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Song Premiere: "Love Keeps no Record of Wrongs" by Whitney Walker

22 February 2023

Photo Credit: Sparxsea

Portland, Maine indie-noir singer-songwriter Whitney Walker’s new single “Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs” carries a dark folk-rock melancholy weight. It’s a direct quote from the priest at his cousin’s wedding while Walker was dealing with the pain of an unfaithful fiancée. “Nobody would accuse me of being perfect except god,” sings Walker over Crooked Fingers style fingerpicked guitar and Colley’s somber bass clarinet.

“I don’t believe in God,” says Walker, “but I believe something’s out there. This is a divine intervention song. I’ve been far from perfect. I’ve been emotionally unavailable to people, and it took me a long time to figure that out.”

His new album, A Dog Staring Into a Mirror on the Floor, covers ground in similarly dark literary veins as Nick Cave and Tom Waits, with the help of Dana Colley of Morphine’s ominous saxophone and bass clarinet throughout the record. It’s an album that’s equal parts grungy dirge and triumphant march towards humanity after years of dealing with bipolar disorder, homelessness, addiction, divorce and keeping his family together.

“These songs are about love or death,” Walker says. “They deal with extreme emotions through the skewed lens of someone with manic depressive viewpoints, plus the addiction. What ties it all together is the title, A Dog Staring Into a Mirror on the Floor. Apparently if that happens, a dog will go insane because they see themselves infinitely through the mirror. Their brains can’t handle that. So I guess the mirror to me would be drugs and alcohol, my mom dying, my dog dying and growing up in a broken home. All that stuff leading to intense mental health issues.”

The album kicks off on a positive note with “Amatle” (pronounced a-mot-ley), a birthday song forged from the love of his new wife. It implements a middle-eastern droning waltz, and uses a non-standard blues tuning that Walker found on the back of a John Fahey record.

Walker has been fronting bands non-stop since he was a teenager living just outside of Boston in the ‘90s. He moved to Oregon where he met his then wife at 18 years old, and got married at 21. From there he moved over 13 times between Oregon (Bend, Eugene, Portland), Chicago and North Carolina before eventually settling in Maine, where he’s been for the past 12 years.

Walker’s life veered way off track in the ‘00s when he began using drugs in a significant way, leading to divorce, custody battles, and eventually finding himself homeless in Portland, Oregon, living under an overcoat in Laurelhurst Park. A pattern of homelessness would continue throughout Walker’s adult life, inspiring the song “Reverse Cowboy,” which was written as an ode to the ‘King of the Homeless’, a legendary transient in Portland, whose nose was broken seventeen times.

This was the height of Walker’s addiction, living in a culture of waking up and needing to drink then figuring out where to score some cheap cocaine and weed while getting three meals a day at Food Not Bombs. He was obsessed with the idealized hobo life presented in the 1926 book You Can’t Win, by the burglar hobo Jack Black. All the while, Walker was battling with his bi-polar diorder, culminating in an attempted suicide by stabbing himself in the heart multiple times, leading to two open heart surgeries and a month-long coma.

“I wrote the song, ‘Single Job Wide’ the morning before my suicide attempt,” Walker says. “It only happened because I had an adverse reaction to a medication and it made me suicidal. I’m not a suicidal person. I called my psychiatrist and he never called me back, then he charged me for the appointment that I missed when I was in a coma. It was a long recovery, but I had a wonderful nurse named Heather who really took care of me.”

“Heather from Here” is a Pixies-esqe, dark-pop, indie-rock track about the townie girls in every small town getting drunk and dangerous nightly, with backing vocals from Brooke Binion (theWorst). This is an ode to all the “Heathers” of the world, and Walker has known a few. “She does not know that she will always be from here,” Walker sings. “People speak of her like a monument / She’s likely outside drinking warm beer / I never know if she’ll make it through a night / She’s working class but she’s never had a job / I don’t know how that exists.”

The Blue Öyster Cult meets Violent Femmes folk rock of “The Second Civil World War III” deals with arguments in relationships. “Freedom and Money” wouldn’t be out of place on a Clash record, dealing with class warfare and the freedom that’s provided when you come from money, as his ex-wife did. Like a warbly, psychedelic, David Lynchian street corner, “Shoeless Joe” is Walker’s ode to busking for money in the streets, something he’s all too familiar with. Written when he was 23, “Make Love in the Middle” is a trippy rocker built around the fantasy of Walker and his ex-wife making love in a pond, surrounded by vineyards, when visiting the Biltmore Estates while they were in their early 20’s, back in better times. “Johnny Fountain” served Walker his very last drink. This song is an elegy to his friend who died too soon of colon cancer. “Maybe the road will find us again / Maybe the road never ends,” sings Walker.

Walker was finally able to turn his life around in 2011 by getting sober. He then became a social worker and now helps addicts find treatment and rehabilitation. Because of his own personal struggles with mental illness, he holds an active position in the Portland, Maine community through assisting the destitute. In 2014, Walker became friends with Will Bradford, bandleader of SeepeopleS, and during the recent COVID-19 lockdown, Bradford and his band mates, alongside Whit’s current bandmates and extended musical family helped bring his songs to life.

Album closer “Hey Buddy” was written for his brother’s wedding, a picturesque love song for two people who called each other buddy as a term of endearment. It takes the folky indie rock of The Dodos or Rodriguez’s “Sugarman,” but with a fuller sound that’s elevated with moments of piano pop charm and the twinkling of bells. Is this a “white picket fence” utopia that Walker will ever see?

“I feel a lot more stable,” says Walker. “I’m married now. I’ve had two manic episodes during the pandemic, but I feel like the music I’m making is better than ever. I’m feeling more human and connected to who I am than I have in a long time.”

A Dog Staring Into a Mirror on the Floor is a dark yet hopeful journey through Walker’s life of loves lost and gained, wandering among the forgotten masses of homeless, mentally ill addicts, and through it all, finding hope in family and friends. There’s wonder in this record.

“My music is for the people who don’t fit in,” says Walker. “People on the margins: drug addicts, homeless kids, closeted homosexuals, transgender folks. My dad came out to me first, which meant a lot to me, and my kid came out as non-binary. This record is for people who look out the window and wish they weren’t in school.”

Walker released the first two singles, “Amatle” and “Reverse Cowboy,” during the pandemic. A Dog Staring Into a Mirror on the Floor is out Mar. 3 via RascalZ RecordZ. Walker is already working on the next record, and plans to tour after this album’s release.