She's 25 years old and has just released her first album.
But Trixie Whitley has already had the musical life of a veteran artist.
The singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has been recording since she was 10, appearing on albums by her father, the late Chris Whitley -- who also brought his daughter on stage with him starting at age three. She's had standing as Belgium's youngest resident DJ and membership in the Daniel Lanois-led group Black Dub, and Whitley put out three EPs before the January release of "Fourth Corner," her first full-length album.
Clearly she's no novice to the music world, even if it's a distinct minority that's probably ever heard of her.
"Fortunately or unfortunately, I've been kid of living in it since I was a child," says Whitley, who currently resides in Brooklyn. "It's wild because, yeah, this is my first real record, so in that way I do feel like, 'Oh, wow, there's still such a long way to go' in terms of record-making.
"But at the same time, I wish I felt almost more naive or fresh or something towards the record industry. There's a lot of pros and cons. I've mostly just tried to learn as much as possible and just observe everything that's going on around me, and also observe my own working progress and make the best out of it."
The eclectic nature of "Fourth Corner" -- a wide-ranging collection of sonic approaches unified by Whitley's soulful, throaty vocals -- is rooted in her upbringing. Born in Ghent, Belgium, and raised there and in New York, Whitley had a ringside seat, and closer, to her father's critically lauded rise but also to his struggles with drug addiction and to the battle with lung cancer that ultimately killed him in 2005, at the age of 45. Nevertheless, Whitley remembers growing up being surrounded by art and by an artistic community.
"Even as a kid, we would sit at the table and my parents would smoke and drink and stuff and we would just philosophize about life and art and everything," she recalls. "My entire family were total anarchists. We would talk about how non-conventional the interests were in general, throughout our family.
"That was very enriching in terms of the information that was there for me as a child to gravitate towards. I just lived in it and soaked it up. Maybe I have this kind of romantic vision if it, but I grew up feeling like anything you chose to do was valid, which was really special."
Whitley, whose parents divorced when she was young, got busy with that information. She began playing drums at 10 and was DJing in the Belgium Museum of Modern Art when she was 11 -- where she had to stand on three beer crates just to get to turntable level.
"It was a novelty at the museum, but it wasn't a joke to me. I took it really seriously," Whitley says. "I wanted to do it well, so I would think about the music a lot and sit there with my records and be like, 'OK, how do I get the crowd to dance?' It was a really fun chapter in my musical journey.' "
That trip also included adding piano and guitar to her arsenal and also joining the Les Ballets C de la B company as a dancer, actor, singer and musician. She began songwriting when she was eight years old, meanwhile, though Whitley says it took a few years to get serious about that.
"Growing up around my dad, I always felt like that was his thing," she explains. "I didn't feel like writing was my natural gift, even though I was always writing. I have stacks of notebooks that are full from the last 15 years, just from my short life, but it seemed more like a craft. It wasn't this pure necessity of, 'Oh, I need to get this (stuff) out of me.'
"So it wasn't until I was 15 or 16 that I began to think of (songwriting) as something I really did."
Whitley dropped out of school when she was 17 and released her first EP, "Strong Blood" -- co-produced by Meshell Ndegeocello -- in 2008. At her mother's behest, she gave a copy of the EP to the Grammy Award-winning Lanois, who had been associated with her father, when both played at that year's Montreux International Jazz Festival, and not long after he contacted her to be part of Black Dub, the group he'd formed with drummer Brian Blades and bassist Daryl Johnson.
"I was impressed with her ability and her gift," Lanois says. "She had grown up into quite a powerful artistic and singing force. We recorded a song called 'I Believe in You' and she knocked the vocal out in one take, and I took that as a sign to embrace the situation and start the band."
Whitley, who had worked day jobs as a waitress and starting to study for her GED at the time, recalls Black Dub's two years and one album as "a very intense time. I did see it as a very educational time and a lot of really great things came out of it. But I'm also kind of relieved in a way that I could take a break from it, too, and start doing my own thing again."
For "Fourth Corner," Whitley teamed with producer and keyboardist Thomas "Doveman" Bartlett, fusing accessibly melodic tracks such as "Irene," "Pieces" and "Breathe You in My Dreams" with more experimental fare like "Hotel No Name" and the title track. And, Whitley adds, she's not necessarily looking for a hit single but rather a more holistic artistic vision.
"I feel like I've been crafting the vision for this record for a long time," explains Whitley, who finished "Fourth Corner" a year ago. "I really wanted to approach it almost like a film in terms of scenes that go in and go out and not just as a purely linear kind of thing. I didn't want to be confined to one stylistic direction; I wanted to explore my different influences but marry them in a way where it felt completely authentic to my own voice.
"So, yeah, I did have a pretty precise vision."
With "Fourth Corner" finally out, Whitley plans on spending much of this year on the road. But she's also "really excited to move on to the next record" and is "working on a lot of new stuff" she hopes to start recording for a 2015 release.
"This'll be the first time I work on a second record, so it's new for me," she says. "I have some more really distinct ideas, but I'll need to go into a really concentrated writing period to get a real sense of what it's going to be. I"m planning on taking a few breaks from (touring) to just go somewhere and sit in the south of France for a couple of weeks and take all the writing I've done and really collect it and look at it.
"I still kind of carry the same vision, sonically, but I'm excited to bring it up a notch to the next level, in a way. Hopefully that's where I'm headed."
Trixie Whitley and Johnny Nicolson perform Thursday, May 2, at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12. Call 248-544-3030 or visit www.themagicbag.com.
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