Why Bonnie on “90 in November” | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, October 6th, 2022  

Why Bonnie on “90 in November”

Bringing the Heat

Aug 19, 2022 Photography by Grace Pendleton Web Exclusive
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If you’ve experienced the slow boil simmer of an August day in Houston, you know the only way to move around outside of the A/C is slowly and deliberately. When that first drop of sweat hits your brow you are done for. The now Brooklyn-based leader of Why Bonnie, Blair Howerton, grew up in the Houston heat (ironically Howerton and I went to rival high schools—more than a few years apart) and her own deliberate pace and dedication to her music have brought her to the cusp of today’s release of her band’s debut album, 90 in November released on Keeled Scales.

Howerton’s path to this moment was not atypical, but looking to her roots for inspiration is one of the things that makes 90 in November such a relatable album. “I started musical theater when I was around five and continued all the way through high school,” Howerton says. “I didn’t know any working musicians or have any connections, so [making music] didn’t seem like a reality to me.”

Howerton says that she took one guitar lesson where she learned The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” but never returned. She moved away for college and found inspiration in the small, but vibrant music scene in Boone, North Carolina, where she first started performing live.

Returning to her home state, where her childhood best friend had already taken up residence, Austin was the logical place to pursue her craft. “Kendall [Powell] has been my best friend since I was two years old. I was telling her how I wanted to start a band and I’d love to have a keyboard player who could sing harmonies. And she was like, ‘Well, I’m a classically trained pianist,’” Howerton says. Powell’s contributions to the album are critical (“Galveston” being one of her highlighted moments), but the fact that the two of them forming a band together had never crossed Howerton’s mind speaks to the novelty of the idea in the first place.

With the nucleus of the band formed, they first began performing as Ponyboy and the Horsegirls. “We had to change our name because we got a cease-and-desist,” Howerton explains. With the name change to Why Bonnie in 2017 and the addition of the rest of the band (Sam Houdek—guitar, Chance Wiliams—bass, Josh Malett—drums), they have been on a forward moving path ever since. Of the band name, Howerton explains, “I really just liked the way it sounded, but it’s also a nod to Bonnie Parker, kind of the misunderstood female archetype.”

Much of 90 in November is given over to Howerton’s remembrances of the southeast Texas landscape, with ample waves of heat given off by Houdek’s guitar and plenty of references to the salt, seawater, and humidity that is part and parcel to the surroundings. “The old music was great for what it is and I’m proud of those things, but I didn’t want to get pegged as a dream pop band. That wasn’t the style of music that was coming out of me anymore,” Howerton says.

Of her childhood second home Galveston, which inspired the same named song, Howerton explains, “I hadn’t been there in a very long time and coming back it was a weird sensation because it hasn’t changed at all. It’s stuck in time, which was disorienting, but it also felt good. I was flooded with all these memories, but also realizing how much I had changed but the place hadn’t.”

There is a lot of variety across 90 in November’s 10 tracks—from the more straightforward alt-rock leanings of the title song to atmospheric and reflective songs like “Hot Car” and “Silsbee”—so Howerton’s connection to her home state is truly the common thread. In community with other ex-pat Texans (myself included), Howerton takes in political news from home with a level of pained empathy. Talking from Brooklyn on the heels of Texas’ abortion ban, the Uvalde school shooting, and governor Greg Abbott’s ongoing vilification of immigrants, it’s a tough place to be from right now.

“Unfortunately, given the state of things politically I don’t see myself going back. Making a life there is just not in line with what I want to be doing and it makes me sad to see what’s happening in my home state,” Howerton says. “It’s really obvious what the political plan is to keep women of color and people of color in general below the poverty line and in dire situations where they can’t rise to positions of power or further their lives. Sometimes my darkest thoughts are that the music world and [my] music isn’t helping anyone. It’s not creating real change. But I do hope and believe that art and music has the power to change people’s minds and hearts and be an inspiration.”

Though Howerton’s music isn’t political, the way in which her home state has shaped her is clear from her music and it’s a heat- and humidity-laced balm to those who will hear it—Texans or otherwise.

www.whybonnie.com

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