This discontentment is obvious on Animals in the Dark, and spending the last six years touring the US and Europe made its impressions on Whitmore, who recognizes it in his lyrics.
“I came to realize that sitting in bars and talking to people in Slovenia or Italy was not so different from sitting in bars and talking to people in Lee County, Iowa,” he says. “People have problems with their governments, problems with their jobs. But they still wake up every day, go about their work, and knock back a couple of beers at night.
“You begin to realize that these things are global realities, and they’ve been happening since the beginning of time. And at the end of the day, we’re all just people going about our business.”
Perhaps this idea of ongoing political push-and-shove is best exemplified in the floorboard-rattling rave-up “Old Devils,” which deals with timeless tensions: war, religion, wrongful imprisonment, and the sway of power:
“They tell me there’s a war without an end / The old devils are at it again / They died by the millions — women, children, and men / The old devils are at it again.”
“It’s always been there,” Whitmore continues. “Poor people and rich people have been fighting forever, probably since two cavemen picked up clubs and went at it. You have to step back a bit and realize that things aren’t really any better or worse now than they’ve ever been. Sometimes you’re up, and sometimes you’re down; you’ve just gotta make the most of the time that you have.”
Although the songs on Animals in the Dark veered away from Whitmore’s personal history, the recording of the album remained a family affair in and of itself. The album was recorded at Flat Black Studios in Iowa City, which is run by Whitmore’s cousin Luke Tweedy, an accomplished producer and musician in his own right (his Iowa City-based outfit FT [The Shadow Government] bangs out the finest in anti-political noise). Whitmore and Tweedy built the studio from scratch, piece by piece. When it was done, they set to work building the pieces for Animals in the Dark.
“It took over a year to record,” Whitmore says. “It was a brand-new experience and a luxury to be able to take as much time as we wanted to tweak everything until it came together exactly as intended, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”
It’s safe to say that William Elliott Whitmore’s fans won’t be disappointed either. The results of their labor are ten of his most accomplished songs to date, spreading wider his range of influences oh-so carefully, from the comfortable nod to classic hip hop with war-like chants of “we don’t need no water” on album opener “Mutiny,” to the soul-inflected silver linings of “Hard Times” and the touching optimism of a life well lived on album closer “A Good Day to Die.”
This is classic American songwriting at its finest in 2009, much of which probably would have been just as relevant in 1909 and undoubtedly will be in 2109.
“I’m just adding my drop into the ever-expanding music pool and trying to add to the lexicon in my own way,” Whitmore says. “I don’t intend to sway anyone’s opinion — just present mine, as is, warts and all. And if it happens to make someone think about something a little differently, that’s great. That means I’ve done my part to make my drop count.”