Article and Photos by: Joerg Kliewe
After working and touring extensively with Daniel Lanois, Trixie Whitley is back on her own.
Lanois who has for years been a musical entrepreneur, has also evolved to become an in-demand producer for such top artists as Emmylou Harris, U2 and Neil Young.
When he started his Black Dub project in 2008, he called in Trixie Whitley as a singer. While on a world tour with Black Dub, Trixie kept writing new songs and finished her own debut album. She’s now back on the road again, performing and establishing herself as an outstanding and unique talent.
Her Black Dub experience and the musical legacy of her father, the unique Blues guitarist and musical genius, Chris Whitley, may have weighed heavy on young Trixies’s shoulder. But, once on stage, she makes clear that she is an artist with her own style, creativity and potential.
As a multi-instrumentalist she delivers her songs with a devotion and commitment that honors and reflects her respect for American music traditions.
And when it comes to guitars, Trixie is old school. On most songs she plays a vintage all mahogany Martin 0015 in open tuning. She also grabs an Epiphone Wilshire, along with a very cool and precious ’58 Supro Belmont, the same model that her father has taken on stage.
Moments before a recent show in Cologne, Germany, Guitar International’s Joerg Kliewe met with Trixie, a young woman with her own musical sensitivities, a powerful voice, and the instincts, drive and toughness to forge a long career.
Joerg Kliewe: To begin with I’d like to wish you a happy belated birthday, Trixie! [Trixie turned 25 just days before the interview.]
Trixie Whitley: Wow, how do you know? No one knows. I haven’t got any text messages. Well, thank you.
Joerg: Not even a birthday treat from the band to surprise you?
Trixie Whitley: Nope! I didn’t get a single call for my birthday, except from my mum and my uncle. [Chuckles]
Joerg: Besides that, what is your experience of the current tour so far? You had been extensively playing and touring with Daniel [Lanois] for the last two years: What’s different now?
Trixie Whitley: Yeah it’s great – you know, but it’s weird too. After Black Dub I kind of had a period where I just played solo. That was really good. And it’s now, of course, I realize I have been quite spoiled in terms of the musicians I’m used to playing with.
So, I’m kind of just trying to put a band together again – and it’s great. It’s really nice to able to play my own music again. At the same time I miss Daniel and Brian [Blade], you know. It’s inevitable, but I know we’ll play again in the future. I just really had to go on my own path. Because I started writing music way before I met Daniel.
When you enter Daniel’s world it’s like you’re all in his world and you can’t really do much aside from it. So, in that sense it’s been refreshing to be just able to do my own shit again, you know.
Joerg: But, I could imagine that it must have been quite a push to your career that at least might have given you the freedom to finally play your own music. Ain’t that so?
Trixie Whitley: Yeah – I mean in some ways. It’s like you see, I’m playing in a small club, I’m still just beginning. Daniel is huge amongst the real music fanatics but people of my generation have no idea who he is. It’s interesting, I see it much more as an amazing learning experience for me personally. I don’t think working with him for my solo music really did it. I was already doing stuff before I met Daniel.
It definitely introduced some people, but it’s still mainly Daniel’s fans. It’s a different crowd. His fans – in the meantime – they are a lot older than I am. I’m having to start to create my own following. It’s kind of like taking a step back again, you know. The luxury of touring with Black Dub of course – because Daniel was renown – that was amazing.
But ,I have to kind of start all over again. It’s like I say, taking a step forward with him was really educational for me, mainly. I think in terms of career, right now it’s like I almost have to take a step back again and kind of start over. That’s kind of the reality of the situation.
Joerg: Anyway, you seem to be very comfortable with it.
Trixie Whitley: Oh yeah, I’m fine. You know, I live in New York. It’s funny, in the meantime, it just helps you to get really humble. I mean in Europe I realize these young kids, they just start playing and like in a year time they are on these big stages, they get well paid, the get catering, they are on a tour…
Joerg: I know exactly what you mean, isn’t it weird?
Trixie Whitley: Yeah, but in New York you gotta hussle, you gotta work your ass off to get any recognition because you’re only… In a little county like Belgium I’m sure it’s very oriented for just a small region. But in the States you have to work so much harder to get to any kind of position. In that sense it is a luxury to be able to play in Europe.
Of course, I’m so thankful I have that luggage from playing with Daniel and Brian. I also realize just for now – I just turned 25 – I’m starting to not feel as young anymore as I did.
Joerg: Come on, give me break.
Trixie Whitley: I used to always be like the young kid. Now it’s different, it’s still cool though. I’m still super young and I think the musical luggage that I have is amazing for my age. But, career wise I’m still kind of just getting started.
Joerg: So, the show tonight will present to us the new album you had just finished?
Trixie Whitley: Some of it ,yeah. It just got mastered two weeks ago. I’m still very much in the beginning phase of like trying to put the band together and sing how I’m going to trans like the music live.
Like I say, I’ve been doing so much solo stuff and with Daniel. Just because I went back and forth a lot in the years that I was working with Daniel, basically the bands that I had in New York – in the meantime people moved on with their lives, you know. I kind of have to like starting to find new flesh to work with. The phase that I’m in right now is like I’m kind of just getting it all starting again.
Joerg: So you produced the album by yourself?
Trixie Whitley: Pretty much, I did it with a friend, with Thomas Bartlett. We just did it really just the two of us. I didn’t get any help from them guys. I mean, Brian really wanted to, but he is never around.
Joerg: Did you record in the U.S. or in Europe?
Trixie Whitley: Yeah, in New York. I just did it with a close friend. I just kind of realized that, Especially nowadays that’s the misinterpretation I think a lot of people have. They think, “Oh you worked with Daniel Lanois, so you are going to make it right away.”
That’s not the reality. In terms of when you are looking at true musical integrity, I just feel like I have to take my own path. It’s great that there is like certain big names that are really supportive, but it’s not like if Robert Plant or something or whatever – I mean that is amazing, but it’s not a long term thing!
It’s like someone will come in that’s cool, but at the end of the line I have to bring this shit on the stage. It’s a big journey and it’s a lot of stuff to think about.
Joerg: So, no Black Dub tonight – it’s a completely different story, right?
Trixie Whitley: Yeah it’s completely solo stuff. This is what I realized after working with them guys, that Black Dub it was really Daniel’s project. We were kind of in function of him. Brian and I we were almost like working for Daniel. There was no room for us to really much aside of that.
With my own record I was working on all this songs and as I said, Daniel is not involved on the record. It’s just really coming back to the essence of what I do musically. I’m excited, just being able to play again and do my own music is special. I just feel like I wanna serve the music.
But, the music has a journey it has to take, you know. You can only serve the music well when you let it flourish in the time that it needs to flourish.
Joerg: Will there be dates in the U.S.?
Trixie Whitley: Yeah, but that’s gonna be like in the fall. I might have to do it like I’m striking, like I’m playing shitty little clubs, you don’t get paid much – it’s challenging. People think it’s so glamorous, but it’s not really at all.
Joerg: One last question I ask all working musicians these days. What is your opinion to the ongoing dispute of copyrights, ownership of music and illegal downloads?
Trixie Whitley: Man, it’s a tough discussion. In one sense I think the Internet has opened up a world for certain musicians that would have never been heard otherwise. In that sense I think it’s great.
And it’s tough, it’s like I say, to keep playing these shows, you hardly get paid when you play these little clubs, and you put so much work into music. Part of me is like: it’s priceless.
And in the other sense, I understand that certain musicians don’t do well live and they are studio rats. But, I think the Internet and the whole online community opened up a whole other world that didn’t exist 20 years ago. That has actually given artists kind of an opportunity to do things differently and to be heard and to not be a sell out artist.
You don’t have to be signed to a major label. And you can get your shit out there! People will hear it, if the music there. If your fans really love your work – it’s like the Radiohead experiment. Of course they had established themselves where they were just kind of experimenting like “Let’s just give it for free”, and see what people will do.
It was their best selling album and they made more money off of it than they ever did. In my position, for instance, I do really well with merchandize and I tell people. I hate selling. I feel that music is priceless. No money can really buy the amount of work and thought that some people put into it.
Personally, I find it more valuable that I made a work of art and people can listen too it, than for lesser people to hear and actually pay for it. I’d rather have more people come into this world and pay what they want.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because I’m so young and I’m like coming up in this generation. But, I’m old school in a sense where I go to the record store, I order my vinyl, I get my shit. I have never downloaded a song before. I don’t have an iTunes account – I don’t know how it works.
So, I know that for my generation, I’m really old school in that sense. I think there’s a lot of pros and a lot of cons and it’s really what you gotta focus on are the pros! The positive stuff is that, you can actually get your stuff out there. People are hearing it – those that want to.
How can you be creative with that? So that’s kind of my scope on the whole Internet downloading thing and stuff.
What does really piss me off is when people share shit. I started noticing when people recording shows and they put it online and people would download it. That’s not what I want them to hear.
Joerg: I see your band is already waiting to take you on stage. So, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us so close before the show and good luck with the upcoming dates!