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Interview: Jim White of Xylouris White

Interview: Jim White of Xylouris White

Wednesday 1st March, 2017 2:57PM

Jim White is well known as drummer for Australian instrumental post-rock trio Dirty Three, noise rockers Venom P. Stinger and numerous collaborations with superstars including P.J. Harvey, Nick Cave and Cat Power. For the past few years White's primary focus has been Xylouris White, his duo with Cretan lute player and singer George Xylouris, which will be playing at Auckland's Tuning Fork supported by Tiny Ruins next Wednesday.

Their recently released album Black Peak is a meeting of Cretan folk and dance music traditions and their own individual musical journeys, with special guests Bonnie Prince Billy and Xylouris' father legendary lyra player Psarantonis. The duo's songs are playful, entrancing, sometimes volcanic but always full of joyous energy, inspiring audiences worldwide to dance. Jim White generously took time out from his busy schedule (he was heading off to Athens to begin the two-month tour the following day) to chat with UnderTheRadar about Xylouris White and more...

Do you consider Xylouris White to be embedded in Cretan traditional folk music, but not necessarily aiming to recreate that form of music?

It's just coming from what's natural to us, being who we are. We don't really have to think about it much more than that. I'm not a student, I'm not a musicologist. George also loves Jimmy Hendrix y'know. A lot of the time the songs might come from just us playing, improvising in the studio and developing a piece out of that. We call it “Goatish”, the genre. We're not slavish, I hope. We're also not trying to be iconoclastic. We're doing what we do, and what we do incorporates George being a Cretan musician and me loving Psarantonis (Xylouris' father).

Psarantonis is a guest on the record. He's a beautiful lyra player and singer. I'm a huge fan and yeah he's amazing. I think if anyone's legendary he probably is. Bonnie Prince Billy sang on the album as well, we actually did that in Louisville when we were travelling through there.

You've said your new album Black Peak was recorded “everywhere” - whereabouts was it recorded?

Where's “everywhere?” (laughs). It was recorded in New York, it was recorded in Greece, in Crete, it was recorded in Queens, it was recorded in Brooklyn, it was recorded in Providence, Rhode Island, and in Iceland. We were playing in Iceland and we had a day off so one of the songs was recorded on that day.

How do you guys go about writing your music, especially as you live in different locations (Xylouris lives in Crete and White is based in New York). How do the songs come together?

Well, we actually spend a lot of time together playing, so it's not really that big a problem. We have a long prehistory of playing together in Dirty Three, with George guesting with his father and me playing with them. It sort of started with me going to Crete, pretty much straight away we went into the studio and we started working and playing.

The songs come about in different ways, they come from us making up stuff together, they come from traditional things, they come from dances, they come from pretty much as many different ways as we can think of. They come naturally, George is a folk musician from Crete and a lot comes from that, and he's also open to other things. I'm coming from Melbourne rock music in a way, from Dirty Three and Venom P. Stinger before that.

George is well known for epic-length performances (he once played an 18-hour show), have you ever been a part of those?

Yeah I've never done that (laughs). If I go in the summer in Crete to a square or a wedding, the people will start after dark but go until the sun comes up and that's pretty normal. We do a song on the new album called 'Erotokritos' that can go for days and days. That's an epic poem written in Crete in the 13th or 14th Century, we do an excerpt from that. I don't think anyone actually does the whole thing ever but I guess if you did it would go for days and days.

How would you describe the relationship of your music with dance?

With some of the songs the template is the rhythm or the history or the type of song. It goes with what I guess you would call a traditional dance. The way I understand the Cretan music when it comes from that is: you play a dance, it's gotta be danceable. It's got to work for the dancer but it's very open to making up things inside that framework. They're not all dance songs. There's plenty of songs that aren't dance songs and there's songs that are less connected to the traditions of Crete.

The reason why it appealed to me 25 years ago like with Psarantonis, it felt like listening to the Velvet Underground or something. I was speaking to Jonathan Richman about it and he was saying he's been getting into some music from India or somewhere and he was like, why is this speaking to him? Because the composers that he got excited about when he was listening to the Velvet Underground back then, they were listening to that music, y'know what I mean? It's just coming back through a different way.

What other regular projects have you got going on right now?

The last few years I've really been concentrating on Xylouris White since we started. I also do this thing called The Double with a friend of mine (Emmett Kelly). That's a two-piece. We invented a new dance beat. The record's called Dawn of the Double.

Dirty Three did a few shows last year. We did like five shows last year, it's active but we all live really far away from each other and everyone's busy. The last record came out in 2012. I did this concert that was a tribute to Lou Reed with Laurie Anderson, they asked me to play the drums. So a lot of singers came up, that was pretty amazing. Singers like Lucinda Williams and Nona Hendrix, a wide variety of people. That was a one-off thing. Mostly I'm just doing this.

Xylouris White
with support from Tiny Ruins

Wednesday 8th March, The Tuning Fork, Auckland

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