When two musicians get together to form a creative partnership, new and fresh ideas are exchanged and the end result is often something interesting. A stellar example is the duo of drummer Jim White from the Australian post-rock innovators Dirty Three and Cretan folk artist Giorgios Xylouris, who specializes in playing the laouto. They make music that blends free jazz, abstract rock and Greek folk traditions together to forge a cohesive sound.
The next chapter of this collaboration is their fourth album The Forest In Me, which will be released by Drag City Records on April 14, and Xylouris White will be performing at Café Nine in New Haven on April 5, to promote the album. The Athens, Georgia experimental music collective The Electric Nature is starting off the show at 8 p.m.
White and I talked ahead of the gig about working with an underground punk legend on all of Xylouris White’s albums, what made the making of The Forest In Me a bit different, working with a bunch of other musicians and what he hopes to connect with the listener on when they check out the new record.
RD: The Forest In Me had Guy Picciotto from Fugazi and Rites Of Spring handling the production and part of the engineering. Guy has served this role for all the albums you and George have done, so what makes the both of you enjoy working with him in the studio so much?
JW: We just love working with him because he brings so much. I met him before Xylouris White started, I got to know him and then the very first show Giorgios and I did, which was about 10 years ago in New York, I invited him down. Ever since then, we’ve been working together and he’s been a big part of it from the start. It’s always remained strong, but it’s growing and he’s a great listener. He can hone into the parts, he’s a great engineer and he’s great to talk to about things.
He’s very organized as well and he’s just an incredibly positive force. To be honest, this record felt much different because we were all in different places. It started off with Guy and I, we live near each other. Obviously, everything starts with different points of view but one of the ways it started was I was hanging around his place. He’s got a studio, we were just mucking around and trying some things out with the drums.
Then we sent some stuff off to Giorgios where he lives in Crete, which became some of the songs. Normally what we do is we get together and record, usually with Guy and sometimes with someone else, we’ll do some new recordings while finding the nature of what the album is going to be. We might have an idea, but we kind of hope to find it by doing it. Then we talk about it among the three of us and often time Sheila too, who is George’s partner. Then we’ll do more recording on it while also going back into the archives, which are hundreds of pieces of music that are in data storage.
Often there’s some tracks that we really loved or some ideas that we really loved from another session that didn’t fit into the record we were making at the time. When we get the new idea of what the record is going to be like, we find it ourselves and Guy is also amazing at recordkeeping, archive keeping and remembering things when one of us brings up a particular song or idea from the past. He’ll pull it out, we’ll look at it and if it’s finished then it’s finished and if not then we’ll continue putting it together while doing more recording. With this particular album, it was partly done during COVID so we were in three different places and I had to learn how to engineer for the first time in my life. All three of us had our setups and Guy became even more active in the process, then of course it was on to the sequencing, which is another thing we worked on a lot as the three of us.
RD: Guy was also involved in the songwriting process for a few tracks on the album, including “Latin White”, “Night Club” and “Long Doll”. Was this part of going through the vault that you just mentioned where Guy was bringing up songs from past sessions? Did he perform any instruments on the songs or did he just contribute to the composition? What was the experience like having him involved in that aspect of the creation process?
JW: These songs were done in a more convoluted way due to us not being in the same place together at the same time. They’re somewhat more constructed so there was a more direct song creation that was involved. Honestly, we initially wanted to make Guy part of the band but he didn’t want to be included in the band name. We were going to do it this time, but then we realized that people would expect him to be on stage with us and playing, which he wasn’t comfortable with. Guy actually hasn’t played live with us or anything and he doesn’t play on these songs, but he’s very involved in the whole genesis & creation of them.
RD: I totally get that. The music video for “Long Doll” that just came out on March 15th has this antique box with a window showing these twirling ballerina figurines with foxes in the background, they seem to be all made out of porcelain or glass. Is this something that either you or George own or did you get this unique object from someone else?
JW: Nah, I’ve never seen it in real life. We’ve had the luck and pleasure of working with great filmmakers over the years, sometimes they’re obscure and sometimes they’re very well known. We asked a few people to film clips for our songs and that one was done by Dee Hannan & Lisa Little, who are based in Australia. This is their conception and what happened with it is that it’s as new to me as it is to you.
RD: Oh, cool. I liked the video a lot, I think it’s pretty cool with the visuals and everything.
JW: We’ve put out three videos for the album so far and the interesting thing is that there’s one for every song. Jim Cohen did one, so did Anna White along with a few others and no one saw each other’s film beforehand but themes emerged from each one. I would say that the one for “Long Doll” is kind of out of the box, it’s a bit different.
RD: I’ll have to check the other videos out. Along with playing in Dirty Three, you’ve played with the likes of PJ Harvey, Cat Power, Bonnie Prince Billy and both Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile just to name a few. When it comes to collaborating with Giorgios in this project that you have together, what makes it different for you as a musician than other collaborations you’ve been a part of?
JW: Of course, they were all different things. When you say all those names, I picture all of those different albums and with Giorgios we’ve been playing together for over 10 years. We have a number of records along with touring and shows and it’s a totally different thing. It also goes way back to when I met him before Dirty Three started, he actually played with us on occasion and we met through family & friend connections when he spent some time in Australia a long time ago. What’s noteworthy about our collaboration is that it’s totally different, but I find that Giorgios is very musical.
He comes from Crete and he’s one of Crete’s great folk musicians, which brings so much. We just have a way of playing together and it’s been like that since we started. At our first show I mentioned before that Guy came to, afterwards I forgot that it was our first show because it was so natural. Some of these pieces we have we’ve worked over and some of them just come about from us sitting down and playing, we just have to turn the machine on.
RD: What do you want to connect with the listener on when they check out The Forest In Me after it’s released?
JW: That’s an interesting question. I did another interview a few days ago for a podcast and afterwards I listened to the album for the first time in a while. After you’re done making them, they’re in the factory for a long time, there’s this process and you leave them alone. While going back to it, I was very pleased to hear it again, I really enjoyed it and I found it to be very poised. It’s a different album, it’s got a quietness about it and a stillness. Anything I say feels a little reductive, but I think it’s quite beautiful and I hope people get something out of it.
I was thinking about this the other day, there’s a lot of crap in the world and we’re not trying to contribute to it. We’re trying to do the opposite.
with The Electric Nature
April 5 @ Café Nine
250 State Street, New Haven