Whitney K

“Before moving to Montreal, the music I was writing was about Vancouver. I really like it when songwriters do that. You need to talk about where you are. I never felt like I really had a connection with Montreal.”

Whitney K  || photo by  Tara Bigdeli
Whitney K || photo by Tara Bigdeli

Koko no more, now it’s Whitney K. I sit down with Konner Whitney, formerly known by his alternative pop ego Koko, at Reno’s restaurant near Main and Broadway. We have a few beers and chat about the June 23 release of his new EP Pony, and his recent move back to Vancouver from Montreal.

I ask Whitney about the name change and he responds: “Koko is an asshole, I don’t want to be that guy anymore, I’m over it.” This means that his new musical moniker Whitney K is taking a different path, and a fresh start. Not wanting to be tied down to the past, Whitney says, “Koko to me, makes more sense as what it was initially in the beginning… I feel it can’t go anywhere beyond that.”

With Whitney back in Vancouver, we can be sure that the city will influence the musicality of his songs once again. He tells me how every city brings a different element to his music. “Before moving to Montreal, the music I was writing was about Vancouver. I really like it when songwriters do that. You need to talk about where you are. I never felt like I really had a connection with Montreal.”

I acknowledge that Whitney has a love hate relationship with Montreal, and noticing my questioning look, he reassures me that he has no beef. “Don’t get me wrong, I like Montreal… I just can’t live there. I wish I liked it. If I liked it it would be great. It’s cheap as shit. People are pretty open. I just pick up on the vibe here more than I do in Montreal.” He also goes on to say that since he’s been back, he’s experienced Vancouver in a different way, exposing himself to things that he had been blind to before.

Whitney K || illustration by  Karl Ventura
Whitney K || illustration by Karl Ventura

Released by Montreal-based label, Egg Paper Factory, the new Whitney K EP is named Pony because, according to Whitney, he just likes the name, and the album is small, just like ponies are. Yet despite its nonthreatening, cutesy title, Whitney explains that since he’s been back in Vancouver, he wants to make “more aggressive music again — more intensity, no distortion, just more intensity.”

As our conversation continues, Whitney shares some words of wisdom. He says he would tell his younger self “not to be too hard on [himself]. I’m telling myself that now. You realize what your limits are. There’s that realization of who you are.”

This personal journey is evident in Whitney’s new EP, which imparts feelings of insecurity that we can all relate to. Such sentiments echo through Pony, and are particularly strong on track, “We Just Came Out.” Elaborating on the backstory of this song Whitney reflects, “In that moment in my life, I just felt this party scene is a disillusion, almost like a parody, where people are no longer with you, but laughing at you… it’s just about getting sucked into that.”

Whitney K || photo by Tara Bigdeli
Whitney K || photo by Tara Bigdeli

I think back to a comment he made earlier about how Pony is for “anybody and everybody.” Whitney’s personal and musical reconstruction is exemplified through the dichotomy of his music with its light, upbeat melodies and dark lyrical undertones. He tells me how he couldn’t have written as upbeat a song as “Pony” a year ago.

When asked if there are any artists he would like to work with, Whitney replies with a typical nonchalant response that continues to spark my interest towards him. “There’s not really anyone I fantasize to work with… I can’t think of any specific person” He does admit that he would like to work with someone from a different creative medium. “That would be cool. I’d like to be someone else’s stooge for a change.”

Fast forward a week, and it’s Friday night. I’m sitting at the Astoria, waiting for Whitney K to come on stage. Since our meeting at Reno’s he’s had a clean shave and is wearing a toque, a baggy shirt with shorts, raised up socks, and sneakers. When we speak, I ask him if he’s nervous and he says, “of course, I’m always nervous.” He tells me nerves are good though, and the one time he didn’t have nerves, it wasn’t a good show.

Whitney K || illustration by Karl Ventura
 Illustration by Karl Ventura

As I sit there watching Whitney K set up on stage, I start chatting with a girl sitting beside me. Turns out she is Whitney’s neighbour. “He’s an amazing lyricist,” she raves about him, and casually mentions that they’ve had some deep conversations, but doesn’t elaborate on what. It piques my interest, realizing she knows things about him that I should never know, and never expose. The quirky, fun pop melodies on Pony make me think that the album’s tone is an illusion that contains something more serious.

That’s what I love about Whitney K’s Pony. It reminds me a bit of Lily Allen; a fuck you that juxtaposes an uplifting melody with dark emotions. At the end of the day our only salvation for tragedy is to make light of the situation, and I think that’s what Whitney K has so brilliantly achieved with Pony.

As I watched him perform my favourite song on Pony, “We Just Came Out,” it seemed as if he went into his own zone that night at the Astoria. I thought to myself as his eyes glazed over the audience, their heads bobbing up and down, drinking their beers — what if Whitney looked at us? What if those lyrics magnified an emotional eruption within him while performing under his typical nonchalant façade that he so well personifies?