White Denim

White Denim

Sam Cohen

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

Doors: 6:00 pm / Show: 8:30 pm


This event is 21 and over

White Denim
White Denim
Three years on from their critically acclaimed "barbeque" record 'Corsicana Lemonade,' White Denim are back with more than just a new album to commemorate. Their sixth record, 'Stiff' -- out March 25, 2016 via Downtown Records/Sony Red -- is a return to the Austin quartet's frenetic rock band roots, and is both a jubilant thrill ride and joyous celebration of their past ten years. Heading into the studio with an external producer to oversee a whole album for the first time -- and even writing a tune with Cass McCombs ("Thank You") -- the band teamed up with the legendary Ethan Johns (Paul McCartney, Laura Marling, The Staves) to produce their first truly live record, one teeming with a cool '70s undertow, tumultuous riffs and a feverish energy that's resulted in arguably some of their biggest and brawniest songs to date.

With drummer Joshua Block and guitarist Austin Jenkins now pursuing other production ventures, vocalist/guitarist James Petralli and bassist Steve Terebecki spent a long time reassessing exactly what White Denim meant to them. "The big thing for Steve and I was trying to define what made us want to keep going," Petralli explains of the album's early days. "What's our partnership about? What's cool about this? We learnt a lot making 'D' and 'Corsicana Lemonade.' We wanted to take some of those lessons and apply it back to our original mission statement. We were trying to get back to some of the things that made us excited about the band in the first place."

Opener "Had 2 Know (Personal)" is the embodiment of that mission statement. Described by Petralli as "a reassertion of our initial intent to make songs that satisfy our urge to play fast," it sets the tone brilliantly for the bulk of 'Stiff,' right from its idiosyncratic, Red Krayola-sampling beginning to its huge, golden era chorus. While it remains distinctively White Denim, there's a reinvigoration permeating through its riffs via new guitarist Jonathan Horne and a beefed-up rhythm section thanks to the work of new drummer Jeffrey Olson. Every single high octane turn -- from the tremendously fun "Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)" to the outrageously shredding "Holda You (I'm Psycho)" -- sounds like a band re-energised and revitalised, resulting in what Petralli describes as a "high heat, high energy, good times record." Having previously sold out Shepherd's Bush Empire and having toured with Tame Impala and Arctic Monkeys, 'Stiff' is full to the brim with songs that sound ready to now lift White Denim to similar heights.

For the most part, 'Stiff' is an album crammed with adrenaline-fuelled sing-alongs that show off the band's staple technical abilities. But it's also one that sees some new shades that they've developed along the way, too. Citing new wave and the razor-sharp pop punk of Buzzcocks as influences this time round, there's an addictive Elvis Costello circa 'This Year's Model' quality to "Real Deal Momma," a tune that highlights the band's love for hummable synthesisers and curious, affecting oddities. Then there's the cow bell calm and backing vocals laden brilliance of "I'm The One (Big Big Fun)," that along with "Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love)" (a song Petralli says "wants to be on a collection of doo wop songs written in 2016") shows a softer and more intricate side to the band while fully emphasising Petralli's vocal excellence.

Of the artwork -- which was created by collagist Eugenia Loli -- Petralli says that though they definitely weren't trying to be outlandish, Loli was inspired and worked from the band's previous album covers and videos as a visual template. Ultimately, it's a fleeting visit to a place the band have been before, with the covers of 'Workout Holiday' and 'D' being collages too. 'Stiff' was even originally stylised 'Stif,' which when spelt backwards spells out the title of their second full-length 'Fits.' Then there's 'Mirrored In Reverse,' a nod to the 'Fits' track "Mirrored and Reverse." "I mean, we're ten!" Petralli says in disbelief while explaining all of the record's throwbacks. "We did think about naming this record 'Ten' and referencing the Pearl Jam cover!"

Recorded with nothing but equipment that Petralli describes as being "past a certain point in the '70s," he explains that 'Stiff' is an album made "entirely the old way." "It was tracked live to 16-track tape with very little overdubs," he says. "It was very hardcore record making -- traditional in every aspect." Recorded with Ethan Johns in Asheville, North Carolina over a twenty-day period, Petralli and the band had an intense but deeply educational time with Johns. "It was really cool. The guy had these stories that were just unbelievable. He started talking about playing with Jimmy Page when he was a kid, and he lived in the studio where The Rolling Stones and The Faces would just hang out. Having Ethan in the room pushing us really made it more of an 'in the moment' and a visual thing. Capturing live performances is what he does really well."

To make things even more celebratory, there was an extra ten day stint spent with go-to White Denim man Jim Vollentine, who Petralli describes as "my guy, man." He continues: "we've made a lot of records together now. When we left the studio in Asheville with Ethan, we thought we gotta work on this record some more, you know? Though it was really just mixing, which we did with respect to Ethan's arrangements and his recording. I feel like I really haven't made anything like this before."

Ultimately, 'Stiff' is the sound of a band finding their feet again and having the time of their lives. It's a record that refuses to buckle under the pressures of life, instead offering up a soundtrack to sing, dance, shout and scream along to. As a White Denim album, it's a joyride through the past ten years of the band's idiosyncratic catalogue while simultaneously pushing things further forward into new territories. "It's similar to our first record ['Workout Holiday'] in that we found the initial energy and just went with that," Petralli says of the initial studio spark that started it all. "We thought, what's the fundamental thing that made us want to get into a van and quit our terrible jobs and start this whole thing in the first place? And it was loud, fast-playing, rock and roll."
Sam Cohen
Sam Cohen
Sam Cohen has a tendency to write laid-back, psych-tinged songs about extinction.
Human extinction.

“I also love guitar solos.”

So says Sam Cohen, the multi-talented Brooklyn-based musician and producer whose latest album, Cool It, is the first to bear his name. A founding member of the acclaimed psych-rock group Apollo Sunshine, and his own band, Yellowbirds, Cohen’s music, penned over the last decade and a half, forms a body of work that has earned him a loyal following, particularly among musicians, which has made Cohen an often sought collaborator.

Most recently, he produced Kevin Morby’s ascendant new album, Singing Saw, and was tapped by The National’s Dessner brothers to play guitar on a handful of tracks for their star-studded Day Of The Dead Grateful Dead Compilation. It was completely out of the blue, however, when Cohen received an email from Danger Mouse inviting him to collaborate on some sessions. The producer and new label head for 30th Century Records had been listening to Cool It on steady repeat, and offered to re-release the album via his new label.

“When I heard Sam’s song ‘Pretty Lights’, it knocked me over,” says Danger Mouse.
“Then when I heard the whole album, I knew I had to work with him. Cool It is one of my favorite albums of the last few years.”

Cohen recorded the album mostly alone in his Brooklyn rehearsal space, which, at the time, was a one hundred square foot cube filled to the brim with gear and instruments: his Kawai organ, a borrowed drumset, and a hoard of guitars and amps including Cohen’s signature synth guitar rig. He had to adapt his recording techniques to the spacial limitations.
“A lot of people ask how I got the drum sound on those songs. It’s funny, it was just one mic in the middle of the kit. If I had put up more mic stands in that room, I wouldn’t have been able to walk around.” As further explanation for his off the cuff engineering style, he cites the recording manifesto of Gabe Roth (Daptone Records), “Shitty is Pretty”.

As Cool It was nearing completion, Cohen decided a getaway was in order to write and record the last few songs and put the finishing touches on the work as a whole. He rented a house in Woodstock, NY where he’d stayed with some friends the year before, and brought his entire studio up in a U-haul van for a final week of solitary recording. It was an inspired time during which his work days would begin shortly after sunrise, not ending until well into the morning hours. Cohen says that completing the record in Woodstock helped to put the album in a specific time and place, as it had been recorded in bits over many months in the rehearsal space, as well as on a daylong session with the members of Yellowbirds.

That session yielded “Last Dream”, “A Farewell To Arms” and “Let The Mountain Come To You”, the album’s opening track which reads like a zen koan (with an obvious nod to Muhammed). In it, he sings, “There’s a mountain, but no mountain top; to climb the mountain, you chop the mountain up.” This leads into the paradoxical chorus, followed by an outrageously fuzzy guitar solo that hovers above synthesizer chords like one of Hendrix’s own UFO visions. In Cohen’s words, the song is about the repercussions of human ambition to attain a higher standard of living, which often results in the destruction of natural beauty and a numbing of spirituality. The subsequent track “Pretty Lights”, continues the message through a suite-like structure, beginning with a folkish nod to Leonard Cohen or Lee Hazelwood. This expands into a Flaming Lips meets Pink Floyd synth guitar solo, before crumbling into a synthetic pulse, only to come back with a heavy groove and quickened tempo, chanting the words “All is in tune, purer than music”. That’s just about halfway through the song which continues with unpredictable sonic delights.

“Kepler 62”, a standout in the live show, was written after Cohen read an article about the NASA-launched vessel of the same name that has obtained images of Earth-like planets.
“I think a lot about how a civilization begins and has a prime, a period of decay, and an end,” he says. “Cultures do that. Life does that. Bands do that. So all these staggered examples have the same shape, but everything is always at a different point in its arc. I found a lot of comfort in knowing they were out there.”

Cohen readily acknowledges his tendency to write about extinction and death. “El Dorado,” the album’s closer, details scenes from a post-apocalyptic world, while “Don’t Shoot The Messenger” is narrated by the gun of a killer and is a symbol for anyone harming others by carrying out their duty. Continuing on the theme, in “The Garden” he sings, “We practice in a two car garage; smoke around the kids. They’re gonna learn it someday, if someday ever is.”
Yet despite his concerns for environmental meltdown, Cohen says the album’s title was simply a suggestion from his wife that he found funny.

Most recently, Cohen recorded two new songs with Danger Mouse, including “Lose Your Illusion”, which was released on 30th Century Records Compilation Volume I. After a lengthy US tour with White Denim in Spring, he is now working on a new album in a newly christened Brooklyn studio that is, by his estimation, “far less janky than the last.” Cool It is out on 30th Century Records.

Barring imminent extinction, the future is looking quite bright for Sam Cohen. As he sings in the last words of Cool It’s final track, “El Dorado”: “The gate’s wide open now.”
Venue Information:
Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY, 11249

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