Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed musician Whitt Kelly, who goes by the stage name WHAX, about his music career, what inspires him, and his creative process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Whitt Kelly, but I go by WHAX in the music space. I’m what many are calling a “bedroom music producer.” I’ve been writing music and playing piano/guitar since I was 12 or so, but I finally took the step of learning to produce and make my own songs through the pandemic. I make all my music in my bedroom or garage with my computer, piano, guitar and mic.
When did you first WANT to write songs?
Ever since I was 12 years old and started playing the piano, I’ve been writing my own little songs. Of course, in the beginning they start out as little phrases and melodies, but eventually I got more comfortable pushing the limit and eventually made fuller versions.
For any other aspiring musicians who are maybe a little nervous to make a real song because they fear it might suck, I say just do it! There is no more inspiring feeling than actually making and finishing something you can present to someone, and know that nothing will ever be perfect.
When did you take a step to start writing songs?
Honestly, it was a courage thing at the very core. I was so nervous people would think what I had to offer was terrible so I hid behind the walls of my room and never actually did anything but sing my own songs. Then COVID happened. I was stuck at home and I learned a bit about music production (which is another art and endless pursuit of knowledge).
Ten thousand YouTube videos later after trying to learn the software and recording process, I eventually cobbled together my first “releasable” song, called “Riding Solo.” I did it totally for fun and was never planning on releasing it, but my brother actually convinced me to get it out and share it with people, which made it ten times more fun.
What was your first song released, and what was it about?
My first song ever released was “Riding Solo.”My brothers and I were planning on doing a surf trip up the coast and living in a van for a couple weeks while we sought out beach spots. I originally wrote the music intending to have a vibe to listen to while we drove up the coast. Then the lyrics came after the music and eventually morphed into a meditation on what it means to be alone — the good and the bad.
What was your latest song released, and what was it about?
The latest song is called “Lucid Dreams” and is about finding meaning and the juxtaposition of each of our perceived worlds and how maybe it’s all not far from a dream. I made a video that goes along with it that’s just a whirlwind of fantasy and reality mixed together.
Focusing on your latest song. What were your biggest challenges with it?
For the latest song, the biggest challenge was that it was a new genre for me production and songwriting-wise. It was originally built as a means to explore the genre, and the original chord structure was just a test, but I ended up liking the song enough to want to finish and release it.
How many songs are you working on right now?
I have too many to count in the hopper, which I would contend is one of the biggest enemies to successful creative output, starting too many things and not finishing any. I tend to write little snippets of new songs almost everyday. I typically get to a piano or guitar when the inspiration strikes, and put it to a simple 30 second song.
Then, each week I review my voicenotes (iPhone recording app) songs and pick one that speaks to me and produce it. I’m currently working on an album of 5 songs that are more lyrically driven and have an acoustic feeling in instrumentation and vocals. “Songs for A Romantic Comedy” is the working title.
Do you keep to a theme with your music, or just go where the mood strikes?
One thing I love so much about music, especially today, is that you can explore and connect to so many different genres and types. I love exploring and have built a solid background in music theory fully out of curiosity about what makes certain songs and genres tick. So now I just go where the mood strikes and I love that freedom.
What is your favourite song you’ve recorded, and what do you love about it?
My favorite song I’ve ever recorded is still my first one, “Riding Solo.” It just surprised me that I actually liked it and was very fun to play. Making the music video with my brother, who’s a filmographer, was also super fun.
Do you find other people’s music inspires you? Who do you listen to most?
Yes! I truly think that all art is a confluence of the others that came before it with the unique spins and perspective of the artist who’s taking it all in.
Do you write your own music, or do you have musicians you work with?
I write, record and produce all my own music because I love that freedom. I’ve done a few podcast/interview videos with other musicians, but other than that it’s mostly a solo venture right now.
Do you play any instruments?
I play piano, bass and guitar mainly. I’ve also picked up drum production, which I transfer to be playable on the piano. (For example one key would be a snare, another a kick another a hi-hat and I play them into the song via piano). I do play Ukulele and the melodica, which I just consider off-shoots of the piano and guitar.
Do you like performing live, or does it scare you? Where can people watch you?
Totally scared of it and enthralled by it at the same time. I’m working on a live repertoire now, so I will play live later this year or early next.
Is your music available online, and where can people listen to it?
Yes — it’s available on YouTube and Instagram. Everything I do is associated with a visual element (video) since I think people in this era are looking for that, too. My first Spotify Album is being released this month.
Are you able to make music full time, or do you have day job?
I have day job, as music is not sustainable for an income right now.
Are your friends and family supportive of your music career?
Incredibly! Yes! I would say without them, I’d still be a musical hermit, which is no fun! They are the engine that keeps me feeling like it’s safe to produce more music, no matter what the rest of the world thinks.
What’s something you never expected about being a songwriter? What have you learned that surprised you?
For me it was how much work goes into production. It’s a whole other world of creativity and expertise that can make or break a song. (For better or worse)
Have you had any experiences that really stand out because of your songs?
I do a cover series where I cover another artist’s song in my own style and then I chat with them about it. I found it really impactful to try to get in the mind of another writer, but then to also bring my own unique take and flavor on the song. Experience is so subjective, and we each view the same song in different ways.
Do you have any important events coming up we should know about?
Working on a live set, and I have another episode of “Under the Covers” where I cover another artist’s song and we talk about it, coming up.
What is the first piece of advice you would give to anyone inspired to write songs?
If you love it and feel inspired, just do it! And finish a full song, and don’t worry about what the result will be. That’s the key. It’s easy to start things and then get nervous that it won’t be any good. Trust your impulses and just finish it. Then looking back, at least you’ll have one more thing in your portfolio, whether it’s to learn from or to actually release.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes! It’s a TON of work and hours, but for me, I already play and write music to relax anyway, so having fulling produced songs to play for others really elevates the experience of making music for me.
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