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Whitney Rose Chats About Those “East Coast Woman Blues”
Paradise Blog: Hearing East Coast Woman Blues so often in the bar I had mistaken it for a simple tale of a woman abandoned by her spouse, but upon closer inspection there are elements that indicate it’s a song of socio-economic woe. As her man and “all the willing rest” head west (presumably for work?), as it’s the “land that [she] loves” which betrays her, and as her gratitude to the man remains. Discuss.
Whitney Rose: The shattering state of the farming industry is no secret and it’s very bad on my native east coast. Multiple-generation family farms have fallen to the ground and farmers, who have only known farming life, have had to find alternate ways of making a living. Farmers are resourceful, and some succeeded in doing so without having to leave their homes. Starting a new company using their knowledge of the land, such as a landscaping company, would be an example. But many have had to move to Western Canada for weeks and even months at a time to work there. A typical set-up might be working in Alberta for six weeks, then returning home for one week, then back to Alberta, and so on. I think it takes great strength for families to endure that kind of separation, on every member’s part.
Paradise Blog: The character of this woman really comes to life in the verse about the ‘baby [taking] a step today’. It takes a writerly sophistication to paint such a vivid scene in five lines. Who are some of your influences as a writer? Either from the world of music or the literary world.
Whitney Rose: That’s very kind of you to say, thank you. I’m really glad you asked me this question because it gives me the rare opportunity to publicly praise a few individuals whom I greatly admire. Of the literary world, Truman Capote and John Steinbeck have held my heart the longest and most consistently. I always come crawling back to them and it feels like coming home. Their respective abilities to simultaneously teach and entertain their readers absolutely blows my mind. They also both confuse me and I love them for that. Of the music world, it is my friends who teach me the most…I had a revelation early last summer as I was entering the music scene in Toronto that if I didn’t learn as much as possible from the people I was meeting and quickly becoming lifelong friends with them, it had the potential to be one of the biggest mistakes of my life. At any given time even in my rotating backing band there is a songwriter far superior to me. Devin Cuddy is my piano player, so what are ya gonna do? Just learn.
Paradise Blog: How long did this song take to write, can you take us through the whole process? Also, what comes first? The chorus? A single line? A concept?
Whitney Rose: It was definitely a concept. I was living in Nova Scotia in 2010 and one morning I was visiting a very good friend of mine whose boyfriend (now fiancé) was working in Alberta. I noticed that her bedroom was immaculate, so I complimented her for having made her bed so early in the day. When she told me that she slept on the couch every night while her boyfriend was away working, that really stuck with me and I suppose a song seed was planted. I wrote the song a few months later after moving to Toronto.
Paradise Blog: Since you’d been playing this song with David Baxter and Bazil Donovan for many months before entering the studio, was there a solid sense of what you wanted to record going in, or was there an inclination to explore the song deeper than where you’d gone with it so far?
Whitney Rose: We stumbled upon the right arrangement one glorious Saturday evening on the Cameron House stage and we decided not to mess with something that seemed to work just fine.
Paradise Blog: Take us through the process of recording this song, how many days, with what musicians, any major revelations or breakthroughs during the process, comical moments, etc.
Whitney Rose: We recorded all of the bed tracks for the record in three days at the Woodshed in the city’s east end. There were so many magical moments, which is bound to happen when you’re working with people who are not only some of the best musicians in the city, but all around top notch individuals. The most pleasant surprise for me during the recording of this song specifically are the solos during the instrumental break. Devin kills it on piano and then two of the best guitar players in Toronto, David Baxter and Nichol Robertson, have a guitar-off! In the middle of my song! That is a very humbling, very cool feeling. The only part of this song that was not live off the floor was Justin Rutledge’s harmonica. Everything else was done in the Woodshed, and if I remember correctly, we only did two takes. That kind of magic is possible with the above-mentioned musicians plus Bazil Donovan on bass, Michelle Josef on drums and Tim Vesely at the board.
Listen to East Coast Woman Blues here.
Every day the bed’s been made
Since the night you went away
But I don’t know if this one counts
Each night I’m on the couch alone
‘Cause you’re not at home
You and all the willing rest
You packed your bags and headed west
Gave us the life we’re living now
That’s more than any vow, I know
I just wish you were home
The land that I love has betrayed me
Sorry if I’m acting like it’s you
That don’t mean that I’m not grateful, baby
I’ve just got the east coast woman blues
The baby took a step today
Part of me wished he could wait
But still I laughed and clapped my hands
Looks like our little man and me
Want you to be proud
Too young to wish the days away
Too old to let my poor heart break
Each time I see you in his face
I take a map and trace the road
For you to come home
Photo by Jen Squires.