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Stiff Upper Lip

White Denim have always dealt with adversity. When I first discovered the band at a tiny showcase at SXSW in 2008, they were already celebrated in their hometown of Austin, but while playing to out-of-towners on their own turf, the band’s identity crisis was manifested in audience reactions both bewildered and awestruck. Started as a [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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White Denim have always dealt with adversity. When I first discovered the band at a tiny showcase at SXSW in 2008, they were already celebrated in their hometown of Austin, but while playing to out-of-towners on their own turf, the band’s identity crisis was manifested in audience reactions both bewildered and awestruck. Started as a power trio, they had yet to incorporate the ambitious musicianship that defined their last two albums, D and Corsicana Lemonade. Sure, there was energy and a raw spirit that drove them, but it would take a few years before virtuosity overtook the proceedings.

With the release of Corsicana Lemonade, those enigmatic, nearly-prog rock jams began to define their sound. More than simply a poor man’s Black Keys, founding member James Petralli sought to mix Southern rock and soul with Rush-like intensity. It worked. But soon after that sudden rise and peak of White Denim’s powers, the brotherhood of the band dissolved. 2014 was yet another hurdle with two core members, Austin Jenkins and Justin Block, leaving to join and produce the now critically acclaimed throwback Leon Bridges. That left Petralli and bassist Steve Terebecki starting again from zero, but they were determined to regain that glory.

This month’s Stiff sounds as if the new recruits closed the gap pretty quickly. While the lightning-quick arpeggios and complicated shifts remain, it’s more grounded, deeply rooted, and dependent on Petralli’s soulful, timeless croon. Like each of White Denim’s albums, the slight tinkering with their sound—this time breezy and spacious—should indeed garner a whole new legion of fans.

(614) recently talked with Petralli from Austin as the band was finishing up a series of intimate shows in anticipation of the Stiff tour.

For Stiff and this tour, it’s an entirely new band. What was the process like in finding a new dynamic for White Denim?

I had been playing with these guys as The Bop English touring band for like three months, so it was a natural thing. The formation was just like forming any new band. Every musician brings their own thing. It was new but it felt familiar. It’s different but it still feels like us.

I wouldn’t say Stiff is a departure—it still has the White Denim spirit—but it’s definitely more soulful and personal in parts. Where did the inspiration for that sound come from?

I think that personal element comes through in the production. It’s a lot more stripped back than I’m used to. It was recorded mostly live on 16-track. I don’t think it was more personal than any other record we have done. But knowing that we had only so much to work with, we had to tighten it up and be more concise.

[2015 solo album] The Bop English was something I hadn’t known about until hearing about Stiff’s release. What were you trying to achieve with that record? Why didn’t more people hear it?

It’s been an ongoing thing that I’ve done for four years in earnest. The time off let me finally finish that record. It was extra material that didn’t fit White Denim. I had access to a great studio and had the freedom to make music with amazing equipment. I don’t have a story as to why no one heard it. It did a lot better in the U.K. than over here. It’s very much just a “hangout” record.

When you first started you were very much a power trio and primarily associated with indie rock—over the years the sound has expanded and you’ve been called everything from a jam band to a Southern rock band. Do you identify with any of those tags?

I indentify with pretty much anything that has been thrown at us at this point. We all listen to a lot of different music and try to approach things that we are interested in. I don’t ever think about it that much. But the audience has grown as we have evolved for sure.

Going back to that, White Denim has a sound that can play to both festival crowds and very intimate performances. Do you have a preference when it comes to playing this album on the road? It’s very much a party record.

For this record it’s been nice because we’ve been playing some very intimate shows here in Austin. It’s a very natural thing for a new band to play places where new bands have to play. I prefer the smaller venues, but playing the big ones help us evolve.

You sound reinvigorated. Do you have any lofty goals for Stiff and where you want to take the band next?

Really I just have personal goals to be in better shape, as a person and as a musician over the course of this tour. That’s how the band has always been—to always try to get better.


White Denim play Skully’s Music Diner April 28. For more, visit whitedenimmusic.com. 

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Music industry designates Blackout Tuesday as time of pause

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To honor the memory of George Floyd and fix the injustices surrounding his death, the music industry has designated Tuesday as a time of pause to collaborate on ways to better support the black community.

Businesses and organizations within the music industry have been asked to pause regular work to reflect on how they can better serve the black community, according to a report from Variety. In general, businesses and organizations across the board have been asked to use Tuesday as a way to focus on the effort.

The message that circulated around social media quickly on Monday stated that “Blackout Tuesday” is being used as “a day to disconnect from work and reconnect with our community” and “an urgent step of action to provoke accountability and change.”

The movement has been gaining momentum under the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. Major labels such as Capitol Music Group and Warner Music Group announced their alignment with the “Blackout Tuesday” cause. 

Companies have also announced practices such as pausing social media activity throughout the whole day.

Spotify and ViacomCBS have already announced an 8 minute and 46-second moment of silence for Tuesday. The time reflects how long the Minnesota police officer dug his knee into the kneck of Floyd.

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Curbside Concerts brings live music, hope to those in need

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Can’tStopColumbus took a quick pause when the pandemic shut down the world and asked two questions:

  1. Are we sure we're solving the needs of everyone in our community during this time? 
  2. Are we not just coming up with ideas based on our own experiences?

Our elder community was one of the major demographics to have stricter socially distancing guidelines suggested to them. Holidays and birthdays went by without hugs from grandpa or grandma’s cookies.

Out of the need to fill that missing love in the life of American seniors, the idea of Curbside Concerts was born. Anyone is able to jump on the Curbside Concerts signup page and request a concert for an elder, sick people not able to leave the house, or a simple celebration.

Sending a concert telegram is free, and you can also leave a message for a loved one and suggest what type of tunes the organization-selected Columbus-area musician.

So far, the feedback has been inspiring. 

“People cried. I cried. We cried. It was beautiful,” said Zach Friedman, one of the service’s founders and creators. “We had a powerful idea on our hands, and the amazing power of the #Can'tStopColumbus community to scale it and bring it to life.”

To date, Curbside Concerts has had over 50 volunteers. Their job is to drive around a Columbus musician and their equipment with trucks provided by Ricart Automotive. It’s a road trip around the Columbus area, delivering concerts to those who may just need their spirits lifted. It’s like a non-depressing version of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Support has come from all ends of the Columbus creative community, including The Columbus Foundation, Greater Columbus Arts Council, Streetlight Guild, and What? Productions. Through these organizations, musicians are able to be paid for a route that usually lasts five to six hours. 100 percent of the donations they receive on their route also goes to the musicians.

Friedman is asking people to keep requests to older audiences.

“Working with local musicians to perform curbside at people's homes is the vehicle or medium, but the real thing we are doing here is connecting those to older people they love, with an authentic and emotional experience to send love over,” Friedman said.

We found out pretty quickly how much as a collective that we take live music for granted. Live streams have been a temporary, dulled-down replacement. You realize how long people have been robbed of the experience when you see a musician pull up in a pickup truck, set up in five minutes, and serenade neighborhoods with songs like “Lean on Me” and “What A Wonderful World.” It starts off with a message to one house and then resonates down the street, like the citizens of Gas Town rushing to The People Eater for even a drop of water.

Photos by Zak Kolesar

For most people, it was their first taste of live music since mid-March. While we may want concerts to return as soon as possible, its productions like Curbside Concerts that display the emotional power of music.

To request to send someone a concert, follow the link here: https://sendaconcert.herokuapp.com/request

To volunteer for Curbside Concerts, follow the link here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040b45abaa22a4fb6-curbside

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Arts & Culture

Live music allowed again in restaurants and bars: how will these establishments respond?

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A major step forward in the return of live music in Ohio took place over the weekend. The Ohio coronavirus guidelines were updated to reflect the new COVID-19 Dine Safe Ohio Order.

The order outlining the guidelines on live music in restaurant and bars is as follows:

Musicians and bands may perform in restaurants and bars as long as the individuals who are performing maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from all other people including, but not limited to, fellow performers and restaurant and bar patrons and staff.

DJ's are included along with musicians and bands in the order.

Something that was on the mind of a lot of musicians with the reopening of restaurants and the indefinite closing of large venues was how restaurants and bars were going to respond to the immediate venue demand. Places like Woodlands Tavern that already have an infrastructure for live music will have no problem complying with the updated order, but will restaurants and bars that depended on jukeboxes before pivot to a live music model?

With a lot more space available in restaurants due to capacity cuts, does this leave more room for a live music set up? Or will restaurants have to get rid of even more tables if they want to make room for a performer?

The thought of live music in a venue setting is alone enough to get excited about. How these places that now have the ability to host live music execute freeing up space for a band to set up or a DJ to bring his rig in while practicing social distancing is what makes this situation a tricky one.

Not being able to get down in a MojoFlo Soul Train line will be pretty tough, but it’s a tradeoff we’ll have to accept for the return of live music.

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