Photo Credit: Sequoia Ziff

INTERVIEW: Blanco White

Hi Blanco, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

I’m doing well thank you – hope you are too. I’ve been staying with my family during the lockdown. I managed to finish the album just before it began here in the UK which was lucky. Been doing some gentle work on new music since then, and I’ve also taken a bit of time off during the quarantine too.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Mano a Mano”? Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

The song was written last year whilst I was living on the southern tip of Spain near Tarifa. It’s an amazing corner of the world. You can see Africa from the Spanish side of the Straits, and the narrow stretch of water feels like a real gateway between the Mediterranean and Atlantic worlds. It’s a region that can seem both ancient and mysterious. The lyrics in the song are very visual and descriptive, and try to capture some of the magic that you feel a part of when you are there.

The visuals for the song are pretty soothing and mesmerizing – do you picture yourself all these imageries when working on a new material?

At the time of writing I was able to draw more directly on the beautiful landscapes around the house where I was living. Having said that, more often than not I am mining memories and constructing mental images of places or structures that feel associated with the music I am working on. This tends to be much more important to my process than focusing on where I am in a given moment. When working in that way, there’s a feeling of being able to transport yourself to somewhere more mysterious and surreal. Those are the sort of feelings I’m often searching for when writing, where the music helps construct a visual space that I can then explore. 

Javier Lara has directed the videos for this album and he definitely leaves his own mark on the music. I was again blown away by what he did for this song. We always talk through the meanings of the songs, as well as the visual worlds that lie behind them. However, I’ve always thought it’s much more important for Javier to be free to react to the music in his own way, and he is the driver and engine behind the videos. We often talk through locations and concepts, but it’s him who has to get behind the lens and imagine how to piece the videos together. Dualisms and opposites are themes in the videos, and he was the one who separated the two visual worlds for ‘mano a mano’, drawing a line between the main body of the song focused on the earth, and the outro section that turns upwards to the sky. 

How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

A response from Javier: The shooting process was alike to all the other videos, an adventure. The first part of it was recorded during the Covid19’s alarm state in Spain, with a special permit that allowed me to keep working. I, alone, got immersed through the deepest part of the desert at the Southeast of the Iberian Peninsula in aim of showing this particular arid visions.

The second part of the video was recorded on my second trip to Lanzarote (Canary Islands) at the same time of shooting for some of the other Blanco White videos. There I tried to take advantage of what the land offered me and recorded the aerial shots from the plane. 

The ‘Mano a mano’ experience was incredible. It allowed me to connect with nature during the shoot, thanks to the patience of its filmings.

The single comes off your new album On The Other Side – what’s the story behind the title?

The title of the album takes its name from the opening track. For me it felt like a real gateway song when it was written, the first one I wrote after arriving in Spain. It suddenly gave me a much clearer vision of how I wanted the rest of the album to sound, and I felt it captured the atmospheres and tones that I had been searching for. I definitely carried those into the rest of the album, and so I wanted to acknowledge that starting point. It’s a song that I felt transported by while I was working on it, and so the name is meant to invite the listener to make that journey too, to that other more mysterious space the music hopes to evoke. 

How was the recording and writing process?

In a strange way I felt like I recorded this album twice because I went very deep into the production when I was writing the songs and working on the demos in Spain. In creative terms that meant it was quite difficult to come back to them fresh in the studio in London because I felt I knew the songs so intimately already. That said, it was amazing to work at Hoxa HQ where most of the album was recorded, and I felt we were able to capture lots of magic there too. It’s a fantastic studio with an amazing sounding desk, and throughout the process I was working with a super talented engineer Dani Bennett Spragg. Her knowledge and instincts were really important to how things turned out, and looking back, most of the album was made with just us two working together in the studio. I have great memories of days when my band came in to record stuff too – those days always make you feel incredibly lucky to be making music as your job.

What role does Spain play in your music?

Musically flamenco is an important influence on my songwriting. The rhythms of flamenco in particular really expanded what I thought was possible in music. The Spanish guitar tradition is intertwined with the genre too, and for me Spanish guitarists are the best in the world. The calibre of musicianship is really astounding and the way it is embedded deeply in local culture and everyday life is really special. Outside of music I also just love Spain as a place. There’s something that draws me to it on a deep level that is quite hard to explain. I feel a real sense of joy and contentment when I’m there, and have made great friendships over the years.

Having travelled throughout the globe and having met all these different cultures – what have you learned from these experiences?

I think it’s hard to condense the experiences you have travelling into anything clear or singular, but as anyone passionate about travelling knows, places and the people you meet can affect you deeply. So many of my passions and interests come from those special times when I was travelling in my early twenties. I feel very fortunate to have have had those experiences, and am aware how much they have shaped me. The world definitely feels much smaller today than in the past, and to me the fact that it is possible to experience things like music and culture from all over the world whether by visiting places or turning on Spotify is incredibly exciting. The extent of that access feels unprecedented. There’s so much to enjoy from other places, and so many things to learn that challenge what you’re used to and expand your possibilities. 

What is it about these cultures you always try to borrow and incorporate into your music?

For me, I am responding to things that move me deeply. That has been the pattern that unites the influences behind my project. Flamenco astounded me when I saw it live for the first time. I had never experienced anything like it, and whenever I see it now, I have the same physical reaction to the music that I had then. It has never failed to give me goosebumps, and the emotions that accompany it are always profound and affecting. 

Andean folk music is another foundational influence, centred around my favourite instruments, the charango and ronroco. These are instruments that I find incredibly inspiring to write with and I think they are wholly unique. Although they can be used to invite a listener to dance or celebrate, instruments like the charango and the Andean flute ‘la quena’ also possess a deeper power that is more solemn, melancholic and mysterious. Often it is that power in the instruments that I am searching for and exploring when writing. Andean music can be extremely mournful, and I’ve always thought the sounds capture and evoke the vast landscapes where they are from in an unusual way. All of these things, as well as the history of Andean music have fascinated me and moved me since I first heard it played. 

More recently I’ve been listening to a lot more African music, especially from the Sahel and Somalia in the East. Although I haven’t travelled to these places, the music became an obsession for me whilst working on the album, and has been ever since. The focus on rhythm, the structure of songs and the melodies blew open what I thought was possible in music, rather like flamenco had when I experienced it in Cadiz for the first time. It’s so exciting when you make a connection with music or art. I think it’s something that happens quite rarely, which is what makes it special; when it does I feel compelled to react in some way. I want to learn from other places, and respond to music that has given me so much joy as a listener.

You’ve also gotten to collaborate with other people in the industry – do you tend to take a different approach when you are collaborating with someone else rather than working on your own?

Although the recording and mixing process is definitely collaborative, for me I like to write music in isolation. Obtaining a deep knowledge of a song and a clear vision for where I want it to go feels important to me before I begin sharing it with anyone else. That can be quite a solitary process, but it’s one that works for me. Working with Dani who engineered everything felt very natural, and we became great friends. Sometimes you can feel quite vulnerable performing in the studio, especially when doing vocals, so building that relationship and sense of ease and trust is important. The days when my band come in to record are always great fun too. I’m lucky to play with some amazing musicians live, and it’s great to bring that energy into the studio, especially if we’ve road tested tracks.

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

It never comes from one place, and I think it’s something that will always be a little mysterious and bemusing to any writer or artist, or in fact anyone going through the process of creating. For me it’s often just the desire to make sense of things, and respond to the world around us. There is so much to wonder at, and so much to be in awe of. Music is something I’ve always associated with those kinds of feelings, like awe and transcendence, and it’s often described as a vehicle to reach those states of mind. When listening to music you can find yourself transported in that way, and for me the writing process can sometimes feel like the attempt to make that contact and reach out in search of those things. Ultimately when I’m writing, I want to be moved by what I hear. 

Any plans to hit the road?

Sadly all our plans to tour have been put on hold until there’s some more clarity surrounding the Covid situation. Hopefully it’s not too long before we get back out on the road.

What else is happening next in Blanco White’s world?

It’s quite a surreal time this quarantine. After an intense couple of years of touring and recording, I definitely needed to take a bit of a break. I’ve been able to do that whilst being stuck at home, and have felt strangely grateful for the timing of things. Now I’m beginning to experiment with new sounds, and think about where I can take things going forward. But like most people, I’m also just trying to take each day as it comes, adjusting to the new reality. 

WATCH 

Mano a Mano

On The Other Side

Papillon

Desert Days

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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