Bonnie Whitmore is doing just fine. Or at least that’s what the Austin, Texas singer-songwriter tells herself in her radiant new single, “Fine,” which premieres below with an accompanying video.
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“I think we’ve all had one of those situations where you’re like, ‘I’m not fine right now, but I will be,’” Whitmore recently told me over the phone. “Like, ‘I need to be in this moment, I need to have this expression, but this is not me all the time.’ And for me, I think the song is about the connection in a relationship when you go from an “I” to a “we.” It’s always good to make sure the other [person] is okay and be able to have an open conversation about when things are not.”
“Fine”—co-written by Jaimee Harris—is the third single off Whitmore’s forthcoming album, Last Will & Testament, which she views as a sequel to 2016’s Fuck With Sad Girls. What starts out as a head-bobbing, foot-tapping country tune builds into something triumphant. Whitmore’s voice shines as she belts the final chorus: “Know whatever you decide / I’ll be fine.”
We caught up with Whitmore about her new album, her old family band called Daddy and the Divas, and her love of Austin’s music community. Check out the full interview and watch Whitmore’s “Fine” video—directed by fellow ATX artist Sloane Lenz—below.
American Songwriter: Where are you right now? Where’s home at the moment?
Bonnie Whitmore: I’m in Austin. I’ve been living here collectively for about 15 years. I moved to Nashville for a little while then I moved back to Austin.
Can you walk us through the writing and production of your new album?
I think of Last Will & Testament as a sequel to my previous record. This is my fourth release in total. My last record was called Fuck With Sad Girls, and it kind of about vulnerability and dialogue in that direction, and a lot of those songs are personalized to me. [With Last Will & Testament,] I was wanting to go into deep conversations about mental health and gun issues and racial division and political divides and rape culture. I wanted to try to get all of that in there.
Musically, how does the fare on Last Will and Testament compare to the fare on Fuck With Sad Girls?
It’s a lot of the same musicians and that’s why I also feel it’s a sequel. Scott Davis and I co-produced this one, whereas with the last one I just let everybody take producing credit. Craig Bagby is on drums. This time we have Trevor Nealon on keys (Jared Hall had been on Fuck With Sad Girls). We recorded at Ramble Creek with Britton Biesenherz. We knew that we worked well together, we knew that we had synchronicity. Getting in the studio and being creative together kind of feels like we all get to turn into our 12-year-old selves, just playing with our favorite toys. There’s a lot of camaraderie.
Scott and I have a history that goes back to the days of touring with Hayes Carll. He used to play with the Band of Heathens, but he’s done a lot of work also as a producer himself. I play bass on the record, so I’m leading from that position of the band and there’s just a lot of extra textures that you can play with—especially with Scott’s canvas and my canvas coming together.
We got together in about five days and knocked out the record. We took one extra day to add strings and horns but everything else was just us being in there for about five days. We played the tracks live so you’re getting the drums, the bass, the guitar, the keys all at the same time. Then we came back to do the vocals and the extra textures.
What’s the story or message behind “Fine” in particular? What do you hope listeners take away from it?
I wrote that one with Jaimee Harris. That was the first time that she and I sat down and wrote a song. When we wrote it, it was kind of like, ‘And that’s a hit song!’ Whether it becomes anything is not in my control but I love that we created something that [gave us that feeling.] It was really the first time with a co-write where it wasn’t just me wanting to sing the song, it was both of us. It’s also been covered by one of our best friends, BettySoo. So it’s not just something that you want to sing, it’s something that other people want to sing and sing along with.
I think we’ve all had one of those situations where you’re like, ‘I’m not fine right now, but I will be.’ Like, ‘I need to be in this moment, I need to have this expression, but this is not me all the time.’ And for me, I think the song is about the connection in a relationship when you go from an “I” to a “we.” It’s always good to make sure the other [person] is okay and be able to have an open conversation about when things are not.
How’d the music video come together?
That’s Sloane Lenz, and she’s just amazing! She and her brother do some really amazing art together and I really love her mind. There’s this collection of visual artists in Austin that have been really fun to connect with and work with. I reached out to her and she was able to come up with this texture and I love it!
How would you describe that texture?
Combustion. There’s the joy of the laughter and the joy of the conflict and those awkward moments. I feel like she’s able to make that come across with the videos she chose from.
Do you know any of the source materials?
No, I didn’t ask. I feel like that’s asking what she uses for her magic! That’s her recipe.
Better leave it a secret.
Right. I do know she cultivates that—finding certain things.
I read that you used to play in a band with your parents and sister. What was that like? And do you see any throughlines between the music you grew up listening to or playing with your family and the music you’re making now?
My sister is Eleanor of the Mastersons, so she and I both took the path of music and part of that is that we grew up in a musical family. I think a lot of people come to music by discovering it on their own and not necessarily through their parents, and that definitely offsets the way that you approach music. But we had a family band!
My mom is actually a classically trained opera singer and vocal coach so there was a requirement in the Whitmore family to be a musician—to play and sing and do it well. I think we were going to either go the path of music or we were going to go the path of flying airplanes. That was the scope—anywhere in there, we were good to go.
What was your family band called?
Daddy and the Divas!
What type of stuff would your parents play around you growing up?
I remember less about the songs being played than the songs that we learned. My dad’s influence was a lot of folk and country. Gordon Lightfoot was someone I know that they really loved. There’s a lot of music that I’m not sure I’ve heard the original of—I only have my dad’s version of it. Like there’s an Ian & Sylvia song that I had never heard until recently where I was like, “Oh, that’s where that came from!?” In some ways I just thought they were my dad’s songs unless I had heard them on the radio. We did a lot of pop country stuff. We did a lot of George Strait with my sister on the fiddle.
So was your family band mostly working in this folk / country mode? What did Daddy and the Divas sound like?
It was definitely folk-y country. My dad did do some writing and some of it was kinda goofy. The chiggers song is one of the ones that I remember, and that was about my sister getting covered in chigger bites. That was one of my dad’s funny songs that maybe just seemed funny at the time.
There were a lot of things that I knew were only within my own unit. Like when I tried to talk to other kids about flying planes, that wasn’t a thing that you connected to a lot of people with.
Have you found more of a music community in Austin?
Yeah, I love being in Austin. We really take care of each other. Before the Affordable Care Act was passed we had HAAM, which is health insurance for musicians, and the SIMS Foundation, which gives us the opportunity to have therapy. I’ve only seen a music community like that here, where it’s part of the ethos of the city. Being the live music capital, they really try to do what they can to help the musicians.
How will you celebrate your record release during this strange time?
Well I had a residency at the Continental Gallery here in town. The gallery is this little upstairs room at the Continental Club. To me, that club is church. That’s where I would go to see Jon Dee Graham and Heybale. There are people there weekly that I will go to see play because I love their music, and that’s something that’s normalized here.
We’ve been doing a Zoom-style show weekly with different guests. That’s been a good way to connect with people and have people participate in something that I was consistently doing anyway. It’s been a really nice and cathartic thing for me, so I’ve been keeping that going as part of the release. I plan on doing a special thing the weekend of the release.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about the record?
I feel like right now a lot of people are hurting. It’s a very trying period for a lot of people. So this record to me is about wanting to not be afraid or shy away from having difficult conversations. You need to have those with yourself and with the people you love and you care about. So that’s really what I’m hoping to help create with this.
When I was told “shut up and sing”—after watching what The Chicks went through—I didn’t take that as ‘I should stop talking about what I want to talk about’ but that I needed to then sing about what I want to talk about. A lot of the songs on this record are about me asking questions because I genuinely want to understand why we are going through this and how we can fix it. That’s what I feel is really important about getting this type of music out there, especially right now. We’ve got a lot of healing to get to and we’re not there yet. People are needing to have something that they can relate to or that can lift their spirits or [make them] feel like they’re not alone. That’s important to me right now.