Whitney Mongé "Carries On" with New EP, Shares the Soulful Track "Be Mine" (KEXP Premiere + Interview)

Interviews, KEXP Premiere
Jake Uitti
photo by Kingmon Creative

Whitney Mongé’s voice cracks, crumbles, aches and breaks your heart. It’s one made of 100-year-old salvaged northwest wood, complete with embossed grains, nicks, and honest imperfections. Often compared to the great Tracy Chapman, Seattle’s Mongé, though, is unique and stands sturdily on her own two musical feet. And never has this been more evident on her upcoming EP, the six-song Carry On, an intimate window into the artist’s songwriting, which is set to be released November 27th and 28th at Jazz Alley with co-headliner Naomi Wachira. To preview that release, we have the honor of premiering Mongé’s lead single from the new record, “Be Mine,” a romping, joyous tune about the excitement and confluence of new love and lust. And to accompany this premiere, we caught up with Mongé to ask her about her new album, what she’s learned since releasing her last record and how many takes it took to get the perfect vocal scream on tape.  

The songs on the new EP seem both very personal and autobiographical. Is that the right read? 

Yeah, that’s exactly it. When I released my past albums, I was trying to polish them and make them sound like something that would work on the radio. But with this new one, I wanted to escape that. I wanted to showcase who I am as a live performer, with all my imperfections. A lot of the songs we recorded in one or two takes. And some of these songs have been in the fault for years waiting for the right album — I wanted to make this new record very personal. So, yes, that’s a good read. 

It’s been a little over a year since the release of your last EP, Stone. What have you learned about yourself as an artist in the time since? 

I guess what I learned about myself is kind of along the same lines as the last answer: learning to let go of perfectionism and allowing myself to be who I am and accept that. I learned to let go of my reservations about who I am and how I play and perform. Outside of my first record, which I recorded in my room, this new EP is the first one I went into with the idea that I don’t care if it’s “good enough.” To me, the songs are really personal and if people connect with them, all the better. At the same time, this record is for me. 

You’re in Europe right now on tour. What does it feel like to play WAY outside of Seattle to a completely new audience?

It’s awesome! People are really into it. I’m in London right now and I’ve played three shows already. People have been responding to the music just as much as they do at home in the States. The only thing that’s different is that people don’t buy products as much in the U.K. as they do in Seattle. Maybe that will be different when I get to Italy. London is supersaturated with amazing music; it’s just as great as in the States. Last night, I played to 50 people in this tiny bar and you could hear a pin drop and this was at 10:30 at night. That’s not something that would happen in the States. People would be drunk and talking. So, it’s really refreshing to come here and see that my music has an impact. 

Your lead single, “Be Mine,” which we’re premiering here, talks about love. What has music taught you about love?

That song is about love but it’s also kind of a bar song — like, you’re taking somebody out, somebody you like. It’s about the thoughts you have seeing someone you’re interested in. So it’s not just about love, it might even be more about lust. But I would say that, in terms of love, music taught me to be more open and that you never know who is going to be in your life and make a difference. I’ve been with my partner for six years and love, for us, is always evolving. So staying true to that is important. Love is such a funny thing - my biggest support system is having a partner in my life. And that’s taught me to be more open and rely on our relationship, especially in times that I don’t feel like I have the support from fans. Having someone who can listen to me and be there for me in moments when I think I’m not good enough has taught me to rely on love a little more. 

“Be Mine” and your new EP as a whole are much more stripped down, musically, than past records. There’s no backing band, for example. Instead, it’s just you, an acoustic guitar and a lead electric. How did you decide on this?

I realized something after playing with my band for the last four years. I’ve been a solo artist for 10 years and I had a band out of wanting to do something different for my fan base and my creative growth. But with this new album, I wanted to get back to who I am, which is to play solo. That’s why I did this album, to reintroduce myself to my fans who have been following my career so that they can see me play music solo in a professional format. Before, I’d just be busking or doing cover songs at some gig. But doing an album that’s professionally produced like this to showcase who I am at the core was the goal this time around. I feel like I’ve reached a place where I can hold my own confidently. 

How many takes did you have to do to get that great scream near the end of “Be Mine”?

Man, that one took it out of me. When I recorded that, I remember thinking, “Fuck, that’s a hard song!” It’s tapping out my top range. And it came after about 12 hours of recording at Robert Lang. But that scream came in one take right there, baby!

The release for the new EP will be at Jazz Alley with Seattle’s Naomi Wachira. What about that venue and her music inspire you?

I’ve never played Jazz Alley before but it’s a place that I know has had a bunch of artists that I admire — from jazz to R&B and soul. So, it’s a place that I’ve always wanted to play. And working with Naomi, she’s someone who’s been amazing, not only as an artist and performer, but she’s been super supportive of my music. I’m really working hard to try and team up with people of color in Seattle and put our stuff on blast, together. I’ve recently played shows with The Black Tones and Ayron Jones because I want to present this music that we’re making in this place that’s not very black. I really think that it’s important to put your money where your mouth is. So, working with Naomi means I’m working with another black woman who I find to be totally amazing. 

Whitney Mongé celebrates the release of her EP Carry On with two nights at Jazz Alley, Tuesday, November 27th and Wednesday, November 28th, with Naomi Wachira, All Ages.

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