Whitney Ballen – FALLS
2.) It’s Just Like
4.) Open Sea
6.) Fall City*
“Anytime Whitney Ballen launches a new project, it’s worth paying attention. For one thing, Ballen is a thoughtful songwriter with a beguiling singing voice that finds good company in Mirah or Joanna Newsom. The songs are striking in their spareness.” —The Stranger
Whitney Ballen’s dulcet and delightfully atmospheric-electric new solo album FALLS was inspired by living near Fall City, Washington. She spent weekends exploring North Bend and Snoqualmie (where it gets its ‘Falls’) growing up on the East Side of Seattle.
When Ballen was a teenager she started attending the Old Firehouse, “And I was exposed to some pretty awesome bands as you can imagine. Also, I’ve always had this nostalgic feeling about the forests and long winding roads here, and that is exactly what this album portrays. I’d like to think it feels dreamy, foggy even.”
What is it about long, winding roads? “You never know if you will see the end of the curve. They always lead to something, and something is better than nothing. And usually, it will surprise you, like random low clouds, or a fallen tree blocking the road.”
FALLS is Whitney’s second solo full-length release. She started playing live at the legendary (similarly romantic and down-to-earth) all ages venue the Redmond Old Firehouse when she was only 15. FALLS follows her debut full-length White Feathers, White Linens, which was described as “fantastic” by 107.7 The End and praised for its delicate ambience by the Seattle Weekly.
Press often focuses on her unique vocals, and she explains why they draw such attention: “ I’ve never had voice lessons, nor do I plan on it. However, I do find myself singing harmonies constantly, or making new melodies for songs that have been stuck in my head. I suppose I use my voice as an instrument to carry my lyrics, and the performance of the lyrics are really what create the feeling. I tend to feel a lot of emotion through singing, and can hear whether or not people are bullshitting emotion in their lyrics through their singing.”
When Ballen went to the OFH for the first time “I had just started playing guitar and I saw people my age interacting with older kids, younger kids, staff members who also played music, mostly in bands, without judgement on any end,” she says. “I felt extremely welcomed and could tell that everyone had a different story, not just the usual suburban-raised white-bread eating kind of kids. I would volunteer as a CREW member (we got cool orange stickers) and a guy at the door asked me if I played music and I told him I had just started writing songs. He was booking at the time, Benji Rousse. He got me my first show with a few local bands that I surely did not fit with, but it didn’t matter because people came and watched me perform and clapped, and asked me to play again. Benji gave me that chance.”
Ballen continues to attend shows at houses and basements that have led out from the loving shadows of her OFH days. She cites her love for the regular Cafe Racer sessions, featuring bands such as Heatwarmer and Shana Cleveland. She herself fits into many scenes, including “the whole Conor Byrne Head and the Heart, Artist Home/Fremont Abbey scene. You’d think that’d be my main place since it is so heavily focused on empowering singer-songwriters to collaborate, and folk culture.” But there is a stark honesty to her songwriting and a ferocious intimacy to her performances which sets her apart. “I feel more comfortable in the DIY scene because ultimately, that is where I started. Wacky creative mash-up poetry, feedback forever, cassette tape releasing, bedroom playing bands are what I like to listen to and see live. It just feels right.”
The FALLS CD should take listeners into the world where Ballen invested her fecund creativity; in the places she craves most. “Most of the time I spend visiting the Falls happens to be at night. When no one is around, no tourists with cameras, no light pollution, you can hear everything and then you look at this massive scene of white rushing water and realize, it keeps going even when the tourists aren’t here. When we are sleeping, it is going. When I am working, it is going. In fact, right now, it is going. I guess I keep coming back because it is one thing I know will still be there, even if the summer heat turns its’ stream small. Water will always be falling from those rocks, I will always be able to count on the Falls.”