Texan Rocker James Petralli of White Denim Talks About Their New Album Exposion
From the depths of Texas, comes a band that laughs in the face of categorization. White Denim's music is impossible nail down. (Trust me on this. I've been trying to do so for at least two hours now. The best I've come up with is experimental rock, which doesn't really mean much.) So I will just call it rock and be done with it.
Born two years ago in Austin, White Denim was formed by the remnants of Parque Touch, which dissolved after one of their band members moved to Russia. Friends Josh Block, James Petralli, and Steve Terebecki began creating their own brand of rock which has been charming critics and fans alike. Now with their debut release Exposure White Denim is setting to conquer LA on Wednesday. James Petrelli was kind enough to speak with us from a van somewhere in Arizona on Sunday.
Why did you guys call yourselves White Denim?
It was really kind of a joke we were making in the studio. We just thought it was kind of goofy and hilarious. I dunno. We just thought as fashion goes there really is nothing worse available
What made you pick up an instrument? How old were you?
I think I was 17.
Wow that's pretty late.
I know most people my age have been playing for like 30 years already. I used to drive around listening to really loud music when I was a teenager. You know, stuff like Led Zeppelin and rock videos seems really easy to do. Then I started playing...and I realized it was actually really hard.
What inspired the video Shake Shake Shake?
At the beginning of our UK tour we met the director for the video and we got a really good feeling from him. So we just showed up in a junkyard in south London and did what he said. It was a really long day. It was first time we tried to lip sync which was surprisingly difficult.
I saw that you guys are signed with a label in the UK and not with one in the US. Are they doing something better over there than we are?
Oh no, no no. We’d love to sign with a label here. We just haven't had that many offers, yet.
(laughs) Unless you know about opportunities that I don't. We just got really lucky with the people we were working with in England.
Why did you call your album Exposion? Is that a fusion of explosion and exposure?
Yeah it is! We miss pronounce things a lot. It's a reference to when bands do really weird things for free, but they say that they're doing it for "the exposure." We thought it was really hilarious or at least it is to us. You gotta understand that when you cruise around in a van for hours together you come up with some really odd shit. We baby talk to one another a lot.
What is your favorite thing to do in LA?
I dunno. One of our favorite shows that we ever played was in a fifth street warehouse downtown. We played in a half pipe. It was awesome!
What was the worst show you ever played?
We played a real stinker in Little Rock once. Oh wait! No. I've got a better one. We were playing Terminal 5 in New York City. We had a complete meltdown.
There was a communication problem and we started playing while Patton Oswald was still doing his shtick. He screamed at us, so that was embarassing. And then we couldn’t hear each other at all. We had never played on a stage that big before. Nick Cave was scheduled to play later on so there were a ton of people waiting for that show. There were three thousand people just staring at us. Then Josh invited a bunch of strangers on stage.
Wait, where did he get the strangers?
They were just hanging out back stage. They convinced him that it would be really cool if they stood behind him and waved their arms, like Kali, you know? Well, they didn’t really stick to it. They saw all those people and then saw the video monitors and completely froze up. It just looked like there were four people standing by the drummer. I think we almost made it through two songs before they kicked us off the stage. It was bad.
What is the weirdest thing you ever saw at a show?
Steve had a really weird moment at a small club in Liverpool where everybody was calling him by his full name. They started chanting "Steve Terebecki!" It was really odd. Josh got followed into the bathroom by a sixteen year old at that same show.
Why was he going beat him up? Or make out with him?
No, no, he just wanted to talk about our music. He had a really thick accent and Josh had no idea what he actually said. It was really weird. There was this small group kids in Liverpool who knew all the words to our songs and chanted for us to play some parts. It was like being in a parallel world.
How was SXSW?
It was pretty cool this year. We only played five shows so it was a lot less crazy. We got to go to bed a lot earlier. We live in Austin, so we got to sleep in our own beds. It was really nice.
Did you have a favorite band?
Vetiver! I really like those guys. But to be fair I only watched two shows.
If you could change one thing about the music industry what would it be?
(laughs) It’s hard not to say really mean things. I don’t know if it’s a good thing for me to talk about those things.
Fair enough. Do you have any strange promoter stories?
We had our weirdest show experience was in Columbus. We were scheduled to play at this really inconspicuous pizza joint. The band that went after us was called the Monotonics, who had a really rowdy live rock n roll show. They're thing was that they dumped trash on each other during the show, but the trash was full of rotten pizza at this place. When the smell hit the crowd it was one huge audience barfarama. We had never seen them play before and so we were just staring in awe.
Did you throw up too?
No we were in the back and would step outside to take breaths.
Did the crowd ask for their money back?
No, no, they loved it. It was really weird.
Do you have any musical guilty pleasures?
Oh definitely, I love 90s R&B. We've got Bobby Brown on pause right now.
What was the worst job you ever had?
I worked on a roofing crew for one summer in Texas. It was so hot and you were working with hot tar and commercial roofing. It was super dangerous too. I almost got electracuted to death on a power line. I quit after one day.
If you were stuck on a deserted island and you could bring three things what would they be?
Hey can we do one from all of us?
Can we rule out survival stuff? So it's just one worldly possession?
Ok, what would it be?
Josh: A hand radio.
Steve: A scuba set. Wait, with fins!
James: My bed.
Yeah, I like my bed.
Can't argue with that. Thank you so much for talking to us.