White Denim Enter the Studio with Jeff Tweedy
White Denim in the studio with Jeff Tweedy. Photo by Zoran Orlic
White Denim have exclusively revealed to Relix that they are currently working on a new studio album with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. In early March, the members of the psychedelic-influenced garage rock group spent a few days recording with Tweedy at Wilco’s famed Chicago headquarters/studio The Loft. They blasted through two full-realized tracks and also laid down a series of instrumentals that helped the group channel their high-energy live show.
“When we started, Jeff said to us, ‘I like your records but I love your live show,’” White Denim guitarist/singer James Petralli told Relix over coffee one morning in Austin this past march. “We are hoping to change that with this record.”
Not only was The Loft a change of scenery for the Austin-based band, but it was also the first time the group recorded with a producer in a proper studio. “We’ve always had a very D.I.Y. approach to recording,” Petralli says. “Early on, it was because of [financial] necessity but we always liked the idea of being a D.I.Y. band. So it was mind-blowing to go from that to recording in The Loft.”
Though the band brought a few songs to the recording sessions, Petralli admits that those ideas were heavily workshopped by Tweedy and his team. “I had this Tom Petty-ish song which Tweedy totally turned on its head,” Petralli says by way of example. “Then it was a matter of fitting my lyrics and melodies back into the song. He encouraged us to record to record live in the studio.”
After a few days of recording, White Denim returned home in part so Petralli could spend time with his new baby. The members of White Denim later reconvened in a remote home studio outside Austin. The band plans to charge through another set of songs and, Petralli says, they will likely send those tunes back to Chicago for Tweedy to look at. (There was some discussion of bringing in LA-based producer/musician Jonathan Wilson to work with the material as well but ultimately that idea didn’t materialize.)
Tweedy isn’t the only new voice on White Denim’s next record. The album will also spotlight new guitarist Austin Jenkins who joined the band during their recordings sessions for 2011’s D. Petralli says that Jenkins has written a few songs for the album and will shoulder some of the band’s guitar responsibilities. In total, Petralli says the band has about “50 ideas” which they hope to whittle down to a cohesive but stylistically eclectic album. They are also focusing on songs that can be played live.
“We are going to tackle Austin’s songs first,” Petralli says of White Denim’s next recording sessions. “It’s been funny to go from The Loft back to a ‘home studio’ but we set the bar high in Chicago. Now, we have something to hold everything we record up to.”
The members of Wilco were a huge inspiration on Petralli and his bandmate’s when they decided to make their next record. Last year, White Denim spent time on the road with the band as an opening act. “It was inspiring to see them still working on all these songs and changing their setlist every night,” he says. “We did a few songs in a row in LA and every night they’d practice during soundcheck to make sure every show was different.”
Petralli says that White Denim hopes to make their live show more diverse in the coming months. He plans to cycle in more songs from their five studio albums and stretch out those songs every night.
“When we started [White Denim] I didn’t want to be labeled as a jamband, even though that’s all I listened to in college,” Petralli says. “I wanted it to be about the songs. But I think songwriting has come back [into the jam scene] a little bit and all my friends I used to go to see Widespread Panic with in college are into all this different type of music. I want to make a record that people can dance to live.”
Though it remains to be seen if White Denim’s next album will be the “groove album” he still wants to make, filled with “sweaty, dark, psychedelic songs” or some combination of those styles, Petralli is determined to capture the wild energy of their live shows. “This album is going to be full of smaller moments larger in the mix,” he says. “It is going to sound more like ‘us’ that anything we’ve ever recorded.”
Here’s a look at White Denim’s upcoming dates
June 7 Hunter, NY—Mountain Jam
June 21 North Adams, MA—Solid Sound Festival
June 22 Brooklyn, NY—Brooklyn Bowl
July 4-5 Quincy, CA—High Sierra Music Festival
July 6 San Francisco, CA—The Independent
July 18 Beccles, United Kingdom—Henham Park