Artist Home Interview and Premiere: Whitney Lyman’s Mystical “Like the Ox”

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Artist Home Interview and Premiere: Whitney Lyman’s Mystical “Like the Ox”

Whitney Lyman. (photo: Tony Kay)

Seattle’s lilting-voiced singer Whitney Lyman is ready. On Tuesday, she will release her latest LP, Pleasure/Pain, with a show at the Triple Door (tickets here). The record’s a sweeping, theatrical work traveling from bright joy to quizzical melancholy. Backed by large chamber ensemble, Lyman, who recently played KEXP and Jimmy Kimmel Live with the famed band Odesza, will take the stage and perform the music from the new record – including the single we’re proud to premiere here, “Like The Ox.” But before that, we thought we’d catch up with the songwriter and ask about the music’s origins and inspirations.

There’s a great mystical and pounding tone to the single, “Like The Ox.” What were you trying to portray with this track?

This song was really introspective. A lot of times, if I’m having something on my mind or something that I’m anxious thinking about and I just need to, like, go for a walk – this song started with one of those walks at night. It did feel mystical, out in the environment. There was a full moon that was really bright. When you’re just kind of wandering but there is this sense of purpose, that’s the feeling the experience evoked for me. A warrior walks like the ox.

How did you compose the song, from that initial inspiration to tracking?

I like to play around with weird tunings on my guitar. And I made up a tuning that I thought was interesting, that’s where the song itself started. But the inspiration for the music came from another song that’s on my first album, which is also in the same tuning. I took that original part and turned it into its own song, which changed the vibe a bit. Then I showed the song to my band and we got the basic drum and bass parts. For the recording, I decided to finish it with full orchestration.

The emotional tone of the song works so well with those strings. Amazing Seattleite Andrew Joslyn played those on the record – what is your collaborative relationship like?

I did the arrangements for the album and Andrew played them. He and I really like to work together. He enjoys playing my music and I enjoy performing his songs. It’s a nice, balanced relationship musically and we’re friends, so it’s fun. We’ve talked about working on a collaboration in the future where we’ll do something more as a duo together.

There’s an overarching theatrical quality to your new record and it’s one you play many instruments on. What was the intention going into the project?

My intention was not to hold anything back and just bring my full vision no matter how many instruments I had to get into the studio! And because I compose these songs and have all these sounds in my head, I just wanted to make that a reality – I wanted to push the whole thing.

There’s also a nice balance of melancholy and brightness on the album. Were those feelings meant to play into the titular Pleasure/Pain dynamic?

Yeah, when I was trying to decide the name of the record, I already had this collection of songs. One was titled “Pleasure/Pain” and it just seemed to capture the entire message. Each song does have a melancholy or moody vibe to it, but there’s always this positive spin or attitude towards things, too. Like, staying hopeful for the future. I think that plays into the pleasure and pain idea, this idea of Zen or the lyric in the song, “Pleasure, pain, equal gain.” Either way, you have to go through whatever you have to go through, whether pleasurable or bad. It’s all leading to the same place.

Along with the new record, you recently worked with the super popular band Odesza. What did you learn about yourself playing those stages?

I learned that I felt very comfortable in that environment. I had the feeling that I was totally ready for it. I’ve been working toward that kind of things my whole life and it just confirmed that this is what I’m supposed to do.

Jake Uitti

Jake Uitti

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