If the Biggest Little City has a soul, part of it stays with Whitney Myer. One of Reno's most recognizable recent musical ambassadors, Myer is a lifelong musician who found a local audience as front woman of the Whitney Myer Band in 2009, while rocking open mics and venues around town with her blend of electric funk, smooth soul and pop-star voice. In 2012, Myer brought her talents to NBC's second season of The Voice, where her rendition of Alicia Keys’ “No One” earned a standing ovation from all four celebrity judges.
Myer is based in L.A. now, recording music and playing festival stages and venues all over the country, but still returns home to Reno every summer for a series of shows. For Artown this year, Myer will give an interactive performance of some of her new music on July 28 at the Brasserie Saint James (901 S. Center St.). The RN&R caught up with Myer to ask her about living in L.A., her process and the importance of coming home.
How did you get your start in music initially? You, your dad and your uncle formed the Whitney Myer Band, right?
Both of my parents were musicians, so when I was growing up that’s what they did for a living. I was around [music] all the time. As early as I can remember, I knew I wanted to sing and then I learned how to play guitar and piano.
When I was a teenager, I started writing songs more seriously. I had always made up songs with my friends or whatever, but I started writing songs more seriously, and at the same time, I picked up instruments. When I was 14, I started playing open mics with my dad and then my uncle started playing with us as well.
What were some of your musical influences back in the day versus now?
Back in the day it was probably more funk, like James Brown, neo-soul, like Erykah Badu, and pop that was on the radio.
Now, [my influences] are similar, but it’s more like Kimbra. I like Halsey, too. I think there’s a lot of great modern pop out there now. I also like slightly more obscure rock bands.
What was it like growing up in Reno as a musician?
I definitely thought it was a creative community, and it still is a really creative community, especially for a smaller city. It has an exceptional amount of people making art in different ways.
One of the things I specifically remember was before I was old enough to really play in bars. I was 20, and I started an open mic at Great Basin Brewing Company in Sparks, and that’s where I met a lot of other musicians in town and a lot of the community was built from that.
When did you move to Los Angeles?
I moved five years ago and currently live in L.A. I was 27 when I moved, so I spent most of my life in Reno. I come back [to Reno] every summer for a big string of shows, but I also come back a couple times a year to visit family.
What current bands and projects are you part of?
I’m a solo artist, and then TriOrca is a band we started about eight months ago. It’s with David Diaz who has been my drummer for the last five years since I moved. He was one of the first musicians I met when I moved [to L.A.]. We also met this guy from the U.K. named Phil Simmonds, and he’s a producer and a writer, a super talented guy, so it’s the three of us, and we just kind of started making music together, and it just snowballed fast.
During your time on The Voice, what were some of the biggest takeaways from being on reality TV?
No matter what somebody tells you, you have to manage your own expectations of outcomes. It’s a very L.A. thing for people to pump you up and make you think that they’re going to make you famous. That happens all the time here, like a surprising amount. It’s great that someone believes in you, but it happens so much that you start to not trust people, and that can be detrimental to the way you interact with the world.
The best thing is to know you’re the only person who’s in charge of your career. Like, these other people can say these things, but most of the time they’re not actually going to do it, and it’s really up to the artist to push themselves and to look out for all of the opportunities. Even a manager won’t necessarily get you there. It’s really dependent upon the artist.
After The Voice ended, what were the next steps for your career?
I knew that I wanted to work with outside producers, and I wanted to hone in on songwriting skills in particular. I love, love performing live, but I wanted to get more co-writing sessions in. To hone in that craft, that’s what brought me to L.A.
It’s the closest place from Reno where I can do that, but I can still come home, visit my family, play shows and maintain my fanbase [in Reno], which is super important to me because every time I come home to play those shows I feel super rejuvenated. There’s nothing like the support Reno’s given me, and it’s really, really cool.
What do you think is the importance of having a hometown community supporting you?
It makes a huge difference. To be honest, I don’t know if I’d do music anymore if I couldn’t go home and have that feeling during those shows and having those people that really care about the music.
It’s great here in L.A., and I’m lucky—a lot of people move here and leave within the first year because it’s too hard, and I’m lucky that I’m doing well here, but it’s not the same as the hometown.
A lot of those people who come to those shows [in Reno], they were at my open mics. They knew me before I was on The Voice. You can’t replace that history that we have together. It honestly refuels me for the rest of the year. It’s very important to me. It makes me feel like what I’m doing is reaching people and making a difference, and that is awesome, and it’s kind of what music is about, connecting with people.
What are you doing at Artown this year?
I’m going to be doing a workshop where I talk about how I put together a song with modern technology. When I first started, it was a little bit harder to make your own music and be your own producer. Now, it’s much easier to do, and you can do it for pretty cheap if you have a laptop. I want to show people what [making music] is like and how I go about starting an idea, coming up with lyrics and melody and give people some insight into what that process is like. I’m also going to be playing a bunch of new songs with my band, so I’m really excited.
What advice would you give to young musicians in Reno who want to follow in your footsteps?
I would say something that’s hard to do but should really be thought about is: define what success looks like for you before you start going for stuff. For myself, for a long time, I wanted, like, Beyoncé level success. There’s a lot of ways to be successful between Beyoncé and the person who’s playing at the restaurant while you’re eating. And that could be successful, too, depending on what their goals are and what they want for themselves. I think it’s about not letting others define what it means to be a successful musician or artist.