On Why Bonnie’s debut album, Blair Howerton picks at her past like skin blistered by the Texas sun. The band’s home state files into every corner of 90 in November—it’s even in the track names (“Silsbee,” “Galveston”). It’s in the endless skies and muddy rivers, the heady sunsets and interstate fast lanes. It’s also in the fire-red cover art, through which a cooling aqua has started to seep. Since swapping Austin for Brooklyn, Howerton’s past has been in hot pursuit, whether it’s the lingering pain of a broken relationship or the loss of her brother in 2016. The album seeks to understand how these events inform the present, but with each passing day—with each passing song—the red recedes, and the blisters start to heal.
Toward the end of 90 in November, Howerton conflates the story of Lot’s wife with her own. It’s said that while fleeing the damned cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the biblical character stole a glance at the destruction behind her and was turned to salt as punishment. “Stopped for a photograph / Of a moment in the sun,” Howerton murmurs on the title track, “Looked like we had just won / But you’ll turn all to salt if you ever look back.” Although she manages to evade saltation—the song’s airy Americana details her escape: “Going once, going twice, now I’m sold”—salt still permeates the record. She can taste it during “Sailor Mouth.” “Galveston” finds her avoiding the salty water of Candyland beaches. As warming as 90 in November may be, then, insecurity is always in the rearview. So she leaves one hand in the sun, and one in the future.
Keeping with the theme of Why Bonnie’s sepia-toned debut, out today, we asked all five band members to rundown some key songs from their younger years. Besides Britpop feather-rufflers, heart-on-sleeve pop punkers, and Third Eye Blind’s R-rated sing-alongs, the playlist contains a few wild cards that help contextualize one of indie-pop’s hottest newcomers—the perfect extension to 90 in November.
Third Eye Blind, “Semi-Charmed Life”
I was introduced to this song by my older cousin who was a die-hard Third Eye Blind fan. Because of the fact that older cousins are inherently cool when you’re a kid, listening to this song made me feel like I was very cutting edge for a 10 year old. I would try to impress everyone by memorizing all of the lyrics. Little did I know they were all about sex and doing crystal meth, but the chorus is a hook for all ages to enjoy.
Bright Eyes, “First Day of My Life”
If my memory is correct, I think this was the first “indie” song I ever heard. I was in 6th grade and was grappling with the first tinges of adolescent emotionality. I would replay the whole album, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, ad nauseam on the Bright Eyes MySpace music page. When I was that age, everything was cinematic and I had a bad case of Misunderstood Main Character Syndrome. My brother and I shared a bedroom at the time and I remember laying on the floor staring up at the ceiling while listening to this song. He came in and said, “Oh my god, get up, you’re so embarrassing.” I continued to lay there thinking, “You just don’t get it…”
The White Stripes, “Ball and Biscuit”
The White Stripes were undeniably my favorite band through my adolescence. So much so it drove me to take guitar lessons when I was around 14 years old. Of which, I walked into my lesson playing this song on a burned CD and asked my guitar teacher to “turn me into Jack White.” Jack White, if you’re reading this, I’d still like a guitar lesson from you—but one where we’ve unnecessarily made the guitar from a coke bottle and pick-up on a random plank.
Oasis, “She’s Electric”
When I was in middle school, the CDs in the family car consisted of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? and random compilations of Houston rap music, of which my mother somehow did not care to censor (thankfully). I have core memories of making my mom listen to pretty much only three songs from this Oasis album simply on repeat so I could sing to them as loudly as possible—the others including “Hey Now!” and “Some Might Say.” She was/remains very supportive—or tolerant—to say the least!
Tim McGraw, “Where the Green Grass Grows”
A snob from a young age, I used to whine about hating all the country music my mom would play in her car nonstop. The exception was Tim McGraw, which I would assure her “was actually good.” This song in particular was truly a staple, armed with just a fiddle riff and dreams of the wide open country. I would sit with my first CD player in a tucked corner of my room and just replay this nonstop as a little kid. As much as I love city livin’, I think Tim might’ve been onto something with this song.
Good Charlotte, “Predictable”
A classic that I look back on and laugh about a bit, but still know every word to. As obsessed with this song as I was, I really can’t tell you why at 10 years old a song with a spoken-word interlude asking, “Why am I so broken? Why am I so cold?” hit so hard. Good Charlotte was easily my first favorite band, and this track in particular was an early moment of feeling like I was wise beyond my years. There’s a lot of cringing involved with looking back on your younger years, but I still look back fondly at this song for giving me an early taste of feeling like I found something just for me.
The Edgar Winter Group, “Free Ride”
This was my absolute favorite song as a young kid. I initially heard it in the first Power Rangers movie, where it played during a really badass rollerblading montage. Separately, my parents had a CD called Even More Dazed & Confused: They Stole Your Stash…Again!. It was the second volume of the movie soundtrack (which they had never seen) and they didn’t have the first volume either. All of this is to say I would sit in front of our stereo in the basement and listen to this song over and over again until my folks would come down and make me stop. The circumstances that lead to this song being so foundational are so funny to me, and I honestly couldn’t name another Edgar Winter track.
Coldplay, “Everything’s Not Lost”
I’m a sucker for a grand finale on a record and Coldplay are the masters of it. Parachutes was permanently in my car CD player and I can’t count the number of times I’d go drive around the Houston suburbs at night just to scream-sing this one. Plus, the hidden track! Bring back hidden tracks!
Titus Andronicus, “A More Perfect Union”
If you’ve never seen Titus Andronicus, I would highly recommend it. I saw them play for the first time somewhere in New Jersey when I was 14. They were opening for Passion Pit, who I was a huge fan of, and at the time I had never heard of Titus. I distinctly remember seeing a few diehard Titus fans—big punky bald dudes—screaming every word at the band and hanging over the security baffles to get as close to the band as possible. Before that set, I had been listening almost 100 percent to indie pop, but watching Titus play their hearts out yelling about New Jersey and the Civil War got me hooked on them. I’m a huge history buff as well, so The Monitor was just the perfect album for me for about five years.
Eminem, “Lose Yourself”
This is one of the goofier songs I could have picked, but I’m going for it. I can’t remember the last time I put Eminem on for myself, but growing up both of my parents listened to Eminem a lot. I only had a few artists on my first iPod, but Eminem was one of them. I remember rapping along to “Lose Yourself” on the playground in, like, third grade or something. I think I can still do most of the first verse. The opening guitar riff still gets me pumped up—it’s a classic.