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White Denim slims down, grooves along on “Stiff”
Coming into recording “Stiff,” it was clear that there would be some changes from the White Denim’s previous five records.
The Southern-tinged psych rock group had to replace its drummer and guitarist (both left the band to work with blues riser Leon Bridges) and enrolled acclaimed English producer Ethan Johns to guide the direction of the album. Aside from more lightweight production, though, front man James Petralli doesn’t think the end result is a dramatic shift for the band.
“Having the two new guys definitely added some different color,” explains Petralli. “But, to me, it’s pretty similar —we kind of touched on all of these approaches in our past records, you know — we’ve done funkier tunes, we’ve done heavier rock stuff, we always have an R&B ballad on our records. That’s kind of how I like to write records.”
In some ways, he’s certainly correct. “Stiff” features riff-heavy, rollicking rock ‘n roll cuts like “Had 2 Know (Personal)” and swirling, loungey, psychedelic tunes like “(I’m the One) Big Big Fun” that fit right into White Denim’s back catalog.
But it’s also a little more stripped-down, as shown on the upbeat, bluesy, radio-friendly rocker “Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah).” “We’ve never really released anything that’s so sparsely built out with instruments,” explains Petralli. “At a certain point, there might be six instruments playing not including voice — in our old recordings, it would be not uncommon to have 15 or 16 instruments playing at once.”
Set in his ways
Petralli explained that the jam-laden cut “Thank You” is his favorite on the album because it’s most similar to how the group has recorded before. “There are a few different layers, and there’s some effects going on that I think are really cool, you know, more atmospheric,” he says. “I feel like we got some more chuckles out of the process doing that — kind of like sitting in the control room, messing with delay knobs and stuff like that.”
On recording live
Unlike most producers, who record each instrument in the studio separately, Ethan Johns prefers the old school method of recording the whole band together.
Considering both his credentials (producer for Crosby, Stills and Nash, Paul McCartney, Kings of Leon) and the legacy of his father Glyn Johns (producer for The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, The Who), Petralli put his faith in Johns.
“You get a real sense of togetherness and solidarity in the band when you track a song together and you nail it,” says Petralli. “There’s just an energy that’s created when you’re tracking live that is kind of inarguable.”
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