The World Of Paul White
For our latest feature we had the pleasure of an extended chat with Paul White ahead of the release of his new album ‘Rejuvenate’
R&S: You’ve had a great last couple of years, working with all kinds of people, what for you have been your highlights?
Being such a big part of Danny Brown’s “Atrocity Exhibition” album was amazing, me and Danny wrote the music we wanted to make unfiltered, doing something different and it getting appreciated was amazing and affirming to always put creativity first!
My album with Open Mike Eagle was another highlight. Over the last year Ive been working with amazing artists from London like Obongjayar, Jamie Isaac, Connie Constance, Jamie Woon, Yussef Dayes, Mansur Brown, Jadu Heart and Yellow Days. Ive been doing a lot more sessions as a producer and meeting more and more talented musicians, it feels like a new community is growing and getting strong, and its exciting and inspiring to be part of that, theres a strong energy! I’ve been spending a lot more time in LA also, working with a great new artist called Roman, and a bunch of others like more music with Shungudzo, making a whole new musical family out there, all these things have been highlights over the last couple of years. Another highlight has been working on the new Golden Rules album with Eric Biddines which I’m excited about!
R&S: ‘Rejuvenate’ is the title and theme of the album, it’d be good to start here in terms of understanding your inspirations behind the record.
The title and theme Rejuvenate is suppose to be a message to myself and others that we can all be more playful and child like in our lives. We can get so caught up in our minds and stresses we forget to actually live in the moment, in reality, we are so overly self judgmental and critical and self conscious and self destructive, we live in our minds and not in reality, we weren’t like that as young kids and I think thats why we all love and admire children and smile when we see them having fun, we love it and we admire kids for that, they’re full of imagination, wanting to explore constantly and have fun, always in the moment. I went through what for me felt like a period of new birth, musically, and spiritually, about two years ago.
Before writing this album, I’d gotten depressed at doing the same creative movements over and over for too long than I should have, I didn’t feel I was following my natural creative journey of moving on and trying new things I wanted to explore, instead tied to the pressures of making what people expected of me, I felt the pressures of that, but I view music as a being, something to love and respect as it has done to me, I want to explore everything in music.
I really wanted to make the music Id been sampling all these years, I needed a challenge to push myself creatively, I needed a big change. I wanted to go back to playing instruments and writing songs like I did as a kid, I started songwriting at about 11 using the piano and my voice.
I had done that a bit on Shaker Notes, but it was still very loop based. I wanted to write full songs again with full vocals, and when I was writing Shaker Notes I was still working with a lot of my beat stuff for other peoples albums too. When it came time to do this new solo album I jumped into the opportunity of the time to play instruments again, I thought the album would take ages but I felt so good about getting out of that dark space and into something new and fun again I finished the album in 6 months. I felt totally re energised and was having the most fun I’d had in a while.
A big part of that also was stopping smoking weed for a while, I’d been smoking everyday for 15 years heavily, I felt I needed to get into the right headspace to create what I wanted to create, and that meant getting into a new fresh headset. A big influence in this period was also reading up on lots of philosophy, trying to be as peaceful with myself and open as possible in this stress filled life. I got big into people like Alan Watts, Chogyam Trungpa, Krishnamurti and George Gurdjieff.
R&S: You’ve got a great cast of collaborators on the album, could you speak a little on them and what they each brought to the table?
First off we have my super talented sister Sarah Williams White, I’m always wanting to use her amazing musical talents, we share the same views on free fun creativity so I knew she’d nail this theme and feel for this record. It was magic to sing a duet with her on ‘Laugh With Me’, she came round to the studio for a day and we worked on the lyrics together, chatting for a while about all the fun we had as kids together, surfing on summer holidays in Cornwall, so thats where the lyrics came from.
The nice thing about the instrumental for Laugh With Me also was one day I was going through Facebook and I stumbled across pictures of my long ago ex girlfriend getting married, and I just felt so happy for her I felt really emotional, straight after that I wrote Waves interlude and Laugh With Me, they were initially one song. For ‘All Around’ I just let Sarah be as creativity free as she wanted, and she did the perfect amazing job, I gave her quite a challenge because the arrangement of the song is very unconventional, but she nailed it in the perfect fun free way I knew she would, I thought this was a perfect end for the record, what its all about.
Shun came over from LA for 2 days of sessions, we’d never met, Id heard her music and immediately knew she was a special talent, and we clicked as people immediately when she came to my studio in London. We spoke a lot about our views on the world and its stresses. We were questioning whether things really have to be like this, brewing ourselves right up before writing ‘Spare Gold’ from scratch in one day. It all just poured out after a long vent from both of us. When I made the instrumental for Ice Cream Man, I remember I left the studio and just had this strong feeling I had to send it to Shun straight away, I told her I wanted this one to be lighter, to be about the joys of being a child, and that feeling to send it was obviously right because four days later she sent me the finished vocals.
Id already written the two songs I wanted Denai to feature on, they weren’t completely finished but the main ideas were there, actually what became ‘See Through’ I’d initially sung on but she did a much better job. I love the tone and venerable honest emotion in her voice, its powerful. She came round to the studio and I talked her through the ideas for the record, we talked about breaking through struggles into a fun free state, and she was a pro, she wrote really fast, recorded with no headphones just vibes, laid down her take on liberating yourself from yourself in her own way, and they came out beautifully and tender.
“Of course I can’t forget Lexxx, who mixed the record- he’s worked with Wild Beasts, Ghostpoet and Jessie Ware and it’s always been a dream of mine to get to work with him. Much as I enjoy mix downs I thought it’d be great to have some one of his calibre working on the music to take it to the next level – I think he delivered in spades!”
R&S: Mood seem to be very important to you – did you do anything differently to capture the right vibes while working on the record?
Your totally a product of your environment, you and your environment are one thing really. I have a ton of crystals and objects from nature Ive collected form all around the world right in front of my speakers to add nature to the room, seaweed from LA, bits of drift wood from Morocco, a leaf and tree bark from Australia etc. I also have lots of plants in the studio I think thats important, to get to my drum kit you have to squeeze through 2 plants that numerous people have knocked over.
When I met Shun I found out she travels with a few small crystals, she gave me a beautiful little quartz crystal she’d got in LA and I gave her a bright red amazing shaped leaf Id found in my local park. I also had a blue light shade the room like a ocean colour whilst we recorded all the vocals for the record. Denai Moore did most of her vocals in one take or two takes, no headphones, it was free and open with a good vibe in the room. Before me and Sarah recorded Laugh With Me, we watched a film we always used to watch as kids called The North Shore, its a surfing film, that really inspired the lyrics for the song, we wanted to write the lyrics as if we were kids writing them…..
R&S: Hip hop has always been a cornerstone influence in your music, with all this evolution of your sound, how would you say that it now manifests itself?
I still think looped based by default, and that came from beats and hip hop making loops, so Ill often record one loop then another loop then another loop and arrange them in the song together after, rather than play like a band the whole way thorough a song. Ill often come up with a guitar part or keyboard part, then loop it for 10 mins for me to jam with myself, to come up with new ideas for the song, then chop out loops that were good and arrange it into the song.
That was a method I actually didn’t want to do as much for this record, I still did but not nearly as much, that way was basically how Shaker Notes was made, this time I did try and think more songwriting then loops, and therefore come up with written parts first then record it, rather then spontaneously jam with myself and edit out loops that were good.
Saying that hip hop will always be in me when Im writing music. For example ‘Returning’ was initially written on a looper pedal then re made later as a full song, but first it was more like a beat. Rejuvenate the title song started as a drum machine and synth beat which I developed into a song and added live drums and guitars and more synth parts. Ill still loop drums up when I find a groove I really like in my playing. The drums are key, I still wanted them to sound like raw big hip hop inspired drums, like they could be sampled to make a beat nasty. I still want the low end on my kicks that a lot of traditional rock music doesn’t have.
Plus a big one is Ive been collecting all genres of music because of hip hop, therefore hip hop has given the music education to inspire me to want to make the records Id been collecting, not just sample them, I love the idea of writing music that someone else could sample!
R&S: Would you say you’ve always had a fascination with exotic sounds? Listening back all through your career material, it’s all been pretty unusual and fresh sounding, not the obvious jazz / funk etc.
I grew up off Weather Report so that probably says a lot! 🙂 They created real powerful emotional sonic worlds that I fell in love with as a kid, and I still listen to them all the time, they’re maybe my favourite band, so that set the foundation of my crazy ear I think. Then when I first discovered Prog Rock everything changed, especially bands like Gong and Krautrock bands like Can and Neu. I heard everything in there, Jazz, Rock, Ambient, Folk, Electronic, all mixed together in this fascinating creatively fun way. To me prog and Kraut were wide open to all genres, just like I am, I hate genres, music is music to me, its emotions and feelings, and thats in all music, thats what music is, emotions in sound. Im a natural rebel also, I don’t ever want to do what everyone is doing. I wanted to hear these mad far out ideas to draw inspiration from, and I related to these mad ideas, maybe because a lot of Prog talks about mushrooms LSD and all things tripping, Id lived my life by acid for 4 years when I was younger so I felt I understood exactly what they were talking about going to these magical worlds. 🙂
R&S: how would you say rejuvenate follows on from Shaker Notes?
Shaker Notes was made using a borrowed guitar, like 2 keyboards, a cheap wooden kids xylophone marimba, a bass with 2 strings on it, a beaten crappy drum kit, whatever I had, but it wasn’t much. Before I recorded Rejuvenate Id bought a gang of stuff, couple new keyboards, a new guitar, a new bass guitar, a new sound card, new speakers, a new drum kit, I really spent time setting up a bigger and better studio space for this record, with more toys to play on and everything plugging in and ready to record as if a band were in the room, that made all the difference having everything set up so easily to record.
Shaker Notes was from a slightly darker time in my life. It was also a time where Id just started to play a bit with instruments again and was experimenting everywhere, so to me its almost like my experimental avant garde album, it opened the door into playing again. My ears started to change, I was listening to more and more different types of music, my ears were listening to different parts in the music, I wanted to push myself more musically as an artist and producer and get a lot better at playing and songwriting for Rejuvenate, and I feel Im just starting this new journey through that album.
R&S: It’s possible to hear so many influences bleeding through on the album, it’d be great if you could talk about some key records that influenced or inspired you.
This album to me is like JJ cale (who I grew up on), after taking mushrooms and seeing Can and Gong play live.
Key records were:
Son Little – Things I Forgot
The first song I heard by him was Cross My Heart and that seriously inspired me to play a lot more guitar, and go back to writing songs again using my guitar and voice.
Mac Demarco – Another One
I just couldn’t stop listening to the title track Another One, I love it, its so simple but beautiful. He’s such a amazing songwriter, this song really pushed to want to get better at my songwriting.
Tame Impala – Lonerism
This whole album changed the game for lots of people, the way he mixed elements of Rock, Hip Hop, and Pop was amazing. It definitely opened some doors and inspired me to let in some of the pop I used to love as a kid.
D’Angelo – Black Messiah
This again, really inspired me in the musicianship on this album, such high class players really made me want to get better at playing all these different instruments. Pino Palladino’s bass playing on that record makes me want to put in so many hours on the bass.
Sarah Williams White – Of The New World
My sister has always inspired me with her amazing free creativity. I think its special, its so pure and honest and unique. When I heard this album, which as well as like her previous work showcased her songwriting talents also this time showed how great a producer she is too. It really pushed me to want to up my game as a songwriter and producer living together.
Grimes – Visions
Im relatively new to Grimes, and she’s amazing! Pop but raw and new wave. Again someone doing it all by herself, the way she used old new wave synth sounds and textures but with a pop sensibility really inspired me.
Ali Farka Toure – Niafunke
Ive always loved Ali, my dad introduce me to him as a kid, he played me a lot of mainly west african music growing up and Ive always loved the sound tone and style of the guitar playing. This sound is always in me and I tried my version of it on Returning.
Beach House – Depression Cherry
I first heard Beach House not long ago whilst at Pickathon festival in Portland, I was playing with Golden Rules, and 10 mins before were suppose to go on stage Im outside and I hear this music from another stage in the background, loved it and turned out it was a band called Beach House. Love the textures and ambient qualities, ambient music will always be in me as thats the first electronic music I wrote.