Getting Out of the ‘Woodwork’ with John Paul White; Getting ‘Wild’ in the Streets of Laredo

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<a href=”” target=”_hplink”>John Paul White </a>admits he’s been pretty fortunate in his career. He’s been able to make music (and find success) on his own terms from his early days of flying solo to his Grammy-winning work as 1/2 of the acclaimed duo The Civil Wars with Joy Willliams. That collaboration, we know, ended after six years in 2014, but the Southern folk star is back with his first solo album in nearly ten years entitled <em>Beulah</em>. True to himself and his career, the record was created without any strings holding him back. He recorded it in his own Single Lock Studios and released it on his own Single Lock Records, “When I bet on myself, and trust my gut, it’s worked out,” he told <em>A-Sides</em> during an interview two weeks ago. “I’ve been lucky.”

So have we.

White’s critically-acclaimed new album, a collection of stories that are intimate and often dark (the title, afterall, is inspired by a William Blake line), is less about luck and more about unexpected inspiration. Following the break-up of The Civil Wars, the singer/songwriter wasn’t even sure he’d continue with making music. “When I was at home, I was burnt out. I was just really happy being a dad, husband, and producing and running a label,” he explained.

That lasted until songs started spinning around in his head – so much so he ended up writing eight songs over a three-day period. “It’d been quiet in my head for awhile, but melodies and lyrics kept coming up and I’d jot them down,” he said, before quipping, “If I don’t document it, it’s gone. I can’t retain anything.”

The spontaneity of it all caught him completely off-guard. It also surprised his wife when he told her.   “I really never knew or expected I’d make a solo record. It seems so silly when people are like ‘I couldn’t go to sleep because I had inspiration.’ I always thought, ‘man, that’s bullsh-t.’ I thought it was over-romanticizing. But, when I wasn’t looking for inspiration, it popped and I finally understood all that”

The culmination this was a new solo album released in August, a brief October tour, and a planned spring run. “I’ve been trying to be as careful and organic with this roll out. I didn’t want to just come out of the woodwork,” he explained.

White said he’s been fortunate with the response so far – especially fans of The Civil Wars.  “People have moved on the same way I have, and that that was then, and this is now. It’s all in a really healthy place. I’m laser focused on the present, and a lot of fans have been extremely patient and forgiving and welcoming to the new music.”

He continued, “I didn’t know how it’d be. I thought maybe it’d be like ‘you had your chance dude.'”

Not a chance, and while The Civil Wars are no more, it hasn’t stopped White from collaborating with others. <a href=”” target=”_hplink”>The Secret Sisters </a>and Roseanne Cash are just two artists who appear on his album.

“Obviously, The Civil Wars was a true collaboration, but I’ve done a little here, and a little there. I learn a lot and have embraced it so much more than the past. I used to be a control freak. I needed to be 1,000 percent prepared, and know exactly what I was doing. I always had a fear of people laughing at me. Now, I’m just really enjoying working with other people, seeing their perspective of chasing a lyric and making a melody work. I learn something all the time,” he said.

As the Alabama native plans his spring tour, White can’t help but to reflect back to the years when he first started in the business.  “I know how hard it is to scrap by. I started writing songs for a living and got to a place where I was making good money. But, I ended up going back to college. Within three months, I got a publishing deal. I used their budget to make my own music. Once I did that, a light bulb went off.”

He continued, “I pinch myself often. I’ve gotten to a point where I can be my own man and not be beholden to anyone else. It’d be silly for me to say you should be like me. That’s impossible. I’m just a lucky guy.”

<strong>Advice for my kid</strong>
<em>As I often do in my interviews, I asked White to offer words of wisdom for my now nearly-two-month-old son. His answer was priceless.</em>

“I’m terrified of screwing up my own kids. I don’t want to screw yours up, too. [Laughs] My parents taught me tolerance – to see both sides of every coin, get educated, and to make my own mind up.
I tell my son when someone – teachers or whoever – tell him something, it doesn’t mean it’s true. You need to find what the facts are, and make your own decisions and not let anyone else influence that.
But, I don’t know, I guess my advice is don’t let anyone else f–king give you advice on how to live your life. I really mean that.  My advice is don’t take advice.”

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We move from Alabama to Auckland with our next featured artists <a href=”” target=”_hplink”>Streets of Laredo</a>, who like White, bring some folk to their proverbial musical table. It’s only a matter of time before the band breaks on through to the other side. Their 2014 debut album, <em>Volume I & II</em>, garnered a lot of buzz, and led to gigs opening for Kaiser Chiefs (among others) and appearances on such festivals including Bonnaroo. The band, who relocated from New Zealand to Brooklyn four years ago, just dropped a new album <em>WILD</em>, which showcases their unique blend of genres but expands on the promise of the first record. Lyrically, they’ve evolved big time and their experimentation on this record needs to be praised.

In any event, <em>A-Sides</em> caught up with drummer Dave Gibson and talked about their homeland, BK, and going <em>WILD</em>. Oh, and just for background, it’s all in the family for Streets of Laredo. Dave Gibson’s brother Daniel (vocals) and wife Sarahjane (percussion) are in the band. Cameron Deyell, a non-Gibson, is on guitar.  And with that history lesson, let’s get to the interview.

<strong>How’d a bunch of Kiwis end up setting shop in Brooklyn?</strong>
I had visited NY in 2011, and spent about two weeks here. I really had a spectacular time — it was like a hurricane, a virtual and fun one, not Sandy. As it turned out, both myself, Sarah, and Dan were all in a bit of a transitional phase of life. We had started Streets of Laredo in theory, but it was more of an idea than a going concern. We had a few demos, but hadn’t even played a show. So I’m in NYC, having just the best time ever, and I think ‘why not move here?’. How hard could it be? Quite hard as it turns out. So, I call up Sarah & Dan and say…’if we’re gonna do this band thing, why not do it in a massive city like New York?’ They we’re down. We ended up in Brooklyn because it was cheaper (at the time) than Manhattan, but now we love it here.

<strong>Do NZ and Brooklyn share anything in common? How does the music scene differ?</strong>
New Zealand and Brooklyn are about as different to each other as one could possibly imagine. It was probably part of the appeal of moving here: the contrast. There is one street in Auckland that has elements of Brooklyn to it. It’s called K’rd and it was historically the red light district of Auckland and so [it] was cheap for a time and so the artists moved in and was super cool for a time. Then the property developers and speculators moved in and now it’s more expensive, like Williamsburg, so I guess they have gentrification in common.

<strong>Describe the difference of recording the first album vs. the second?</strong>
The first album was self produced by the band. This album, we got John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, Kurt Vile) on board to produce. That made a big difference, and it was super helpful having a third party that we trusted on hand to throw his two cents in especially having someone who was not in the band, and not so emotionally attached to every single little thing.

This album was also recorded here in the states with all the guys we’ve been playing with for the last couple of years, so it felt more like a band experience than the first album that was recorded with the core members but with some other friends back home in New Zealand.

<strong>”99.9 %” is a fitting song considering our current political climate. Why’d you feel the need to write it? Does it have anything to do with the impending doom following Nov. 8?</strong>
For sure, but we didn’t  want the song to be a sledgehammer or super obvious. We wanted it to be a massive understatement in the face of a very dire situation. I guess it’s also an acknowledgement of just how bad things have got, to the point where the lyric only asks for things to get ‘a little better’ – just the smallest improvement would be good.

<strong>Your songs, for me, are stories – there’s weight to each track. Tell me how a song comes together.</strong>
Yeah, we seem to fall into the narrative element of songwriting more often than not. I think maybe the reason for that is our life at the moment. Moving to another country and making the country feel like home is no easy task and it’s probably the dominant emotion for all the kiwi’s in the band: the decision to move to the states, so far away from family and friends, the decision to try and stay here and all that entails, the decision to go “all in” with the life of being a musician and the sacrifice that takes, dealing with the bullsh-t fashion element of the music industry and how disproportionately it is weighted towards things that have nothing to do with music such as fashion, youth, marketing and how many Instagram followers you have.

All these things have an emotional impact on us and as such sneak into the songs in the form of stories.

<strong>Can you impart some words of wisdom for my nearly two-year-old son?</strong>
That’s a tough one as I still don’t have kids but I’ll ask our guitarist Cam, who is a parent and whose son Tana, [is] featured on the cover of our record “Wild.”

<em>Cam, you’re a good dad, impart some wisdom: </em>
“There’s no wisdom you can impart to a two year old — they’re a hurricane of love, tears, and energy. As a parent, the most valuable gift for my son is often the hardest to give, and that’s my time.”

Boom. Wise words, Cam — so, so wise.

<strong>About A-Sides with Jon Chattman – <a href=”” target=”_hplink”></a></strong>:
Jon Chattman’s music/entertainment series typically features celebrities and artists (established or not) from all genres performing a track, and discussing what it means to them. This informal series focuses on the artist making art in a low-threatening, extremely informal (sometime humorous) way. No bells, no whistles — just the music performed in a random, low-key setting followed by an unrehearsed chat. In an industry where everything often gets overblown and over manufactured, Jon strives for a refreshing change. Artists featured on the series include Jimmy Eat World, Elle King, Imagine Dragons, Melissa Etheridge, Yoko Ono, Elle King, Joe Perry, Alice Cooper, Bleachers, Marina and the Diamonds, and Bastille.