Whitney Rosalise's music has a mysterious, almost supernatural power. While there are shades of Joanna Newsom, Grouper, Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser and Celtic folk in the mix, the overall effect is a mesmerizing and intimate take on indie-folk that is wholly unique. We are extremely fortunate to share a brand new interview with Rosalise about how her new album Superneutrality was born in the aftermath of a 2016 accident that challenged her will to live, her writing process and what inspires her about music in Kansas City.
Please introduce yourself. Describe your music for new listeners.
My name is Whitney Rosalise Hiebert and I’m a multi-instrumentalist, composer, singer-songwriter and poetess with a new song-book I wrote called “Vacayvay”. I just recently released a few of my songs from this book onto an album called “Superneutrality”. I think it’s safe to say my music sounds pretty dreamy, like a beautiful and spacious soundscape to me.
Talk about your new album as Vacayvay, Superneutrality. How long had you been working on it? What were some of the challenges in finishing it?
Ha-ha yes, most definitely. It took me about a year to write and every kind of difficulty challenged the recording of it. In 2016, I was in an accident where I lost almost everything; my car, my job, my health, and I became so poor that I was standing in food lines to feed my broken body. I basically lived on grits and watered-down coffee for over a year just to try and make a dent into expenses that I in no way knew how to afford. I lost my health and most my will to live. I was also going through a grieving process for my family as my mother was going through a series of cancer treatments for a terminal condition, so most of my days were a wash of grief, the kind where you lose track of the days and you can’t remember the last time you showered and it’s kind of a miracle I survived. In consideration of that time, I think the season really challenged me to start asking some thoughtful questions that thematically disperse themselves throughout the entirety of my album. The writing of it started one day when I made a joke to my friend by saying I needed to take a vacation away, but the truth was I couldn’t afford one, all I could afford was my single notebook I had in my hands; just this small dollar-store find that I found at the bottom of the $1 bin. Since I couldn’t afford to take a vacation away, I remember telling them, I could afford to write away in this little book and that's when I started calling that taking a “Vacayvay” away (a “vacay” like “vacation” with a “vay!” like a “yay!”). I went missing for a good portion of that year just writing into a book I called a vacation. Regardless of how or why, my writing vacation never was to me just about writing into a notebook. To me it is a place, an inner-landscape and one of beauty where I can rest and be with music. It’s a space where I can be with the musical images I see and create sound-scapes I want to live in and hear in the world. I like spend my time there just making sounds and I’m looking forward to releasing more of those soon.
When did you first start writing songs? How has your songwriting evolved since you started?
I started sharing music and writing songs when I was a little girl singing silly jokes and riddles to myself that I made up to add simple joy and merriment to my surrounding's. I think I felt most connected and happy with people when I was able to sing to them or share music with them in some way, cause for me music was just like having a conversation with them. I started communicating through music very young, finding out early on that I could pick-up whatever was around me and make music with it, I loved music because it was always there, just under the surface of everything, and just naturally wrote it. I didn't grow up with a lot so I found early that in writing music I could express for free what others couldn’t buy for cost and I was eager to share that with others. It's been such a cool journey to come back to that musical part of me with this album and as far as my songwriting has evolved since, honestly, I think I’m still in a process and probably always will be.
Are you a heavy editor of your songs? What’s an example of your creative process?
When I create a song I like to first set up a list of rules and boundaries to critique the outcome of that song to myself, possibly with the intention to eventually translating my musical thoughts to others. My process of writing a song is just a lesson of self-introspection and experience. When I write, I'm just continually simplifying information to myself, sifting through all the notes to finally get to my song’s essential meaning. I try to make that easy for the listener to understand, and in the shortest amount of time I can. Creatively it’s important for me to ask what my limitations are with the piece I start, and I continually ask how can I exceed my expectations each time I reengage with what I’m doing; it's just the simple task of re-engaging with my question long enough to keep me actively interested.
Every time I start writing a piece of music I start by meditating on a question and take that question apart with the intention to piece the answer together as a melody, so my completed song is just the results of my inquiry into the subject matter that interested me the most. I think it's incredibly brave and challenging to write any kind of song really, because the dynamics of what you’re working with are so difficult, you're trying to work with such a concentrated amount of information in such a small amount of time to make this accessible to others, with most commercial plays giving you 3-5 minute timeline to share with your listener. Regardless, any way my songs are written, I think songwriting is just the simple act of reminding yourself of what is most meaningful in a round, and sometimes that can reveal what’s most important to others too, maybe even something we all can't live without, I think that's what gets sung out and about.
What inspires you about music in Kansas City?
Truly my friends inspire me most and not all of them are even musicians but they add to the music I write.
I think music in KC continues to be as awesome as it ever was, as cool as the people are, and I’m excited to take part in that creative energy. It’s been an honor to perform with some of the most deeply gifted musicians I’ve ever known, they are some of the kindest ones I’ve ever met, incredible powerhouses of talent that continue to be beacons of light and inspiration to me. I'm so thankful for them, and excited as our lives continue to be revealed to each other in new and expanding ways. I love that unfolding mystery.
Whitney's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
Upstream by Mary Olivier
Anything by Annie Dillard
Anything by Ink Spots
Anything by Johnathon Richman. "That Summer Feeling" has a special place in my <3
View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
Living with a Wild God by Barbara Ehrenreich
Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
Ghosts of the Great Highway by Sun Kil Moon
On Perpetual Peace by Em Kant
The Cost of Living by Arundhati Roy
Spiegel Im Spiegel by Arvo Part
Anda Jaleo by Josephine Foster and the Victor Herreo Band
Virginies del Sol by Yma Sumac
*Any natural history, anatomy, or science illustration book, Space and or celestial mapping books I will love forever and from all time periods, as well as most BBC Classic Period Films and any Agatha Christie Mysteries. Brilliant!