Singer-songwriter David Whitehead of Asheville, North Carolina, has been performing his old-time country influenced music since 2005 under the moniker Youell Swinney. The name refers to a dark corner of Arkansas history, the unsolved Texarkana Moonlight Murders of 1946, and is a fitting match for the pensive, somber topics his songs tend to deal with.
Arkansas born and raised, Whitehead’s songs are partially inspired by his experiences growing up in the tiny town of Mangrum Landing. “It’s just like three houses,” Whitehead said. “And some of them are empty.” Also influenced by the country music his father listened to when Whitehead was a child, he eschews the sound that modern country artists strive for, instead embracing the style of legends such as Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt while performing songs about death, loneliness, and the nearly impossible feat of escaping from small hometowns.
“A lot of the country that plays on the radio these days doesn’t sound like country to me,” Whitehead said. “It just sounds like pop music being sung by someone with a drawl.”
After a friend gave him a broken guitar in the ninth grade, Whitehead soon taught himself to play and began recording tapes in his bedroom. “I didn’t have instruments so I had to use a little metal trashcan as a drum,” he said. As Whitehead got older, he started becoming interested in punk music, and with his band Candy Coated Warheads recorded an album and played shows in the Jonesboro, Arkansas, area on a regular basis. Eventually, though, Whitehead returned to the country music he had grown up with.
“I quit playing punk music because really I think it’s music for younger people,” Whitehead said. “It doesn’t seem honest when I see a 40 year old man up there barely standing up and trying to play the music he played when he was 19.”
Honesty is a virtue that Whitehead appreciates in music, and that’s part of the reason why he writes the way he does. “I try to make my songs as honest as possible,” he said. “That’s why I write sad songs. They’re more honest to me than the rest of them.”
Whitehead is nearing completion on an album entitled “Poor Man’s Lament” to be released in the coming months. You can preview the album at youellswinney.bandcamp.com.