Interview: White Denim: “If the record didn’t turn out good we probably would have just hung it up“

A whirlwind couple of years saw White Denim’s future under threat. Steve Terebecki tells Charlie Mock how they kept it together.

“We thought that White Denim might be done” Steve Terebecki muses down the phone from Texas. It’s a Tuesday morning where he is; SXSW looms both visually and mentally in the state capital as it prepares for seven days of sensual overload. There’s a lightness to Terebecki’s voice, but it’s easy to tell that the past year has taken its toll on the Austin four-piece.

“We had never really even thought about having a drummer other than Josh [Block] and you know, Austin [Jenkins] is an amazing guitar player” he continues, “that was half of our band.”

Terebecki, White Denim’s bassist, is talking about the line-up upheaval that he and lead vocalist James Petralli went through last summer. When Block and Jenkins, their then drummer and guitarist, left the band to work on other projects following the hand they played in breaking soul singer-songwriter Leon Bridges, the pair found themselves in an unthinkable position. After a decade of creating and performing with their two friends, Petralli and Terebecki were forced to make a backbreaking decision: leave White Denim with the memories of six full-length records, swathes of fans and countless tours and shows, or find two new members and attempt to pick up where they left off. Naturally, they chose the latter.

“It kind of was like starting a new band, in a way”

— Steve Terebecki

“When we started demoing with the new guys and things were sounding really good, we were like, ’Wow, maybe we can keep on with this’” Terebecki remembers of the band’s first few weeks in the new formation. The “new guys” - guitarist Jonathan Horne and drummer Jeffrey Olson - arrived for White Denim’s now impending album that began to take shape during the summer of 2015. After almost a year away from making music as White Denim, both Petralli and Terebecki were ready to return: “It kind of was like starting a new band in a way because it had been such a long time.” It’ll be their seventh record as White Denim, meaning the remaining original band members were as seasoned as they’ll ever be, but ‘Stiff’, set for release this Friday, happened to prove more crucial than ever. “Really, the recording and mixing of the record was an extended way of figuring out whether or not we wanted to keep going or not,” Terebecki explains, “I think if the record didn’t turn out good we probably would have just hung it up.”

Thankfully, they didn’t need to. After only 17 days of recording and three weeks of mixing, White Denim had a new record, and one that they were beyond happy with. A different approach saw the band collaborating with an external producer for the first time ever, but adding a third party to the mix and changing the way they worked gave their music a new lease of life, one that let their songs do the talking before the band had a chance to second guess. “After the first song, we played it and he [producer Ethan Johns, known for working with the likes of Paul McCartney, Laura Marling, The Staves] was like ‘Alright, that’s great’ and he didn’t want to change anything about it,” Terebecki says of their first day recording. “We normally spend a lot more time in the studio, we do a lot more overdubs […] There’s no one there telling us ‘Oh no, it’s fine, don’t mess with that,’ so we sort of mess with stuff until our time runs out.”

It’s for this reason that Terebecki believes ‘Stiff’ leans so dramatically towards the soul soaked roots that White Denim have let grow consistently through their earlier material. “I think that our songs, really at their core, have a lot of soul and R&B in them, but we ended up adding so much that it ended up changing the whole vibe.” Preparing less for studio time affected this too; a selection of bare bones tracks that had barely been revisited since their writing took White Denim into recording with an open mind. “We prepared a lot less because we were going to be working with a producer,” Steve remembers of their process this time around, “because we didn’t know how much he was going to want to change the songs.” The result, then, couldn’t be more complimentary; a fast-moving, live record that represents both the progress White Denim have made as band and the new, reinvigorated sound that the change in line-up has procured. “At their core, they’re soul and R&B tunes, even the old ones; if we were to record [previous albums] in the same way, like really quickly, they might sound more similar to ‘Stiff’.”

Despite losing two original members, White Denim are (quite clearly) still just that, and if their newest record is anything to go by, they will be for a considerable time longer. Terebecki spoke of their decision to keep working under the same name in two ways: one suggests a practicality, the necessity of touring old music as well as new, but the second reason – the one that speaks of the band not as their job, but as an entity unto itself – is without doubt the more sentient of the two. “If we started over with a new band name and a new approach, maybe it would have been fun but it definitely would have been taking a few steps back” he suggests, thinking about exactly why White Denim are still operating as such. But, Terebecki remembers, “the new guys really embodied the spirit of White Denim in a really great way, so it just sort of made sense to keep it.”

White Denim’s new album ‘Stiff’ is out 25th March via Downtown / Sony RED.


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