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Interview with LA-based Musician Whitton

October 3, 2011
Whitton

Photo by Natalie Gamble

Jaime Whitton (known musically as simply Whitton) just released her album Rare Bird Sept. 24. Her music has been featured in feature films Meth Head and She Wants Me (her vocals have even appeared on Dexter!), and she won Best Female Acoustic Artist at the New York Music Festival. Girl Germs intern Emma had a chance to chat with the Reno, Nevada-born, LA-based singer-songwriter about the new record and her unique, vintage-inspired sound.

Girl Germs: Tell me about your sound — it seems almost like a cross between Joanna Newsom and Billie Holiday, especially on Rare Bird. How did you arrive at this mix between folk and ‘40s?

Whitton: I admire both of these inspiring women very much. Stemming from the same tree, they both have something in common and that’s truth… in their lyrics and vulnerable voice… Yet they’re completely different styles of music. I’m honored to remind you of such greatness. How did I come upon this mix? Well, it’s kinda what has poured of me, naturally. When I met my producer Ian Coyne, I was singing while playing acoustic guitar to a crowd of four people. Just by myself with my guitar, I lean more in the simplistic folk genre like Joanna Newsom. We decided to get together and talk about future recording possibilities. Being brilliant in his craft, I think Ian dissected the characteristics of my singing voice and we built around it. I’ve always had a love for ‘30s/’40s classic music: Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, etc. It was fantastic mixing the two styles in this album.

I’m also really interested in your guest vocalist stint on Dexter. How did the opportunity arise? What was it like? Would you do TV again in the future?

I had a great time singing as a guest vocalist on one of Dexter’s songs. I met the composer, Dan Licht, and spent an evening at his recording studio experimenting with ghostly vocal sounds that added an eerie atmosphere to the song. I never appeared on TV physically, but my voice did!

On your MySpace page, you talk a little about what tough times these are for musicians. How are you navigating the changing industry? What is it like for someone whose sound is more of a nod to the classics, rather than pop? What advice would you give to those just entering it?

Well, I can’t give too much advice on this because I’m still entering! I just try to keep trucking along with the gifts I possess and try to share it with the world. To me, the only real way of getting a strong foot in the door is creating buzz—a fan base. And how to do that is touring and TV/film placement. If you’re lucky to get a great publicist, that’s like having a cherry on top. They get you interviews and reviews online and press in the cities you tour through. It’s an arduous battle representing yourself. You can do it…but most people don’t like to deal with the artist. Besides, being a salesperson isn’t one of my best qualities, I must say. Trying to pitch yourself wears you out—or at least me. I think I’m lucky to have a classic pop/singer-songwriter appeal because my music seems to be pretty universal. Who don’t love classic music? Who doesn’t love singer-songwriter music? And who doesn’t love popular music?

Ten-song albums always seemed a bit on the short side to me, but this year’s releases have really changed my mind: The Decemberists, Bon Iver and most recently one of Minnesota’s own, Caroline Smith. How did you decide on this length yourself? Was it difficult to limit the number of songs?

Of course it’s difficult to limit the number of songs! I had a handful of tunes that I wanted to put on my new album, but I try to put songs together that make a nice thread of emotion, color and sound. And it also came down to budget as well! Ha ha ha! Which was probably a blessing in disguise, because I’d still be working on it and wouldn’t have released it yet!

What are your plans for 2012? Will you mostly be promoting your new album? Are there any other projects on the horizon? 

Uh, 2012 is going to be very interesting on so many levels. I’m anxious to see how it all unfolds. My plan is to promote Rare Bird while touring the majority of the year. And in the early spring, I’ll begin to record my next album with the ever so talented producer/musician, Jon Avila (Oingo Boingo) and the extremely gifted musician, Ben Burget (Big Bad Voodoo Daddy/Erykah Badu).

Just for fun—if you could play a concert anytime, anywhere, and with anyone, what would it be? Venue? Time period? Fellow musicians?

Well, in the future my ultimate venue would be the Hollywood Bowl and I would have a stunning visual performance on screen behind me throughout my show. But right now at my current status, I’d LOVE to perform at the Largo in Los Angeles with any of these marvelous acts: Rufus Wainwright, Andrew Bird, Colin Hay, Ray LaMontagne, Jesca Hoop, Damien Rice and/or Amos Lee.

–Emma Nelson

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