Checking In: White Denim’s James Petralli Will Survive

“I’m fully back to basics right now, man”

“I’m trying to quit smoking, [so] I’m a little extra rn,” emails White Denim captain James Petralli. He’s referencing query three of our C-19 survey and that “little extra” pops like the burst of his lockdown, maximum R&B. Raucous Performance, back-to-basics Side Effects, and live follow-up In Person reflect Petralli’s progressive, rockist passion.

James Petralli (c) leading White Denim during Hi, How Are You Day 2020 at ACL Live, Jan. 22 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Austin Chronicle: Where are you sheltering and under what circumstances? Who else is there and how’s that going?

James Petralli: I am sheltering with my family at home. I have a wife and two children, ages 7 and 5. White Denim’s studio is a private residence in East Austin, so I’ve been lucky to be able to keep making daily trips there in order to continue working in some capacity. Sheltering is generally ok aside from the occasional moment of claustrophobia. Routine is such an important thing for young children. This disruption has tested them and thereby us in small ways on a daily basis. Apologies for stating the obvious, but it bears repeating: teachers are heroes and should be exalted in our culture!

AC: At what point did C-19 shut down operations for you, and what went down with the ship, so to speak, both personally & professionally?

JP: When SXSW was cancelled, we could see that our spring and summer touring plans were soon to follow, so we immediately began working on a safe way to generate income in order to keep our crew busy and compensated. It has not shut down operations for us. We cannot tour, but we will continue to reach people and support one another as best as we can.

AC: As a global culture, people employ music for every purpose imaginable, obviously spanning religion to entertainment and everything in between. What happens to communities like ours when people can no longer access it in person – at a show, at Central Market, at SXSW?

“I think that people everywhere take music for granted and most musicians reflect that somehow in the music they’re making. The bar is terribly low at the moment.”

JP: Do they? I cannot honestly speak to that without a tinge of grouchiness. So dig this curmudgeonly shit: Real mother fuckers will survive. I think that people everywhere take music for granted and most musicians reflect that somehow in the music they’re making. The bar is terribly low at the moment. Maybe in order to comfort themselves, people will rediscover the Beatles, etc., and realize that some of the new music they’re celebrating is pretty half-cooked. Tip the jazzers at Central Market when all this settles down. They’re fanning a dying flame (in a grocery store no less), and American music is one of the few things that we can be unabashedly proud of as a people.

AC: Everyone is having to shift or drastically alter their work situation. What does that look like for you?

JP: Being a musician in the middle of a production is kind of like being in quarantine anyway. If I’m not on the road, I’m with my family or in the relative isolation of a studio. This has impacted my day to day far less than my wife, who works for Rambler Sparkling Water, and for my children, who attend school.

AC: What’s your soundtrack for the apocalypse and what role does music play for you as a fan and scholar of it in times of hardship?

JP: I’m fully back to basics right now, man. [John Coltrane’s] Love Supreme hasn’t officially left the deck in a week. My wife and kids are listening to Morgan Delt on a boom box right now, and the sun is out. My kids were singing the VU’s “Who Loves the Sun” this morning on our walk in key. I feel proud and grateful to be alive and well today.

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White Denim, James Petralli, Beatles, Velvet Underground, John Coltrane, Morgan Delt, Rambler, Central Market, Checking In 2020

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