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James Petralli of White Denim
At Home at SXSW
by Matt Crawford on Mar 19, 2009
With Austinís South by Southwest music conference in full swing, we checked in with James Petralli singer/guitarist for White Denim, the hometown buzz band in the city that is ground zero for the music industry last week. White Denim returns to San Francisco for a gig at Bottom of the Hill on April 2nd. Petralli talked about the music conference, the bandís new record and his familyís history with baseball during a phone interview.
SF Station (SFS): What are you up to?
James Petralli (JP): We are at a dive bar right now doing some sort of press thing for MTV. Weíre just waiting for the film crew to show up. They wanted to film us in an authentic dive bar, so itís a good way to spend the morning.
SFS: Does being from Austin give you a different perspective on SXSW?
JP: Itís really nice for us because during the past couple of years we worked really hard throughout the week, playing 10 or 12 shows, but then we could relax and go home to our beds. It allowed us to play a lot more and enjoy the benefits of going home.
Before I got to play the conference, I really enjoyed going to watch bands. It was definitely a really exciting milestone once we got to perform. It was really a point of pride for us.
SFS: Did the conference influence you musically?
JP: All of us listen to a lot old records and we donít really go to a lot of shows. Before we started playing, when we werenít really busy, there was a lot of discovery going on. We would always check out a lot of great new bands. I donít know if it influenced us, but it was definitely motivating to see people still pushing it and being creative.
SFS: Do you have any favorite memories?
JP: The best thing I saw was a Dirty Projectors show about four years ago when they were pushing material from The Getty Address record. I was really impressed with all of the singing and how tight the band was. After that, the Japanese band DMDQ just destroyed the stage. Their drum kit was in shambles and it was only the second day of the festival.
SFS: Are you still doing 10 to 12 shows this year?
JP: No, we are doing five because we donít really have anything to push. We have a new record, but we donít really have a home for it on a label yet.
SFS: What should we expect from the new record?
JP: We just got the masters back and for the first time since we started recording, we feel like we finished something that we can all stand behind. We were happy with the last record, but now that we listen to it there are things we would like to change. I think this record is more comfortable and feels like more of a reflection of where we were musically before we started this band.
The first three Funkadelic records were really big references for us while we were making the record, along with the Pretty Things record S.F. Sorrow. We have been listening to a lot jazz fusion and we tried to put that in our music. A lot of the straight-ahead rock íní roll stuff on the first record kind of felt a little bit misleading with where we wanted to take our music.
SFS: I was surprised, after reading all the press for your first record, to hear horn blasts and solos on some of the tracks. I didnít expect that after reading many of the descriptions.
JP: Yeah, and our live set is totally different from that record, as well. We were kind of working on everything ourselves in the studio and we had a limited palette. We didnít have the space to record live, and we were just working with what we had. I think it was good, but I think it took us in a different direction than if we had endless resources.
SFS: It sounds like you are not experiencing any sophomore jitters after all of the attention during the last year.
JP: No, I think we had debut jitters more than anything. Making this record was really fun and the band definitely grew as friends. A year of touring will do that. It made us a tighter unit, and we were excited to get back in the studio and work some of the songs.
SFS: Did you really attempt to pursue a career in baseball before the band?
JP: No, that really got blown out. Itís weird how that story developed. I come from a baseball family -- my grandfather played, my dad played for a long time and my little brother is pretty good. I played a lot and it was everything until I started doing music when I was 18. I could have played at junior colleges, but I didnít really work hard enough to consider a career with it.
SFS: What led to the transition into music when you were 18?
JP: My favorite thing, other than baseball, was cruising around in my car listening to music. I saw a couple of really good shows, and it seemed like a natural thing. I was always interested in music but never really dedicated myself to it. When I was taking karate in elementary school, I kicked my Casio keyboard in half.
It was always daunting. I wasnít really good at school, so I just went to college and practiced my instrument a lot. And it was immediately gratifying.
White Denim performs at Bottom of the Hill on April 2nd. Tickets are $10. Doors open at 8:30pm and the show starts at 9pm.
by Matt Crawford on Mar 19, 2009