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From Indie Pop To Classic Country, Whoa Dakota Switches Gears On New Album, Rhinestones & Rodeos

Photography: Elisabeth Donaldson. Artwork design: Caroline Bowman.
Elisabeth Donaldson/Caroline Bowman
Rhinestones & Rodeos cover

Whoa Dakota is the music moniker for Nashville artist, Jesse Ott. Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Nashville native returned to Music City years ago, creating indie pop music to much success: “Whoa Dakota is one of the more dazzlingly eclectic music makers in Nashville’s indie pop scene." - NPR World Café. But that was then and the now for Whoa Dakota is a shift in sound and style that’s maybe a bit closer to her roots. Of this new direction, Ott stated, “this is quite a departure from what I've done in the past, but it feels like my truest work yet.” I’ve enjoyed Whoa Dakota’s indie pop music and seen her perform many times over the years, and I am excited about this fresh new venture she’s embarked on. Whoa Dakota’s, Rhinestones & Rodeos is out tomorrow. We have the video for “Waitress in Nashville” today in Liner Notes and you can hear another track from the album this Sunday at 8am on The Local Brew Hour.

AnaLee: Congratulations on releasing your new album, Rhinestones & Rodeos, and for doing it all on your own! You mentioned you felt like this is your truest work yet. Would you tell us about that and what prompted the shift?
Jesse: This is the music that I grew up listening to so it comes very naturally and feels really good to play and write. It’s also a formula where storytelling is at the forefront, so no matter what I want to talk about, we can work for a couple of hours and walk away with a song that clearly communicates the message. Honestly, I’m not sure why it took me so long to start writing country, I guess I’m just stubborn. I remember riding around on the farm and my dad singing Chris LeDeoux or George Jones and pausing to make sure I really understood the lyrics and what story the song was telling. When COVID first started up I had a lot of time on my hands to explore musically and I was angry, sad, worried; all of the emotions. I was struggling to feel seen, and so out of that came the first song from this journey, “Waitress in Nashville,” and they’ve been pouring out ever since. I’ve met some amazing friends in the songwriting community in Nashville and can’t wait to see where we take this from here.

AnaLee: I read that your dad was a professional bull rider? Is the song, “Rodeo Cowboy” about him? Talk a little about your life growing up and some of your early childhood memories of music.
Jesse: Bull riding was dad’s thing much like music has been mine. He was the Arkansas state champion bull rider in 1985, he toured around in a van with his buddies going to rodeos all over the country. In many ways there are a lot of parallels between rodeo life and music life. He’s also very poetic and charming in his cowboy way. He always has words of wisdom and they usually always relate back to riding bulls in some way. In 2020 I would go for a long walk every day and call him to bitch about my frustrations with music, and the world, and COVID depressions, etc. and “Rodeo Cowboy was born out of one of those talks. He basically said part of the chorus, “you picked a hard bull to ride and I know you’ve been down in the dirt….” when I got home, I was like, “Okay well I’m writing that song.” Dad really stressed story songs and a focus on lyrics. “Seventeen” by Chris LeDoux, “Canteen of Water” by David Allan Coe, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” I have clear memories of him checking in to make sure I knew what the song was saying. He loves the twists, the tearjerkers, anything that makes you cry and feel something. I guess I didn’t realize how much all of that listening made its way into my consciousness until now, but it feels like I have lots of references to call on and check in with when I’m in a writing session. It makes me proud.


AnaLee: The album feels like stories straight from a day in the life of Jesse Ott… not that they are all autobiographical, but songs like “Music City” and “Waitress in Nashville” certainly feel that way! Would you tell us about writing and making the album, who did you work with in the studio and where?
Jesse: I think autobiographical pretty much sums it up. I wrote most of them on my own except for “Truth Be Told” which I wrote with Sam Johnston who is an artist here in town. I wrote “Rosé-Colored Glasses” with Joy Hanna and Klare Essad who I got connected with through NSAI. Everything was arranged, recorded, produced, and mixed by some of my good friends here in Nashville, Jason Krunnfusz and Zach Stass. We have a studio in our house actually so it was pretty convenient. Their operation is called Corporate Panda Records. Several other friends played on the record; Derek Lutrell (guitar), Lucy Cochran (fiddle), Andy James (drums), Daniel Pingrey (keys), Collin Pastore (pedal steel). It was mastered by Justin Perkins at Mystery Room Mastering.

AnaLee: Do you have any shows around town, or a tour planned? Thanks Jesse, I wish you all the best with Rhinestones & Rodeos and I’ll definitely be digging into the record on The Local Brew Hour!
Jesse: Yes! I have three release shows; 3/25 at Dee’s in Madison, 3/26 at Four Quarter Bar in my hometown of North Little Rock, Arkansas, and then 3/28 at Park Cafe in Nashville for a solo happy hour show. Beyond that I don’t have anything on the books tour wise, but once I’m settled in Arkansas, I’m planning to do some solo runs and play locally quite often. I’ll be back in Nashville a ton, so nobody needs to worry about that!

“Waitress in Nashville”

Ana Lee is the host and producer of "The Local Brew," a weekly radio show plus a live showcase for Nashville based artists. She hosts mid-days on 89.5 WMOT Roots Radio, Nashville, is a voice over artist and curator of musical experiences for events.
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