“All systems are go for 4/20,” VAM Studios
Posted Monday, February 23rd, 2015 at 4:20 pm
Miss Alex White’s shadow towers against the three-story side walls of the atrium as September afternoon light streams in the west windows of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Alex and her kid brother Francis are tearing through Bowie covers to kick off opening night of the MCA’s David Bowie Is… exhibit. It’s a little sloppy but that’s part of the charm. Alex sounds commanding yet innocent on lead vocals, notes of Grace Slick and Patti Smith, Francis joining in on shouted choruses.
Alex chokes out churning power chords and angular solos on her Rickenbacker Fireglo 330. Francis bangs his lightning-bolt-facepainted head to his own rattle-your-fillings drums. Every which way fly their tomato- colored curls, six years into a decade-long haircut moratorium. They’re out of their signature Levi’s-sponsored denim for the glammed-out occasion, she in Easter-colored A-line dress and tights, he in white tights and cowboy boots, a blue sequin shirt he’ll lose over the course of the show.
Alex and Francis have been playing music together since they were toddlers. They’ve self-released a new record as White Mystery, including on vinyl, each of the past four 4/20’s. They tour relentlessly, charting out their careers with a classic Chicago work ethic.
Some songs stretch out more on their latest Dubble Dragon (“Follow Me, White Rabbit” clocks in at 13 minutes +), the structures get a little more complex, but the arrangements retain their elemental purity: Francis’s pounding drums undergird Alex’s grimy guitar and just-in-the-red shout-singing. (Though listen, Alex points out, for the odd harmonica or vibraslap.)
This is punk rock with more sweetness than snarl. In the open-eyed, straight-ahead delivery you can still hear those kids in the playroom.
Is it true, no boyfriends, no girlfriends, no haircuts? Why?
Yes, the goal for White Mystery is absolute dedication to go where no band has gone before. The same way monks spend their days and nights praying, we worship at the altar of rock’n’roll by touring the world non-stop and recording new music every year. The no gf/bf/haircut rule expires on April 20, 2018— a full decade after it was instated.
What led to the Levi’s sponsorship? How has it affected your careers? Does that sponsorship fulfill some functions that might otherwise be performed by a label?
White Mystery models for Levi’s, which means being who we are (All-American redheads who march for the denim army) and receiving recognition for it. A record label releases records, ships packages, and books shows—which we still do daily. What Levi’s does is support a message of positivity and the power of music through print magazines, billboards, and the Internet.
You seem to have stuck with the DIY ethos further into your career trajectory than a lot of bands. Do you agree? Why?
Yes, White Mystery is still DIY—though the ethos is growing to be DIT, which means, “Do It Together.” Amazing people around the world that take the time to believe in us, support us, and help us—it takes an entire planet to be DIY. Thank you everybody.
Does running the business yourself ever compete for your time and energy with the creative side?
The business and creative sides of White Mystery work together in a complimentary way, like a ying yang.
Are you passing up other opportunities in order to retain control of the work?
How would you characterize the evolution of your music? Listening to your albums back to back, I hear an increasing range of tempo and structure, but the simplicity of the arrangements is consistent. Does it take discipline to resist adding say, marimba?
White Mystery albums capture a very live sound— so when you see White Mystery in concert, you’re receiving an accurate experience. Yet, listen to those four albums again; you might hear a harmonica or vibraslap.
How has your recording process evolved? Where have you recorded?
White Mystery discography Studio Locations
- White Mystery S/T – Recorded on tape at a loft in a steel factory in Chicago nicknamed Joel’s Gear
- Blood & Venom – Recorded exactly one year later at Joel’s Gear again
- Telepathic – Recorded with Greg Ashley at The Creamery in Oakland, CA
- Dubble Dragon – Recorded in one take by Jim Birch on Black Friday, at Caffeinated Studios in Chicago
The White Mystery recording process is still super fast (2 days recording, 2 days mixing) after all these years. We release new music like clockwork every April 20, so it’s important to stay focused and bang out albums!
You’ve had a lot of collaborators, but most consistently each other. What do you gain from limiting your band to siblings? What do you lose?
White Mystery is a partnership between two siblings who spent nine months in the same womb. We heard our first sounds through the same layer of flesh and started playing music together as toddlers. You definitely gain patience and appreciation for each other with every show and album. You lose nothing.
Do you have a favorite recent live show experience?
Recently, White Mystery played Meltasia which was a free-for-all festival in the middle of nowhere, Georgia, with Black Lips, Shannon & the Clams, and Black Oak Arkansas. The weekend was spent collaborating with different musicians and artists in a totally free environment, which was awesome.
What’s your next creative chapter?
Let’s just say that all systems are go for April 20, 2015.
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