about the artist //
It didn’t take long for the first Beth Whitney song I heard to get stuck in my head. “Sweet On You” is a soft, delicate ballad that Beth admittedly wrote for her husband and fellow bandmate, Aaron Fishburn. When I sent my wife the song, I could hear it playing in her office for several days. The song is like the missing words for anyone in love that can never quite articulate what the other means to them. In short, it’s beautiful.
After two successful EPs (“Ukulele” and “Yellow”), Beth Whitney joined singer and songwriter Bradford Loomis to form The Banner Days. “It means this is now,” Whitney said when I asked her what the Banner Days meant. “In the vastness of space and time and galaxies and spinning planets, we are, however small, right here.” And that might just be what is so remarkable about Beth’s music. No matter where you are or what you are doing, no matter the list of items to do on your list, or the amount of work that must be done, when you listen to Beth’s music you can’t help but feel pulled into the moment.
This is the second and final part in a two-part series with The Banner Days. We are so very grateful for the chance to speak with both Bradford and Beth and encourage you to buy their music and follow them on social media. But before you do all that, enjoy this interview with Beth Whitney.
BC // Normally I like to ask artists to share their story with me, but I want to take a different approach with you, if that's okay. I was wondering how many years you've been playing music?
BW // I've written poetry since I was in elementary school but the songwriting started when I was handed my first guitar about 15 years ago by a grandfather-type figure at my church. He held it out to me and said, "Could you use this?" I paused and then decided right then that I would.
BC // I've met countless aspiring artists and musicians, young and old, who let music or art be their backup plan. Was music ever on the back burner for you? Was there something you were doing or planning to do before wholly focusing on music?
Oh man. I've wanted to be Mother Theresa. I've wanted to be a lawyer. I've wanted to be in marketing. I've wanted to live off the grid on berries, streams, and idealism (laughs). But music—music has always been like a sibling to me. She can annoy me, encourage me, make me have all the tears. What I most appreciate is that she finishes my sentences when I just can't anymore. I've not found a better way to communicate, to connect this inside to the out.
But to answer more plainly—speaking of communication—after a year studying abroad and a stint in Nashville, I spent my college years at Whitworth University in Spokane studying non-violent conflict resolution. I wanted, and still want, to be a force of sustainable justice and peace. So I studied the greats that have done just that with grace and a raw but unrelenting hope. Unfortunately I decided, like a true geek squad, that finishing in three years would be super fun so I had very little free time. But I wrote and played music when I could and also started jamming with some handsome stud named Aaron. We were offered a record deal my senior year and poured into that after graduating. What I learned those years is all wrapped up in this music and me.
BC // What changed for you? Was there an "aha" moment where you realized that creating and performing was, in fact, an option?
Shortly after getting that first guitar I remember writing a song for an English project after I'd procrastinated doing an "actual" project. I got an A+ and a standing ovation and I sat there crouched behind my guitar and thought, "Huh..well that went pretty well."
That was my first experience with being, I guess, rewarded for playing music and also for choosing a different approach than the prescribed assignments we were given as students, and eventually as adults.
There hasn't been huge ‘aha’ moments. But I did make a deal with God when I was 19 and limping back from a tough run in Nashville. I told God I wouldn't pursue music, but I would say yes if someone asked me to play. Since then it has been a series of saying yes, following leads, not getting in the way. I am sometimes reluctant to perform, but I am also reluctant to eat salad, go on runs, or socialize. (laughs). The things that make my insides turn are generally the right things to do for me.
BC // I think aspiring artists, whether they are musicians or writers or painters, are met with this immense skepticism when they finally muster up the courage to proclaim what they want to do. It's almost like if you can't sell out an amphitheater than there's no point and you should just pick a more reasonable path. But you oppose that view pretty heavily, correct?
I've never met someone who doubted or scoffed me as harshly as my own insecurities do. I've not even really met anyone who says its “arenas or nothing.” That would be foolish—like telling a businessman he isn't a true businessman unless he owns a Fortune 500 company. There is certainly an undercurrent of that sentiment, though. I was at the post office a while back sending out a pretty huge stack of orders and a guy said, "Whoa! What's all that?" And I told him they were CD and t-shirt orders, and he said, "Oh! You're a musician! How long have you been trying to make it?"
But I'm there, sending out a ton of orders, doing music, making it.
The globalization of music in the last century is just weird. I imagine it used to be that a good song spread two ways: It was either so dang good it just had to spread and eventually became a classic; or, someone strapped on a lyre and physically brought the song with them to new towns. Local music used to be the only music there was. The same way local produce was essentially the only food you had. Those things have become novelties. It's very odd. The Banner Days is in part about fully being where you are right now. Living room shows help facilitate those moments we've found and feel like a step back in time.
BC // Who is Aaron Fishburn, and what is his significance in your life and music?
BW // Aaron is the boy I've loved since I was four years old, and the man I get to do life with. Sometimes that's music. Sometimes that's hiking. Sometimes that's crafting the perfect pour-over.
BC // Did music or love come first for you two?
BW // For me, love. Or at least a profound admiration for him. We didn't know each other too terribly well until college, but I wrote him a note in middle school telling him that we'd marry someday. I didn't deliver it until we actually married, thank God. We didn't know the other played music until later. I played music at a wedding where he was a groomsman and then I later learned he played the hottest instrument alive. I'm basically the luckiest kid in the zoo.
BC // What does it mean to have him there with you, performing with you to a song like "Sweet On You"?
I go back to the moment I wrote that one pretty often when we perform it. I was in the passenger seat of a huge awkward van named Valcor that we did our first tours in.
We end up playing that one at a lot of weddings. It feels like a benediction of sorts. One couple's wish for another. I hope he feels it. I hope he hears me.
BC // Maybe the most recognizable music duo in recent history was the Civil Wars, who broke ties about a year ago. You and Bradford, in my opinion, share a lot of that same chemistry that made the Civil Wars so fascinating and enjoyable. When you started playing with Bradford, did you know there was something special there?
BW // Yeah. I could sense some cosmic puzzle pieces fitting together. Though Aaron and I were in a constant state of sleep deprivation at the time. Could have been a touch of crazy in there. Just enough, maybe.
BC // Was it difficult to transition from being a solo artist to working and writing with someone else?
Yes and no. Teaming up has been wonderful. Bradford is all you could ask for in a band mate and then some. I'm continually baffled by his freight train of talent paired with the utmost kindness. We have moments where we don't agree on a lyric or phrasing or whatever but we generally leave the studio (mostly) alive so I think we're doing pretty well.
The transition into this venture happened to coincide with the birth of my first son. I've not found my footing in any of this and I don't know if I ever will. It's like treading water hoping for the sea floor to rise but it's just not gonna happen. I think I just have to swim.
BC // What does 'The Banner Days' mean to you?
BW // It means this is now. In the vastness of space and time and galaxies and spinning planets, we are, however small, right here.
Does money inform or play a role in the way that you write or approach music?
BW // Gosh, I hope not. At least as far as writing goes. I wrote a fully folk-pop song a few years ago, sort of to be funny, and like clockwork it went into heavy rotation at our AAA station the week it was released. I've spent years on songs and the one I spent 2 hours on was what the tastemakers wanted. (Laughs) I don't mind writing catchy stuff to give folks something to grab onto, but not at the cost of content. Honest and well-crafted songs are my goal.
BC // What’s next for you? Are you going to continue touring? Do you have plans for anther solo album or an album with The Banner Days?
BW // We will tone down touring for the fall and spring as we release something pretty unique that we've been working on. Aaron and I have a Bossanova album coming out late this fall and then we'll head into the studio for another Banner Days album. Making friends. Making music.
BC // When you look to the future, knowing what you've accomplished, and having a general idea of what's ahead of you, how do you think you'll measure your success when you reach the end?
Well, of course , when it's all said and done, it will just come down to how many Beanie Babies I've collected (laughs again). No. If I have a good catalogue of songs, co-writes or otherwise, that have painted some small picture of the experience of being human, I think I could raise a glass to that.
If nothing else, I've had women use my albums while they were in childbirth. I've sung at a funeral while a widower cried to his wife's favorite song. I've sung my son to sleep. I've written songs with kids mourning parents and ones who just needed something they could be proud of. I've written my own heart and mind out of some dark places. I've used the guitar, like I said I would. And that's good.
We exist to support artists. Our mission – the reason we do what we do – is to introduce you to artists that you might not have heard before, artists that are growing, always growing, and always working on their craft. Beth Whitney deserves your support. On her website you’ll find links to purchase her music, which we encourage you to do. Follow her on social media and pay attention to where she and Bradford Loomis will be playing next!