White Denim are back and Getintothis’ Jamie Bowman chats with them about regeneration, the liberating power of masking music and much more.
Anyone lucky enough to have seen White Denim live around the time of the release of their superb debut album is probably still getting over it 11 years later.
2008’s Workout Holiday launched the Austin, Texas power trio on an unsuspecting UK public but it was their extraordinary gigs that really sealed the deal for them on these shores with the sight of drummer Joshua Block, baby-faced bass-player Steve Terebecki and stick-thin front man James Petralli locking into their hitherto unseen combination of garage punk, soul, psychedelic boogie and prog jazz leaving all but the meanest critic open-mouthed in wonder.
‘Oh man, the UK is unlike anywhere else in the world for us,’ laughs Petralli more than a decade later. ‘We look forward to it whenever we see it on the calendar and we still talk about moving over there all the time. We really love it.
In those days it was a wild band. When we were a trio we were trying to make as much sound as possible all the time. When it worked and people responded to it we were surprised as they were.’
Twelve years and seven albums on from their inception, White Denim are back with a new long player Performance, which sees the band not only welcoming two new members – drummer Conrad Choucroun and keyboardist Michael Hunter – but also introducing new practices into their record-making process and trying to recapture a little of what made that gang mentality of the early White Denim so appealing.
‘We had changes in the band, with management and our organisation so there was a lot of transition going on,’ explains Petralli, who had seen Block and guitarist Austin Jenkins jump ship to work with soul singer Leon Bridges after the recording of 2016’s Stiff.
‘I’m tempted to say that’s the way things are going to be from now on – once we started adding people and taking people away it felt like it was just part of the deal for the band now.
There’s a positive side but the negative is that we have to rehearse so much for it to be up to where it should be. The positive is we’re super engaged with the music and we’re not taking anything for granted. I’m taking guitar lessons and trying to learn as much as possible – I’m not sure I would feel so motivated if I didn’t have to set the example of a work ethic that we want to maintain.’
New recruits Choucroun and Hunter were key in what Petralli describes as ‘a super-collaborative record’, although he and Terebecki shared the leadership. Choucroun, their new drummer, played with Northeast fusion legends NRBQ who frequently shared band members with the Sun Ra Arkestra.
Young gun and “crazy genius” Hunter came heavily recommended by White Denim’s front-of-house engineer.
‘There was a little bit of a lull when the band kinda wanted to chill out,’ admits Petralli, recalling the period around five years ago when the band took some nervous steps towards the mainstream with a more pop-orientated sound.
‘The crazier stuff was much more contained around the time of Corsica Lemonade (2013). I’m a punk rock guy at heart and I’m a nervous, energetic dude so I went along with that and did my best.
Now we’re really keen to keep the energy up and keep ourselves young. It’s getting harder to pogo for an hour and a half but I have two young guys in the band – one is 23 and the other is 24 and I haven’t practised this much since I was their age. They’re bringing so much energy and fresh excitement and it’s a really good thing for us.’
Performance was recorded over eight weeks between October 2016 and October 2017, mainly in Radio Milk – White Denim’s new studio, built in an old general store and horse stable constructed in 1902 in downtown Austin.
‘The studio is awesome man,’ chuckles Patrelli. ‘It’s an old house built in the early 1900s which is ancient for Austin! We’ve built a stage out back and it’s a cool hang out – there’s a great coffee shop next door and a couple of great bars. It’s a bustling area and feels like an opportunity to create a scene in town. The live music capital mythology runs deep here in Austin and I feel like what we have is pretty special – it feels small enough to potentially make a little scene. That’s what we’re working on.’
One thing is clear speaking to the determined Petralli. White Denim are back – regenerated and resolute.
‘It’s just a fun way to spend time,’ Petralli adds, simply. ‘At the core, it’s always been a way for me to communicate with people about the records that I like. And second to that, it’s sharing my feelings.
It’s still fun to sit and have an idea that’s kind of silly and chase it down in a room full of adults that are all committed to making something great.
The absurdity of it as a career and a way to spend your time is so… liberating. Every time I get a chance to go into the studio and make a record or just hang out with people and talk about records, it feels like an extraordinary gift. That’s who we are as people.’
White Denim 2019 UK/Eire dates:
- Feb 9 – Belfast, Limelight
- Feb 10 – Dublin, Whelans
- Feb 12- Bristol, Academy
- Feb 13- Birmingham, Institute
- Feb 15- Manchester, Albert Hall
- Feb 16- Newcastle, Northumbria Institute
- Feb 17- Glasgow, SWG3 TV Studio
- Feb 19- Leeds,O2 Academy
- Feb 20- Liverpool, O2 Academy
- Feb 22 London, Roundhouse
Tickets Available here: https://www.whitedenimmusic.com/live