from Austin have gone to play there and they say really good things about it. David Wrangler, one of the co-owners, I love his style and what he’s doing with Vinyl Ranch, so I’m assuming it’s going to be very rad.
“I usually play at the Mucky Duck and I absolutely love it there; but, I’m really excited to do Goodnight Charlie’s because it’s a little bit different of a setting. It’s pretty tame at the Mucky Duck,” she continued, noting she’s prepared for a crowd that’ll raise “a little more ruckus.”
Rose’s influences are clear. One is Lesley Gore. She covers “You Don’t Own Me” and brings an apropos defiance to the empowering anthem.
“It’s just as relevant now as it ever was,” she says of the song. “It’s certainly for more general reasons that I do it. I’m actually in a very healthy relationship where we treat each other equally; but yeah, what’s funny about that song, I’ve been singing it for years and years, but I really only added it to the set a few years ago. I was a kid when I first sang that song.”
“I really like early Snoop Dogg stuff, like Snoop Dogg from the ‘90s. I know all the words to ‘Lodi Dodi’. Anytime that my band is really cranky, their spirits need to be lifted, I’ll just start rapping ‘Lodi Dodi’ like Snoop Dogg and it usually works.”
‘I’m in Texas for the rest of the summer, which I’m really, really excited about because I’ve been hitting the road pretty hard, so it’s nice to be home,…”
We interrupt her. We know she’s dauntless, but who really is excited about being in Texas in the summer? We remind her it’s 75 degrees on Prince Edward Island the day of our chat.
“I don’t even mind,” she said. “I’ve always been this way but I’d so much rather be too hot than be too cold. I never really fit in when I was growing up in P.E.I. because everyone loved skiing and ice skating and hockey. Those are literally like versions of my personal hell. I do not miss that.”
In September she’ll be back at it, playing Pilgrimage Festival in Tennessee with the likes of Chris Stapleton and Jack White. She’ll then hit the road to support Alan Doyle on November tour dates. She’s writing new songs and vetting producers and studios for the next album.
With so much success, we ask if it’s actually become difficult to follow Rule 62. Unafraid, she doubles down on the great hand she’s already holding.
“Oh my God, absolutely not!” she exclaims. “I always want more and I always want to get better and do better. If I were to die tomorrow I wouldn’t be happy with what I’ve achieved. I hope to achieve a lot more.”
Whitney Rose closes Goodnight Charlie’s Summer Music Series, 7 p.m. Thursday, August 2. 2531 Kuester. Free.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.