Issue 5 // 2012
The degree to which I got excited about my interview with Texan rockers, White Denim, was verging on the unprofessional; gabbling all this excitedly over email to their tour manager probably didn’t help.
So you can imagine my expression when I heard that they’d missed their flight to England, would be late to The Great Escape and would thus need the allotted interview time to sleep off their jet lag. Balls. Would they still be performing? I asked, heart in throat. Luckily, it was a yes. Equally fortunate was the promise of a phoner with frontman James Petralli. White Denim have spent the last five years or so maneuvering themselves between soul, prog rock, pyschedelia, 60s garage and blues within any given album. In a lesser band, this attempt may have left them labeled as directionless and confused, but with White Denim it is this seemingly inexhaustible capacity to skillfully move between genres that continues to intrigue both critics and fans and, four albums in, that’s important. Their latest offering, D, sees a triumphant return to 70s psychedelia. It is also this album that had the trio add a fourth to their mix: guitarist Austen Jenkins. “Austin’s got a huge range as a musician: he can pretty much do whatever he wants with instruments, so he’s added a lot of dimension and his voice allows us to be a lot more dynamic on stage, so it’s been great,” James tells me. “I think he’s increased our potential by 25%.”
Skirting the queue of people snaking down the seafront waiting to get into Coalition to hear them play at The Great Escape (a true tribute given the clash with the headlining act in the Dome) with a shameless flash of my press pass, the benefit of adding a fourth member (not to mention sleeping off the jet lag) is obvious as they play with an intensity that must surely leave their guitar frets whittled down to toothpicks. It’s also easy to see where that irksome label of jam band comes from: they rock out on stage with seemingly all the pleasure of a band jamming in their own garage. “It’s a great honour for me to play with my band mates.” But ‘jam band’ is not a label that sits comfortably with them. “There’s a lot of stigma with the jam thing; I don’t think we particularly like having any label other than rock and roll. We’re not completely against it, but it’s kind of fun to have a go at the marketing people who are trying to set us into a kind of category... We definitely don’t want to be perceived as a kind of noodley, stoned out jam band, you know?” It is a label that they’ve addressed with a good attitude and taken in their stride though, recording a tongue in cheek cover in response. “Jam bands are notorious for doing really extended funky jams in like one key, so we’re always joking, well since the record company has said ‘Oh you guys are like a new jam band,’ (the US record company that is) we just kind of said, ‘Oh okay, we’ll give you something to work with there’ and just recorded a funky vamp that stays in one key the whole time and doesn’t really move around, just to have fun. We were in the studio and we thought it would be a funny joke.” If the last four albums have taught us anything, it’s to not categorise White Denim
Amy Lavelle Illustration