April 27, 2011
Interview: White Mystery
Before they took the stage in Athens, I sat down with Alex and Francis White to talk about their latest record, how to write a song about your band and the influence of Black Sabbath
Tapes: Why don't we start at the beginning—how did you two start making music together?
Alex: Well, Francis and I are brother and sister, born and raised in Chicago and have been playing music for years. This year White Mystery is putting out its second album, so it's been a lifelong process and it's very cool.
Tapes: Well, I know you've both been in several other bands—specifically you Alex, I used to see you play with Miss Alex White and the Red Orchestra. Is there a different dynamic when you're in a band with your sibling?
Alex: It's very enjoyable to play with family and involve that into the band! It's also a common question, you know—"How do you guys get along?"—because White Mystery tours a lot, and puts out its own records, Francis and I are a partnership. So compared to the Hot Machines, which I played guitar in, Miss Alex White and the Red Orchestra and lots of different projects, it's a 50/50 partnership in White Mystery.
Francis: It's unlike anything else—I can't really compare my relationship with my sister to anything else out there.
Tapes: As you said, you're putting out your second record this year, Blood & Venom. Your self-titled debut came out last year—four months into 2011, you've already got this new one on the way. How did this record come together so quickly?
Alex: Well, it was kind of cool—Blood & Venom was written, developed, recorded and then mixed, mastered and turned into a vinyl record in a year to date from the first album. It was because we had a lot of songs that we wanted to do a quick follow-up to the first album, and we also wrote stuff specifically [for this record].
Tapes: Was it a split between writing songs in the studio and using material you already had?
Francis: Before we record we always make sure we have everything down pat. We practice it without vocals, we slow it down, we speed it up to make sure we're comfortable once we're paying money in the studio. So we're pretty utilitarian, spartan and efficient when it comes to recording and we drilled on these songs and wrote them up in a couple of months and then took them in and kicked them out.
Tapes: Listening through the latest record I notice a little bit of a different feel from the last record, were there different people involved with the recording of this record?
Alex: It was the same exact team as the first record, it was Devin Davis who is a totally awesome pop-rock superstar—he engineered it with Joel's gear, our friend who collects 1940's and '50s Lomo mics and Ampex pre-amps. We use a lot of really cool analog equipment on this record. It was mastered by All City Mastering, Peter Andreadis, the same guy who mastered the first record. And of course the other consistent thing is that, it's Francis and I still—it's two musicians. White Mystery is a two-piece, just drums and guitar, but what you do hear on it is we have castanets on this record, there's harmonica...
Alex: ...which is this really cool instrument that almost sounds like a rattle that you hear on Rolling Stones records. But it was made in a much different way than the first record—a different mindset—so, you might hear that too.
Tapes: Was there maybe some different music you were listening to while you were recording that you felt informed that sound of it?
Francis: I don't know—not much really changed over the past year. Well I guess a lot of stuff is always changing...
Alex: Yeah! What? (laughs)
Francis: I don't know, I feel like I have the same tastes though...
Alex: Yeah, but were you listening to the same exact bands?
Francis: It's pretty much just been Black Sabbath for the last four or five years.
Alex: Yeah, I feel like I was listening to a lot of stuff over the course of the year and plus we traveled a lot. Seeing other bands and touring through different towns, you absorb all of that and it comes out in your music.
Tapes: Well, one thing I really enjoyed about the latest album is that you guys named the opening track after yourself. How did you go about writing a song about your band?
Alex: Wow—that's a really cool question. I guess it started off where the song was kind of a about the ying and the yang. It's about two opposing views, it's about you and me, and me and you and that kind of thing. And, a lot of times, while Francis and I are brother and sister of course, we couldn't be more different in a lot of ways. That's the balance of the band and what allows us to be creative partners, it's that dichotomy between our personalities. You know, male and female, percussion and melody—all those different things. The song about White Mystery, called "White Mystery" is about that.
Tapes: That makes absolute sense. Do you guys have a favorite band with a song that they've written about themselves?
Francis: Black Sabbath.
Tapes: I found a blog that listed a bunch of examples—of course, Wilco wrote a song on their last record about themselves.
Alex: Is it called "Wilco"?
Tapes: It's called "Wilco (the song)"
Alex: There's one that comes to mind for me: The Gories. "Hey, hey we're the Gories," and it's your introduction song, we play it first in our set!
Tapes: Yeah, you don't have to go through that whole rote 'this is our band.' You just sing it. Well, you guys have obviously been out on tour quite a bit lately, we caught you at SXSW, in Chicago, etc. Have there been any favorite moments on this last tour?
Francis: Everywhere. I love this country, and I give credit to my sister for just being able to book the best possible show in every city with the best bands and the coolest people. It's just like finding where the best possible party is across the country—it's lovely.
Alex: Yeah, I was telling Fran, what's really cool about being a touring musician is that any time you meet someone on the street or at a bar, naturally, and they're like "Oh, I'm from Kansas City." It's like, "Oh, do you know the Brick? Do you know Esther?" And as you tour, you absorb these experiences, the scenery and different communities. Every town has their signature food, and it's always awesome getting things like the Saginaw, Michigan steak sandwich that everyone loves so much. But also, spreading your music because playing live shows is a really important outlet to bands and especially White Mystery.
Tapes: Yeah, it seems like this band has really cut its teeth touring. I know you've got a record release show in Chicago on 4/20, but what's next for White Mystery after that, are you going out on tour again?
Alex: Yeah, we're doing New York in May, so White Mystery is playing a week of shows in New York. Public Assembly in Brooklyn, we're playing Generation Records which is an awesome vinyl store over there. And then West Coast in August, a lot more Midwest stuff, Taste of Chicago—the biggest festival in Chicago, it'll be the second year that White Mystery plays that. Along with Millennium Park and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. In addition to the April 20 record release, we're also doing the April 29 art show. It's all the visual art that the band creates—art, graphics and the visual aesthetic of the band is just as important, so we'll have record design and one-of-a-kind shirts and briefs where we do these underwear sets.
Tapes: You guys do the linoleum prints, right?
Alex: Yeah, and they are hand-dyed textiles and floor-to-ceiling fabric panels that are stamped with patterns. So the White Mystery art show is going to be another really cool release of the year. If you go to whitemysteryband.com you can subscribe to our calendar, and it goes right your iCal. If you refresh it weekly there are always new shows and new events.
Thanks to White Mystery for sitting down to talk with me. Like Alex said, the band is always up to something—visit their website and snag a copy of Blood & Venom.