Hi Ward, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Fantastic! Except for that weird heartbeat sound under the floorboards… can you hear that?
Can you talk to us more about your song “Back to the End”?
“It started as a cough”, the lyric that opens the song, was the first line I wrote for the record. I tend to catalog phrases that feel weighty, like the opening of a short story. I worry less about what they mean, and just try to let them steer the ship. It doesn’t always reach dry land, but sinkings are more compelling, anyway.
Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?
It’s not really event-based or specifically narrative – more stream of consciousness.
Any plans to release a video for the track?
Unlikely. At this point, I no longer have a good side.
The single comes off your new album Diminish – what’s the story behind the title?
It’s just a word that had resonance for me, completely without context. Titles are often that way. After allowing it to settle, you start to dig a little bit – try to find out what’s living down there. In this case, the idea of all life being an extended process of diminution. My alternate choice was ‘Lick It Up’, but KISS had beaten me to it. Again.
How was the recording and writing process?
Writing is always harrowing, because I’m not a ‘sit down at the upright and bang out numbers’ kind of artist. I have to wait. It’s never guaranteed, but this is my 11th record, so I usually hold out a glimmer of hope that some idea will kickstart the process. Recording, as usual for me, was done as quickly as possible – I like to track basics in a day or two, always live with the drummer and no click track. From there I tackle overdubs in a pretty regimental fashion – Working on low budget records educates you on the importance of thorough pre-production. Drummer Mark Stepro, myself, and John Spiker (pulling double-duty as engineer and bassist) cut the basics live at John’s place in two fairly short days. I took the tracks to Tyler Chester’s studio in Glassell Park, and he knocked out all the keyboards (beautifully) in an afternoon.
What was it like to work with John Spiker and how did that relationship develop?
John was great – we were introduced by drummer, Mark Stepro, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working for over a decade. I like to track fast, so the right person has to respond to the professional equivalent of being pushed into the deep end of the pool with their shoes on; how they react makes or breaks the project. I’m also somewhat… opinionated. John handled all the engineering challenges in a very compressed time frame, while also playing bass on 11 tracks he had never heard, all during the same period that he was producing the new Tenacious D record. His plate was full.
How much did he get to influence the album?
John employed his sonic palette across the board, in tracking and mixing. I’m particularly fond of his approach to drum sounds, which can define an entire record. Drums were tracked through a classic Neve sidecar, which gives them that coveted “chewiness”. All summing during the mix process went through the Neve, as well. Sonics aside, he influenced the process by staying positive and supportive, and not screaming at me to stop pacing the control room like a darted zoo animal.
What role does LA play in your music?
Hard to say. I suppose you’d have to think about it relative to other environments; Having spent years making records in New York City, I can identify the specific logistical challenges that impact the tone – spatial, mechanical, financial – New York records often have a ‘harder’ sound to them as a result of those pressures. It’s definitely easier to track in LA, particularly from a real estate standpoint. It’s also nice not to schlep gear on your back through wet snow to a session. I’ll take 101 traffic over that, any day of the week.
Do you tend to take a different approach when you are collaborating with someone else rather than on your own?
I really haven’t done much collaborative writing, as the process is so insular for me. Also, my lyrics and music are intertwined in such a way that it’s difficult for me to envision them as separate entities. I made a duo record with Joe McGinty back in 2009 (McGinty & White Sing Selections from the McGinty & White Songbook) which was a lot of fun – in that case, the collaborative process was reflected in the arrangements/performances and overall sound of the album.
What aspect of relationships did you get to explore on this record and what made you want to touch on these themes?
I would say, “The relationship between every person, and their mortality”, but that would be a drag. Let’s go with “The relationship between a dude, and his sweet-ass El Camino”.
Any plans to hit the road?
Not at the moment, but I’m planning to do a few shows in town with the whole band once everybody’s off the road for a minute. As much as I enjoy performing live, the studio is where I’m most at home.
What else is happening next in Ward White’s world?
I’ve often said that every record I make is just the one after the last, and before the next. I try not to get precious about any one in particular because they’re all chapters in the same story – I’m just not sure how it ends. I suppose I’ll get back to work.