Songs out of the winter winds

The album cover for Joshua Whalen's "The Winter." Photo provided

The album cover for Joshua Whalen’s “The Winter.” Photo provided

From Austin to Austin — life is picking up for singer-songwriter Joshua Whalen and it’s happening pretty fast.

On March 7 and 8 will be playing Darwin’s Pub in Austin, Texas, during one of the biggest art festivals in the nation, South by Southwest (SXSW) and while he won’t be participating directly in the event itself, it will still provide a remarkable opportunity for Whalen, who is still early in his musical career.

“It’s one of the biggest arts festival in the country and it pulls out hundreds and thousands of people,” Whalen said. “(Darwin’s Pub) is in the center of all the commotion. It’s one of the biggest music venues down there. They have a nice, built-in crowd. It’s pretty exciting.”

The opportunity arose from another festival Whalen was a part in when he visited Wicker Park Bucktown in Chicago, Ill., this past November when he got the opportunity to play Chillfest.

While there, he was able to make connections with other artists in the music community. One of those connections was Max Riske, lead vocalist for the band The Root Cause. It’s through this connection Whalen got the opportunity to play in Texas.

“He got a hold of me, must of been the beginning of February,” Whalen said. “He told me to get a hold of him, that he may have an opportunity. It was just too good of an opportunity to turn down.”

 One step closer

As Whalen takes step after step in the indie, folk-rock scene, he finds himself one step closer to his dream of being known nationally. Aside from the opportunities Chillfest afforded, the other thing that began opening doors for Whalen was the release of his self-produced album, “Sunflower Eyes.” While not taking the nation by storm, the album did have the simple effects of helping people stay in touch with Whalen’s music.

“It’s actually done quite well for a self-produced album,” Whalen said. “I have 200 copies out there. It’s a nice thing for people who have supported me from the beginning.”

Whalen is retiring the album as he comes closer to releasing his professionally recorded EP, “The Winter.” The difference is having a less stressful effect on Whalen, allowing him to concentrate solely on the music he loves.

“It’s been less stressful actually,” he said. “My job is to play my music. I go into the studio and play my heart out and I leave it at that.”

Whalen doesn’t worry about taking producing out of his hands. He recorded “The Winter” with Jonathan Young out of Northfield. Young is producing and mastering the album, and Whalen has plenty of confidence in how it will turn out.

“He’s more of a jazzy piano player,” Whalen said. “He is fantastic with engineering. Really great with that stuff. I feel better knowing it’s in the hands of a professional.”

Much of the feel of the album centers around Whalen’s dislike of winter, making the name, “The Winter,” fairly apt. While not taking a direct shot at the season many would rather sacrifice for the warmer days of spring and summer, the undertones will be fairly clear.

“A lot of the songs were written this past winter,” Whalen said. “I’m a sissy when it comes to winter. A lot of that kind of bitterness towards winter. It’s very earthy and folky. Hopefully it’s a unique take that I can put out there.”

Even though the new album will be out there soon — as early as around the second week of March — Whalen hopes, he doesn’t deny the place “Sunflower Eyes” has had on his career up until now.

It served an especially important purpose as an artist trying to break out.

“It’s kind of like a reminder to people,” Whalen said. “It’s helped with growing a fan base and helping people stay involved in my music.”

 Growing a career

As the future comes, it comes almost impossibly fast at times, but Whalen would have it no other way.

“It’s funny,” he said. “You always kind of have an idea that when it starts happening it will happen fast.”

As Whalen’s connections continue to grow and his career expands, he finds himself not only playing in more venues away from Minnesota, but also helping artists who are in the same position he was when he was first starting out.

“I’ve been doing this for about a year now and I’m, in turn, helping out other artists,” he said.

He’s also finding that musically he’s expanding little by little with things like back-up singers and even a violin featured on “The Winter.” But it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a long ways to go still.

“I definitely feel like I have a long way to go,” he said. “I definitely feel like I’m on to something big here as well. My passion and love for it has been driving me and driving me. Even to have a music career that I can pay my bills with and live off. It’s exciting to know that that’s a possibility.”

Before Whalen heads south to Texas, he’s first heading back to Chicago for a Chillfest reunion networking show including Whalen, The Root Cause and three other acts. After Texas, Whalen will begin opening his music to the west as he tries to book a tour along the West Coast.

For Whalen, the future looks to be coming pretty quickly.

“I know I was born to be a musician,” Whalen said. “I might have that chance to take my skill sets and turn it into a career.”

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