Interview by Makenzie Creden
Cover photo by: Grace Pendelton
Nestled amongst East Texas scenery is the little town of Silsby, where Texas quintet Why Bonnie recorded their first full-length album in their career on two days of practice. In August of this year, 90 in November hit the ears of indie-heads in Texas and beyond. The “Shoegazeicana” band finds the intersection of country twang, synthy harmonies, and fuzzy guitars throughout the album.
Despite band members gradually relocating to New York, starting with vocalist Blair Howerton in 2019, they are still Texans at heart. 90 in November draws on Howerton’s vivid lyrics and 90’s garage melodies to reminisce life in the hot and wild world of South Texas.
WLUW sat down with Blair Howerton of Why Bonnie after the release of their debut LP to talk about recording over distance, nostalgic Texas imagery, and the intersection of shoegaze and Americana.
What is Why Bonnie’s origin story? How did you guys all come together?
Yeah, so I moved to Austin right after school in 2015 and I met up with Kendall one time. She’s my oldest best friend. We’ve known each other since we were two. She was living here at the time, so I was really excited to be in the same city as her again. Um, we were just hanging out and I was like, “I have these songs. I wanna start a band. I really want there to be a key player to sing harmonies.” She was like, “Well, I’ve never been in a band,” but she plays piano. So we joined forces.
We were originally playing under the name Pony Boy and the Horsegirls <laugh>. That was the band for a couple years until we finally decided to change the name to Why Bonnie. Funny enough, there was another Pony Boy and we got a cease and desist, so we had to change it. Then just through the music scene, we met Sam and then Chance and lastly Josh, and we’ve been this iteration of the band for like four years now.
Austin is a pretty tight-knit music scene, so we all had met each other at different times and knew each other, so that’s how it all came about.
Love it, yeah. The Austin music scene is, there’s a lot happening <laugh> down there.
Yeah. Yeah. It’s, I miss it. Um, but it’s really nice to come back and, and visit.
I bet. Then how would you describe why Bonnie’s music to someone who has not ever listened to you?
I like to say that we’re rooted in a lot of like alternative nineties stuff, and that can go in either a more Americana, like country, direction or in a garage direction or a shoegaze direction. I think we play with all three of those sounds, while still being really anchored in pretty quintessential nineties hooks, a lot of hooks. It’s, it’s hard because this album is clearly different than our other EP’s that we’ve released.
I think that as an artist, I really try and steer away from writing songs that sound similar to things I’ve written in the past because I like to play with genres and keep the door open. I think that’s just more interesting and more freeing to me as an artist. The rest of the band feels that way too. It’s nice to keep it open-ended.
Yeah. I mean, why limit yourself? Have you heard the term “bootgaze?”
It’s like Americana shoegaze…
Okay! Love it! I’m so into it. We did get in a review recently… We got “Shoegaze-icana and I love that.”
I feel like y’all, like with this album have really embraced the more like Americana, like slight country twang sounds more so than your past eps. Um, that’s just, that’s my opinion and actually that flows right into my next question. So 2019, I saw you guys play at Satellite Barn in Houston, Texas opening up for Beach Fossils. How have you like grown as a band, as an artist? Um, sonically, lyrically, you know, anything like since then, since I think at that time only your first EP was out with like “Hollow Moon,” um, “Gold Rush.” Maybe I’m wrong, but how, how’d you grow since then?
Yeah, so that was actually our second EP Nightgown. We were gearing up for our 2020 release. I think since then we’ve become a little more confident in our writing. I’ve definitely become more confident in my songwriting and my voice and how I want to use it. I feel very much at home singing with a country twang, maybe that’s because I’m from Texas, but <laugh> I hadn’t really played with that because maybe I didn’t think that it was like cool enough or something <laugh>. This album, especially since it was inspired a lot by Texas and by home and my roots, that was really fun to dive into and just let myself, embrace that part of myself and my artistry. So yeah, I think we’ve changed in a lot of ways: just becoming more confident and not giving so much of a damn.
Ah, love that. Then obviously you’ve released a few EPs, but were there any debut LP, full-length album jitters before you dropped it? Or was it more exciting?
It was a lot of excitement. Truth be told, this album, we’ve been sitting on this album for a while… We recorded it in January 2021 and due to forces outside of our control, we had to keep pushing it back and pushing it back. By the time we did finally release it this August, we were just like, “It’s time.” Jitters for sure, but way more excitement because we were just so ready to finally get it out.
And why, why Silsby for recording?
We were in talks with a few different producers when we were trying to find a place to record, and we were in between New York or the studio in LA and then we finally talked to Tommy Reed at Lazy Bones Audio in Silsby, Texas, and it just felt so right, like immediately from the get go. We were on a Zoom call with him and his vibe was just really comforting, and we clicked in a lot of ways. We also knew a lot of the same people from Austin, and from Texas… It felt right to record in Texas. Especially in this very like quintessential east Texas landscape that his studio is on. It felt right and I’m really glad that we did it.
It just makes sense. The point about going back to your roots and like, I don’t know, just remembering imagery from Texas. It, I mean, it just seems right.
“Galveston,” the song, to me it comes across as an ode to Galveston. I don’t know how many people know what Galveston is like, but it’s not like a pretty place… It’s kind of scary to go swimming there.
But can you, can you tell us a little bit about, you know, your connection with Galveston, why you chose to write a song about that place
Yeah. So I grew up in Houston, which is only like an hour and a half from Galveston. My family used to go there all the time, like every other weekend we’d drive out to Galveston. It’s definitely a fixture in my childhood and all the imagery that comes with it. Have you been to Galveston?
I have. I also grew up in Houston.
Right, okay, cool. So, you know, it’s like, it’s like you said, not very pretty, but it has a lot of character and a lot of charm. What inspired me to write that actually was right before I moved to New York, October, 2019, I went back to Galveston for the first time in years, Ihadn’t been back in maybe 10 years, for my mom’s birthday. I was expecting like it to look so different cause I hadn’t been back in forever, but I realized it was the exact same. Nothing had changed. The areas that we went to all look the same, there are the same restaurants…. I had this weird kind of disjointed feeling of being comfortable and nostalgic while also being like, “Wow, I’ve changed so much. Here I am back in this place that is almost stuck in time.” Just working through those emotions… That was the impetus for the song “Galveston.”
I really, I really, really love that. I also really, really love your like, innate ability to convey such strong feelings of nostalgia for places that people don’t know or feelings through imagery in your songs.
Could you like, walk me through your lyric writing process or what inspires you? I know you gave me a little hint there with “Galveston,” but yeah, I think you’re a very talented lyric writer, so I want to hear some genius.
Thank you so much. I think a lot of my lyrics are imagery based. When it comes to books and, and poetry that I, I really gravitate towards, I love, um, densely imagery-based writing, so I try to do that in my songwriting.
I’ll kind of start very small, like a microimage of one thing and just try to describe it. Then as you’re describing it, it starts to get bigger and bigger and further away and kind of evolves… Like the theme becomes deeply entrenched in this one small image, which I think is really effective lyric writing for me. Yeah, using things as themes and metaphors for bigger topics is something I try to do often in my writing.
Well, I love it and I know other people do too, so please don’t stop.
“Superhero,” the last track, to me it’s the most vulnerable, both sonically/instrumentally and lyrically. It’s the last track on the album, so it’s very… It leaves you with that feeling. Can you walk me through that song a little bit? The meaning behind that?
I wrote that song two days before we got into the studio and I didn’t think it was gonna be on the album. I was just playing around really. I remember I stayed up late one night and was by myself and just started writing it. It felt really nice to have a song on the album that was stripped down and vulnerable because most of the songs are like full-band and more rock-oriented. I liked the idea of having something that was stripped down as a contrast on the album.
It was cool how that came about. We were just done recording for the day in Silsby. We were hanging out in the studio and I was like, “I have one song, could I just like pop in there and just get like a scratch vocal,” basically. And that just was the take. We used that take as the song and Sam jumped in and did some really cool guitar work. He actually used a violin bow on an electric guitar that’s like really reverbed out.
That’s so cool.
Yeah, so it was a really magic studio moment. It all came together and just felt really good. It felt like a nice note to leave the album on because it’s the most future-oriented song: it being about love and being excited about love and how it makes you feel. I liked leaving the album on a positive note like that.
I know Kendall is not here, but I guess I’m gonna ask this from your perspective. What do you think about the synth keyboard on this album? I feel like it’s more in the forefront than your old EP’s and in a different way. What are your thoughts there?
Yeah, I think we wanted to do that and also incorporate, piano, which we hadn’t done in the past. I don’t know why, because Kindle is a trained pianist… That was really fun. There’s a really beautiful piano in the studio that we got to work with. As far as the synth goes, we are definitely playing with some new sounds. We were really inspired by Sparklehorse’s, music
Yeah, love the synth sounds on those albums, especially It’s a Wonderful Life and wanted to emulate something like that because they’re just so striking. I liked how they were in the foreground, but also kind of like dissonant and sharp in a way. It’s definitely a challenge, but it was fun to work with.
Well that’s awesome. I know you said you moved to Brooklyn in 2019. Is the whole band in Brooklyn now or is it still just you?
Everyone but Kendall. Kendall is the last one in Austin. She’s our anchor.
Awww it’s good you still have an anchor there!
Yeah, I know.
But it was just you in Brooklyn for a while, right?
Yeah, so it was me in Brooklyn for about a year and obviously this is like… I moved to Brooklyn like four or five months before the pandemic, so my timing was impeccable. Then a year later, I think it was September of 2020, Sam moved up there and then a year later Chance moved, or no, Josh moved and then Chance was the last to move this January.
It’s been really nice to have most of the band there. Obviously, I wish Kendall was there too and there’s possibly time for that later, but we’re down here enough that it’s no biggie.
Yeah. Was it hard writing music across that distance?
Yeah, honestly it was most of this- pretty much all of the album of 90 in November. The way that we wrote it is I would write the songs, make a demo, and then send it out to everyone and they’d write their parts on top of it. Sometimes I’d have an idea of like, “Oh, I want the key, like I have a key part or a guitar part written.” But for most of it, it was just everyone writing it for themselves, but that’s really hard to do when you’re not in a room together.
We only had like two days, two or three days of practice together before we got into the studio to record, so a lot of it is like off the cuff winging it. We didn’t have time to really think about things too hard, which is fun. It was just a different way than we were used to where we’re usually are like workshopping song by song together. So, yeah. Interesting.
Well, y’all are just so amazing for that. Going into the studios with two days of practice? Okay, flex.
Anyways, I have a fun question. I read in a past interview that you’re a foodie, so if 90 in November was a dish, what would it be?
Ah, that’s a good one. Probably Velveeta and Rotel Queso.
Okay. Wow. Couldn’t have asked for a better answer there.
Yep. Which I made recently and was like, “God, this is still so good.”
It still hits, it always will hit. Anyways, one last question. I know you are about to hit the road in Texas, but what is next for Why Bonnie? What can the people look forward to?
We have another tour coming up in November on the East coast, which I’m really stoked on. For the rest of the year, not a whole lot, but we are ready to hit the ground running in 2023. God, it feels so crazy to say.
So yeah, we have a lot coming up next year. Tours… Trying to get over to the U.K. We already have the next album written, so we’re trying to hit the ground running.