Sibling duo White Mystery make Memphis debut at Gonerfest

By Bob Mehr September 27, 2012 at 2:07 p.m.

Among the nearly 40 acts slated to perform at this week’s annual Gonerfest music festival, few will be as distinctive as the flame-haired brother-sister duo of Alex White and Francis Scott Key White, better known as White Mystery.

Sibling bands in rock and roll have had a tumultuous history, from the Kinks to Oasis. But White Mystery — a relentless touring outfit that’s played more than 150 shows so far this year — has remained largely drama-free.

“I think there’s a different dynamic between a brother and a sister than two brothers or two sisters,” says the female half of the band, singer-guitarist Alex White. “It’s hard to think of a time that we’ve ever fought. It’s not an aggressive dynamic. There’s a lot of mercy between a brother and sister.”

White Mystery will make its Gonerfest debut on Saturday at Murphy’s. The ninth edition of the event, staged by local retailer/label Goner Records, kicked off on Thursday and continues through Sunday at various Midtown venues (see schedule).

Though she’s only 27, White is a 13-year veteran of Chicago’s garage rock scene. A precocious talent, she began gigging in bands as a teenager. She gained further notice for her work fronting the Red Orchestra and as a member of Hot Machines. White maintained her music career while studying business at DePaul University.

“I played music throughout college and made my schedule so I could tour four nights a week,” she says. “The day I was supposed to walk and get my diploma, I actually left to get on a plane to Europe to tour.”

After graduation, White put her degree to use, working for Chicago-based rock-and-roll merchandisers Busy Beaver Button Co. as an operations manager.

Finally, in 2008, after a lifetime of playing together at home, she and her younger brother, singer/drummer Francis Scott Key White, decided to formally launch a band together. “We’ve been inseparable since we were infants,” White says. “We started our first band when we were toddlers, with toy instruments.”

“Even when I was in Red Orchestra and Hot Machines, I was practicing with my brother in the basement and throwing around ideas; we had a basement recording project called Forestbride. At a certain point, we both thought, ‘Let’s really commit to playing together.’ We always knew there was lot of magic between the two of us, a certain synchronicity. This band has really been a lifelong development.”

Two years ago, White quit her job at Busy Beaver, and White Mystery became a full-time endeavor. That’s meant loads of touring and travel, but the miles have paid off. The band has self-released two critically acclaimed LPs, opened shows for the Stooges and Shonen Knife, won the endorsement of a range of high-profile fans — from Garbage’s Shirley Manson to bluesman Buddy Guy — and been featured everywhere from Guitar World magazine to MTV.

Amid the many accolades, the press continues to marvel at the fact that a pair of siblings who spend nearly 300 days on the road together can still get along. “For some reason that really surprises people,” White says. “They assume that there’s an alpha struggle, like Oasis or even the Spits — who are also playing Gonerfest, and have been known to fight on stage. But my brother and I, we’re cut from the same cloth and understand each other real well.”

At the end of the current tour, White Mystery will head to San Francisco to work with Greg Ashley (Gris Gris) on the band’s third record. White says the constant roadwork has prepared them to deliver an album that captures the explosiveness of their live sound.

“That energy is really important to the success of our recordings,” she says. “People who see us play want to bring home that live experience. So we don’t want to create something too sterile.”

White adds that the record will be released next spring. In the meantime, she and her brother will continue to tour and remain in harmony, onstage and off.

“Oh yeah,” she says, “we always meet in the middle and have a blast together.”

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