interview by Michael McCarthy
The reason this interview is titled Much More Than The Voice is that today’s subject is Whitney Fenimore, who you may recall from season 13 of a little show called The Voice. She did a touching rendition of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” which she rearranged herself, at the blind auditions and Adam Levine and Miley Cyrus both turned around for her. She chose Adam, but when he chose someone else during the battle rounds, Blake and Miley both wanted to steal her and she decided to go with Miley. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it to the end of the competition, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of talent.
Prior to The Voice, Whitney released two EPs, but only the second, 2014’s In Between, is on Spotify. To my ears, the EP is very organic, singer/songwriter pop influenced a bit by folk. Based on that, I would say she’s kind of like a cross between Michelle Branch, Vanessa Carlton and Sheryl Crow. But if her red-hot, new single “Find Your Love” is any indication, she’s veering in a slightly different direction these days, perhaps drawing inspiration from newer artists like Lorde and Kygo. The production of “Find Your Love” is fresh, too, featuring a warm wall of sound for the listener to bask in. I also feel like her voice has matured since 2014. She sounds great on the EP, but now her voice would seem to have more depth. More character. Put it this way: when she started off, she was a solid, medium roast coffee. Nothing wrong with that at all. It’s quite tasty. However, now she’s a rich, full-bodied dark roast to die for. The sort of coffee people drive a mile out of their way to get every morning. My point is simply that she’s nothing shy of gourmet on “Find Your Love,” which I fully expect to hear on top 40 radio in a few months. In the meantime, listen to it below and get to know the woman behind the voice. As you’re about to discover, we talked about many things.
MM: You moved to Los Angeles from Tulsa in 2013. Did you already know you wanted to be a singer at that point or were just thinking about doing something with the arts?
WF: I did. I knew I was going to do music. That’s actually why I moved out there. I got a publishing deal as a songwriter for a company called Sleeping Giant Music Group. That was headed up by Ken Caillat, who did a lot of stuff. His daughter is Colbie Caillat. I had really, really looked up to her as a songwriter and a performer so I was like thrilled to have the opportunity to work with him. He’s done a lot of stuff – back in the day – with Fleetwood Mac and Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. He’s got a cool, little list of people he’s worked with. And he was just so excited. So, that’s kind of what got me to initially get out there. And I was doing performance stuff, too. Playing shows and just writing with a ton of artists and trying to make it for the three years I was out there.
MM: So, you’ve worked on songs for other artists as well as yourself?
WF: I have, yes. But I feel like I’m better at writing for myself. That’s the majority of writing that I’ve done. But these days I’m totally more open to writing for other people as well.
MM: The version of “Find Your Love” that’s out now is the radio edit, according to the track they sent me. What’s the difference between that version and what will be on the EP? Is it just a few seconds shorter?
WF: [Laughs] We trimmed like two minutes off.
WF: [Laughs] So, when we first did that song it turned into this very cosmic, trippy song, like you were floating in space, which is cool, and that’s what I like about the very end of the song. We were still able to keep that last bit. But it was really just instrumental stuff that we trimmed off. It was hard for me, but with radio, most listeners have a three-minute span before they go, OK, next song. So, I really was advised, like, hey, maybe we could trim it down. We were able to trim it without losing some of my favorite parts of the song.
MM: Have you been getting much radio airplay yet?
WF: You know, we haven’t done national radio just yet. That would be awesome if that comes. Right now, we’re really just looking at Spotify. Spotify’s kind of our main target. We’ve gotten on a few playlists there. And we did do a national internet radio called Dash. I had an interview with them and we got to play the song on there live. So, that should be out soon. But as far as FM radio, nothing yet, but that would be super cool if that happened.
MM: Did you write “Find Your Life” by yourself or did you write with anyone on that one?
WF: I did. I wrote that here in Phoenix. Probably a month and a half to two months ago. Maybe it was February. Yeah, that one kind of came out. I say it just kind of came out, but I had been forcing myself to get in the habit of writing every single day. And just putting down and really honing in on that craft. And so that one I think was a couple of things I had been working with. It was also a very different song than I typically write, which I liked. It’s very me, it’s just different than what I have put out in the past. But, yeah, I wrote that one by myself, but then the rest of the songs on the EP that’ll be coming out, I believe in May, I co-wrote. But this one is solely me.
MM: So, can you tell us the titles of the other songs that will be on the EP?
WF: I can. So, we have “Stoned,” [which] is the next song that comes out and, “You Think You’re Right But I Do, Too.” There will be a song called “Battle Within” and there’s going to be a song called “Drift.” There’s gonna be five songs on there. Some of them, I honestly wrote a while back. They had just been kind of sitting. And I knew those songs needed to be heard. But as a songwriter, it’s tough when you write something and it just gets put on a shelf. It feels like it needs to be out into the open. So, I’m really very excited. Even though for me, some of these songs aren’t brand new. They will be new to everyone else, though. It’ll be cool hearing people’s reactions and what they think about everything.
MM: Beyond that, are you looking to put out an album early next year or have you talked about that at all?
WF: The industry is changing so much that if you put all your eggs [in one basket] and just release an album they’re ready for you to put something else out two months after you drop that. That’s kind of why we did the single thing. We’re releasing another one and then the EP and not putting a million songs on the EP, just doing a shortened, just like 5 songs, just to give people a little taste of what’s to come. Hopefully, there will be a full-length. That would be the goal. But the way music is releasing now, it’s singles. Singles and EPs and then you can even tour on that. That’s really the main goal, to start touring this summer and into the fall. And then talking album stuff probably in the fall.
MM: Can I ask you a few questions about The Voice?
WF: Absolutely, please.
MM: Cool. So, where did you audition for The Voice?
WF: I had an opportunity to audition for The Voice in Oklahoma City, which, honestly, was over a year ago. The whole process is a very long process. But it was in Oklahoma City in January of 2017. And, yeah, so, that was super cool. Because I had auditioned before in 2011 in Chicago and didn’t make it and I was so discouraged. I had tried out for American Idol a few times and didn’t make that. Got kind of far in the competition, as far as the audition process, but it didn’t end up working out and I had kind of written off the idea of doing the whole reality singing show thing. I was like, I don’t want to do this ever again. And then I got an e-mail about auditioning for the show and I was like, I’ve gotta do this. And that was right after I had lived in L.A. for a few years and moved home and I was just working as a barista at a coffee shop. I got the e-mail and I knew that I needed to get back into music because I kind of laid it down for a little bit. And there was a void. And I felt like that was my chance to pick up music again. It was just so cool how that all unfolded.
MM: When you’re auditioning for a season of The Voice, how many auditions do you have to go through before you make it to the blind auditions?
WF: Um, there’s quite a few like preliminary auditions. I don’t know if I’m really supposed to talk about it. I want to say there’s a few. I think it’s common knowledge. Just like American Idol. There are probably three or so preliminary auditions before they’re like, OK, you can audition for the show on TV. It’s a long process. And it’s really taught me a great deal of patience. In the music industry, you have to have patience. It’s a waiting game. So, yeah, it ended up spanning out an entire year. A year of my life. And I would totally do it all over again. But, yeah, it took about a year to complete everything with auditioning and filming and traveling back and forth from L.A. to back home. And it’s crazy. You definitely take a year off from doing your normal, everyday stuff. But it’s cool. It’s cool to get to act like a rock star or pop star for a year, which is cool.
MM: I actually watched your performances on The Voice on Youtube the other day because I hadn’t watched the show in a while. The thing that really struck me was how you didn’t look nervous at all during your blind audition. Were you nervous on the inside?
WF: That’s so good to hear, that I didn’t look nervous, because I was terrified. And I struggle very bad, or at least I did, with anxiety and panic attacks and stuff. I was just praying that my nerves wouldn’t take over and I just had to do push-ups and stuff before I went on, just to get the nerves gone. Breathing exercises and putting essential oils on and drinking tea. Everything I could do to just chill out. I was really, really nervous. I had talked to my dad before he was like, “Listen, you’ve done this a million times. You have been singing since you were 12 years old and you’ve been singing in front of people before. Don’t let this be any different.” I had to just think about it like that and not psyche myself out. And not be, like, oh Adam Levine is right there. I just couldn’t think like that because that would totally screw up what I was trying to do. So, I just pretended like I was doing a show. That advice from my dad really, really helped me. Like this is what I do. Don’t let it be anything different than that.
MM: When Adam and Miley’s chairs turned around, did that make the anxiety go up or were like, OK, I’m on the show now?
WF: Yeah, interestingly enough, I almost started laughing and crying because I was just like, oh my God, this is incredible. So, it was very much a sense of relief. But I also had to not lose my train of thought in what I was doing. I feel like I got less nervous when they turned around. I was like, OK, the hard part is over, just keep singing and try to do your best. Get through this because you’re on the show. You’re on the show now. [Laughs]
MM: And then, of course, you had to choose between Adam and Miley. What went through your head when you were contemplating that?
WF: Well, I, from the get-go, wanted Adam. I’ve been a huge fan of his since I was 15. I remember hearing Songs About Jane. He was in a band early on called Kara’s Flowers and then they turned into Maroon 5, I believe. I remember hearing his record, Songs About Jane, and I’d never heard anything like that. I just respected him for forever so I was like this guy knows what he’s doing, I’ve gotta go with him. Then Miley’s [chair] turned and I was like, dang. I really was torn because I respect her as well. She completely had to learn how to re-brand herself, which is a huge, huge thing in this industry, and she’s got an incredible voice and she’s an incredible performer. So, I couldn’t go wrong with either of them, but I had to stay true to my 15-year-old self and choose Adam.
MM: When it came down to being stolen by Blake or Miley was Miley going to be it without question or was there any consideration that you might go with Blake?
WF: That’s what it felt like. For two seconds I was like, Blake is from Oklahoma, he always wins – I’m from Oklahoma, originally – maybe I should just go with him. But I was like, you know what, Miley turned for me during my blind audition and she’ll definitely make me step out of my comfort zone. So, I’m gonna go with her. That’s how I chose that. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and when I was looking back, I’d go, what if I had chosen Blake? What would that have been like? But I really have no regrets. She was awesome.
MM: When you did Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” I thought you were doing your own version that you had rearranged –
WF: – Yeah!
MM: But then Adam kind of accused you of copying Christina Grimmie’s version or something –
WF: – Yeah. So, I guess in a way he was like… I honestly didn’t even know that she did that song. And I knew for a little bit that I was gonna do that song. And that was my rendition of it. I didn’t know until the night before that she’d sang that song. I literally looked up who else has done this song on The Voice and I saw that it was her and I was like, awe, shoot, they’re gonna think that I was trying to manipulate their emotions. You know what I mean?
MM: Yeah, it makes sense.
WF: I was actually not excited because I’m not trying to fill her shoes. That’s not what I was trying to do. But [then] he said, “Thank you. It was like she was saying hello.” It just happened to be the song that I did. But I’m glad that it was well received. At least I hope it was. But for him it was. He took it as a good thing. But, yeah, that was a rendition that I had created with my friend Nick Livingston. We were working on that before I we went out to L.A. I was like, I think it would be cool to do it like this. I wanted to do an acoustic version. So, that was our little rendition.
MM: Having worked with Adam and Miley, how would you compare their approaches?
WF: You know, I didn’t get to work with Miley as much as I would’ve liked to. I only got to work with her one round, I guess. I feel like Adam was just so down to earth. He’s really funny and he’s very blunt. Miley, too. They were both so encouraging. I know they’re different in their own ways, but it was equally just as cool to work with both of them. I would say Miley maybe cares more about the style, like what you’re wearing. Or how you’re performing. And then Adam is maybe more about the music and the arrangements of the songs. And that, to me, I think is more important as a songwriter and a musician, but it was cool learning the performance side with Miley and the aesthetic stuff. She was good at that.
MM: Too bad you couldn’t have them both all season. Then you would’ve won.
WF: [Laughs] I don’t know about that, but that would’ve been cool.
MM: I actually went to see The Voice live a few years back when they toured.
WF: They toured?
MM: Yeah, they did a tour and two of my favorites, Christina Grimmie and Dia Frampton, they were both among the people who did the tour. And they sang some original stuff. They did some songs together. Some of them did duets together. It was pretty impressive.
WF: I didn’t know they ever did a tour. That’s great.
MM: I brought it up because I was curious if they’d ever said anything about doing a tour to you.
WF: No, but, you know, I just recently chatted with Dia Frampton. Someone wanted us to meet. So, I might meet with her and just chat about life after The Voice. I think we’re both trying to do similar things. But, yeah, that’s so cool that they did a little tour. I guess I thought American Idol did that. I know they also talked about doing The Voice in Vegas. Did you hear about that?
MM: No, I haven’t.
WF: Yeah, they’re gonna have The Voice live in Vegas and have a few of America’s favorite contestants from past shows. That should be pretty neat.
MM: Have you kept in touch with any of the other contestants from the show?
WF: Yeah, probably each week I talk to someone from The Voice. Adam Cunningham, I think he was top six or five or something, he was one of my very best friends. Chloe was actually my roommate for a little bit on the show. She was like the funniest person ever. Literally, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard around another human. She’s just so funny. [Laughs] [I talk to] everybody, like Brooke and Carli. Ashland, Hannah – I could name all of them because we were all so close. I just saw a few of them a couple weeks ago at SXSW. Megan Rose and Rebecca Brunner. Then I spoke on the phone the other day with Jon Mero. We are all very, very close and very much friends with each other. One of the guys, he’s getting married this summer. His name is Gary Carpentier. I’m supposed to go out to his wedding in June. It’s super cool because not only do you get a fun opportunity to sing, you end up making some incredible, lifelong friends.
MM: So, if you could headline a club tour or open for somebody like Lana Del Rey or Halsey in arenas, which would you prefer?
WF: Would I rather do a club tour or an arena tour?
MM: The club tour, you would be headlining. But the arena, you would be opening.
WF: I would do the arena. I’ve dreamed about that since I was a kid. Every time I go to a concert, it’s like, I get the feeling, it’s hard to explain. I feel like I’m supposed to be doing that. I want to play on that stage so bad. So, that would be so cool, to open for one of those girls. Hell, I’d be an opener on a club tour. I just want to tour and do music.
MM: When you perform live, what songs are you doing? All the songs from the EP or do you do any covers?
WF: Yeah, so, in 2010 I had an EP called Ready Let Go and it had about seven songs on it. So, I pull from that one. And then I have an EP from 2014 called In Between so I’ll play songs from that. And then I’ll throw in a couple songs from the new EP, and I definitely throw in covers, and songs I did on the show. I do “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” “If it Makes You Happy.” And sometimes I’ll do “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Right now, it’s been acoustic. Just me or me and another friend playing acoustic or electric. But I’m really hoping to do full band here. It always sounds so much better when you can get the full band going.
MM: Who produced “Find Your Love,” by the way?
WF: An incredible, incredible songwriter and producer. His name is John Coggins. He is out in L.A. He just signed with Sony as a songwriter. We’re very close friends from Tulsa. We actually met in Tulsa when we were like 19. So, we’ve been friends for almost ten years and everything that guy does turns to gold. He’s incredibly creative and talented. And the cool thing about working with him was that whenever I had an idea, he didn’t shut it down. He let me elaborate on what I thought would be good. We work really well together and I think that’s really important, to have good chemistry creatively. I most likely will be working with him a lot in the future. He’s great.
MM: Are you currently binge-watching anything?
WF: [Laughs] There’s a show I literally did binge-watch just recently called Queer Eye. It’s these guys that just go around giving makeovers. I think it’s the best show I’ve ever seen. I literally cried and laughed. I felt every emotion. So, I totally binge-watched that.
MM: So, they’re still making that? I know that was a popular show maybe 10 years ago.
WF: Exactly! So, they made a new one. It’s on Netflix now. It’s a group of new guys who are like in their 20’s and 30’s. So, it’s a totally different cast. They’re working on season two now. I’m pretty excited about it.
MM: Nice. Are there any other shows that you watch?
WF: Let’s see. I used to love Broad City. I haven’t watched that in a while. Of course, I watch The Voice. I try not to watch too much TV, honestly, because I’ll just get sucked in and I won’t do anything else. There’s a show that I did love called Ozark with Jason Bateman. It was incredible. It’s like Breaking Bad, which I never saw, but I’m told it’s like that. That show is addicting.
MM: There’s been a huge vinyl comeback during recent years. Are you a fan of vinyl?
WF: I love vinyl. I actually just bought these old vintage speakers. I went to a Melrose flea market or trading post or something in L.A. a couple weeks ago. And they had these super cute wooden speakers and I bought them for like 60 bucks to go with my vinyl player. It’s all about the speakers. If they’re not good speakers, the vinyl is not gonna sound good. But, yeah, I love vinyl. And I hope to make the EP on vinyl as well as CD. I’m a huge fan.
MM: Just be careful not to hook a CD player up to those speakers and play something that was released during the past five years because the volume level now is cranked up so much it can blow old speakers. I had a pair of JBL speakers I had spend about a thousand dollars on and they were about 15 years old and I was listening to a Katy Perry CD and it just blew the subwoofer of one of them.
WF: Oh, my God.
MM: I forget what made the other one blow.
WF: That sucks.
MM: I think it might’ve been Robbie Williams. He’s a pop singer from the UK.
WF: OK, thanks. I will not do that. Well, I have to figure out how to… I think you have to have an interface to plug them into and then that plugs into the [turntable]. I think I have to get another device to hook them up.
MM: I believe that’s what’s called the receiver.
WF: The receiver, yes!
MM: Have you bought much vinyl yet?
WF: Yeah. I’ve got a pretty good little collection starting. A lot of like Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Ray Vaughn, Billy Joel and I’ve got newer stuff like Sam Smith and there’s a band called LANY. John Mayer. Some good new stuff, that’s really fun on vinyl. Yeah, I’ve got a good collection started for sure. But, definitely, I’m always adding to it.
MM: What was the first concert you ever attended?
WF: Oh my God. I grew up in a church, so it had to be a Christian concert. I was obsessed with concerts growing up. It was probably Carman or Jars of Clay. Or Michael W. Smith. Maybe Jars of Clay, I think it was.
MM: That’s funny. I interviewed their singer, but he was promoting a different project he was doing called The Hawk in Paris, which is really good.
WF: I’ll have to look them up. That’s cool. That was like my first show and then I never stopped going to concerts ever since.
MM: What’s the first album you ever bought with your own money?
WF: Oh, it was probably Hanson. On cassette. I think it was Hanson. Or NSYNC or something. And I just played those until the cows came home. Like every day after school I would go put that on my boombox and dance until dinner. I was not a good dancer, but I thought I could dance.
MM: What’s the worst day job you ever had?
WF: The worst day job? I worked at a tanning salon and that was really horrible. I did not like that. I mean, I broke a tanning bed, too. I was cleaning it and put too much weight on one hand and it was like [makes crashing sound] and I was like, oh my Gosh, how did this happen? Good Lord.
MM: If you had to go into the studio today and record a cover, what would you do?
WF: I would do – this is just the first song that came to mind, but I would do “Slow Burn” by Kacey Musgraves. I’ve been playing that record non-stop.
MM: Yeah, me, too. The only thing about it that I will say is that her previous albums had a great sense of humor about them. A lot of the lyrics were kind of funny and she toned that down quite a bit on the new one.
WF: She did. Yeah. I kind of liked that about her. That was her writing style. But I think on this one she had a lot of different writers. I just think that sonically, too, it’s so different. It sounds like a cross between Beck and The Weepies. Those are two people I really, really like. Maybe I should say bands? But I love them.
MM: Last question. If someone was giving you a million dollars to give to charity and it all had to go to one charity or cause, which would you give it to?
WF: Such a hard question because there are so many good ones. I would probably give it to Charity Water. Obviously, they give a lot of clean water to different families in need. And I think if you have clean water that’s gonna help with a lot of other issues health-wise. I think I would say, yeah, that.
MM: Oh, there was one other one. If you could resurrect any one musician from the dead, who would you bring back?
WF: That’s a really hard one. Probably, Tom Petty. Yeah. That was really sad. And I had just played his song on The Voice and I was so hoping that he heard it. And then it literally aired the week he passed away. It was so odd that that happened. Very strange, you know? But there are so many guys. I almost said Michael Jackson. That was hard.
Extra special thanks to Whitney for taking the time to speak with us and to Renee Cotsis at Girlie Action for setting it up!