Trixie Whitley is refreshingly complex: vibrant and lively, but when she opens her mouth to sing, her voice wields the force of an old soul who once drowned her sorrows in whiskey and wants you to feel what she feels. Earlier this year, the part-time New Yorker released Live At Rockwood Music Hall—a six-track EP that is lightly laced with charming imperfections. Now, Whitley has taken to the studio with producer Thomas Bartlett to record her first full-length album (due out this fall) and recently took some time out to talk to us about her nomadic childhood, her time with Daniel Lanois, and the breathtaking video for her song “A Thousand Thieves,” which went viral.
HOMETOWN: Born in Belgium, raised between New York and Europe
HER NAME: Yes, it is my given name. My parents were both musicians and artists, and I have an eccentric background, but actually, funny enough, I think they got it from The Honeymooners.
ON TOURING AS A CHILD: It taught me so much. It taught me a lot of focus and that I was obviously never going to have a normal life—that’s one thing that became really clear at a very young age. I missed out on a lot of school because I was touring all the time. I was working with a lot of professional companies so I was always the only child that was there. With the [modern] dance company, I danced with [everyone from] Russian prima ballerinas, [to] Argentinian salsa dancers, to breakdancers from New York, so it was very eclectic. I was exposed to a lot of traveling at a very young age and a lot of really, really talented people but also realized that there was no way I would be able to function in a “normal” society.
SIMULTANEOUSLY GOOD & EVIL: The fact that I am really sensitive. That’s something I could definitely live without, at various times. But I also feel like it’s one of my strengths, for my creativity. I am a really fucking emotional being, which is kind of challenging.
ON DANIEL LANOIS: I was a huge fan of his. I grew up with a lot of his records and I went to a show of his a couple of summers back. He was playing with Sinead O’Connor and Brian Blade, and I happened to stumble upon him after his show. I had just recorded my first EP and, somehow, I had the balls to give him an EP. I didn’t expect him to listen to it at all, but I basically got a call from him a few months later saying, “I’m going to be in Boston. I want to meet up with you. I listened to your EP. Do you want to come to the show? I have a few things on the horizon…” So I did. I had just written this song called “I’d Rather Go Blind” and we did that as an experiment to see if we could work together. That extended to becoming a whole group project. Daniel started this band, Black Dub, and I became the lead singer of it and I also played drums in it and from there, the ball started rolling.
MOST MEMORABLE LIVE SHOW: I have to say Antony & the Johnsons. You get out and your heart is just shaken up, which for a lot of people is really frightening and terrifying but I find it really admirable that someone can make you feel so much.
HER CHILDHOOD IDOL: One of the first concerts that I remember that had a major impact on my life was Bootsy Collins. Boot actually took me up on stage. I was six. That show changed my life. He became my first idol. I started recording mixed tapes and sending them to Bootsy Collins, hoping that he would write me back.
ON FINDING INSPIRATION: I try to write on a daily basis, and most of the stuff that I write is total crap, but every once in a while, something will pop up that can inspire a song. I always try to be as sensitive as possible to my surroundings and really observe everything that I see, and translate that into metaphors. Living in New York is really inspiring in that way too.
ON GIVING IT ALL UP: I think I was 20 years old when I decided, “Ok. I’m going to go and lead a normal life, and go to college.” That same month I got the call from Daniel [Lanois] saying that he wanted to work together. So I’ve had times where I’ve really craved normalcy. I’ve had that a lot, but giving up on music—it’s not even really a choice I feel I have. Music is like breathing for me. I just need it so much. I can’t live without it. The professional side that comes along with it? I’ve definitely questioned numerous times.
ARTS IN THE USA: There is something that I really, really respect. It’s something that I love in the States and why I also believe that so much great, great art comes from the States as well. It really sucks that there is so little support from the government over here for the arts, but at the same time it enhances a lot of the struggle to make art, which I feel is also really productive. If you have to fight for your life to make what you want to make, it really forces you to push the envelope and to make something new and fresh.
THE NOWNESS VIDEO: Thomas Barlett, who I am making my record with, he gives these salons in New York and everyone plays these completely different things than they usually would. He invited me to play at one of these salons last year. I played a couple songs and Matthu Placek happened to be there and kind of flipped out. That same night we all went out afterwards, dancing, and Matthu approached me and said, “I have to make a video of you! And I have to do it for this song that you played.” I hadn’t even recorded that song yet. But Matthu was there that night and he had this entire idea in his mind already and he just moved forward with it right away. He said, “I’m going to make this happen. I want to see this come together.”
SLOW & STEADY WINS THE RACE: I’m just kind of riding the wave and not trying to force anything. In terms of my career, I’m a hard worker and I like to know that I’ve earned whatever comes to me, that it wasn’t forced because of the right business decision. I like the fact that I work hard at what I do and it can be recognized for what it is.
FOR MORE ON TRIXIE WHITLEY, VISIT HER WEBSITE.