Trixie Whitley burst into public consciousness in 2011 as the lead singer of Black Dub, super-producer Daniel Lanois’ (U2, Bob Dylan) project, blowing people away with a voice and presence beyond her now-25 years. And it’s that voice: an emotional, blues-drenched instrument that ranges from a lilting slap to a knock-you-backwards uppercut.
Whitley lived a nomadic life: born in Belgium, she split her time growing up there and in New York but also frequently visiting family in France, Texas, and Mexico. Her mother came from an artistic European gypsy family, filled with musicians, painters, writers, and sculptures, while her father, renowned singer-songwriter Chris Whitley, thrust her into the world of music as a toddler when she joined him onstage in Germany at age three.After her parents divorced, she returned to her mother’s native Belgium and became engrossed in the arts: she played drums, acted and sang with several theater companies, and toured Europe with the renowned dance company Les Ballets C de la B. At the same time, she became the youngest resident DJ at the Belgium Museum of Modern Art at age 11. “At first the Museum thought it was kind of a joke: ‘Come see our 11-year-old DJ,’” she laughs. “But then people kept coming. I couldn’t beat mix at all and I had to stand on three beer crates to even see the turntables!”
Though Whitley explores the gamut of human emotion in her music, there’s a sense of fearlessness in her that is unwavering. She dropped out of school at 17 and moved back to New York and started slinging burgers at a local dive. Meanwhile, she ground out her own material in the city. She learned piano, guitar and soon started playing solo shows, a preface to recording her first EP Strong Blood.
With that EP in hand, she and her mother went to a music festival in Belgium where Daniel Lanois was playing a gig with drummer Brian Blade, best known for his work with Joni Mitchell and Wayne Shorter. At her mother’s behest, she thrust a copy of Strong Blood into Lanois’ hand and returned to New York, thinking nothing would ever come of it.
He was so blown away that he asked her to front Black Dub, working with Blade and bassist Daryl Johnson. The band’s self-titled album was released in October of 2010 and the group toured well into 2011, with Whitley’s voice propelling the group’s unique groove to ultimate peaks.
With the Black Dub shows, countless solo gigs in New York and Europe, and buzz-building performances at festivals like Bonnaroo, SXSW, and Celebrate Brooklyn, Whitley has become one of the most talked about new artists of 2012. In November/December 2012, she embarked on her first solo U.S. tour, and currently continues to tour Europe and the US in anticipation of Fourth Corner’s 2013 release.
“I’m psyched and petrified,” says Whitley in her archetypal wide-eyed wonderment mixed with a fierce determination. “As a songwriter, I want to go to places people don’t expect and with that is complete freedom of expression.” Perhaps that place is another version of a fourth corner: something spiritual perhaps, certainly emotional, but most definitely real.