Interview White Denim: ‘There Are Great Things Happening In Contemporary Music’

Donʼt expect to hear any neon bop influences.

With their fourth album ʻDʻ being released in the UK on June 6th and a string of live dates coming up (including two in the UK), this month has been even busier than usual for White Denim. Although there might have been a few suspicions that theyʼd gone soft after ʻLast Day Of Summerʼ, the free download of the gloriously shred-heavy ʻAnvil Everythingʼ on their website suggests that ʻDʼ could well be their best album yet. However, as James Petralli tells us, donʼt expect to hear any neon bop influences…

Where are you and what are you doing right now?
Iʼm sitting on my porch doing an online interview - well, actually now Iʼm just talking to you, but Iʼm trying to get caught up on all this pre-release press stuff.

Sounds like itʼs a busy time for you!
Yeah (laughs). Yeah it is, itʼs exciting though, yʼknow - we got a record coming out soon.

Youʼre heading to the UK soon, do you like coming over here?
I love it. Itʼs a big part of what keeps us going as a band - weʼve had a lot of support over there over the past few years, so itʼs definitely our favourite country to play in.

Aw, you donʼt have to say that…
Itʼs true though, itʼs true! The audiences over there are really welcoming to us, so we look forward to it.

One of your two live UK dates was at The Great Escape - you played there in 2009 as well, how do you think it compares to your hometownʼs SXSW?
We only spent one day at The Great Escape the first time we played, but Brightonʼs a
really beautiful city so itʼs got the natural beauty and the club kinda feel for it. I donʼt know, are there day parties and stuff at The Great Escape? Well SXSW is a really industry-focused kind of festival, there are a lot of new bands and people trying to fight for a record deal, so if that happens at The Great Escape then they have those two things in common for sure.

Having a festival like SXSW in your hometown must be great.
It is, but itʼs kind of a double-edged sword. Weʼve been in Austin for about six years now, so weʼre kind of getting tired of all the traffic and, yʼknow, the temporary visitors, but it is really exciting, I love going down there. I think my biggest gripe about it is the traffic, but I think as far as a music festival goes, itʼs really hard to compete with the intimate setting that you get to see those bands in. Itʼs really great.

Austin is famously quirky and individual - do you think that living there has influenced your music?
I think it has. The local audiences like to have an element of humour in the bands they support yʼknow, so thatʼs kind of an inherent thing for us thatʼs been encouraged by being in Austin. Thereʼs also a lot of talented country musicians here and thereʼs an emphasis on musicianship thatʼs pretty prevalent in the city. Austinʼs a great city, itʼs great for lots of things… I prefer the culture in a few other American cities, but as far as the beauty of the city and the pace go - itʼs a very easy city to live in.

Which cities do you prefer?
I really like Chicago, I like New Orleans - I think New Orleans is beautiful - I like New York, San Francisco…but I think Chicagoʼs definitely my favourite. Itʼs great, thereʼs only three or four months out of the year when itʼs not completely freezing cold, but in those months itʼs the best city in America in my opinion.

The audio bio on your website jokingly refers to the pressure of incorporating ʻcoolwaveʼ and ʻneon bopʼ into your songs - is there any truth in that? Do you ever feel pressure to fit in with certain trends, or do you take pride in the fact that you donʼt?
Well, I think it really depends. When weʼre in the rehearsal room, or working on a record, we donʼt feel the pressure, but after weʼve completed a record and itʼs being evaluated by the people we work with on the business side, we do kind of have that pressure. I think there are great things happening in contemporary music that I would like to incorporate at certain times - but itʼs not so much ʻusʼ.

How did you write and record ʻDʼ?
Well, the writing process generally starts with me kinda sitting on the porch with an acoustic guitar, recording demos into Logic on my computer, and then Iʼll send really, really bare-bones compositions to the other band members via email. At that point theyʼre sort of serving as editors, yʼknow. But I write a lot, so theyʼll tell me “well weʼd like to record this” or “this needs more work.” Itʼs kind of isolated at that point but as soon as we get into the studio it becomes a lot more collaborative, we kind of tweak arrangements and everybodyʼs writing their own parts.

Is there any chance of any of those demos ever seeing the light of day?
I wouldnʼt be opposed to that. If there was an interest in them then I would definitely release it. I have a few friends that I send them all to, but itʼs pretty ridiculous the amount I write and the way the quality kind of varies, so Iʼm not sure that anybody other than the band members would really enjoy listening to it. But yeah, if there was an interest I would love to share that stuff.

Do you prefer being in the studio to being on the road?
I do, I could live in a studio. I love it, my favourite thing about being a musician, being in a band is being in the studio and working on records. I think I might be the only one in the band that really feels that way – I mean, everyone likes it but I think some of the guys might get something different from performing.

Has getting a new guitarist on board affected the way that you write and record your songs?
I used to multi-track a lot of guitars, and now I have to be a little more considerate from the beginning so the tracks donʼt get too crowded early on. Iʼm the kind of guy whoʼll layer up eight voice and three or four guitar parts. I have a tendency to ʻover-track’ so adding a fourth member has made me focus more on what Iʼm trying to do. And heʼs another trained player, so he brings a kind of smooth, direct approach to the band thatʼs really expanded our ability to try out new styles of music, so yeah, itʼs great.

And presumably it gives the live shows a new dynamic too?
Yeah - dynamic is the word really. We used to get on stage and it would be sort of an assault - we would just play really hard and fast and loud, there wouldnʼt be too many peaks and valleys, so to speak. But now, having another guitar player - and possibly getting a couple of years older - weʼve started to introduce some different kind of feels to the set, so itʼs a more dynamic and varied experience now.

Anybody who has seen you in the last few years would know that your lives sets were pretty intense.
Yeah, well yʼknow, we havenʼt completely abandoned that, but weʼre kind of allowing ourselves and the audience a bit of a breather now and then.

Will there be material from the new record in your live sets now?
I think weʼre gonna play everything thatʼs on the new record, with the exception of one or two tunes. So weʼre doing that, and weʼre also going to be performing stuff from the old record, and then stuff thatʼs yet to be recorded, so it should be pretty fresh.

Your last album, ʻLast Day Of Summerʼ, was a bit of a departure from your usual sound - was that deliberate?
I think because I write primarily on an acoustic guitar, and we wanted to make that record really quickly, it was the most natural choice, to have a kind of softer thing. But a lot of the songs date back to before even the first record so, yʼknow, it was just the kind of thing that didnʼt really fit into ʻFitsʼ or ʻWorkout Holidayʼ. We just kind of did what felt right.

Is that why you made it available for free?
Well, actually we put it out for free because we had to contractually. Everybody in the group feels that thatʼs a record that can stand next to the other two, but as far as our legal situation with the record company went, it was the only way we could share it. Weʼre a really busy band, weʼre always doing something, so weʼre really uncomfortable with taking an entire year out and not releasing anything. That was the main reason, we really wanted to get it out and try to still be present in peopleʼs minds, and that was the only way we could do it yʼknow? So thatʼs how we did it.

Finally, are there any plans to do a full UK tour any time soon?
Yeah, Iʼm hoping so. Weʼve confirmed a few late summer festivals, so we should be doing a full UK tour in sort of August/September. Iʼm really pushing for it, this is the first record where weʼre on an American label - but the UK has certainly been our primary market, so weʼre pushing a little bit to make sure we can be there. Iʼm looking forward to it.

White Denim’s new album ‘D’ will be released on 6th June.

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