Songs from a Subaru European tour

On the road with the indie-folk band Whitherward

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ca. 8 minutes

What happens when you put two nomadic American indie-folk singer-songwriters in a Subaru Outback and let them loose on the budding European indie-folk festival scene? We caught up with Ed Williams and Ashley Norton, the duo behind the band Whitherward, on a hotter-than-hot 38°C day when they dropped off their Subaru Outback at Subaru’s European headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

The indie-folk duo Whitherward

Ashley Norton and Ed Williams went on a 22-show European tour with a Subaru Outback.

Being on the road is nothing new for Ashley Norton and Ed Williams, the duo behind Whitherward. Not only are the two both singer-songwriters and guitarists, they are also best friends, which comes in handy when you play over 250 shows a year together. Earlier this summer, they toured Europe in a Subaru Outback playing 22 shows throughout the United Kingdom, Germany and The Netherlands.

The idea behind “Songs from a Subaru”

Although there are a lot of things that are quite funny about the chat we had with Whitherward shortly before they headed back to the United States in late July, one of the best parts of the story is that this is not – let’s repeat – not a marketing story. They actually own a Subaru Outback in the United States and their own Subaru inspired the “Songs from a Subaru” YouTube series and European tour.

For over three years, Whitherward has toured the USA, mostly the western states and West Coast, but also the Midwest and East Coast, putting an impressive 40,000 miles on their Subaru Outback annually. But, the story doesn’t start there. The idea for “Songs from a Subaru” was actually the brainchild of Ashley, who takes care of the public relations, marketing and bookings for the band.

“We actually started the ‘Songs from a Subaru’ idea just for us. We needed more video content for our social media sites besides our original music videos,” explains Ashley Norton. “When we started as a band, we played some unique spins on cover songs during our concerts, but we never recorded them. So the series of YouTube videos that started all this was really just a way to get our cover songs out into the world for people to hear.”

The series of YouTube videos, featuring songs like “Drive my Car” from the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” developed quite a following. Ed and Ashley would set the camera up in the window of the Subaru Outback, Ed would pick up the acoustic guitar, and Ashley would sing.

“We were just doing a simple breakdown of our songs. Anyways, we kept doing them, gained a following and someone was like, ‘Hey you guys should have a Subaru sponsorship’…and that eventually led us to the marketing department of Subaru here in Europe,” adds Ashley.

Long story short, Subaru Europe lent the band a brand-new Subaru Outback for their 22-stop tour this summer in Europe. Whether driving through the English countryside or cruising the autobahn, Whitherward counted on the Subaru to get them to their house concerts, pub gigs, small festivals and other special events throughout Europe. And just like their American tour, driving the Subaru Outback for 6 weeks and 9000 kilometres proved to be full of beautifully whimsical music and a few automotive-inspired surprises as well.

Inspiration for songs and a European tour

“Songs from a Subaru” actually started because Ashley and Ed tour constantly – practically living out of their Subaru and staying with friends and fans along the way.

Whitherward Summer 2018 European tour


The tournament: what tournament?

When Ashley started booking their second European tour this past spring from the USA, she was surprised that quite a few of the venues kept on saying things like, “Oh sorry, that date won’t work. It is the day of the big match.” Of course, Whitherward, being musicians from a country that is more American football than soccer, didn’t really realise that they were touring the same time as the World Cup “tournament” – an event that as most of you know literally put Europe and the world “on pause” for a few weeks. But, until Whitherward got to England, they just assumed it was some type of local event or game. They would quickly realise they were touring during full-on World Cup mania.

The night before their show in Bedford, England, Ed decided to take the Subaru to a car wash and the guys there warned him not to drive around town in the car during the evening – especially if England won, they had emphasised.

“I looked at them quizzically – like what the heck are they talking about. It seemed to be such a quaint town,” adds Ed Williams. “They really had to spell it out for me. We had Belgian plates on the Subaru and were deep into English football territory the night of the big Belgium-England World Cup match.”

It seems the well-meaning car wash staff didn’t want some British hooligans trashing the Subaru with Belgian plates on it. In the end, Ed and Ashley put a small British flag on the Subaru just to be safe.

This is really a funny story. But we were really lucky considering that we were touring the same time as the World Cup, we only had to reschedule one show.

Independent spirit

Whitherward takes the music they love across the country, equipped with acoustic guitars and a Subaru.

Putting the indie in independent

World Cup aside, Whitherward is not your business-as-usual band. The band started in 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee, the country music capital of the United States by the way. After many years on the Nashville music scene, Ashley and Ed decided they didn’t want to play the music industry game anymore; they just wanted to play music. So the duo decided to go independent, took their acoustic guitars, tossed them in back of their car, and started touring the USA full-time. And that is how Whitherward started.

We are an independent band and we like being independent. Honestly, we have much more success as an indie band than I ever did in the music industry game,” says Ed. “We are playing for our fans – and they are not necessarily in Nashville – although Nashville has helped us hone our skills.”

We just wanted to have fun and do what we love, which is play the music that we love – and play it for people who love music.

Sold on the Subaru

In 2015, the band really started to take off. With a year of touring on the horizon, Whitherward bought a Subaru Outback, put some of their stuff in storage, and everything else, well, that went into the Subaru.

“The director of our videos sold us on the idea of a Subaru,” explains Ashley. “The car is bulletproof. When we tour the West – especially states like Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, or Utah, it is in its element. It is not only great with the miles we need to cover, but also the rough roads, mountains and tough weather we need to drive through.”

Ed adds, “I remember very clearly driving around in the backseat of our director’s Subaru Outback and thinking, ‘This is exactly what we need.’ It is roomy, goes everywhere, has well-balanced four-wheel drive, and it goes up mountains just like that!”

Roomy enough for band equipment and much more

In the USA, Whitherward travels with a full PA, guitars, luggage, merchandise and stands. The Subaru Outback fits all that and sometimes even their violinist Stephanie De Groot and her friend when they join the tour.

The car is bulletproof. When we tour the West ... it is in its element.

In the beginning, the duo admits that living like gypsies was really fun, but today, three years later, the band confesses that it is one of the hardest things about touring full-time.

“You don’t have a home to go to,” admits Ashley. She is quick to point out that they don’t actually live in the Subaru. They stay with a generous network of friends, fans and supporters when they are on the road.

Ed found the band’s name on Whitherward was word of the day.

Americans on the autobahn and other funny driving tales

Driving is Ed’s job on tour and, being American, it took him a day or two to adjust to the European roads. If you haven’t experienced it, driving in Europe and definitely the UK is pretty different than driving in the US. The roads are smaller, traffic tends to be faster and denser, and parking is well, you just better be good at parallel parking, let’s say.

And how did driving in the UK go, Ed?

“Let’s just say that driving on the other side of the road in the UK went better this tour than last year’s tour. Last year, we had a car with the steering wheel on the right side. That makes driving for us Americans really weird,” says Ed.

Subaru made driving easier

“This brand-new Subaru was packed with cool stuff like the full-colour rear camera that made parallel parking easy, the sat-nav made sure we watched our speed, and the outside sensors kept me from swaying from my lane, which can happen,” adds Ed. “It took me a day or so to get used to the European roads again. You have to remember we are used to the open desert highways of Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, where, at times, you don’t see anyone for miles…”

Watch your speed

Most everyone in Europe knows that you have to be careful about the automatic speed cameras and really watch your speed because the fines are steep and the ticket automatically comes in the mail. That being said, Ed was looking forward to giving the autobahn a go.

“The autobahn is fun, but you have to be careful because they change the speed limits all the time and there is a lot of construction. I honestly didn’t realise that I was on the limitless part of the autobahn at first. I was looking for the speed limit sign on the sat-nav and then that disappeared. I was like ‘oh no, how fast do I go now?’ I guess that meant I could go as fast as I want.”

Ed figured he was on a limitless stretch really quickly when a sporty German car flew past at over 235 kph. He admits that he got the Subaru up to 200 kph very briefly – just to see what it was like. “I doubt you could get away with that in the USA – even in the middle of nowhere,” he adds.

Ashley adds, “I don’t ever think I have seen him happier driving.”

Whitherward has restarted touring the West Coast of the United States.

Check them out on:


Take a listen to some of the songs from their latest album, The Anchor.

You can certainly tell that the duo has country influences from their Nashville days, but as they continue touring the West this fall and winter, climbing the Rocky Mountains and rolling through the lush wine valleys of Napa, California, you can be sure that you will hear more songs from their Subaru.

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