Whitney Walker, a singer/songwriter about of Portland, Maine, knows a thing or two about darkness—and hopes that singing about his own can offer a bit of light. His new album, A Dog Staring Into a Mirror on the Floor, reflects that in its name.
“When a dog stares into a mirror on the floor, the dog sees an infinite reflection, slowly driving them insane,” Walker says via email. “I believe humans are similar. I think about this Nietzche quote a lot, ‘Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.’ When we stare into the abyss long enough, the results are similar to the dog. Nietzche aside, this album deals with love, loss, redemption, hope for the future, and how difficult these processes can be, maddening even.”
Having played in bands since he was a teenager in the ’90s—first in Boston and then Oregon, Chicago, North Carolina and eventually Maine—he became homeless off and on in the 2000s, after drugs got the better of him. The new album captures some of his past woes in tracks like “Reverse Cowboy,” about a fellow transient man in Portland.
“These songs are all like children to me,” he says. “They’ve been with me for a while. I watched them grow. I’m proud of all them, but lyrics like, ‘Nobody would accuse me of being perfect / Except God, of course,’ from ‘Love Keeps no Record of Wrongs,’ and ‘Did I catch you on the defensive / By the freedom in my speech’ are probably two of my most honest lines. I’m sure my wife would attest to this.”
Walker has been sober since 2011, becoming a social worker and helping others find treatment and rehabilitation. He befriended fellow Portland musician Will Bradford of SeepeopleS, who produced the new album. He’s joined by longtime bandmates—Dan Capaldi, Robert Mitchell, Ian Riley, Jason Grosso, Arthur C. Lee and Brooke Binion—along with Dana Colley of Morphine, who added sax and bass clarinet.
“Amazed and ecstatic would hardly describe the feeling I got every time Dana would send back his tracks, especially as a fan of his bands,” Walker says. “This was really in the beginning, as all of the other musicians involved kept sending back amazing contributions that were all, essentially, self-recorded at their homes during lock down. This was certainly a pandemic recording project, where we took these essentially demo recordings of just me and my acoustic guitar, and built this record bit by bit. It was amazing to send my songs out into the aether, and have the tracks return like magic from some of my most talented musical friends. I don’t think I would ever choose to make an album like this again. It’s much better to be in the same room for sure, but I’m so glad it happened this way for this one.”
A Dog Staring Into a Mirror on the Floor will be released March 3 on RascalZ RecordZ, which started as SeepeopleS’ imprint and now is co-run by Walker.
“When I became a partner in the adventure, it was very much because we had so much fun making my album,” says Walker. “It was a family affair. We always take care of each other. Being independent musicians, or running an independent label in today’s music industry, might be the ultimate example of a dog staring into a mirror on the floor. Undertaking these kinds of insanities are much better with friends than alone. I’ve never been involved with people as focused on making great music and art and shows as my RascalZ musical family is. With social media taking over the world, it’s been sad to watch this popularity contest get out of control, so I can’t say enough how thankful I am to be surrounded by incredibly talented folks who are serious about the art they are creating.”
And if there’s plenty of despair captured in Walker’s music, the purpose isn’t to wallow in it.
“After the arduous last few years we’ve shared, I sincerely hope this album just makes people feel good,” he says. “There is some heartbreak, some sadness, some guilt, shame and regret in all of these songs, but the intention is to make lemonade out of lemons.”
Listen to an exclusive preview of A Dog Staring Into a Mirror on the Floor below: