I am a student of history, so when an artist takes on historical material as songwriting inspiration, of course I get interested.
Whitney Moore, lead singer of Asheville’s swing outfit Queen Bee & The Honeylovers, recently penned a collection of songs rooted in the history of her hometown, Asheville, North Carolina.
The stories contained on the appropriately titled Asheville dig deep into the mountain town’s history, telling stories of local speakeasies and tailor shops, tales of love gone awry, and highlighting local iconic spots such as Grove Park Inn and the Biltmore.
I recently caught up with Whitney Moore to talk with her about writing songs in her sleep, the stories behind these Asheville songs, and just how yummy honey can be.
BRO – Tell me about how the inspiration came to make a record steeped in Asheville history.
WM – As a fourth generation Asheville native, it’s bittersweet to watch Asheville change so quickly. As big hotels and condos go up, the landscape is changing dramatically, often destroying, or at least overshadowing, the very historic places and stories people come here to see. I wanted to share those stories, and sometimes with a bit of artistic license, dig further into them. Many of the songs were inspired by stories my grandparents told me, which I then went and looked up in the Pack Library North Carolina Room. And, of course, many were taken from local legends. On a personal note, I found studying history, and especially the history of this place where my roots go so deep, comforting during a time of upheaval and cynicism. It helped me to keep things in perspective and to remember that this is just one small moment in the grand scheme of things.
BRO – We are featuring “The Legend of Zelda Fitzgerald” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the history behind that one?
WM – This one started out as a waltz I wrote in my sleep for my husband. I woke up with it fully composed and I went straight to the piano to get it down before I forgot it. We danced our first dance to it at our wedding. And a snippet of that original song is preserved in the intro “Dreamer’s Waltz.” Then James Posedel, our pianist, helped me write a bridge for it and turn it into a swing tune. When it came to to choose lyrical content for it, I was drawn to Zelda’s story. I suffered from anxiety and depression in the postpartum after my son was born and felt intense sympathy for the mental illness Zelda lived with for most of her life. How many people, and especially women, ended up institutionalized because they lacked access to good therapy, knowledge of diet and exercise, etc.? Would I have ended up like her if I had lived in those times? My husband was my rock during that time, as. F. Scott was Zelda’s, although, of course, their marriage was fraught with tremendous conflict. Still, I felt enough of a kinship to use some of their story to tell some of ours.
BRO – How did you go about putting together this particular hive of musicians?
WM – I’d been on maternity leave for over a year when, in October of 2017, my old friend and bass player, Trevor Stoia, called me up to sing some jazz dates with his group, Hot Point Trio, at the Biltmore. I had so much fun and decided to put together a little swing group of my own. So I called up Michael Gamble, one of my oldest friends, and he jumped in on saxophone. I’d been in a traditional jazz band with Michael called The Gamblers and we invited our piano player from that group, James Posedel, to join us. Mattick Frick was a new friend. He’d made a name for himself as a drummer in Sirius B, The Resonant Rogues, and other bands around town, and was just starting to play jazz guitar professionally. I loved his style and voice and we shared a vision for creating a dreamy, nostalgic sound. I’m happy to say that I consider all the folks I play with close friends, which is pretty important considering how much time we spend together. I think it’s safe to say that all of us are pretty goofy and definitely don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s refreshing to have a project totally unconcerned with being cool.
BRO – How excited are you to share these songs with your hometown friends?
WM – So excited! I’ve gone to great pains to fill this album with little shout outs and tidbits for people to catch if they’re listening closely. I really hope it helps them feel as rooted to this place as I do and to celebrate our culture and history.
BRO – Honey goes best on . . .
WM – Fresh, hot biscuits! Or maybe in a cup of mint tea from the garden.
Because this past weekend’s show sold out, Queen Bee & The Honeylovers will be hosting an encore performance on Friday, May 3rd, at Isis Music Hall, and Trail Mix wants to give you a shot to snag a pair of coveted tickets to the show!
Take a shot at the trivia question down below. A winner of two to this Friday’s show will be chosen from all correct responses received by Thursday (May 2nd) at noon.
For more information on Queen Bee & the Honeylovers and how you can grab a copy of the new record, be sure to check out the band’s website.
Question – “Cornelia’s Masquerade” tells the story of Cornelia, eccentric heiress and member of what iconic family that built Biltmore?