In this episode of the Basic Folk podcast, host Cindy Howes chats with indie-folk singer/songwriter Denison Witmer about his newly released record American Foursquare, birdwatching, songwriting and more. The episode also includes a playthrough of Witmer’s song “Catalina Love.”
Despite a seven years hiatus, Witmer is back with an album that recounts the emotional processing of big life changes, namely relocating his family from Philadelphia all the way back to his hometown in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
“I’m thankful that we made the move. I mean that not in an ‘acceptance is the final stage of grief kind of way.’ I mean it in like, ‘I found acceptance in this decision, and I found peace in this decision.’ Because I’m experiencing a lot of joy being here and creatively I didn’t know how much I needed to go inward and not outward. In the city I was just looking at what’s around me and I was kind of pulling from like all of this stimulation of city life and friends,” he says.
He goes on to share a story of when he went on a cross-country road trip and his radio broke on the second day, leaving him to endure hours of silence on the road. He explains that when putting together this record he wanted to tap into that silence and give himself space to think freely.
“As I was writing this new record, and as I was trying to start to explore my music, great musical creativity, again, here in this house, I actually thought about that time. Some of my strongest mental breakthroughs personally happened when I had nothing to go on other than just my own thoughts, so I tried to focus on that,” Witmer explains.
As far as how Witmer got into music, he has Don Peris of indie-folk group The Innocence Mission to thank. Witmer shares that when doing guitar lessons with Peris, the musician encouraged Witmer to play his own way and eventually start recording.
“I was just a 17-year-old kid who was taking guitar lessons from the guitar player of their band,” Witmer said. “His name is Don Perris and I’m really thankful to him because he basically took me under his wing and said, ‘I think you have an interesting way of playing guitar, maybe guitar lessons isn’t the best thing for you. Maybe we should record some songs instead.’ And so he recorded my first album and helped me shape the songs, kind of produced the songs and helped me learn arranging.”
Later down the line it was Sufjan Stevens who recognized Witmer’s talents and signed him to his label, telling Witmer that his music is “art people should hear” and a “public service.”
With that endorsement from Stevens, check out Witmer’s “Catalina Love” below and his newest album American Foursquare. Be sure to listen to the rest of the episode on Basic Folk to get more details and tidbits.