interview: Whitney Ballen

Each and every single we've heard from Whitney Ballen's album You're a Shooting Star, I'm a Sinking Ship has stuck with us. The singer displays a rare and empowering show of emotion, exploring subjects of heartbreak, growth, and healing. With the release of her lovely album officially here, Whitney was kind enough to answer a few of our questions. In addition to her answers, you'll find a gallery of images that Whitney has drawn for the release, including the album's cover.

 photo: Sofia Lee

photo: Sofia Lee

The Grey Estates: So much of this album is VERY personal but also very relatable. Was it hard to explore these really difficult emotions? And what inspired you to be so honest about these feelings?

Whitney Ballen: I've always been inspired by visual artists and musicians who are openly vulnerable and so I suppose I became connected to that and now I don't know any other way. I've tried writing songs from different perspectives or in a storytelling type of way, but it always ends up feeling insincere. What could be more real than the things everyone feels but doesn't talk about? I guess those cringey things are what I'm drawn to and hope others might be too. 

You also designed the cover and art. How did you tie that into the album as a whole, if at all. And what made you decide to also do the artwork?

I've been drawing for a long time but I've never felt a connection between my "artist" self and my "songwriting" self, until now. The title of the album I knew well before most of the songs existed. I imagined "You're A Shooting Star, I'm A Sinking Ship" as a really dark children's book title, initially. However, I came to realize that the songs I had been writing, alongside the experiences I had been living aligned all too well with the title. The artwork for the cover changed a little over time but for the most part, became the book cover I had originally imagined in my head. Except, now instead of a sadass children's book, it's a real genuine album. 

There’s a lot of different music on this album as far as ideas. “Nothing” is so different from other tracks like “Go”. What were you thinking as far as musical direction? Was there one song in particular that you feel encapsulates what you wanted from the album as a whole?

I was nervous about putting songs like "Nothing" and "Black Cloud" on the album, especially because they are so dark and loud compared to the romances of "The Kiss" or the twangy popiness of "Mountain." However, I knew they needed to be there because not everything is beautiful like the mountains and memorable kisses. Sometimes, we are just enjoying our lives, being completely content when something like "Nothing" comes out of nowhere and blindsides us, maybe even to put us back on track. Life can't just be content. There isn't really one song that I could say encapsulates the album as a whole, but I guess the album title does just that. 

Since these tracks are so emotional, do you find it hard to relive these moments on stage? Is this still a period of your life that you’re connecting with?

I feel connected to these songs everytime I perform them. I think most of these songs, I will always feel connected to even if the feelings are relevant in my life anymore because like I mentioned, they aren't stories, they're real experiences and they're mine. 

What do you hope that listeners take or hear from this album? What did you want to accomplish or convey with it personally?

I could only hope that this album makes people feel things. I don't know what they might feel, but I want them to feel it. There's no point in anything without feeling. 

What if any inspiration did your Seattle surroundings play? What else inspired the album?

Seattle is beautiful. It's more so what is closely outside of Seattle that always inspires me. The mountains, the trees, the sound, the rivers, the wind, the fog, the valley, all of the farms, all of the small towns. Of course, the people I've surrounded myself with and the experiences they've given me. 

How long did you work on this release and how long did it take you to create the art? Did you do that before or after the recording?

The songs from "You're A Shooting Star, I'm A Sinking Ship" were written over the last 3-4 years, with the exception of Rainier, which was originally written for my solo album, FALLS. We spent 5 days in the studio recording in June 2017, about 3 days mixing in the fall of 2017 and then the record was sent off for a day of mastering last winter. 

What’s your favorite snack?

TOAST! I love toast so much.