Whitney Rose Keeps It Cool and Countrypolitan

Whitney Rose will play the Goosetown Tavern on Tuesday, February 13.
Whitney Rose will play the Goosetown Tavern on Tuesday, February 13. Jen Squires
"It can get really cold and really nasty," says Whitney Rose when describing winter on Prince Edward Island near Nova Scotia, where she was born. "You know those memes where someone opens up the door and all they see is the imprint of the door in a wall of snow? That's what it's like. Houses get completely covered up. My idea of hell is winter sports, which is what they live for up there."

After spending the first part of her life in the hinterlands of the Great White North, the ascending roots-country singer eventually moved to Toronto before heading south to Austin and the land of big hair.

"I also lived in Nova Scotia very briefly on a farm that was even more in the middle of nowhere," Rose, now in her early thirties, explains. "That's kind of where I started writing music. I was in a relationship that ended badly and abruptly, and I didn't feel like going back to [Prince Edward Island], so I decided to move to the 'Big Smoke,' which is what we call the city of Toronto in Canada. I packed a suitcase and lived there for about four years. It's where I really started writing and playing shows. I made a lot of friends in Toronto and recorded a lot there. When I go back, it always feels like a bit of a homecoming. I love being in Austin, though. It's home now. It's got great food, great music and great weather."

In addition to landing in a warmer natural climate, where she reported that it was a comfortable 67 degrees in her back yard in Texas in late January, Rose also found a receptive creative environment and audience.

"After releasing my second album in 2015 in Toronto, I looked at the numbers and saw that the album did better in the States than it did in Canada, and so I said, 'Screw it, I'm moving to America,' It got down to Nashville or Austin," she says. "I'd spent some time in Nashville but had never been to Texas even as a visitor. So I thought I'd try it out. The owner of the Continental Club here and I have mutual friends, and they helped me get set up with a temporary residency. I like Nashville, but I love Austin."

The Lone Star State's culture appears to be a good fit for Rose, who has a penchant for retro fashion and grew up taking in a steady diet of classic country in her grandparents' now defunct bar, the Union Hall, in Charlottetown, the capital of Prince Edward Island.

"They were huge country-music fans, and that was always the music that was playing in their bar," she says. "I was exposed to older country music from a young age, and I loved everything about it. Charlottetown is technically a city, but it's very much a small town. The whole island is 20 percent beach, 70 percent farmland and 10 percent small towns. Everyone knows everyone. You can't go out without seeing at least five people you know. It's a classic small-town vibe. I sang a bit when I was a kid, but I was really little when they had it. It was a tiny place with dark boards. There are photos of me when I was three or four years old rocking out at the bar and absolutely loving it."

The music and the soul of the old bar made an impact on Rose, whose sound is sometimes called countrypolitan, though she says it is classified simply as country on iTunes. Her sound and presentation evoke ’50s and ’60s Motown. Her most recent full-length, Rule 62, was released last year. The album title derives from words of wisdom from Alcoholics Anonymous: “Don’t take yourself too damn seriously.”

"I guess my music is country with an urban twist," Rose says. "It's been called a lot of things, including Americana. I listen to some contemporary artists, but for the most part my favorite music is from decades ago. Not only country, but I love old pop tunes and old Southern-rock tunes. I'm attracted to everything retro, including decor and clothing. I love big hair, though I just chopped all mine off."

When she and her band aren't warming up crowds for acts such as Marty Stuart or Dwight Yoakam, they're playing smaller rooms across the U.S. and all over Europe.

"We'll usually play a more intimate space when we first get to a new town, and after we build an audience there, we move to bigger rooms," says Rose, who will perform at the Goosetown Tavern in Denver.

In past years, Rose has been backed by the Nashville-based act the Mavericks, whose lead singer, Raul Malo, produced her last release. These days Rose picks her own backing band.

"I choose good people," she says. "Who they are is just as important to me as can they play their instrument well. I choose people who are going to treat me like a human. My guys are great. They've stepped in before with people who are being inappropriate at shows. They get it."

Being the child of a single mother who gave birth to her at the age of nineteen, Rose finds herself feeling compelled to take a stand for women in her life as well as in her music.

"I have a lot of women in my life," she says. "And I know so many who have dealt with harassment. It was normalized for so long. I put up with a lot of shit in my twenties that I certainly wouldn't put up with now. I won't hide my reality anymore. I've been covering the old Lesley Gore tune 'You Don't Own Me' for years. It was cool to see Jessica Chastain sing it on Saturday Night Live recently. We recorded it in November in the studio and are releasing it in a couple weeks. It's coincidental, but fans have been asking for years for a recording of our version of it. Naturally, we countrify it a bit."

Whitney Rose, 8 p.m. Tuesday, February 13, Goosetown Tavern, 3242 East Colfax Avenue, $10.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Nick Hutchinson writes about music for Westword and enjoys playing his guitar when not on deadline.
Contact: Nick Hutchinson