A recurring thought of mine when listening to White Denim is “How?” Just how does the genre-less Austin quartet manage to flow through so many styles of music so seamlessly and with such virtuosity? Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to land an interview with the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist James Petralli so as of the time of this article, the question remains unanswered. But what I do know is that White Denim, along with fellow Austinites The Bright Light Social Hour, are by far the most impressive live band I’ve ever seen.
I first stumbled upon them at Antone’s in 2010 on a trip I made to Austin with my mother. She sat in the corner sipping wine out of a plastic cup and I stood up by the stage getting my life turned around while a buncha them damn hippies danced around me in circles. In retrospect, had I known how much joy this band would eventually bring me, I would have probably danced too. But I was just too awestruck by the swirling guitars, driving bass lines, and the calculated chaos of the drums.
Oh my God, the drums…
By then, their second guitarist, Austin Jenkins, had joined the band after which things took a turn for the best. That’s not to say they weren’t already a force to be reckoned with. Their 2009 album Fits displayed White Denim’s mastery of fast and dynamic arrangements to great effect. Songs like “Paint Yourself” and “I’d Have It Just The Way We Were” exhibit great skill in songwriting as well. But after Jenkins was recruited, the band’s sound became fully realized.
Their 2011 album, simply titled D, is nothing short of amazing. Recorded using more sophisticated equipment than any of their previous studio efforts, D sounds tight and refined and yet is simultaneously all over the place. In the best of ways, of course! Influenced by 60s psychedelia, jazz, blues, and folk rock, the album contains 10 explosions of music each more exquisite than the last. Even more impressive is the fact that while the influences are clearly there, the songs don’t exactly sound like any of those aforementioned genres. It is unclassifiable but relatable. It feels not like something you’ve heard before (because you haven’t), but like something you’re supposed to hear.
Onstage, the band are raw, energetic, and simply exhilarating to watch. There is so much music going on in their set, it’s hard to focus. Drummer Joshua Block’s and bassist Steve Terebecki’s rhythm section runs like a well-oiled machine even throughout the band’s breakneck set. Were it not for the fact that Terebecki gets beet red with the speed, they might fool you into thinking it’s an easy task. While they raise a tornado of their own, Jenkins and Petralli garnish it ever so nicely. A jam band of sorts, White Denim have a knack for long instrumental passages that segue songs into one another making their sets dynamic and unpredictable. While I could talk about this for hours (as my girlfriend knows damn well), I’ll just let this video speak for itself.
In late 2013, the band released their sixth LP, Corsicana Lemonade. This time around, the band threw in a dollop of southern rock making for some sweet jams that while fresh, still display the classic White Denim formula or lack thereof. For the past year, the band have been touring relentlessly in support of their latest album with plenty of dates in the USA festival circuit as well as Europe and South America.
I truly doubt White Denim will ever become massively famous due to the nature of their music. Their sound is simply too much to take in for the average consumer used to watered down tunes on the radio and the like. But that’s ok. White Denim is a (not so) well-kept secret that only the best of us know about. And now, so do you.
Luckily for everyone involved, technology has greatly facilitated the reach of music in the past decades even for non-cookiecutter bands like White Denim. Even though their music is decidedly directed towards a niche market, they are still known all over the world and they don’t seem to plan on stopping anytime soon. They’ve got plenty of dates throughout the rest of 2014 and will probably be going into the studio for a follow-up to Corsicana Lemonade as early as next year. That is, if they haven’t already. In hindsight, I’m not surprised I wasn’t able to get an interview with James Petralli. He’s a busy guy. Just listen to his tunes.