Photos by Mountain Trout Photography
Live Music Daily recently spoke at LOCKN’ with Vocalist/guitarist James Petralli and bassist Steve Terebecki of White Denim. We talked about the new lineup, the Austin music scene, guitar & bass gear set-up, and much more.
LMD: During the last interview with you guys we were told,“With each production we try to become a little more relaxed and free in the studio. Approaching different musical styles is an intrinsic part of what we do. It is who we are for better or for worse.” Could you expound on that idea of not giving yourself boundaries? Do you sometimes feel like even great artists can inadvertently restrict themselves by adhering to the model that made them famous in the first place?
James Petralli: It’s a really common pitfall. It’s easy to get complacent in a band or in any occupation. We’ve had three drummers in the past three months. It’s been pretty heavy with a lot of extra rehearsal, but in a way it’s been really refreshing for me because you have to listen really hard and you have to be in it to make it work. Anything that you can do to not be complacent is important.
LMD: Is there a drummer that you feel like might be the man?
James & Steve: I think that we’re trying to just take it day by day. There are a lot of amazing players. We’re just trying to be open and I love the guy that’s playing with us now. I love the guy that was with us before as well. It’s basically just cool to be in the groove. It’s a nice challenge as a musician. You just have to listen really hard and be in the moment with them. You can’t take anything for granted because you don’t know if it’s going to be there or not. You have to be really engaged.
LMD: What do you think about the music scene in Austin? How has it changed since you’ve been a musician in the scene?
Steve Terebecki: We’ve been on the road for the past eight years so we haven’t really been in the Austin grind in a long time. As far as playing a few times a month like we used to do, we haven’t done that in a long time. From that point of view, it’s hard to speak to how it’s different. It still seems like there are tons of bands and tons of venues. People are still really trying to make it happen there.
You could still see a show every night in Austin. The rooms change I guess. The Parish is still happening. I think there’s a scene around the White Horse with country bands playing there. Hotel Vegas is another place that seems to have a lot of new bands. The Mohawk has always been a great place. There are bands still working really hard there, but I don’t get to see them as much because we play so often. There are a lot of apartments and hotels coming up in the music district so everything is kind of getting pushed out and it seems more fragmented. Overall the music scene is healthy.
LMD: You have something that a lot of bands that I love don’t have. They don’t have the balance of the song, the improv and the rock in a way that tells a story that’s cohesive and resonates in a certain way. What’s the key to hitting all of those points? You did this well on the latest album, just like the others.
James Petralli: We just like bands and records that have songs and great playing. I think that it’s really easy for people to get too focused on one aspect. There are great songwriters that don’t really think about how to make the band arrangement. There are great instrumentalists that just get into how crazy they can make an arrangement. The mix of all of our personalities has always kind of led to a fun kind of environment. We care about songs and we care about playing well. It never fully goes into songwriter territory. Listening to bands like Traffic or Grateful Dead. I think that they had really great material and that’s what makes them a continued interest. I can always go back to that because I like the material. They cared about that stuff. I had a period of time where I was really impressed with super technical guitar playing and I still am on a certain level, but I can’t say that I’ve put on a record like that for enjoyment more than once in quite awhile.
LMD: How did you guys meet? You’re one of the sickest bassists I’ve ever seen live. You guys are one of my favorite bands right now period and it’s because of the balance of everything. How did you guys start linking up and figuring out what works well?
Steve Terebecki: We were in two different bands that played a show together at this club in Austin. They didn’t have a bass player.
It was just Josh, the original drummer, and we had a singer. It was one of our first gigs in Austin. Josh and I knew we wanted to get a bass player. We had been playing a little bit with this guy Jason Chronis who was in a band that was really successful in Austin at that point. We saw Steve and he was just really cool. He was playing like led bass.
LMD: When you grew up studying music who was your favorite bass player to listen to?
Steve Terebecki: I listened to Mike Watt a lot. That was my main jumping off point for wanting to play bass.
I waited until just last year and I saw him for the first time. It was a clinic on what a tight band should sound like.
LMD: What is life on the road really like versus what people think it’s like? You have the rock and roll style fun, but you also have to get up and play on stage. You’re expected to do things.
James Petralli: There’s no way to do it for as long as we have without a break and we don’t really do hard drugs either. I liken it to moving. You have to pack up all your stuff and unload it somewhere. It feels like that. That journey just makes you want to get on stage to have something awesome happen. You’ve got like two hours of the day. You really look forward to that time on stage where you get to move around and interact in a different way.
LMD: Can I be the guy that asks for a brief gear run down? What have you tried over the years?
James Petralli: I’ve always been really into guitar pedals and texture. I’ve used every brand of pedal that you can have. I try to go analog if I can. I like a healthy combination of everything as long as it works consistently. I’m gradually replacing things that are cool with MXR and Boss pedals. I have an exotic pedal. It’s the EP booster. I’ve had it for eight years and it’s the one constant. I’ve been using JHS pedals and Earthquaker makes some really cool pedals. Electro-Harmonixs still makes really creative and awesome pedals. I like a good sounding tube amp. I’ve always used a Boomerang Phrase Sampler. They’re made in Texas and I kind of nicked that from Trey Anastasio with that reverse sound he does. I haven’t played a looper that has as much versatility as that. Boomerang is something that I’ve been loyal to. I have four of them and I have to rotate them out. Nothing is built for someone to stomp on it every single day with the exception of MSR and Boss Pedals.
Steve Terebecki: It’s a matter of finding stuff that’s compact and doesn’t break on the road. As far as my amps go, I play a lot of Traynor stuff for amps. I split my signal low and high. I use a Rusty Box as a pre amp and it’s based on a Trainer as well. It’s this company called Tronographic out of Chicago and they make that pedal. I have a Q-Tron auto wah freeze pedal by Electro-Harmonix. You can play and hold a note.
LMD: You’re always on the road and you’re not a band that just sits in cruise control. Is there any sort of thought into a new record coming up soon?
We have a studio in Austin so we’re always messing with stuff. It’s a real studio and we have a partner named Ryan Joseph. We have everything you would want to have in a studio because of this guy. We’ve got a couple tape machines and we have a ton of instruments. Our instrument collection is cool. We went to the Wilco loft to make a couple tracks for the last record and we had the gear bought before that. Going to see their effects and instrument collection was really amazing. Walking away from the loft we were like ‘we have to do a bunch of stuff that way.’ What Wilco has been able to accomplish and accumulate is really something to strive for.