R&B singer-songwriter Whitney McClain had a chat with us to talk about her latest release, Letters From A Broken Heart.
It has not been an easy path for Whiney McClain. As a child, Whitney had a rare brain tumor. No sooner had she recovered from the surgeries and physical therapy, that she knocked her head and had to drop out of school. It was at this point that she stumbled into music as a way to heal. Now, Whitney is looking forward and is using her music to inspire others.
Whitney chatted to us about what it was like going through all of this at such a young age, her struggles with mental health, and her joy for cooking during quarantine.
LH: How are you? How has your quarantine been?
Whitney: I’m great! It’s been good and sucky at the same time, same probably for a lot of people. It’s just kind of been a wave of everything.
LH: Have you been watching new TV shows or baking as everyone else has?
Whitney: Yes, I definitely went though – I’ve been going through a baking phase at first, the beginning of quarantine I was baking banana bread [laughs]. Yeah, I was really into that now and then. I kinda chilled out now. More recently, I’ve gone on a cleanse because of all the stuff I was eating in the beginning of quarantine, I’m like okay, it’s time to detox. I’ve been trying to make like sugar-free, gluten-free, everything-free baked goods just to try to satisfy that treat.
And as far as TV shows go, I love watching 90-Day Fiancé now, I don’t know if you’ve seen that show. I love it. I think everyone should watch that one.
LH: I think everyone started watching that when the big Ed meme happened.
Whitney: Yeah! Big Ed [laughs]. And then I started watching Darcey & Stacey, the newest one they came out with. But yeah, I’m obsessed with 90-Day Fiancé. Oh, and I’ve been watching Love Island! The Australian version.
LH: Oh, I didn’t know they had an Australian version!
Whitney: Yeah if you have Hulu they have like the UK version, Australian version, I think they have the American version. I’m not sure. I haven’t actually watched the American version as funny as that sounds. I just watch the UK and Australia versions.
LH: So what’s your favorite recipe you made so far?
Whitney: I made this gluten-free or it’s like a Paleo, Keto bread. It has garlic and thyme, and it’s made out of coconut flour, and it’s really good! It’s really savory and yummy. I love coconut. It’s filling.
LH: Have you been writing any music lately?
Whitney: In the beginning of the quarantine, I was really writing a lot, and then as things have gone on, I kind of need to recharge my writing juices. So recently, not writing too much. More so, I’m just recording a little bit and editing some of the things that I have written already. It’s just a really long process that I go through as far as making music.
LH: How different is writing alone than writing with a team, due to quarantine restrictions not allowing us to gather with people outside of our households or in large groups?
Whitney: Not too much. Usually, even if I’m in a team, my fiancé helps me write too. He’s a songwriter. We do a pretty good job of just collaborating together. But if I was left to just write something by myself I think it would take a long, long time.
LH: And what was it like writing this new EP, Letters From A Broken Heart?
Whitney: It was really good. It was good to just release a lot of my past pain from the relationships I went through. I wrote the majority of songs in London which the producers, they’re called Da Beatfreakz. They made the majority of the tracks on the EP, and I wrote with their team of writers. It was a really, really good experience
LH: Reading up on you, I saw that you have a lot to talk about on the subject of mental health.
Whitney: I wanna say about five years ago and right around the time I moved out to LA, I really started dealing with depression and just kinda going through that and I’ve never really experienced it before. So, as an adult, I’m like when it’s going on with me, why am I so tired? Why am I just not happy for no reason. I have everything a person could ever want. I am not happy. So I’ve just been going through this journey of like you know trying to just heal within and be more kind to myself, do self-care, and recognizing certain triggers and things that may give me anxiety, and just sorting through all that and knowing that I’m not alone. And knowing that this battle has been really big. I’ve found friends to talk about it with who also struggle with the same things and its been a really eye-opening journey the past five years. And I learned that it’s depression and it goes away, for me at least, it always comes back. So being prepared and knowing what to do when it does come back, and knowing how to deal with it.
LH: You have also gone through a lot dealing with brain tumors, surgery, injuries. How was recovering from all of that?
Whitney: I wanna say I was 10 or 11. Recovery was actually a lot of fun as a kid because I didn’t have to go back to school. It was like kinda near the end of the school year so I didn’t have to go back to school and I was getting all these presents and all this stuff at first so it was kind of fun and good. But then as time progressed, I had to be in this hospital bed at home, so I wasn’t really able to get up and move around and I just remembered thinking, “man, I just wanna go run around the house.” So going through that was a little rough and I had to do physical and occupational therapy, and eye therapy, which was probably the most difficult thing for me. I learned after the surgery that my eyes were uneven when I would read so I had to do a bunch of eye exercises and stuff like that in eye therapy. It was just a little bit harder to read with all that. Then the second surgery, I can’t really remember, surprisingly. I can remember the first recovery but the second one I can’t really remember it too much. I had to do the therapies again. But I feel like I recovered pretty quickly.
I also had a concussion in college and that’s kinda what turned my world upside down. They said I had knocked out 70% of my brain pathways. So trying to do school and remembering things, even to this day it’s harder for me to remember stuff. I also feel like it’s harder to concentrate. It’s crazy how the brain works.
LH: What was your college experience like?
Whitney: It was pretty darn fun for the years that I stayed in. I really shouldn’t have done that much partying as I did after that concussion [laughs]. So I will definitely say I got the college experience. I ended up going on a medical leave during my second year. And in that, I was doing speech therapy, trying to see if I was gonna go back into school, but I ended up joining an all-girl a cappella group at that time and it was really fun, so I felt like I was a pseudo-student [laughs] and just singing in the a cappella group. I made a lot of friends. I went to school in Texas, I went to UT, so I lived in Austin so that was just a whole other world to be living in, super free, hippie and fun [laughs]. But it was a really good experience.
LH: What did you study in college?
Whitney: My major was Fashion Merchandising but I never got to the courses. So I did a couple of General Studies classes.
LH: I’m surprised you didn’t study music. How did you get into music then?
Whitney: I always loved music, I’ve been singing ever since I was little, I was always in choir. After I kinda dropped out of school, I’m a spiritual person so I felt like God told me, “Whitney, you need to sing.” And I’m like “Okay, this is what I’m gonna do.” I’m not gonna have my parents pay for school anymore, I think I should do music. And so I contacted my uncle, who’s now my manager, and he was in the music industry. I was like, “I really wanna start to work on music” so he connected me with a producer in LA to do a vocal evaluation on me and he was like, “you gotta come out to LA to hear how you sound.” So I go out to LA and I end up recording my first song and then I went back again. But my first song was called “Bombs Away.” I brought it back to Texas because I was still living there. I was showing and telling my friends about it and I was getting a lot of good feedback and I reach out to my uncle again like, “Hey can we actually do something with this?” And then after that, we did something with the song and now here I am. That’s just kinda how it happened.
LH: You mentioned that God was speaking to you. Are you very vocal about your faith?
Whitney: Yeah! I’m a Christian. I came to the Lord in college and I’ve just been on this journey. Ever since then I get like especially, in my music journey, I’ve always been “stay true” and even with the things I put out there, I wanna make sure I’m in line with God and good with God. And just to be alike to other people and know that my story is kinda unusual and just know that God has worked through that way. I feel like he’s worked through my music, I’ve gotten messages from people that are like “your music really helped me out” and that’s all I could ask for. I just want the music to be therapeutic to people and to be a blessing to people. I just want to help heal and be an example of God’s love.
LH: What’s your favorite song you have written.
LH: Would you ever reach out to other genres?
Whitney: I would. it just depends on the mood. I usually write songs off the tracks that I get, so if I’m feeling the track… Music is just so universal so I just don’t think I could stick to just one genre. But yeah, I definitely think I could branch out and do something else if I like the track if the music speaks to me.
LH: Looking through your Instagram, I can tell you have a lot of wigs. How did you get into wearing them?
Whitney: I guess it stems from when I was younger. I felt like I had no flexibility with my hair. I have really kinky, curly hair and it breaks off easily, and it’s super dry. So I couldn’t dye it, I couldn’t do anything cool to it. So when I got to college, my friend said “Oh, you need to get what Beyonce gets. She gets weaves.” So that’s where it began, with extensions sewed down in the hair, and adding the closure, which became sorta high maintenance for me. So then my hairdresser at the time was like, “you should just get wigs especially because you’re gonna be doing photoshoots and music videos. That way it’s easy for you.” But I’ve never done wigs before so I don’t know if they’re gonna look silly, but then I tried it and I got addicted and I’m obsessed and I have a problem [laughs]. It’s a healthy obsession. But they’re really fun! I can just like, be a different person, and change my hair within a flash.
LH: Who are the biggest influences in your songwriting?
Whitney: Amy Winehouse is a big influence. Adele, Erykah Badu, just Motown in general. And just random people here and there. I feel like when making music and writing I’ll be like, “was this already a song?” ‘Cause I just feel like it stays in me from hearing different stuff. I’m inspired from just about everything I listen to, but those are the main big ones.
LH: I’m surprised you didn’t say Alicia Keys!
Whitney: Yeah, her too!
LH: What else have you been listening to lately?
Whitney: Honestly, I’ve been listening to all the fun TikTok songs that have been going around [laughs]. They’re like all stuck in my head. I’ve been trying to work on these EDM songs for placements and stuff. Everything’s a little bit different.
LH: Hopefully, we can all get back to a place where we can see live music again. Would you be up for touring when we can?
Whitney: I would hope so, I just don’t know what that’s even gonna look like. I’m really into the drive-in show idea. I would hope people really do that. It would definitely take away the stage fright pressure off me [laughs] ‘cause I have stage fright.
Whitney’s new EP, Letters From A Broken Heart, is out now.