Out of Austin, Texas, Why Bonnie is one of the newest dreampop bands to make a name for themselves in American indie music. After forming on a whim and figuring out their sound, the band would’ve had a great year if COVID-19 didn’t derail their South by Southwest and 2-month-long tour plans. The group consists of singer and guitarist Blair Howerton, guitarist Sam Houdek, bass player Chance Williams, and keyboard player Kendall Powell. Blair was kind enough to sit down over a Zoom call with Popscure writer, Noah, to answer some questions about the band.
How are you? How was your week?
Good! I’ve been moving, so setting up a new apartment has been really fun. It’s always hectic, though.
Have you lived in Texas your whole life?
No, I grew up in Houston and then went to school in North Carolina at Appalachian State [University]. Then I moved back to Austin, lived there for four years, and now I’m living in Brooklyn.
What was the last show you all played before quarantine and COVID?
We opened for Nada Surf for a few dates in Texas, that was back in January. We were planning on doing South by [Southwest], and we had an almost two-month-long tour planned out of South by. I went down to Texas for SXSW, and that’s when everything changed. I remember getting down there, and it was still kind of like, ‘We don’t really know what’s going to happen, but we’re just going to roll the dice.’ Then all of the official showcases were shut down, we thought we could still play at unofficial showcases, and then they were shut down, and then the next day it was, ‘Oh! Tour is canceled!’ We just didn’t know what to really expect at that point, and we were all obviously naive, never having lived through a situation like this. I didn’t really know the severity of it then.
What have you guys been doing with all of your downtime?
Writing a lot, when I can. Obviously, it’s hard to write when you’re under such nuance stress, but we’ve all been writing a good amount, which has been good. Other than that, I’ve been watching a lot of movies and playing a lot of games. I’ve reignited my love for card games. I’ve learned some poker games, I’ve been playing some Texas Hold Em’, classics like Slapjack and this other game, Palaces, that’s known by a thousand different names.
The song “Athlete” is one of my favorite songs. I think it’s definitely one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever listened to. How did you go about writing it, and how did it come together?
I remember writing the lyrics first. I think I wrote the lyrics and the vocal melody first while I was waiting tables. I was working at this restaurant, where I was the only server in the back. The front of the restaurant was a bar, and the back was the dining area, so I was alone back there with my thoughts a lot of the time. I remember writing the lyrics on a little notepad that I would take orders on and sing the melody in my head. The chords are super simple. It’s pretty much two chords the whole song. It was a really fun collaborative moment where we had to figure out how to embellish on these two chords and make it more dynamic, figure out the dynamics of it, and build it. It had the room to be a bigger…”rock” song, so we had fun figuring out when and where to have those bigger moments. It came about pretty naturally.
How did the whole band come together? It started as a bedroom recording project, right?
I had never really played in a band before. I started writing the music for it when I was in school at App State. I played with some more people there and played a couple of shows, and then I graduated. I decided to move back to Texas because I thought it would be nice to be closer to my family for a while. There, I decided that I kind of wanted to give this music thing a go. Kendall lived there; she went to school there. She had also never been in a band before but is a classically trained pianist and has been playing piano her whole life. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m kind of looking for people to be in a band with, and I would love it if we get a synth player,’ and she said she played piano. I was like, ‘AH! You DO play piano!’ It was kind of a cosmic moment. It’s always been really easy to collaborate with her because we’ve been friends for so long. Sam and Chance were later additions to the band; we met them through the music scene at shows. Austin is a pretty tight-knit community, so you are bound to meet a lot of the same people and run into a lot of the same faces. They were each in different projects that we really liked. We knew they were good musicians, and we just asked them to be in the band, and they were in! After that, we realized we all gelled really well as people and musicians.
What are some big influences for you that you see coming out in the band?
It varies, really. It varies a lot. We have definitely gone through a few growing pains trying to figure out  our sound  as a band. We each have our own favorite artists and influences. Our sound is becoming more cohesive. We like to keep things fluid; we don’t want to tie ourselves down to one sound too much. As far as me personally, I love Liz Phair, especially her earlier stuff. Exile in Guyville is one of my favorite albums ever. I love her progression as an artist, too. She has a lot of different sounds and has played with a lot of different genres. We also love Fleetwood Mac.
What kind of gear are you guys using? Under the realm of Spotify, you all are sort of dreampop, but based on how your songs are structured and the gear you’re using, especially the guitars you’re playing, it seems very different from similar artists like Alvvays or Crumb.
We’re definitely not gear heads by any means. We value music and melody first. I’ve always been a believer that if a melody is good, then it really does not matter what gear you play it on, as long as you can play it well and perform it well.
Then everything else is secondary?
Yeah. I think the most adventurous we get with gear and different sounds would be Kendall’s synths. She has a Roland Juno and a MicroKorg. We try to keep things pretty simple. More power to people who know a lot about gear and can manipulate sounds by just having that knowledge, but I think it’s also about how you’re using it.
How did you start writing songs?
It’s kind of silly; I always enjoyed writing songs. When I was little, I would make up songs all of the time. I taught myself guitar in early high school; just basic chords so that I could start to write music more. I didn’t really get serious about it until college; I just never thought that it was something I could do. It was always a far off dream for me. As you get older, you realize that you really do have more of a say in your future. I decided to take the chance, and I’m really glad that I did.
Taking the chance has turned out really well for you!
We got really lucky, and I’m really lucky that I play with the people that I do in this band. I honestly could not do it without them.
What bands and groups have you been really into lately?
My favorite release of this year has been the Fiona Apple album. It’s incredible. It’s so good. I’ve listened to it a million times, and every time it’s just amazing. There’s this band from New York called The Cradle that just released an album that’s really good. I also love The Replacements; Tim is a great album. I was listening to it yesterday. Moses Sumney also released a really amazing record. While the music I write is a lot different from theirs, their use of harmony is amazing, so it’s definitely inspiring in that way.
Featured image by: @victory.pig