Interview: White Denim

Last year saw many bands introduce themselves with impressive debuts, but few were as infectious and exciting as Workout Holiday, the first LP by Austin's White Denim. It was a total shambles of a record darting from one idea to the next and threatened to collapse under it's own weight all the time, but it was electrifying. Chimpomatic managed to have a quick word with bassist Steve Terebecki to uncover the master-plan behind this chaos. Turns out it was just "regular rock n roll."

BC: How's the European tour going?

Steve Terebecki: It’s definitely our best tour yet as far as how much blood has been shed in the crowds, and we’re out with a great group of guys, Six Nation State.

BC: What's it like playing in the UK and how does it compare to the US?

Steve Terebecki: The UK is like being heavily promoted in a place the size of Michigan landwise but has 50 million people in it. It’s easy to get people who dig your music to come to shows in such a dense area. People know our songs and get very amped up. The US is hard to reach the same because of the size. We’re working on Texas, it’s hard enough.

BC: Can you tell us how the band formed and how long you've all known each other?

Steve Terebecki: A band called Parque Touch (with Josh, James, and Lucas), and a band called Peach Train (me, and a couple other dudes) played at a local club called Beerland and afterwards they asked me to play bass for them because they didn’t have bass. Then Lucas moved to Russia and we changed our name to White Denim. The name change happened around February of 2006. I joined PT around July 05 and they met years before, maybe in the 90s.

BC: Why release two different albums in the UK and the US?

Steve Terebecki: It wasn’t on purpose. We already released an EP in the US called “Let’s Talk About It” and so we didn’t feel it was necessary to re-release those songs in the US, and we did feel the need to release them in the UK. It’s nice not having a record label to tell you what to do so that as a band you can do confusing things like that.

BC: Why don't you have a label in the US and how's Full Time Hobby treating you?

Steve Terebecki: We don’t have a label in the US because no label has made any offers to us that seem much better than what we can do for ourselves and we don’t want our music exploited here. In the UK and Europe we felt we needed a little help and going traditional might help us sell more records there since we wouldn’t even know where to begin over there. Full Time Hobby has been an eye opener as far as what an indie label can do for a band in UK/Europe. We are very pleased with how things are going over there.

BC: The main thing I get from your album Workout Holiday is that it's just the tip of a creative iceberg, it's so varied in tempo, form, influence etc that it hints at a wealth of songs or ideas that are just waiting to be released. Is this true?

Steve Terebecki: You are right, we had about 50 songs in the song bank, and these are sort of the original bunch that seemed to blend together nicely enough. It’s more fun to create records when you don’t have to put this song or that song on it. You can sort of mix and match and make a bunch of “best of” records (as far as we’re concerned).

BC: Many of your songs evolve as they go along rarely ending up where they started and the album as a whole sounds like someone just had to be brave and call time on it or you'd all jam on for ever. I know Workout Holiday was a collection of some previously released EP's but can you describe your recording process?

Steve Terebecki: No, I can’t really describe our recording process really. You can say it’s similar to sketch comedy. In a given day one of us we’ll throw a few ideas at each other and based on each other’s expression we know which one will stick and then we’ll work on it. Also, having our own studio with infinite studio time helps.

BC: Do you ever feel the 'Chinese Democracy' tendency creeping in where the recording process could go on forever?

Steve Terebecki: No, because we pretty much do a song a day when we’re in the recording/demoing process. Then after we have 50 songs it is easy to see which songs are standouts then we work on those and it comes very naturally. I don’t know where in the process they got hung up. Was it writing the songs, recording them, mixing, interpersonal relationships? We have an “if it sticks it stays” mentality which keeps things moving very hastily.

BC: Your sound is quite unique in that it incorporates so many musical influences but also sounds quite feral. Is this due to pure excitement or was it a strategic plan?

Steve Terebecki: About as strategic as naming our band the wonderful and clever name White Denim. I am not sure if Josh or James has a particular strategy as far as shaping our sound, but as far as I’m concerned we just record music that sounds good to our ears and don’t hark too long on what is influencing it.

BC: What bands have influenced your sound?

Steve Terebecki: At least a million bands as a group. Personally, my dad brought me up by showing me 10 bands a week it seemed. I got to hear everything and I was always really interested in his record collection. I fell in love with the Minutemen at an early age which influenced my decision to play bass. I copied many techniques (never got into slap) and always loved the bass sounds in Big Black and Yes. Prog and punk have always been in heavy rotation since I was a child. In addition, I have always loved XTC and other projects of Andy Partridge and Josh and James are the same. Josh toured with a jazz group as a teenager and played in a bunch of experimental bands and I think jam bands. James loves Stevie Wonder and did some film scoring and experimental and mathy type stuff as well. This is their first rock band after loving rock for years, so it is always interesting and fun to see and hear elements that they’ve been wanting to get out of their systems for decades.

BC: You have emerged from the ever flowing fountain of creativity that is Austin, Texas, what is it about this state for good music and can you give us any inside scoops about any good new bands that are yet to come to our attention?

Well, as the 3rd most populated state you might say that there’s just bound to be a couple of good bands. I haven’t heard of too many good bands from Wyoming. I know I moved to Austin from Virginia because I knew that I’d meet a lot of musicians that would be easy to get along with. For the most part, everyone is friendly, and everyone wants to start a band with you. My favorite Austin bands right now are Brazos and Harlem. I don’t think any of the members of either band are originally from Austin. Both groups will be releasing a new record early in 2009 and I think both of them will impress many.

BC: How do you fit in with the Austin scene?

Steve Terebecki: We are sort of an identity-less band, so in a way we fit in perfectly. I’ve been to shows where there is a rap group, RnB band, rock, metal, and spoken word/dance all on the same bill. We’ve played at many of the venues with bands of many different genres. As a loud and fast rock band it is really hard to be ignored in Austin.

BC: You have received some pretty glowing reports in the British press this year, one reviewer from The Independent predicting an imminent and major crossover success for you similar to that of Kings Of Leon. Was it the same story in the US and how do you feel about this acclaim?

Steve Terebecki: It hasn’t been the same story in the US. We have been simmering in the states for a while now. We are happy with our untimely releases and we have toured extensively and the shows were great. We are sort of happy where we are now, we don’t really have too much desire to be a “major success” in the US, whatever that means. If we can continue to make records and people come to our shows then that is the ultimate success to us.

BC: How do you cope with a music press that is constantly searching for the next big thing?

Steve Terebecki: I don’t think it bothers any of us really. The next big thing gets completely exploited 360 degrees constantly, so if anything we feel sorry for those groups who are the next big thing. I think that level of success severely hinders the creative process. Imagine picking up a guitar after getting so much fake attention just to aid with selling your record and being called the next big thing. As a group that is not the next big thing, we can make whatever music we want and not worry how it is going to sell. Just check the Billboards to see what sells in the US, bummer!

BC: The US indie scene has provided all the excitement this year compared to a slightly stale UK scene with bands like No Age and you guys injecting a new energy into things, do you feel part of anything or is this just an outsider’s viewpoint?

Steve Terebecki: New energy? We just thought we were playing regular rock n roll. This is what rock n roll sounds like right?

BC: What was it like playing Glastonbury?

Steve Terebecki: The most amazing experience ever. It was like a post-apocalyptic land where 173,000 people were left on earth and they created little towns out of airplane parts and everyone just said, “fuck it, let’s have a great time!” Can’t wait to go back.

BC: Many musicians made their voice heard during the recent US election, did you have any part to play in Obama's victory?

Steve Terebecki: Actually, we played a few benefit shows for Sarah Palin and we really backed her and were hoping she would prevail. But, the other voice was just louder, SARAH PALIN 2012!!!

BC: Your artwork is quite a prominent thing on your records, who does the artwork? Is the collage approach supposed to mirror the DIY feel of the music?

Our good friend Michael Hammett ( creates many of our covers. I really don’t know his intentions when he’s creating the art, but we all trust his expertise and that is why he makes record art for us.

BC: I'm quite content to download albums these days but with yours I was more interested in having the real thing due to the artwork. Was this an intention of yours?

Steve Terebecki: Well, our ultimate intention is to get vinyl to make a huge comeback. It seems like it is gaining ground on the miserable CD, but digital is definitely taking off. That being said, I’m pretty sure we aren’t with the school of bands that create artwork for their records so people don’t want the physical copy.

BC: What bands or albums have excited you this year?

Steve Terebecki: I love Cass McCombs but he seems to barely get the attention he deserves. I listened to “Dropping the Writ” by far more than any other record that came out in 2008. “I’m on Drugs ;)” by Harlem is another record that I was really excited about for 2008 and they’re from Austin. David Byrne and Brian Eno, Arthur Russel, Beach House, all exciting.

BC: Do you have any concrete plans for your next step?

Steve Terebecki: We are finishing our 2nd record this Winter and we will be planning on when we will release it in 2009. We have a few shows lined up for SXSW. We know we will tour the US and Europe but we don’t know when. That is it.

BC: What is your favorite record of all time?

Steve Terebecki: Impossible to say, it changes every week. But, I think I’ve probably listened to XTC’s White Music, Skylarking, English Settlement, and Drums and Wires all more than any other record to date.


White Denim
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Chimpomatic Review: Workout Holiday



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