Whetherman-This Land album review/Interview
The first time I heard Whetherman’s music was about six years ago. Wordkrapht was not yet a thing, but the site that used to be Indie Music Reviewer was alive and thriving. I was assigned to review his 2011 release, Wind in The Trees. I was hooked immediately to his soulful and sunny approach to folk music, and yes I’ll admit. I’m a sucker for all songs featuring the harmonica and ukulele. My only regret? Giving the album 4/5 stars instead of 5. Nick my friend, please accept my sincerest apologies.
Over the course of six years not only did I get to watch his career steadily grow more and more successful, I continued to cover and follow Whetherman’s path and even got the chance to see him perform in my own hometown. Nicholas Williams, the man behind Whetherman is one of the hardest working musicians you will ever have the pleasure of encountering. After making music for ten years, completing multiple tours across the US and Europe we’re still trying to figure out how he does it without the help of any label. Next month Williams will be releasing his eighth album (ninth if you count his day trotter session) and it’s his most poignant and introspective album to date. For this album, Williams penned songs about life, love and even gets political. After listening to This Land, I sat down and penned a few questions for him of my own. What follows below is the interview. We talk about the album, dealing with opposing viewpoints (and how he deals with internet trolls) and so much more.
The last time we caught up with you was when Seeds For Harvest was released in 2015. Including your day trotter session and your yet-to-be-released album This Land, you have 9 albums under belt. What is the biggest piece of advice you can give other independent artists who are feeling discouraged about making a career for themselves with their music?
I think it’s completely normal to feel discouraged, so don’t let that stand in the way of creating something. Just like life, this career choice has many ups and downs. That’s kind of the never ending inner battle all artists go through, and the things you learn when you get through those dips leads to great things. The struggle continues, that’s just the way it goes and if you’re not into that, you may want to choose a different path.
How was the process of recording This Land different than your previous albums?
A lot of things were different. I did all of the tracking in Chromatic Studios’ brand new space in Jacksonville, a tall mostly brick room with beautiful natural acoustics that you can hear strewn throughout the record. I was far more prepared than I ever have been as far as efficiency in the studio is concerned. I recorded to a click (metronome) on some of my guitar and vocal tracks for the first time, and I had some new folks add their talents to the album as well. I did 95% of the editing, and a very small portion of the mixing, which was a nice balance for me.
There is a strong sense of political undertones on this album, especially with the song, “What Am I Supposed To think?” How did that song come to be?
Originally, I had 13 songs on this record planned before I got into the studio in November of 2016. When the election was finished and Trump was sworn into office in January, this song had apparently been brewing inside me. In mid-February, I took a trip to Kansas City after months of tracking and editing, to perform and be a part of my first Folk Alliance International Conference, the largest gathering for folk music in the world. The theme was “Forbidden Folk”, true to the unearthing insights of folk pioneers Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, but with the modern twist of our current political environment. One particular performance stuck with me, when I saw Joe Purdy perform. His entire new album is of the strongest mental caliber when talking about injustice, the environment, politics, humanity and all the things that I am striving to become more aware and a part of. While driving back towards Nashville, I wrote this song.
Right now there is a very clear divide on where people stand politically. Everyone has strong opinions and wants to put in their two cents. How do you handle people who tell you to just stick to music and stay out of politics?
It certainly is a time of entitlement and opinions as facts. We all could use a dose of “to each their own” and that would settle a lot of the discord. I truly think it’s absurd to think that anyone’s profession should prevent them from having an opinion, or that they should keep it to themselves. My specific profession gives me a platform to spread whatever my beliefs are, and I think of musicians as a voice or a tool of observation for humanity. We sing and play about life, in all forms. So in many ways, it’s my duty to sing about how I feel, or about what I see in the world. If anyone didn’t see it coming from me, they weren’t paying attention to the lyrics. All the songs about nature, compassion and morality, finding your own path to enlightenment, being a better person, loving the earth, cherishing your relationships while they last… It’s all there! This country was founded on freedom of speech, and I’m intolerable when it comes to people who think otherwise.
Though you are intolerable I have seen firsthand how you deal with people who disagree with your beliefs, or the fact that you state your beliefs on your artist page on social media, and the amount of respect and tact you show is nothing short of impressive. I think that’s something everyone should be able to take away from all of this. We’re all in this together so showing respect and kindness can go a long way.
While all the songs on This Land are exemplary, the album’s closing track “Tides” really stuck out for me. What’s the story behind the song?
I’m glad to hear you enjoy it, I actually have yet to play that song live. It needs the right situation to be experienced properly, because it requires a type of silence and meditative quality that is hard to come by in most musical atmospheres. It started its life as a poem, but I found my own mental space to start singing it one time with the classical guitar in hand, and found myself kind of floating off into the ether or what have you. I’m a bit of a moon child, or so my wife says. I can’t help but point it out every time I see it to her or whoever is standing near me. The song is about its impact on us. If you’ve ever been near the ocean or a large body of water, it’s amazing what the moon does to move it around. Since humans are made up of around 60% water, it’s only logical to believe that we are heavily effected by its cycle. I’m far from the first person to assume this, but I think there’s a big “hippy” assumption that comes with it, when truly it’s scientific.
When I was listening to the song, I was actually thinking how great it would sound live and in person. It’s so interesting hearing about the journey the song takes you the artist and then the listener once it’s created. I do hope that when you do play it live someone is around to capture it for those of us who aren’t there to witness it! Last question: What are your plans for the rest of 2017 and beyond for Whetherman?
This year is all about touring and promoting this new record for me. I’m hitting the north and southern east coast hard, as well as Midwest and eventually heading west in the fall. By the end of this year, my goal is to start working with a booking agency that is in line with my mission as a folk singer-songwriter. I’m hoping to begin to divvy out the responsibilities holding me back in my career with people or independent companies I trust. In 2018, I’m planning to be overseas quite a bit in Southeast Asia, Australia/NZ, Europe and the UK if all goes accordingly. Beyond that is beyond me!
Special thanks to Nicholas Williams for taking the time to answer some questions. This Land will be released June 16th. Connect with Williams below to stay up to date on releases and show dates!
Album Name: This Land
Release Date: June, 2017
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Folk
Location: Jacksonville, FL