In the entertainment industry, it’s all about whom you know. But sometimes, when stars align and likeminded artists connect, all that silly networking business gets thrown out the window. Such is the case for White Denim, the Austin-born quartet who’ll take to the stage alongside Wilco this Friday night at the Arlington.
In May of last year, the band took to the stage at the famed Sasquatch Music Festival in Washington, and walked off with (at least) one super-famous new fan. “We met [Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy] as soon as we got off the stage at Sasquatch,” recalled frontman James Petralli. “We gave him and the other Wilco guys some records, and a few months later, there was a tour on the table.”
Since that fateful day, the band has been hitting the road hard, fine-tuning a show that has long demanded to be caught in the flesh. Their furious and unrelenting mix of psychedelic, garage, and blues rock, and affinity for jazzy jams, intricate looping methods, and experimental song structures, makes for a set as out-there as it is dizzyingly impressive. And no doubt that’s exactly what Tweedy saw, too. We recently caught up with Petralli to talk new albums, life lessons, and the perks of opening for one of America’s biggest rock acts.
You guys are considered some of Austin’s busiest road warriors. How important is touring to the White Denim sound? Not extremely important. Touring does help keep the band tight, which, when it comes to making new songs, can help uncover some ways.
Similarly, how does the set help to inform the writing/recording process? It doesn’t inform the writing or recording process that much either, as far as I know. Of course scheduling is a big thing, but we’re always home for a few months at one point or another. Also, we do keep in mind now that songs on upcoming records we will be playing many, many times, so we try not to write something that is going to bore us to tears.
It’s been almost nine months since the release of your last record, D. Have you guys started to work on new material? Always. We had demoed out a batch of songs by February. When we aren’t touring, we are putting songs together.
Style-wise, or maybe even influence-wise, how does it compare to the songs on D? The style varies quite a bit. “No Real Reason” and “Cat City” from the Takes Place in Your Work Space EP were recorded in sessions after D and Last Day of Summer and are our most recent recordings out there. Influence-wise, it is really hard to pinpoint. Each of us brings a whole laundry list of influences to each song without really even letting the other members know. I think that helps make the music sound unique. Never have we and never will we say, “Let’s make this one sound like The Pretty Things” and then just go for it. It would probably sound great, but it just wouldn’t be us.
You’ve also been on the road with Wilco for a little while now. How’s that going? It is going great. Wilco is a great band, and we’ve learned a lot from them as players and as a band. In addition, the rooms we are playing are performing arts centers and huge theaters, which has been a really great experience.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your tour mates? We just try to keep it real. We all understand that touring for long periods of time can make any man crazy, so we try to give each other the proper space as necessary. On the same token, we try to have a good time with each other because a tour isn’t going to go well if everyone ignores each other all the time and holds a grudge across 3000 miles of land.
Are there any records that are currently on heavy rotation in the tour van? Necromandus’s Orexis of Death; Alamo’s self-titled; Rockabye Baby, Greatest Hits; Dire Straits’ self-titled; tons of live jazz records; Barefoot Jerry’s Southern Delight; the Publicist EPs.
Do you have any personal favorites as far as traveling records/songs/artists go? Electronic music is fun to drive to. I mentioned Publicist, but also Kraftwerk, Metro Area, the new Justice record. All of ’em are fun to drive to.
Best opening act you’ve seen of late? Of late, we have been the opening band. The only bands that have been openers for us are Mazes and Royal Bangs, both of which were really great.
Best perks that come with playing huge venues? Nice dressing rooms and catering!
If you had to title this chapter of the White Denim Story, what would it be? It is the “construction chapter.” Seventy-five percent of the venues and hotels we have stayed in on this trip so far are under some sort of construction.
White Denim plays a sold-out show at the Arlington Theatre this Friday, February 10, with Wilco. For info, call (805) 963-4408 or visit thearlingtontheatre.com.