WhitPhoto by Belicia Luevano, courtesy of Mad Whitaker
Mad Whitaker sounds almost unreasonably comfortable discussing crippling creative blocks, the ingrown fear that stifles life goals and the grit required to take an unflinching look at one’s self in order to grow. Whitaker’s no self-help guru, but she is the creative force behind the pop-prog-art rock band Whit. The Houston-born, Austin-based group’s newest music focuses on these themes and fans can get a first listen and glimpse of Whit’s new music this week at a single/video release at Red Dwarf HTX.
Whitaker is also guitarist for the patriarchy-smashing garage punk outfit, Sailor Poon. While on that band’s last tour, she read The War of Art, the 2002 non-fiction tome about knocking down creative barriers. Some of the book’s notions reflected the work she and her Whit bandmates Mason Hankamer, Paul Pinon and Juliana Silveira were doing for their approaching album.
“It really helped solidify or encapsulate a lot of this work I’ve been doing with my Whit songs because what I’ve been fighting and facing is my own enemy, the enemy within, or what the book calls ‘the resistance,’ and it wants to keep you from doing work for you to serve your purpose and it wants to kill you,” Whitaker said. “It knows you really well and it knows when you’re weak and it knows all of your fears and even talking to you right now, working on this release – I’m really fucking scared. Something that this book talks about is if you’re scared but you’re getting closer to what you want, then that’s the best navigator. That means you’re doing the right thing. Your fear is the enemy’s weapon, but it’s also a great compass.”
Whitaker is convinced she’s on the right path and she’s eager to guide others in this direction through her music. So, the band is breaking the first single from the upcoming album this week. The song is titled “Hand It Over,” and the single and its video are both slated to drop near the end of the release event, which includes multimedia experimental artist T Lavois Thiebaud and a special ensemble set from Darwin’s Finches.
Whitaker shared a sneak preview of the video, which was directed by Austin artist MJ Haha, with the Houston Press.
“So, I’ve been playing the single “Hand It Over” live for a while because we’re working on our record right now, so I wanted to give a sleeper track or a little sneak peek to what’s to come with the rest of the record,” Whitaker said. “We’re kind of going with a poppier one first.
“It’s a song that I wrote on a porch of somebody else’s house. I was just kind of feeling alone in a crowded room, like literally, you know? Just kind of seen and not heard - maybe even seen. I just grabbed somebody else’s guitar and started entertaining myself with this song. It’s kind of also about wanting what you can’t have and waiting. You can’t make people do things that you want them to do. I guess that’s the place I was coming from.”
“I had this vision for the video, Brady Bunch style with the nine frames, white background and it was all hands choreography – shaking hands, playing instruments, etcetera – and MJ is the one that actually shot it and directed it and made all the props for it and did a really thorough job. I’m so pleased with the way it looks because it looks exactly how it looked in my brain. I feel like it’s the goal for the art to come out to be what the vision is initially, you know? I feel like she did a really superb job of doing that.”
Austin music veteran Jim Campo produced and engineered the track. He and Whitaker have been working on the new Whit music, the follow-up to the five year-old band’s acclaimed 2017 release Wait, What?, at his Austin studio.
“He’s really helped to bring these songs into their truest form and I’m really pleased, I’m really grateful, I’m really happy,” she said. "I've been working on this for like a year, year and a half.”
Whitaker said they hope to release a second video and the as-yet-unnamed album by the fall. The album may be a work in progress with no dedicated title yet, but Whitaker clearly knows its theme.
“A lot of these songs are coming from a place where I kind of had to start over with myself and look at myself more honestly in the mirror and look at the world as a mirror as well,” Whitaker explained. “So it’s really about building one’s self from the ground up again and re-wiring the brain and learning how to be your own best friend and how to talk to yourself and how to be real with yourself at the same time. I feel like that’s a really hard balance.”
“I feel like that’s where I am, so that’s where all of these songs have come from. I’m really grateful for where I am now because I feel like I’m a lot stronger from the very broken place I was when I wrote all of these songs. Some of them are deep, some of them I hope make you cry, and some of them, I want them to empower you.”
Whit shares “Hand It Over,” the first single and video release from its upcoming album, 8 p.m. Thursday, March 5 at Red Dwarf HTX, 1011 McGowen. With T Lavois Thiebaud and Darwin’s Finches. $5.
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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.