Whitney Fowler’s new musical persona is a way for her to step away from herself in a positive way.
Promising “songs for you, songs for your kids and mostly songs for the kid in you,” the artist formerly known as Whitney Pea announced Sept. 11 via Facebook that she will now perform as Singing Hen.
“In order to gain a broader freedom with my creativity,” she says from the Cayuga farm she shares with her husband Jordan and children John and Melody, “something about dropping my own personal name allowed me to step into a more imaginative space.”
The choice of the new moniker came naturally, as she had been using Singing Hen as her Instagram tag for years.
“I just felt that it was me,” the daughter of Trisha Romance and Gary Peterson laughs. “I saw myself as this flightless bird that has a lot of adventure-seeking personality, that loves to sing. I don’t think of my voice as this pure, singerly voice. The name humbles it down to the chicken. We don’t think of chickens as being particularly good singers. They squawk.”
Selling herself short, Fowler insists that as far back as her high school days, her love of singing far outpaced her ability to do so. But anyone familiar with her albums With a Heart Intending Forward (2012) and All A Feeling (2014) would surely argue that point.
Her next release, scheduled for some time around Christmas, will maintain the whimsical, earthy charm of her earlier music, but will be of specific interest to the younger crowd.
“I am writing a bunch of kids’ songs,” she says. “It’s kind of like the Mom musical version of me. I have really wanted to take the Mom version of me and the musical version and put them together. For a long time it felt like two separate worlds.”
Since John was born five years ago, she has felt that she couldn’t pursue her music in the same way. Late night gigs were out of the question, and regular casual jam sessions with her musical friends became harder to arrange, especially since the move from Niagara-on-the-Lake six years ago. But she knew she needed to continue to make music.
“So many parents speak about the shift that happens when your child comes into the world,” says Fowler. “It’s no longer about you, and it’s a beautiful thing. My hopes and dreams, and all my love gets poured into this being that is there, that I’m nurturing. You let go of this part of your ego.”
Whitney Pea’s music always had a gentle feel. Her original songs were folk-based, weaving sounds of nature into her melodies on songs such as Cold Winter Ground, Oak Forest, Yellow Finches and Earth Wisdom. There is an innocence to much of her music, a child-like sense of wonder, so it’s not a stretch for her to push into this new direction.
“I think I’ve always written from a very young place,” Fowler tells The Local. “I’ve always found access to creativity that connects me to my inner child.”
Working out of their bedroom, her husband Jordan has been recording some of her new music. Using a minimal set-up of equipment, they started in the spring but took a bit of a hiatus as the farm and their Cayuga eatery, the Carolinian Cafe, began to once again take much of their energies.
Fowler buzzes with excitement as she describes the new songs, beginning with one dubbed Combinations.
“It’s about things that go together,” she explains. “Like blanket forts and books, puddle boots and rain, strawberries and cream, and why these things go together. The chorus is kind of funny. It talks about things that don’t go together, like pool parties and snow, a kite without the sky, silly little things that I felt compelled to write about.”
Fowler has drawn on the other aspect of her creativity as well. She has created some animations for a future video to accompany that track and plans to weave footage of her own children on their farm with her artwork for a song called Seeds.
That one sounds like a natural for the farm girl. It’s about going out and planting seeds, and the hopefulness and excitement that comes from waiting to see them sprout and grow. She describes it as a fun little ukulele song.
And then there’s “M-e-l-o-d-y”, named after her adorable three-year-old daughter. On a recent live streamed performance on Facebook, Melody’s face lit up as she and her Mom sang the song in front of a camera.
“She knows it’s her song,” says the 34-year-old, “and every time I sing it she seems to learn more words. She’s only learning how to speak, so it’s really special to see her sing along. It’s about her little spirit, the way she is.”
Fowler says she has made a conscious effort to think not just of her own kids, but also about the children of her friends with whom she has formed a bond. Living away from the network of Niagara musicians she played with for many years, writing the new songs has given her a renewed purpose to pick up the guitar to sing and play.
“There’s something different about the atmosphere when children are present,” posits Fowler. “You kind of feel more at service. I really want to be more at service with my music. I feel so much more fulfilled with that in mind.”
She’s not ready to become solely a children’s musician, though. Fowler says she would like to become a
drum circle facilitator some time in the future, a desire surely sparked by her earlier days in NOTL as a huge fan of Penner McKay’s band, Matinee Slim and the Ultralight Orchestra.
“In Niagara style, they just brought everybody out and you had these parties. I remember going to see them when I was 16, maybe. My brother snuck me into the Angel Inn. The place was so packed you couldn’t move. I became friends with Andy (McKay), and I took drum lessons from Penner. And I was involved with the Drumming Fools for a while, too.”
Fowler says McKay’s musical efforts had a tribal element to them. She credits him as a major influence not just to her but to the larger circle of Niagara musicians.
While she and Jordan slowly prepare her new compositions for release, the couple continues to work the land on their Cayuga farm. Jordan tends to a herd of sheep while they nurture crops of tomatoes, herbs and peppers that they tote to their cafe. There, they use the homegrown ingredients to prepare sandwiches, wraps, salads and soups to serve along with coffee and baked goods.
For now, she continues to play and sing some of her new music, as well as her older songs and some covers of classic folk tunes (she and her Dad, Gary Peterson, recently performed a number of John Prine songs) every Sunday afternoon. To experience her next performance, or to watch her previous ones, visit the Singing Hen page on Facebook.