Nomadic Canadian channelling magical realism, country rock and Lou Reed – Whitney K talks about his latest album Hard To Be A God in our JUNE 2022 issue of Uncut, available to buy here.
The mind-bending cover of Whitney K’s new mini-album Hard To Be A God features a painting of a dog on its hind legs, rearing over the bodies of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and
Kris Kristofferson, three artists whose influence can be clearly detected on the grooves within. Another less immediately apparent – but equally significant influence – on the record is Hopscotch, the 1963 novel by Argentine author Julio Cortázar.
“It’s set up so you can read it in a linear or non-linear fashion,” explains Konner Whitney (aka Whitney K) from his current home in Montreal. “The result is two different stories. I’ve only read it the traditional front-to-back way, so I guess you could say I’ve only read half the book. Spanish-speaking authors – specifically Central and South American in my experience – like to fool around with your expectations. Magical realism is obviously a big part of that tradition: incredible imagery and telling history through metaphor with a lot of characters.”
“While Digging Through The Snow”, the five-minute lead track from Hard To Be A God, is Whitney’s attempt at a non-linear narrative. A beautiful semi-spoken meditation set against tumbling acoustic guitar with gentle piano and strings, it traces the loops, juxtapositions and time-shifts the mind can experience while the physical body is engaged in a menial task like shovelling snow. “That was a clear-out of a notebook,” he explains, “and then trying to figure out what it’s about afterwards. It’s about memory – not the subconscious but an attempt to describe the mental landscape when your brain is left to wander.
Memory, ruminating on the present, thinking about the future, alternative timelines and recriminations, the way they mingle, indistinguishable from each other.”
It was one of two tracks recorded in Montreal during a hurried three-day session that was intended to be an antidote to the more painstaking process that resulted in Two Years, Whitney K’s acclaimed 2021 debut. The entire mini-LP – or maybe it’s a long EP, he’s not sure – showcases Whitney’s trademark drawling delivery, flitting between drone-rock and country-ish twang, with his acoustic guitar brilliantly accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Avalon Tassonyi and occasional violin from Aidan Ayers.
Having been unable to tour Two Years owing to Covid restrictions, Whitney is planning to bring Hard To Be A God to Europe, where his records are finding their best reception. Currently, though he’s having to make a living outside music. “I work four days a week in a restaurant,” he says. “I did some property management in the Yukon, which can be managing a renovation or it can be unblocking the toilet. If you do it in a city you probably call a plumber, but up in the Yukon you end up doing it yourself.”
Whitney is something of a nomad, having lived in a variety of North American cities as well as up in the Yukon, the wild and mountainous territory in Canada’s far northwest. And he’s already thinking about a new record, one that might take him in a different direction. “I need to go back to melody,” he says. “When I first wrote music, I was doing power pop – similar lyrics, but shorter and more concise. Now I am putting out songs that are five minutes long with no melody! So I want to write some pop songs and dance a bit. I am in a different headspace to where I was when this stuff was written and recorded. I want to have some fun.”
Hard To Be A God is released by Maple Death on May 13