Jim White’s thoughtful tones float through the cables and satellites from London to my desk in Sydney, relaying everything from when he first realised he wanted to be a musician, to taking Guy Picciotto from Fugazi to an AFL game.
While I dork out over this musical marvel, stumbling over questions and get tongue-tied, Jim White remains as charming and as real as his music. Jim and bandmate George Xylouris—the other half of duo Xylouris White—are set to perform at Vivid LIVE at Sydney’s famed Opera House on June 1st. We caught up before what’s set to be an iconic show, to chat about Cretan laouto player and dear friend George Xylouris, plans to perform with Cat Power as part of her Moon Pix show, and more.
Congratulations on your latest album Mother, like all your music it really strikes a chord with me—at times joyous, difficult, reflective. How would you describe it?
For me, it’s rich and joyous as you’ve said. The first album we made was born out the necessity to collaborate, the second album was spurred on by the hundreds of shows we’d played, and now this album I feel like we’ve really opened up a lot more. Exploring our connections to each other and the music.
On collaborating with George, was it a cosmic moment? Or were you propelled towards one another through timing and circumstance?
George and I met each other a while back and it wasn’t a question that we’d be playing together. We’ve been playing for over five years, there’s so many different layers. The first show we had was in New York and I forgot it was my first show with him, I was just so in the moment. Everything just flowed so naturally. My good friend Guy Picciotto happened to be at that show and was really into it. He asked if he could record a track or two, and that has since opened out into him recording all three albums, everything we’ve produced so far. I feel like the more we do, the more it opens out and compels us to do even more. It’s rare that this happens so we are going to run with it for a while. I think it’s one of those collaborations that does have a fluid connection.
How important was music to you growing up?
Music wasn’t in my family or part of my growing up. George, on the other hand, was surrounded by it. His family are well-known musicians, generations of them. I think he started banging on blocks as soon as he could walk. The village he comes from, everyone is either a shepherd or a musician and in some cases both. I grew up in inner-city Melbourne, music wasn’t something that surrounded me. As I grew older I knew I loved music but I had no understanding of it. I felt a need to be a part of it, almost as a way of being opposite to my family. Melbourne itself is the biggest influence on my writing, but at that pivotal time I had to travel to the burbs to see a show, nothing was walking distance. Melbourne has changed a lot as a city in that way music is everywhere and easily accessible now, which is great.
Everyone has a “blow your mind” music moment, what is one that comes to mind for you?
When I was living in Melbourne I saw the Laughing Clowns. The drumming was beautiful, I didn’t understand it and I don’t think I do now too (laughs). Other moments are often random and unexpected like a little bar in Texas where I came across Little Richard’s drummer playing a set as I walked in. Or watching Endless Boogie or Jesus Lizard. I think the most impactful moments are when you least expect it and maybe you need a buzz or a lift.
You’ve been a touring artist for such a long period of time, tell me a bit about how it’s changed over the years.
Touring has changed so much. When you’d go, you’d go and leave. If anyone needed to contact you it’d be a fax waiting at a venue or stopping at a phone booth to do an interview. It was solitary, insular, distractions were less. I feel there was a closer connection to what was immediately around you. Life now, including being on the road, can be so distracting with technology. Sometimes good, sometimes to no point.
As an active part of many musical projects, tell me about one of your most prized collaborations.
I collaborated with vocalist Nina Nastasia on an album You Follow Me, that was an amazing experience. I’ve also had an amazing time working with Will Oldham, Smog, and Cat Power. I last came back to perform in Australia with The Double, that was fun too.
Happy Orphans, People With Chairs Up Their Noses and Hession Sax are names of bands you’ve been a part of in the past. Talk us through any other curious names I’ve missed?
(Laughs) Feral Dinosaurs, Venom P Stingers, Dirty Three. Venom P Stingers had a lot of intention.
Have you been to Crete?
I had been a long time ago with the Dirty Three, but in the last five years I’ve been more times than I can remember, with Giorgio a lot. It’s amazing in itself. Going with him and seeing the landscape and the people and music through his eyes is really special.
Your latest record is called Mother, your most recent music video is produced by a woman—there seems to be a strong feeling of femininity underpinning your work?
Oh of course, Lucy Dyson is a most incredible creative, she’s an Australian living in Berlin. Our other music video from the album, for “Daphne”, stars both George’s and my mum’s dancing. George’s mum is dancing in Greece and my sister and I filmed our mum in Strathbogie a couple hours outside of Melbourne. That was super fun, everyone is important to us.
You’ll be playing Vivid Live this month at the Opera House, have you played there before?
Once with Dirty Three and another time in 2011 with Cat Power, I’ll be playing drums with her again for her show actually. I played drums on her first album Moon Pix, and she’s playing that from start to finish there.
So it’s going to be a reunion for you with Guy and Cat in town?
It seems so. I am going to see Cat of course, and will definitely catch up with Guy. I’d like to take him to an AFL game actually, my team is Richmond. We’ll see.
Thanks for your music Jim.