Catching Up With The North Texas-Bred, Austin-Based White Denim.
The members of the endearing art-rock four-piece White Denim call Austin home these days, but their story really starts, for the most part, right here in North Texas.
In the early ’00s, before forming White Denim, guitarist and vocalist James Petralli (son of former Texas Ranger catcher Gino Petralli) and drummer Joshua Block played in an Arlington-based band called Parque Touch.
They were a fairly small-time entity — until a gig in Austin at Beerland paired them on a bill with Virginia Beach, Virginia, native and bassist Steve Terebecki’s Peach Train band. Not long thereafter, Terebecki came on as Parque Touch’s bassist and, pretty soon, the band began moving in a new direction and changed their name to White Denim.
Since becoming White Denim, the outfit has been nothing if not prolific, releasing five EPs and five full-length records (along with a rash of seven-inch releases) since 2007.
But aside from a moment or two in the blogosphere sun thanks to the success of their 2008 single “Shake Shake Shake,” none of the band’s releases have made nearly the splash of their latest full-length release, D. A jazz-influenced album with copious nods to ’70s prog, the album’s a high-minded effort that pulls the reins back on itself thanks to a healthy dosage of drugged-up inspirations, as seen most notably through the singalong-worthy lead single “Drug.”
After a string of high-profile performances at South by Southwest and in Las Vegas, the band is back on the road, touring in support of that almost year-old album, along with their late-2011-released Takes Place In Your Work Space EP and a soon-to-be-released-online pair of singles, one of which is a cover of an R. Kelly song (more on that cover later).
Last night, the band kicked off their three-week tour in Houston and tonight, the band hits Dallas’ Granada Theater as a sort of homecoming for Petralli, Block and guitarist Austin Jenkins, who joined the band in 2010. (Fun fact about Jenkins: Like Petralli, he also has some baseball ties; we recently profiled his cousin, artisan baseball bat producer Ben Jenkins.)
In advance of tonight’s performance, we caught up with Terebecki to talk about the band’s recent spotlight performances and their reaction to recent critical acclaim.
Plus, of course, that R. Kelly cover.
So you’re the one dude in the band without North Texas ties, huh?
[Laughs.] Yeah, I was raised in the Virginia Beach area. I moved to Texas about seven years ago, when I moved to Austin. I met the other guys about a year after I moved here.
Speaking of Austin: You guys just played South by Southwest and were one of the bands that played the much-discussed Dorito’s Jacked stage. What did you think of that whole deal?
I mean, initially, we thought it was pretty off-putting. The whole corporate takeover thing that’s happening during South by Southwest is pretty gross, you know? We were joking the other day that there will probably be in a couple of years, like, a McDonald’s stage and all that. I mean, there’s already Taco Bell-sponsored shows.
Like all the stuff at the PureVolume House.
Yeah, exactly. I heard some funny things about the bathrooms at that place, too. [Laughs.] I mean, they were giving away free tacos at their shows. Apparently the bathrooms at their shows were all torn up. But, honestly, the Dorito’s Jacked stage, even though it was ridiculous and everything, it was all really professional and the people were cool. You just realize that, y’know, these companies want to send their representatives out just because South by Southwest has so many people and that it’s just these poor people who work for Dorito’s who are just trying to have the coolest event that they can have. Because why not? I mean, if you have to put on an event…
Anyway, once I was there and talking to the people there, it was just a regular show. It got pretty easy to get past all the Dorito’s stuff. It was pretty funny, though. I was clearly the most over-the-top thing I saw there.
If you’re gonna go over-the-top, you might as well be the most over-the-top, I guess.
I mean, <em<I think so! [Laughs.] Like, there was all those gigantic Dorito’s bags because the stage was made to look like a vending machine. It was just really funny. And it ended up being fun because of that. Plus, we all ended up with, like, 12 bags of Dorito’s. I even got a Dorito’s Flying V guitar T-shirt, which I was pretty excited about.
I imagine you probably got some free issues of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition this year, too, since you all played their shows in Vegas and had your music featured on their TV special, yeah?
I wish we did! We didn’t get anything! They put us up in a hotel and stuff, but I was hoping for some free bikinis or something.
It was pretty crazy, though, when we played their show. There was this supermodel who came out and introduced our band to a bunch of people who were just playing games and drinking at the bar. We were definitely the third or maybe fourth think on people’s lists when it came to looking for something to do. So she introduced us and we all thought it was really funny just ’cause she didn’t even look at us. Like, nothing. None. She walked on stage, walked right by us and didn’t even glance over.
It was weird, but I was just like, “Hell yeah!” Just ’cause she is, like, so on that level where she doesn’t even look at us. On the one hand, I of course wanted to try and flirt with her and stuff, but I thought it was pretty cool that she didn’t even pretend to begin to give us the time of day. [Laughs.]
After a gig like that and a gig like South by Southwest, you must be hankering just for some normalcy in your shows.
Yeah, yeah. We definitely are. But we’ve also been on the road a lot lately. We just played up in Dallas not too long ago, actually, for a [University of Texas at Dallas] show. That went pretty well. It was a student -only thing. Actually, I don’t really know what was going on, like if it was spring break or just a regular school night or what, but there weren’t like a ton of people there. But it was still a lot of fun.
This Granada show is obviously a little different, being more of a traditional show and all. And it comes on the heels of some pretty great success for you guys of late. D has just been a really well received album for you guys – and kind of an apex, too. Between EPs and full-lengths, you guys have released, what is it, ten releases or something since 2007? But this one’s done especially well. After a run like you’ve had and then a sudden success like D, are you just suddenly hyper aware of a difference in the way you guys are perceived and handled?
Yeah, I think so. You know, that record was produced in a new way for us. We recorded it in a studio outside of our own.
And, along with that, Downtown Records, our record company, had a really great push and everything behind it and just did a really great job with the record. And, honestly, this was kind of our first actual U.S. release in a way. All of our previous releases were either self-released or somehow mishandled or some kind of secondary, swept-under-the-rug kind of thing.
Is that to say that D has felt like a debut release for you guys?
Yeah, it sort of has. It feels similar to the way Workout Holiday felt in the U.K. That was all the way back in 2008, but it felt like a real release, y’know? And we hadn’t really had that here in the States.
Well it’s definitely worked out well for you guys, at least this time around. When it comes to the album, though, it seems like the constant storyline is the abandonment of some lo-fi aesthetics. Is that something you agree with? Did it feel like a slicker record than your previous efforts while you were making it?
Oh, yeah. For sure. It definitely is. We went from using [drummer Joshua Block]’s studio, where we had a lot of limitations but endless amounts of time, to a studio that really had no limitations but allowed us very limited time. [Laughs.]
On our earlier records, we just had tons of limitations technically, but we also didn’t have to be all that focused in a way. One record we did, Exposion, we did it over the course of a whole year.
So you had to go in with the songs ready this time around? Like completely ready?
Yeah, we had to prepare D completely before we went into the studio. It was a really focused thing, just because we had a set amount of time that we were working with. I mean, we had a deadline. So we went in there prepared and focused and had the full studio at our disposal, and we didn’t really have work around making things sound good just because things there just sounded good already.
Did that process teach you guys much about the band and its dynamics?
I think we all found out that we very much enjoyed that process. But, really, even if we didn’t, Josh doesn’t have his studio anymore, so we’re kind of stuck with this. All of our recording since D and all of our future recordings are going ot be this way. We’re going into a studio and we have to know what we’re doing. We can’t go in there with no idea and just record a riff and try to make a song out of it. We have to have it all ready to go. Which we all love.
You mentioned some new recordings. Can you tell me anything about those?
Well, just this past week, we recorded a couple of extra songs to go with our Takes Place In Your Work Space EP on its European release, just because it hadn’t been released over there yet. So we wanted to add a couple of songs to it that were recorded in the same vein of that release. We also recorded a different version of “Street Joy” [from D ] and a cover of an R. Kelly song that should be coming out during the beginning part of this tour we’re going on.
What R. Kelly song is it?
We recorded “Don’t Say No” off of TP-2.com. We’re definitely pretty big R. Kelly fans. But we also did that song and the new version of “Street Joy” in kind of the same style, the idea being that it’ll have this kind of online seven-inch sort of vibe – like some weird freaky early ’80s band that doesn’t really sound like us. But I think it’ll be pretty cool.
That’s kind of your bit, though. Whenever people talk about White Denim, there’s a whole litany of genre descriptors tossed your way. Is that cool with you guys? Is there a right way to describe your sound in your mind?
Well, just between the four of us, we probably like every single style of music. So I think it’s just something where we enjoy making music enough to the point where we love just trying different styles out. Like, you’ll hear on the “Street Joy” and R. Kelly thing that it’s just a totally different vibe from a lot of our stuff.
Is that at all a worrisome thing, having such a varied sound? Or is it a strength?
I think it is [a strength]. But either way, it’s just a lot of fun. And, like, on this particular release, it’s not like it’s a full record or anything. Neither of these songs would ever be on one of our full-lengths in the style that we just did them in. Like, “Street Joy” was on D and you’ll be able to tell when you listen to it that it’s “Street Joy,” but it’s just completely reworked into a different style.
Are you gonna play the new style live?
We have already, so sure. And since we’re releasing this online, we’ll probably do the new version on the tour. And I’m sure we’ll probably play that R. Kelly cover, too. [Laughs.]