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IPR Music

Get Down To Earth With William Elliott Whitmore

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William Elliott Whitmore resides on the farm he grew up on in Lee County, Iowa, not too far from Keokuk, in the very bottom right corner of the state. The land continues to be a constant in the songwriter-musician's work. His new album, "I'm With You," is out now.

With roots in the black Iowa dirt, William Elliott Whitmore shares received wisdom on his new album "I'm With You."

William Elliott Whitmore resides on the farm he grew up on in Lee County, Iowa, not too far from Keokuk, in the very bottom right corner of the state. The land continues to be a constant in the songwriter-musician's work.

"The overarching theme of the album is sticking together. We do better when we remember to think of others and help each other out. That's why the cover is a pack of coyotes. They band together and watch each other's back."
William Elliott Whitmore

Whitmore's eighth full-length album "I'm With You" is his first of original material since 2015 and follows his 2018 covers album "Kilonova." The new release is his second for Chicago's Bloodshot Records.

It's been interesting for me to hear the music that songwriting musicians have come up with in response to the events of the past few years, particularly to 2020. I asked Whitmore about his new songs and how fitting they seem to be.

The set of songs on "I'm With You" work really well as a commentary on what's been happening this year. Are they new?

"(Most of) these songs were written in 2017-19. A lot of the themes I like to explore are truisms for any time period it seems. Human animals have patterns that we adhere to mostly. These cycles can be learned from if we pay attention. It's also easy to learn for a minute or two and then quickly go back to our old ways. I like to think of society as a brain that has certain neurological predilections, some good, some bad. Just like a human brain, new and better habits must be practiced to forge new synaptic pathways. It's possible but difficult."

On the album's very first song, "Put It to Use," you sing that "the sky ain't fallin' down, it's just hangin' low." It's the wisdom of the elders, and if we're ever going to listen to what they told us, now is the time.

"In 'Put It to Use" I wanted to delve into what it means to heed the good advice of our elders. I was fortunate to have parents and grandparents that had a lot of positive information for me. Not everyone has that necessarily but we glean wisdom from wherever we can. The song 'History' takes that thought further, to not only be heeding good advice, but leaving behind the bad advice. To try and avoid repeating mistakes if we can help it. Not only as a society but personally as well."

"History" contains the sly line that "the past can only make the present tense." Is this a political song?

"I'm actually sick of politics, but it remains a necessary evil it seems. It sneaks into my songwriting no matter what I do."

Tell us about the recording sessions and who's playing on the new album.

"The sessions were short, only about nine days total. As always, I took it as a chance to have my talented friends come in and help complete the sound. Brian Cooper (The Body Electric, Middle Western) came in and played some drums, as well as Mike Schulte (Pork Tornadoes, Hallways of Always, Dope Walker.) I got the legendary Iowa pedal steel master Dale Thomas to come in on a couple of tracks. He's played with Patsy Cline! My buddy Stephen 'The Kid' Howard (Middle Western) played some electric guitar on a track. Annie Savage came and lent her superb fiddle skills to the proceedings. I'd never had fiddle on a session before. I told her, 'just channel your inner Roy Acuff.' As always the whole thing was engineered and mixed by my cousin Luke Tweedy out at Flat Black Studios."

I love the lyric image of the ghost sitting in the old rocking chair reading "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" in the song "My Mind Can Be Cruel to Me." Tell us about the video for that song.

"The video was filmed in my little home studio by my friend Joel Anderson. We had to take safety protocols. We both wore masks and stayed distant from each other, and then after he pressed record on the camera he left the room and I took off my mask and did the take. Since I couldn't have my friends come and be the band in the video, I got some mannequins and dressed them up. It kind of went with the theme of your mind betraying you."

I think of the song "MK Ultra Blues" as kind of an entertaining public service, telling a Cold War-era story that many may not have heard. Why did you include that song on the record?

"'MK Ultra Blues' is my favorite song on this album. I wanted to showcase a certain kind of songwriting that I love, where it tells a specific story and has a distinct cadence. This is a piece of American history I've long been fascinated with. Again, our government repeating past atrocities, treating certain citizens like they don't matter."

The final song on the album is a celebration of the land.

"I wanted to end the album on a lighter note, an old song of mine called 'Black Iowa Dirt.' I've had this song for over twenty years and it's been a staple at the live shows, but it's never quite had a proper home on an album. You can tell it's one of the first songs I ever wrote. The lyrics are pretty silly actually, but it gets its point across."

So, here at the end of 2020, is there an overall message for listeners on "I'm With You?"

"The overarching theme of the album is sticking together. We do better when we remember to think of others and help each other out. That's why the cover is a pack of coyotes. They band together and watch each other's back."