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Jim White - The Triste Interview

Jim White Jim White, a native of Pensacola, came to be a professional musician via time spent as a pro-surfer and as a male model, so it's probably not surprising that the edgy left-field, gothic-country music he writes is different to many of his peers. White's music has been described as a "unique blend of alt-country and metaphysics" - and given that was from the man himself, we can assume it might seem unlikely, but is probably pretty accurate. White had just completed a tour of Europe with his label boss, David Byrne, when he engaged in an email chat with Triste's Steve Henderson - a promoter on White's earlier tours.

Triste: So, Jim, remember me and the gig with Dai Thomas - the blues man from the Irwell River Delta?

Jim White: Of course I remember you. But I'm wondering, were you complicit in someone sending me a guitar slide with my signature engraved on it? Was that you? I still have that damn thing and use it daily. I also have vivid memories of that show I did, as the irony of it was inescapably profound. As you probably remember, it was a benefit for torture victims, and yet there I was - singing off key and forgetting lines and struggling with that antique beatbox and generally creating there and then an entirely new enclave of individuals who would qualify for aid from the very charity I was trying to do good works for. By virtue of your attendance you should have been due your admission back as relief from the agency. As for the Dai Thomas reference, did you know he played on several tracks on this album - "King Of The Road" and "The Love That Never Fails"? We brought him down from up North and oogled him with Andrew Hale's zillion dollar studio and he played his heart out for us. So, understandably I have a tender spot in my heart for Manchester and the north England brand of hospitality.

Triste: It must have been quite a juggling act with four producers. I know that you had the songs down quite early and guess that you have multiple versions of songs. How did this all work out?

Jim White: Some songs were locked in right off the bat. Morcheeba has a very clear idea of what they want and how to get it, so "Handcuffed" and "Ten Miles" changed very little from the original recording dates (August 1998 and January 1999). Andrew Hale’s tracks were more organic and therefore took longer. "The Wrong Kind Of Love" was the only track that we finished in the two weeks that we worked together, and the other three sort of existed in a half finished limbo state for over a year until Luaka Bop broke down and bought me a Pro Tools system for my very own garage. It took a couple of months to get me up to speed on running the system and once that issue was settled I worked very slowly trying to find a middle ground that honoured both the Morcheeba tracks and the tracks from Sohichiro and Q-Burns. The one song that really bedevilled us was "The Wound That Never Heals". From the moment the record company heard it (before WEJ was even released) they considered that song the cornerstone of the next album. However when we tried to make the song big and cornerstoneish, it sounded forced. We went back and tried to make it smaller and it felt confused. David Byrne, remembering the fiery version of it I used to do live, offered to produce the track as a live endeavour, and flew me to NY, brought in some heavy hitters in the music biz and we did it live, and it sounded like a great blues song in need of a great blues singer. Needless to say, that great blues singer doesn't live in Jim White's body. Then I recorded a version of it with my band down here (Ed: Jim’s home in Florida) which was very very cinematic and disjointed and everybody agreed that while it had moments of cathartic beauty, it was too much of a Frankenstein song. Finally, Luaka Bop decided to do a remix with Mark Saunders in NY. He listened to the track and said. This isn't a single. This is a story, and he proceeded to pull back the music until the story emerged clearly and everyone breathed a sigh of relief because it meant a lot to all of us. It's a real message song and concerns an issue I don't mind being didactic about. Getting back to the central question. Everyone that worked on this album expressed right off the bat that they wanted to make sure that my obscure musical perspective was honoured, and so my job wasn't as hard as you might think. In fact there were times when I had to insist that they put more of themselves in the songs. I look at the first album as an internal journey, I took my songs to a very quiet place in my mind and polished them there in darkness, and therefore it was a quietly implosive entity, this album is much more an excursion into the minds of others, and that's a big relief to me. Contrary to the lyrics I wrote, I was getting a little tired of walking in "The Ghost-Town Of My Brain."

Triste: The producers come from all sorts of backgrounds which is interesting but begs a question about how you managed to get such a consistent sound through the record. How was that?

Jim White: As for the consistency of the sound. It sounds more to me like constant inconsistency. To me the music is simply the frame in which I hang the image of the lyrics. The frame is ever changing, giving the lyrics a sense of constancy that anchors the sonic adventuring. Beyond that there is a certain mathematic way in which I hear things which will be there whether I make an album with "Americana" instruments, or Buddhist Brass band instruments. It's all about intervals and how they are honoured and deconstructed. Maybe that's what you're talking about when you say it feels internally consistent.

Triste: I love the way your songs throw up all sorts of weird and wonderful imagery. That suggests to me that a Jim White film score could be fun. Any thoughts in that direction?

Jim White: As you may know, I graduated from film school and worked in the film business doing sound design just before I became a professional musician, so the word film to me is a friendly term. Presently I'm working on a feature film based on the story Wrong Eyed Jesus that accompanied the first album. This film is being produced by The Douglas Brothers, England’s arthouse TV commercial makers. We're out looking for financing right now, shopping a treatment around and seeing who's game for a dark film about the underbelly of the South.

Triste: So, where did the idea come from for 'King Of The Road'?

Jim White: It arrived mysteriously, like all good things. In 1994, after I finished my near feature length thesis film at NYU, I fell down a deep hole of sickness and depression and poverty. Wondered if I would live or die as a result of my terrible struggle with it. I moved back to Pensacola and lay in bed for week after week and fell sicker and sicker (probably it was peritonitis-I later came across an article about it and recognized the symptoms). I had no health insurance and was too lost in my depression to seek assistance from friends or the few free clinics that exist around here. Some friends of mine from film school came down to try to help, and of course decided that what I needed was a party. They brought in a bluegrass band and fifty or so people arrived, and so I dragged my ass out of bed and tried to be happy, thinking some happiness might be an antidote for this crippling mystery illness. At a certain point in the night, the bluegrass band cranked up, and someone shouted ‘sing a song to me’. I stepped into the centre of the room and went kind of blank, then heard David Byrne's voice coming out of my mouth but singing the Roger Miller icon. The crowd seemed to love it. I was utterly perplexed, feeling like I had been possessed by a demon or something. I went back into my room and collapsed on the bed. Then when we were looking over the seventy or so songs I wrote for the second album my manager innocently mentioned that she had a cover song she wanted me to do. It was "King Of The Road". How could I say no? It had been confirmed by those mysterious forces that blow me willy nilly, like a leaf caught in God's secret hurricane.

Triste: Using so many influences on the new record is great but what are your plans for re-producing this in a live situation?

Jim White: I'll buy a big boom box, place it on the stage. Put a microphone to it and press play.

Triste: You tend to get put in the 'Americana' bag over here which doesn't really stack up to me. I know it's a real critics problem (i.e. let's lump this music over here to help the reader) but have you got a description for your style?

Jim White: It's genre busting. And the base genre is country/folk.

(Thanks to Steve Henderson for the interview)



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