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White Denim: Strong on D

Already veterans of Austin’s vibrant music scene, Steve Terebecki, James Petralli and Josh Block finally joined forces in 2005. Calling the union White Denim, the trio combined garage rock tendencies with flashes of psychedelia, country and jazz. The fertile creative environment resulted in a half dozen full-length albums and EPs over the past five years.

Previous releases were all over the map musically but still offered individual pleasures. Last year’s album, D, on Downtown Records found the members perfecting a cohesive sound that contained echoes of My Morning Jacket, Meat Puppets and XTC’s side project, the Dukes of Stratosphear yet still maintained its own personality. The most direct example of the Dukes’ influence can be heard in the addictive single, “Drug.”

Not content to let their unused material collect dust, the group also put out EPs in 2011 before and after “D” – “Last Day of Summer” and “Takes Place in Your Work Space” – as well as a live session produced by Jack White. Like their earlier recordings, the EPs were released independently whereas D marked the first time White Denim allowed a record label control over their music. While the association started off rocky, it has paid dividends with additional exposure on radio, TV (“Last Call with Carson Daly”) and support slots with Wilco and Manchester Orchestra.

I spoke with Terebecki in the middle of the group’s dates opening for Wilco. Following those gigs, there will be more headlining shows in the spring with festivals this summer including a stop at Bonnaroo.

JPG: How’s the tour going with Wilco?

ST: It’s been great. It’s cool touring with a band that we all like and respect. We feel like we’re in line with them as far as the crowd that we’re playing to. It’s been really great so far.

JPG: So, it hasn’t been a challenge being an opening act?

ST: We’re used to playing to new people but as far as new people are concerned they are way more receptive than other new people that we’ve played for. (slight laugh) The feeling that we get when we’re playing is that way. Crowds can give a pretty cold vibe sometimes but the Wilco crowd has been really warm.

JPG: You also opened for Manchester Orchestra and, obviously, toured on your own. Do you have any idea at this point who makes up White Denim’s audience?

ST: (pauses) It seems to be a pretty interesting variety of people but I don’t know if I can put one name on what kind of audience we have.

JPG: Do people come to you for different things? One portion of the crowd is song-oriented, another is looking for the jams and then another that just enjoys everything.

ST: Definitely, because we throw in a lot of different genres from record to record and even in the midst of a record, different people might respond to one song and not respond to another. We recently played a show in Austin where we took requests. We were thinking that it might just be our most poppy songs, our most popular songs, as far as the internet goes but it was a complete wide range from obscure instrumental songs to our poppiest songs. We couldn’t get any information from that request show. It was cool.

JPG: I was reading an article that ran in “The Guardian,”, and in it you were unhappy about the idea of the record company wanting more pop tracks or tightly-written songs on what eventually became D. Out of that is how “Drug” originated. Are you okay that that song gained a deal of popularity?

ST: Yeah, we like that song. We look at it as a new challenge. We had to make a song under new circumstances, with different things in mind than we normally had to. We like to do that anyway on our own terms. We weren’t expecting it but we’re not bitter about it. We’re fine with the song.

JPG: That’s the song that really grabbed me and made me want to check you out. So, I was hoping that the rest of the album lived up to that track and, happily, it did, even with the songs where the band stretches out. Overall, D seems more cohesive, soundwise, than your 2009 album Fits.

ST: Yeah, that’s because we wrote all the songs and demoed them out in our home studios by emailing each other tracks. So, when it came time to record, we recorded the entire record in three weeks whereas the previous record we did it in our own studio and would take a year to record it. Over the course of a year, our ideas would change or just setting up a mic for the same song, but two weeks later there would be a lot of differences and vibes going on.

This D record, we had everything set up and just knocked it out really quickly. That’s part of the cohesive feeling that it has.

JPG: Some of the songs that are extended, is that a matter of things happening in the studio and you just went for it or was it written in there?

ST: For most of the stuff if we demoed it out and we felt that a part needed to be longer maybe on the day that we recorded it we might have said, ‘Let’s go an extra four bars on that part.’ We planned it out. It didn’t just happen.

JPG: I’m thinking of something like “River to Consider” ...

ST: That one has a little bit more of a loose framework as far as the beginning section and the end section. And then the direction that we gave Alex Coke, the flute player, that was definitely the freest song on the record as far as when we got to it having a little less planned behind it.

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