1. What have you been listening to lately?
The new Beyonce album, “Runner” by Alex G, Love the Stranger by Friendship.
2. Ponyboy and the Horse Girls?
This was basically the first iteration of Why Bonnie except different members (other than Kendall and I) and different songs (other than Stereo and Goldrush). Basically if Ponyboy and the Horsegirls was Charmander, Why Bonnie is Charmeleon. Patiently awaiting Charizard territory.
3. First album you remember being obsessed with?
Honestly, Nelly Furtado’s first album “Whoa, Nelly!” with her hit single “I’m Like A Bird”. I spent countless hours in front of my purple boombox listening to that CD. I think I was six.
4. Aliens invaded Earth and made you put together a Now That’s What I Call Music type album or they blow up the planet. What 3 songs are you sure to include?
“Please please please” by Fiona Apple, “Don’t” by Peaer, and “Blow Us All Away” from Hamilton (Original Broadway cast recording)
5. Who would win in a fight? Why Bonnie, or the evil virus guy from the film Osmosis Jones?
I think the five of us could take him down with the power of our love.
6. When I die can you play “Twang” by Mason Ramsey as they lower my casket?
Damn, I thought you’d never ask. Yes, absolutely. I love that song.
7. What is something that you’re tired of explaining to people?
8. How many bees do you think Macaulay Culkin can eat?
That guy has been through a lot so probably at least three.
9. On a scale from 1-10 how much do you regret agreeing to do this interview?
I’m actually having a great time.
10. Any local Austin artists that you think we should check out?
Font and On Being An Angel are both really great. Playing with them at our Austin release show on September 16th at the Ballroom! Also, Daphne Tunes, Good Looks, and Van Mary.
Isaac Gutierrez for BL Mag: To start things off, can you introduce yourself and give us some background on the band?
Blair Howerton of Why Bonnie: I’m Blair, born and raised in Houston, Gemini (I know, I know…). Why Bonnie as it is now has been around for about 4 years and consists of me (vocals / guitar), Kendall Powell (keys), Sam Houdek (lead guitar), Chance Williams (bass), and Josh Malett (drums).
I read that you got serious about songwriting in college. Was there a moment or anything in particular that made you realize that music was something you wanted to pursue?
I’ve always loved singing and writing music, but I never thought that being a professional was really in the cards for me. It was mostly a pipe dream. I got a four track in college just for fun and quickly became obsessed with it. Soon after that, I started recording on GarageBand and put some songs out on Soundcloud under the name Ponyboy. I played my first show with a band of friends at Black Cat Burrito in Boone, NC and it just felt so right. I knew that I had to at least try to follow this dream or I’d always regret it.
When you moved to Austin after college, was it specifically to form a band/pursue a music career?
Yes, definitely. I was a man with a plan for the first time in my life. I knew that Austin had a thriving music scene and being close to my family again was an added bonus.
How did the band come together?
Kendall and I have been best friends since we were three. I have no recollection of Kendall not being my life so we’re basically like sisters at this point. When I first moved to Austin, we were hanging out and talking about how I wanted to start a band with a key player. She looked at me and said “Blair, I’m a classically trained pianist…” And thus, we became bandmates. Other than my one show in college, we both had never played in a band before so we were learning everything together. After a few iterations of players that didn’t stick, we met Sam, Chance, and Josh through the music scene in Austin. We asked them to join the band and it just felt right. We all balance each other out, laugh a lot, and respect each other as artists. I feel very lucky to have found the bandmates that I did.
What was everyone doing before forming Why Bonnie?
Kendall was in college getting a degree in mechanical engineering, Sam was in multiple bands including Growl, Daphne Tunes, and his personal project, Most Likely. Chance and Josh were both still in college as well as playing in bands together. And like I said, I was in school but didn’t really have much direction. I wanted to work for a nonprofit but once music got its claws in me, I abandoned that path.
You moved from Austin to NYC not too long ago! What was that transition like? And how would you compare both of those music scenes?
I moved to NYC in November 2019 so I got a solid 5 months of normalcy before the pandemic hit. I had some good friends up here already so I didn’t feel too lonely, but having to reestablish yourself in a new city is always a shock to the system. Life in Austin is more laid back and slow while New York City is anything but that. It took me a while to get my “city legs” but once I found them I fell even more in love with the place. It really is magical, vibrant, terrifying, etc. The music scene in Austin is so supportive and everyone knows everyone. As amazing as that is, I just needed a change of pace. The scene in New York is pretty expansive and has more bands popping up everyday, so there’s a tradeoff there. Both places have their charm and setbacks.
Congratulations on your new album 90 in November! What was the writing/recording process like for you?
I wrote most of the album during lockdown. I was cooped up in NYC and had nothing to do except write. At first, I didn’t know what the album was going to be about and I was just letting my subconscious write it out for me. After a while I started to see a theme - images of Texas, childhood, the past. It became clear that I was sorting through my memories and my relationship to my home for the first time. Between starting a music career and moving to New York, I had been so focused on the future that I had never given myself time to reflect on the past. It was extremely therapeutic.
The rest of the band was still in Texas at the time, so our writing process was confined to sending demos back and forth. We only played together as a band three times before jumping into the studio. We recorded with Tommy Read at Lazy Bones Audio in Silsbee, Texas (population: 6,642). The whole setup was so serene and homey. The studio is attached to Tommy’s house where he lives with his wife and kids, and there are cow pastures surrounding their land. It was January in East Texas which meant sunny days with a high of 65 and chilly nights. We would wake up, record for about 8-10 hours, make dinner, and drink beer underneath the stars. It was honestly one of the best experiences of my life. Except for the time Chance went on a walk and almost got attacked by a pack of stray dogs… that wasn’t very fun.
Your dad painted the cover art for the album, right??
He did! My dad picked up painting in his thirties, and my childhood home was filled with his work. He painted this one in 1997 and it was always one of my favorites. The vibrant orange and green reminded me of our old backyard with the technicolor Houston sunset behind it.
What did you personally take away from the process of making this record, and what do you hope other people get from it?
Working on this record gave me an opportunity to materialize my emotions, which is always the end goal with any piece of art. I won’t lie and say that my past was always sunny. My family has been through a lot, but the greatest pain was losing my brother in 2016 after a long fought battle with addiction. I personally hadn’t dealt with a lot of that trauma and oftentimes looking back hurt too much. But writing these songs reminded me that even painful memories are a part of what makes us who we are. I hope other people can listen to these songs and feel accepted, maybe even hopeful. We can use the past to become more compassionate towards ourselves and others. It doesn’t always have to haunt us.
What are some of the influences/inspirations behind the album?
Key influences are Sheryl Crow, The Lemonheads, Wilco, Sparklehorse… and Kacey Musgraves :)
Is there a memory that you’ll always associate with the making of this album?
Probably our nightly routine in Silsbee of making dinner together. We’d queue up an album and all do our part in the kitchen. We’re a bunch of foodies and really bond over that. Once we finished the last song, we popped a bottle of champagne and paired it with chips and salsa. The only time we ate out we spent $100 on Chili’s takeout. There was also a lot of mancala tournaments, and shooting beer cans with a BB gun. And lastly, like I mentioned before, Chance almost being killed by the stray dogs was wild…
Were you listening to anything in particular while working on the album?
While we were in Silsbee, we listened to a lot of Lomelda and country bands like Brooks and Dunn and George Strait. I also remember a night where we all sat in silence under the stars and blasted “The Electrician” by Scott Walker.
I think my personal favorite track (so far) is 90 in November. Can you give us some background on that song?
This song is supposed to be the quintessential “driving through Texas with your windows down” song. One you could put on at a backyard barbeque. I wrote the music first and waited for the lyrics to come. After playing the chord progression over and over, it made me think of sunny days in Houston so I started crafting up lyrics related to those images.
You also released a music video to accompany your single “90 in November” Can you talk to us a bit about the video? Where was that filmed? Were the cows nice?
We knew we wanted to film the video in Texas, and there had to be cows because what’s more Texan than a cow field? We were mainly just going for aesthetics and we wanted it to be silly and fun. Our dear friend, Shelby Bohannon, directed it and had the idea of incorporating some alien / UFO imagery which we loved. We filmed on a ranch in Florence, Texas and were warned by the ranch owner to not look the bulls in the eye. They seemed unphased by us all day, even curious, and then the sun went down. We drove out to the hunting blind to get the final shots and were fully stampeded by these freaking cows. We all hid inside of the truck while the bull headbutted the front grill. It was all extremely terrifying but we couldn’t stop laughing.
I think something that stands out to me about your music is how nostalgic the songwriting feels. I think it allows your listeners to connect/immerse themselves in your music. What is your songwriting process like? Is there anything in particular that you like to focus on the most?
Thank you, that’s really nice to hear! My songwriting process is pretty disjointed honestly. Sometimes I write the music or melody first, either on the guitar or humming on a voice memo. The notes app on my phone is riddled with half written lyrics. I try to write things down whenever I get inspired with the hope that the words can be used in a song. Then there are other times where I write a whole song in one sitting. That usually happens when I’m having a strong emotional reaction to something. Writing music has always been therapeutic in that way for me. I guess my end goal is to get an emotional reaction from the listener. For me, it’s the most magical way of communicating.
I think me growing up in East Texas helps this album resonate with me. Specifically with the visuals in your video for “90 in November” and the lyrics to “Galveston”:
“Passed all of the dancehalls and dive-ins Looks just the same as it did back then
But we lost the pier to hurricane season.”
I think most people that grew up in Texas can remember family trips to Galveston. Is creating that connection with your listeners something that you think about when you’re writing a song?
I love that these songs really resonate with people from Texas, but I also want them to speak to everyone. This album is definitely inspired by Texas because it’s my home but the broader theme is our ever-evolving and complicated relationship to “home” and whatever that means to you personally. You have to come to terms with your past to truly accept yourself. I think that’s ultimately what I want the listener to get out of these songs.
You have a tour coming up! Are there any places that you’re excited to visit?
Yes we do! We’re opening for Pinegrove August 17, 19, and 20 in Norfolk, VA, Asbury Park, NJ, and Rockaway Beach, NY. Very excited about Asbury Park because The Stone Pony is such an iconic venue. In September, we’re doing a week-long tour through Texas. All of those shows will be special because our families will be there.
Everyone talks about their best on stage experiences, but what’s been your worst or weirdest on stage experience?
One of the more awkward experiences was our last show in Philly. I asked the audience if anyone could get us into a Blue Man Group show, and this guy in the front row said “I blew myself”. The whole crowd went silent and then someone booed him. He came up to us later at the merch table and said “I’m so sorry, I was trying to make a joke from Arrested Development. The one where Tobias auditions for the Blue Man Group and says ‘I blew myself’ and now I just feel like a creep”. I felt so bad for the guy but can’t deny that the whole situation was very funny and awkward - a la Arrested Development.
What are some ways that we as listeners can help support touring bands?
Come to the shows or buy merch. Or both!
What can we expect from Why Bonnie in the near future?
We already have the next album written and we’re very excited to show the world. But before that happens we’re hoping to tour as much as possible.
To wrap things up, do you have any questions for me?
What’s your deepest darkest secret?
I've never read Harry Potter books or watched any of the movies, and I feel like it's too late to start now.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this!
Thank you for having me! This was fun :)