Funk-Rock Mashup

White Denim, on their first big tour, want people to relate to their groove-oriented, assaultive music

Considering the clanging, anxious alternative-rock attack that the trio White Denim applies to an R&B groove, it's surprising to learn that the songs have their origins on acoustic guitar.

"I spend a lot of time on my patio at home, playing acoustic guitar and thinking about how these guys might flesh out the songs in the playing," says guitarist, vocalist and songwriter James Petralli, while behind the wheel of the band's touring vehicle somewhere in Alabama last week.

From the musical hotbed of Austin, Texas, White Denim is spending two months on tour, opening for indie rockers and blog darlings Tapes 'n Tapes, including an upcoming gig Tuesday, May 6, at Club Congress.

"We try to start with some pretty loose sketches and patterns where we lay down the tracks in a very short amount of time and try different things out. The compositions then evolve, and everybody gets some input, but they start on acoustic guitar."

The result is a brusque, big-shouldered mashup of garage rock and dance music that comes out sounding like the noise indulgences of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, but is fashioned around funk and soul fundamentals.

About 2 years old and with only a four-song EP, Let's Talk About It, and some stray singles to its credit, White Denim recently has been compared to the likes of the Minutemen, the Stooges and James Chance.

Petralli says he and his bandmates are honored by such allusions, but he hints that they are almost unworthy.

"We're coming from a definitely groove-oriented tradition. We just kind of utilize the tools we have, and it comes out as noisier, rough-around-the-edges stuff, like those old Charles Wright recordings."

Regarding the Minutemen and Chance, he adds, "I just recently heard about that stuff and love it. But we didn't have that in mind when we recorded any of our stuff, such as the EP. I think that we were more into the Sonics and the Monks while we were recording. That's soul music, too, I think. Just of a different time and place."

The band initially formed in early 2006, after Petralli and drummer Josh Block had shared headspace in the band Parque Torche. They recruited bassist Steve Terebecki (from Peach Train), and White Denim was born.

"Josh and I have known each other for about eight years now," Petralli says. "We've played off and on in various groups during that time. We started getting serious with Parque Torche, which was pretty much a straight-ahead punk-rock-from-the-'70s band. Our singer moved on, and we were looking for something else to do when we found Steve."

Petralli says he and his compatriots in White Denim feel blessed to have cut their teeth in the Austin music scene.

"It's true that everybody has a chance to grow and be unique in Austin music. I think that has a lot to do with how many venues there are: There's a place for everybody. You can really find your place and role and figure out what you are doing with your music, and everyone gives you the freedom to do what you're going to. You can play every night of the week if you wanted to."

The current tour is White Denim's first major excursion across this fair land, and it's refreshing to hear Petralli talk about playing on the road without cynicism or jadedness.

"We have good nights and bad nights, like any band, but it's really neat for us to find out what works and what doesn't, to kind of test our road-worthiness for audiences who don't already know us. We are all kind of new to touring--I mean, we've been out for three weeks and for two weeks before--but this is our first big tour, and we are really getting to play some big rooms with Tapes 'n Tapes. It's pretty exciting."

Although Let's Talk About It was an independent 7-inch release by the band, also available through iTunes, White Denim also has seen some of its singles distributed as MP3 downloads through the online service RCRD LBL (

An umbrella network of independent music labels, RCRD LBL releases exclusive and completely free music from emerging and established artists. Since the cuts from RCRD LBL are completely free of DRM (digital rights management) encryption, they can be played on any media player.

"We're doing that. It's a blast, and we're down with it. The most attractive thing is the immediacy of tunes as you post them. It makes it possible to have a really interactive experience with the listeners on a regular basis," Petralli says.

But White Denim has also gone the fully independent route, with Let's Talk About It and a forthcoming full-length album, which the band is selling on CD-R at gigs.

"That way, there's no middleman for us. We've kind of chosen to keep it in-house, you know."

Although the band's sound is thorny and occasionally assaultive, Petralli wants the world to know that White Denim eschews intellectual pretentions.

"We just want to have fun. I guess I'd want to see that people can kind of relate to the music and have a good time with it. I'd love it if people were listening to us and barbecuing or maybe in a dance club. I'd love it if they viewed our music as a dance-floor jam."