We last spoke with White Denim's drummer, Joshua Block, when their album D dropped. He told New Times the odd album title came about because it's their fourth album and because "D" is the band's favorite letter in the alphabet. This was a strange enough assessment that we felt compelled to communicate with Block again. It's also hard not to be drawn to the Texas band's sound. Their newest release, Corsicana Lemonade, is groovy and psychedelic enough to have you doodling hearts on the album cover.
White Denim is heading to South Florida for the Tortuga Music Festival, which is dedicated marine conservation, offering a sound that's a little different from the mostly country lineup. The band is growing in popularity, though, having worked closely with Jeff Tweedy, toured with Arctic Monkeys, and played all around the world and every fest from Lollapalooza to Bonnaroo. It appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live last month at South by Southwest when he was airing from Austin, White Denim's first stomping grounds.
The band isn't all Austin-based anymore. Ten years ago, when they got their start, Block says, they weren't quite part of any one "scene" there, but you could very regularly catch them performing at mid-sized venues like Beerland and Mohowk. Nowadays, Block lives in Dallas and guitarist Austin Jenkins keeps residence in Fort Worth.
Significant to the Sunshine State, their bassist Steven Terebecki once lived in Florida. And the band loves playing St. Augustine. There's a promoter there that keeps them returning to our beaches and swamps. "Steve just likes getting back to Florida," Block says, "he likes talking about the time he spent living there."
And as they head back for an environmentally conscious festival, we wondered if the band was motivated by conservation efforts. "I think you have to be these days," Block says. "It's hard not to think about it. It's in the back of all of our minds. It seems like if you have a choice, it's almost weird to make the wrong choice, you know when you're looking at a trash can that has a compost bin or separates the recyclables. For any generation younger than 50, it's kind of inherent in our behavior."
The classically trained drummer said that though they're definitely not done making new music, at the moment, most of White Denim is intent on "personal improvements as well as improving as a band onstage" over generating new music. But singer James Petralli is always penning new stuff. "James is a really good lyricist. So he's a little more inclined to write completed songs, so I think that's always on his mind," Block adds.
As with any band that survives, their music has developed since their beginnings. "I think in the moment, I'm always liking what we're doing more than what we've done previously. I think that's natural for musicians, especially for players more than writers," Block reflects. "It seems like it's evolving a little more. It seems like stuff that's really fresh and open to changes, And if you've played something 5,000 times, it seems pretty locked in, it's really hard to open it up. As opposed to something you've played 500 times."
Another thing that's helped keep the new sounds sounding new is the fact that Jenkins joined the band very recently, in the middle of their last record. "It puts a neat twist on the work to have a fourth perspective."
And with 2013's Corsicana Lemonade, Block says that not having a lot of time to record helped keep the album feeling crisp for the band.
"We came up with a lot of ideas for this record in the studio, under the gun, with a specific amount of time. It makes it fun. All the ideas were put down fresh and weren't overworked. We didn't have the opportunity to redo a lot of parts. I think because of that, it seems really different from a lot of our older stuff."
Interestingly, though, it seems an incorrect public perspective has also keeps the band from feeling stale. "We've actually been at it for a lot longer than people might think, or what's perceived by this record. It seems like people consider it our second record when it's our fifth full length and we've put out four EPs." And though it must be somewhat frustrating to have people out of tune with your discography, Block sees this as an opportunity to stay invigorated about White Denim's music. "It's kind of refreshing for us, because on this record, as far as the job is concerned, we get to treat it like our second record. And I think being able to treat your fifth full length like your second record is like a rebirth."
Tortuga Festival, with White Denim, Train, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Hank Williams Jr., Sheryl Crow, and others. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday, April 12, and Sunday, April 13, at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, A1A south of Sunrise Boulevard and north of Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $89 to $165 plus fees. Visit tortugamusicfestival.com.