Editor’s note: For the month of January, our features will be focusing on up-and-coming artists, what we are calling “rated rookies.” These musicians are making what we feel is the cream of a new crop, and we think you will (sooner or later) agree. Enjoy!
While certainly an unflattering fashion choice, the name of the other denim is now a terrible band name as well—and Texan trio White Denim will be the first to admit it. Along with singer Byshop Massive (a.k.a. Lucas Anderson), drummer Joshua Block, guitarist James Petralli and bassist Steve Terebecki lingered for years in the Austin scene as (the only slightly better named) Parque Touch. However, when Massive moved to Russia in 2006, the band was left pondering their next move. Naturally, they did what any supremely talented band in a prime location would do: start over by playing a gig under the most terrible moniker they could dream up. Yet, as is so often the case (damn you, Occam’s Razor), this simple solution worked, and the name White Denim stuck, catching the ears of producers, fans and critics alike.
Now, just three years later, White Denim is already three albums in. Last year’s Fits was an overlooked gem of equal parts labyrinthian extrapolation and pop hooks as conveyed through a mix of ’70s psychedelia, ’80s prog, and a heaping pile of rock & roll chaos. I caught up with Terebecki in between watching the History Channel on a day off in Portland as the band was midway through a cross-country tour.
Do you think that playing in Austin made it easier for you guys to sort of find your niche and get “discovered,” or was it harder having so many bands in the same position?
Steve Terebecki: I’m sure in some ways it was easier for us being there. There are festivals that bring a lot of people from outside of the city to Austin, so that definitely widened our audience. Obviously playing South By Southwest allows a lot of people to watch you, so that helped us a lot.
I read that you guys recorded solely for vinyl before signing on to RCRD LBL, which has quite a unique digital format. Was it a strange transition from vinyl to digital, as well as compact disc, releases?
ST: We’ll always prefer vinyl, for sure, but the masses seem to prefer CDs and MP3s, so we try to make everybody happy. We didn’t change our sound at all, we just went with the outlook that we make records meant for vinyl that people just end up putting onto CD or MP3. You just get to hear it straight through as opposed to flipping something over halfway. I also think that a lot of people listen to our music on MP3, like on their iPods shuffling around and whatnot, so it doesn’t quite work the same way as listening to it in succession on vinyl. But it’s just something we have to live with. We’re still going to continue to make records the same way, and people can listen to it however they want.
Your sound is definitely fit for vinyl, as your music has a very ’70s psych, prog-rock influence. Is that what you grew up listening to or do you draw inspiration that?
ST: We all grew up listening to a little bit of everything, so when we’re making records, we tend to put a little bit of everything into it. We’re really into hearing and finding sounds that we like throughout the history of music and figuring out how to replicate those and meld them together.
What are some of the sounds that you find most appealing as of late?
ST: Well, obviously a lot from the ’70s, and lately we’ve been listening to lots of foreign prog-rock. That’s always been a big thing for us, but the prog-rock phase has been getting more and more intense this tour. We all like to find a lot of obscure bands. For instance, there’s a band called Sensations’ Fix from Italy. They’re really popular in Italy, but nowhere else in the world. I’m not really sure why because the stuff they do on their records is just totally mind-blowing. We try to find those little bands like that to hold onto, you know?
Your sound is difficult to classify, since there are obviously so many things that enthuse you. So if you were to describe White Denim’s sound to someone who had never heard it before, how would you condense that into words?
ST: Rock & roll. (laughs)
I like that—that’s about as simple as it gets.
ST: Yeah, we like to keep it simple, you know?
Exactly, though simple is quite contradictory to your sound—there really are so many layers.
ST: I mean, if you ask us to get into specifics, we’re willing to say this and this influence us. But broadly, it’s just plain rock & roll.
Speaking of which, it’s interesting that though the sound is so multifaceted, the lyrics are simple and oddly poetic in contrast with the music. How does that writing process work with respect to the music?
ST: James (Petralli) writes the majority of the lyrics, but there’s a couple that we all wrote together. But the majority of it is James. He studied literature and he’s really into Gertrude Stein and whatnot, so I guess that’s what he draws upon.
Alright, well I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but why the name White Denim?
ST: We were a different band before White Denim, and we had a different singer, but he moved to Russia. After he left, the three of us that remained, we just sat around and didn’t really know what we wanted to do. We had a gig that weekend, and I think we ultimately decided that we just wanted to name our band the worst name we could, so it would just go by really quickly and we wouldn’t have any emotional attachment to it. I think we came up with White Denim, Totally Revolution, and Crazy Sexy Rainbow. White Denim ultimately beat the other ones out.
And it stuck?
ST: Yes, but, we definitely weren’t naming the band thinking that we were going to be touring and releasing records. We just thought we were going to jam around town. We had no idea what was going to happen.
So did you wear shitty white denim when you played?
ST: No, we were just fans of other people that wore shitty white denim, but we wouldn’t do it ourselves. I think James bought a pair just to try on at home, but I haven’t actually seen him in them ever.
Yes, well, white denim does not flatter anybody that’s for sure.
ST: Oh, I know. I know.
Are there plans to tour the Midwest or East Coast again any time soon?
ST: Well, we just did an East Coast tour in November, and as far as I know, we don’t plan on coming back out until our new record’s finished, which will be sometime this year, late summer or fall.
Wow, another new record this year? That’s quite a feat.
ST: Yeah, but we’ve got material. So if all goes as planned, it’s going to happen.