William Elliott Whitmore
William Elliott Whitmore
Animals In The Dark
When William Elliott Whitmore picks up his banjo or guitar and sings through those weathered lungs about “animals in the dark” or “old devils,” he’s referring to a very specific set of hidden hands: They’re the same ones that have been wrapped around America’s throat for the last eight years, and they belong to guys with surnames like Bush, Cheney and Wolfowitz. As Whitmore points out on Animals In The Dark, those hands have always been there-it’s just that nobody’s used them to crush our collective trachea quite so thoroughly. Such political ruminations aren’t nearly as much of a departure for the 30-year-old singer/songwriter as they might seem to be. His last three albums-stark, poetic and instantly memorable-have been more personal in nature, detailing the trials and tribulations of his life on an Iowa farm, but his calloused-palm sense of triumph over adversity has always been there. Though every song on Animals In The Dark, aside from the timeless “Who Stole The Soul” and the brilliant barroom sing-along “Hell Or High Water,” might not be as immediately infectious as Whitmore’s previous work, repeat listens yield rich and profound rewards. (ANTI-; anti.com) J. Bennett
Lucero’s That Much Further West
Richie Havens’ Richard P. Havens, 1983
Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’
IN-STORE SESSION WITH WILLIAM ELLIOTT WHITMORE
If someone heard your records before seeing a photo of you, they might assume you’re a 60-year-old black man instead of a 30-year-old white man. So, here’s a question from my dad: How much work have you had done?
Oh, man-that’s awesome. [Laughs.] Well, I used to smoke a lot. I’ve been singing all my life, and just from hollering every day and opening up for all these loud punk bands I’d tour with, I developed this style of singing as loud as I could just to get people’s attention. After awhile, it started wearing on my fucking pipes, so I had to quit the cigs. But I take that as a super high compliment because I hope what people mean when they say that is that [my voice] has a timbre that they like.
There’s a genuine timeless quality to your music and lyrics, the kind of quality that seems to be lacking in a lot of contemporary music. When you write songs, are you thinking in those terms?
I definitely think about that. When I write, I’m trying to understand things that happen to me and to the world, and that’s how I kind of sort things out. So I’ve always tried to develop a style that’s simple and, like you said, applicable a hundred years from now and a hundred years ago. There are truisms that keep popping up again and again, so I try to write in a universal way so anyone can understand it or draw something from it.
The political songs on Animals In The Dark are written in a way that recalls George Orwell’s Animal Farm. At the time that book came out, most people understood it as an allegory for Stalin’s rise to power, but today, readers can appreciate the book’s lessons without necessarily knowing the historical context-and it’s no less powerful.
Yeah, that’s a great way to put it. When those veils start getting lifted as you get older and those things you swore were true turn out to not be true, things get a little darker and you think, well, maybe the government is kind of evil after all. It’s like your innocence gets taken away a little bit. But as long as humans are the way they are, there will always be people trying to control other people.
The album’s title is your metaphor for the Bush administration. How did you arrive at that particular turn of phrase?
It’s definitely a metaphorical reference to the George Bushes, the Paul Wolfowitzes, the Tom DeLays; the people who control our lives behind closed doors. But it also applies quite literally to the animals outside my cabin on the farm. At night, especially in the spring, you can hear the owls’ mating ritual, and it’s quite a wonderful dialogue. There are also dogs howling, coyotes howling, raccoons making all kinds of noise; and I kinda like to join in, too. I’ll run out my door and give a big coyote howl just to get ’em going. It’s my way of getting in on the conversation. [JB]