Sometimes, to understand where you need to go next, you’ve got take a good, long look at yourself.
For ‘Side Effects’, the rollicking follow-up to last year’s ‘Performance’, White Denim peered into the cracked mirror of their own back catalogue – reflecting and reframing fragments of songs, to shape a shimmering new version of their sound.
A labour of love carved from their studio in Austin, Texa, a band of regular collaborators, from Sam Cohen and Conrad Chocroun, helped to commit the intensity of their live shows to tape.
Diving deep into their love for jam-based, free-wheeling experimentalism, it’s a record that’s self-referential but never for one second self-indulgent. Steve Terebecki met to talk us through it.
- - -
- - -
We’re here to talk about 'Side Effects', the follow-up to last year’s ‘Performance’. Could you tell us how the album came about?
Essentially, 'Side Effects' came about because we have our own studio now. We’ve been able to spend a lot more time just cutting songs together. The original idea was spurred from B-sides from 'Performance'. The song, 'Small Talk', was the first one, then 'Shenalala'. They were the first couple of tunes.
We just sort of looked back at current songs, and old songs. We reached back… like ‘Introduce Me’ is probably from about 2011. We kind of gathered all the songs that felt like they worked well together and finished them up.
You’ve mentioned 'Small Talk', which contains some of the earliest lyrics written for the band. Was it a conscious excavation, to look back at your work and take influence from yourselves?
We kind of always do that, a little bit. The song itself was more of a collaboration with Sam Cohen and Conrad Chocroun, James and I. Like with the Performance album, and that song. We had more collaborators this time around.
You used a rotating band of musicians. How did those collaborations come about?
We worked with five different drummers on the record. We had a period of time where we’d set up a two-day session, where we’d have a different drummer come in. Just because it was fun to work with different people and get different approaches.
A few of these songs we have a couple of recordings with different drummers. And we kind of picked and chose our favourite ones. It was a really sort of piecemeal album. Recorded over many different periods of time, in a bunch of different studios, with a bunch of different people.
It’s our first record like this. That variation of playing with different players, and in different kinds of spaces, informed the record quite a bit.
- - -
- - -
Were you trying to explore the capacity of your own sound?
Yeah. We’d just spent so much time working ourselves with the same people. Doing the record, we were like, we’ve got five weeks to do this – just go in there and bang it out. Keep it a little more open. Kind of like our record, ‘Last Day Of Summer’. Some people call it a B-sides record, but I wouldn’t call it that. Some people are calling this a B-sides record as well. But I think that’s because the songs are from a few different time periods.
What did you set out to capture with this? What sound were you trying to achieve?
With our new studio, we’ve been able to fully produce our records. ‘Side Effects’ and ‘Performance’… we’ve been able to spend as much time as we wanted on them. We’ve been able to explore a lot more, spend more time on the songs and do different stuff – production-wise, arrangement-wise. Most of these songs are still the sound of a live band playing to tape, but we did use a bunch of different techniques to bring new, more interesting sounds to it.
For example, ‘Introduce Me’ is way more sample-based than anything we’ve done for a long time.
How’s it been going over live? I know you’ve just done a UK tour.
Yeah, we only played NY Money, Shenalala, Strike Gold. And Reversed Mirror – which we’ve been playing live for years. I think the version that’s on 'Side Effects' is our fifth recorded version of that song. It’s something that we never really felt we got it right. And finally, we got it after…I don’t know how many years of trying!
Those were the four songs that we played, and it was super-fun playing them.
How did it feel to reach that? To have worked on a piece of music for years and years, and to finally hear it and go, we’ve achieved what we wanted to?
I guess we’re fortunate, with that access to a studio. You know, we have so many songs that are like that. We’ll record a version of it, and go: that’s not quite right. Then me, or James or whoever might bring it back two years later.
Sometimes, it takes a new point of view to breathe life into a song. If you have an idea for a song, and you put your first impression down, sometimes it’s not how you dreamt it up. So instead of working on it for days, you can put it to bed for a while and hope that when you return to it that you have new ideas.
It’s really easy to overwork a song in a period of a week. We like a fresh approach.
- - -
- - -
'Side Effects' will be released on March 29th.
Words: Marianne Gallagher
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.