Next week, White Denim release Corsicana Lemonade – their l follow-up to 2011’s D LP. To celebrate the new album, the band have shared new track “Looking For A Place To Start,” a B-side recorded during the sessions that yielded Corsicana Lemonade.
White Denim took up a longstanding invitation. In January of 2012 they’d toured with Wilco and afterward, Jeff Tweedy joked – or so they thought – that someday they should record together at the band’s Loft Studio. Petralli remembers thinking it was a courtesy comment, but then this year Tweedy called to say that he had a five-day window, and wanted White Denim to go in and cut some tracks. So in late March of 2013, Petralli wrote a couple of songs at short notice and they headed to Chicago, which is where the all-important loosening up process began.
Only two album tracks came out of that session – ‘Distant Relative Salute’ and ‘A Place to Start’ – but the experience of playing live in the studio as an ensemble was crucial. Explains Petralli: “We spent a day apiece on those two songs and then the last three days, we just tried out every instrument we could get our hands on and laid out these kind of krautrock vamps. That studio is basically a museum; they have pretty much any instrument you could think of, so we just threw everything at it. Jeff was really adamant that we play live, so there was a lot of emphasis on the performances from the four of us being definitive. The spirit was to not have any studio fixing. When I listen to the new record now, it sounds like us learning to play that music, which is cool. To capture that freshness and that…uncertain certainty.”
The Chicago experience galvanised the four’s initial determination to make a different kind of White Denim record, and it took them just two months. When they went back to Austin, they rented a house on a cliff overlooking Lake Travis and hired a team who outfitted it as a studio in four days. “We were actually on the porch, trying to write the songs while they were building the studio,” Petralli remembers, “and by the time we got in there, we had enough material to start the record. Both Josh and Austin had moved to Dallas in 2012, so they lived there for five weeks. When we first got into the house, we were in awe of the view because it was just all windows, but when we went in to start working, they’d boarded them all up for soundproofing. Josh and Austin had this weird psychosis of living in a house with no natural light. They’d be yelling that there was a beautiful view beyond the sound blanket!”
Local producer and “tone guru” Jim Vollentine was in the mix, as was his collection of vintage radio broadcast gear, which lends the record warmth and textured intimacy. “He’s been salvaging it from yard sales for the past 20 years,” Petralli reveals. “We had a pretty nice mixture of ’70s hi-fi equipment and really early tube equipment from the ’40s and ’50s.”
Particulars of process and sonics weren’t the only features of the Corsicana Lemonade picture; recent listening habits and changes in personal circumstance also played their part. Petralli, who became a father for the first time in January says that over the past year or two, the band had been thinking a lot about family “and the preservation of [our] personal lives. We decided that we wanted to talk about relationships and family, so with those kinds of things in the air, it was pretty easy for me to tap that lyrically. Plus, we’d all been listening to a lot of the country music and pop we’d grown up with – stuff like Waylon Jennings and the masterful Townes Van Zandt, but also lesser sung artists like Jim Ford and the guys who played in the Nashville band Barefoot Jerry – they themselves didn’t really write a lot of great songs, but their music felt really good and it was comfortable and fun. More groove-oriented country was almost a nostalgic thing that we were connecting with.”
If the spirits of Little Feat and the Allman Brothers still hover in the wings, then Badfinger, Stevie Wonder and Glen Campbell have also made their mark, as has fellow Texan, Steve Miller, particularly on the title track. It’s both a light-hearted homage to some of the states non-descript suburbs and small towns (Abilene, Lucas, Nacogdoches and Waxahachie all get a shout-out) and an update of the classic country road song. “He’s one step away from Jimmy Buffet, for a lot of people,” Petralli concedes of Miller, “but he did make a couple of great records. Sailor is pretty cool, and he was part of the whole San Francisco, late-’60s psychedelic thing. On D we got a lot of those comparisons – I guess it’s just inherent. We all do it, but none of us really wants to own up to listening to the Steve Miller Band!”