Banjo ballads and scarred, rough punk riffs wring anthems of hard times and tough soil.— Austin Chronicle
The Iowa native makes bluegrass that works in a similar fashion to Bruce Springsteen’s world-weary Americana— AV Club
William Elliott Whitmore is a singer-songwriter/banjoist/guitarist/drum-stompin’ solo act from Lee County, Iowa. He has released six full-length albums that seamlessly meld country, blues, folk, and punk styles - spanning from 2003’s Hymns for the Hopeless (Southern Records) to 2015’s Radium Death (ANTI-). His songs are haunting, rustic, powerful, and real – byproducts of living his entire life on the family farm, being involved in the hardcore-punk scene in the local community, and touring hard across the country. His seventh album Kilonova (2018) is different from everything else in his catalog.
Whitmore’s first long-form release on Bloodshot Records is a collection of 10 cover songs from artists who have influenced his 15-plus-year career. Each of the tunes offers a glimpse into how his attitude and aesthetic were formed, like a series of tattoos, scars, or other time-accumulated personal markings.
Kilonova takes on a variety of musical heroes, both obvious and not, both well known and not, in a range of sonic forms. In the stark a capella take on Dock Boggs’ 1920s old-timey hit “Country Blues,” you can hear WEW at the pulpit, evangelizing the truth to his believers. The classic Harlan Howard country number “Busted” is updated with a swampy, bluesy version revealing a modern despair and necessary perseverance. For those who find a similarity between Whitmore’s voice to that of Captain Beefheart or Tom Waits, his equally erratic, demented and raspy-baritoned cover of the former’s “Bat Chain Puller” is the perfect medicine.
But there are some surprises as well. While celebrated amongst a punk and indie rock audience as much as he is by country-folk heads, when WEW puts his unique spins on Magnetic Fields’ “Fear of Trains” and “Don’t Pray on Me” by Bad Religion he makes the songs his own, bending their original style into the nebulous artistic nature he has created. It’s punk rock without the breakneck tempos; it’s rock-and-roll without turning it up to 11, and on the Bill Withers 1971 original “Ain’t No Sunshine," Whitmore is every bit as soulful and poignant without having Booker T and Donald “Duck” Dunn as his backing band.
William Elliott Whitmore is a sum of this album’s parts, and it is clear that Kilonova comes as close to an original as a cover album can.
He says of the album:
In the journey of going from being a lover and fan of music, into being a creator of music, I've never lost the feeling of wonderment in hearing a great song. Like most people, I enjoy lots of different kinds. From the country music I grew up on thanks to my parents, to the punk rock and avant-garde bands I would discover later, it just always makes me feel good to hear a great song.
This collection is something I've been wanting to put forth for a long time. A handful of these tunes I've been doing in my live sets for years, and it just felt right to give them a little home. A place where my interpretations can live and hopefully be enjoyed. I remember as a kid hearing Johnny Cash cover Harlan Howard's "Busted" on Live at Folsom Prison. Soon after that I became familiar with Ray Charles' version, and it was a revelation that a great song can be played in many different ways. Seems obvious now, but as a ten year old it was helping to shape my way of thinking of music. As a thing to be passed around and shared. I used to love when I'd hear Willie Nelson play "Georgia on my Mind" by Ray Charles.
These were the greats, swapping tunes and swirling the waters. It helped me discover new artists too, thinking for instance, "Waylon's playing a song written by a guy named Billie Joe Shaver. What's he all about?" It was leading me down a path that I'm still on to this day.
Some of these were written just a few years ago, and some were written in the 1930s. Some deal with themes that I think are important, and some are just fun songs to play.
I am concerned with the state of things, as I'm sure people have been since the beginning of human consciousness. My way of carrying on and moving forward is through the sharing of art and music. I want to share these songs with people, simple as that.
William Elliott Whitmore is a singer-songwriter/banjoist/guitarist/drum-stompin’ solo act from Lee County, Iowa. He has released six full-length albums that seamlessly meld country, blues, folk, and punk styles - spanning from 2003’s Hymns for the Hopeless (Southern Records) to 2015’s Radium Death (ANTI-). His songs are haunting, rustic, powerful, and real – byproducts of living his entire life on the family farm, being involved in the hardcore-punk scene in the local community, and touring hard across the country. His seventh album Kilonova (2018) is different from everything else in his catalog, a collection of 10 cover songs from artists who have influenced his 15 plus-year career.
The label and artist—longtime mutual admirers—have been running in neighboring circles over the years, but it wasn't until recorded contributions from Whitmore for seven-inch and compilation releases that a professional relationship bloomed.
Whitmore said of the signing:
"I remember going to the record store and buying Neko Case, Sadies, and Whiskeytown 7 inches back in the late 1990's. I've been a fan of Bloodshot as a label for a long time, so when the opportunity came up to be on their 20th anniversary comp a few years ago, I jumped on it. Shortly after that they put out a split 7 inch with Esme Patterson and I, thus bringing my awareness and connection with the label full circle through the power of vinyl. Now I've joined their ranks officially, and I'm excited to see where this relationship takes us."
A man armed only with a banjo and a bass drum can be a formidable force, especially if his name is William Elliott Whitmore. With his powerful voice and honest approach, Whitmore comes from the land, growing up on a family farm in Lee County, Iowa. Still living on the same farm today, Whitmore has truly taken the time to discover where his center lies, and from that he will not be moved.
Whitmore has consistently carved his own path, honoring the longstanding tradition of folk music throughout his nearly 20-year career, while always allowing his blues, soul, and punk rock influences to shine through. Getting his first break opening for his friend's hardcore band with just a banjo in hand, he would discover bands like The Jesus Lizard, Bad Brains, Lungfish, and Minutemen and soon learn to play his own brand of rural, roots music with that same DIY ethic.
William Elliott Whitmore has been back and forth across the United States and to cities around the world. He's toured with such diverse acts as Frank Turner, Trampled By Turtles, Clutch, and Chris Cornell, to name a few. He's appeared on some of the biggest stages around the world including Stagecoach Fest, Byron Bluesfest (Australia) and End of the Road Fest (UK). His willingness to take his show to any playing field has proved invaluable as he turned strangers to diehards with every performance.
Official Website: William Elliott Whitmore Online