With an impressive repertoire of over 10 albums, a handful of pseudonyms and a new single out today (June 8), White Denim is an unstoppable bop machine. Hailing from Austin, Texas, the band currently features James Petralli (vocals, guitar), Steve Terebecki (bass), Michael Hunter (keyboards) and Gregory Clifford (drums). Recently, frontman and songwriter James Petralli sat down with American Songwriter to discuss the band’s latest single “Crystal Bullets,” premiering below.
“This song was written by a really close friend of mine who I’ve collaborated with since my earliest days in music. His name is Andy Pickett,” Petralli began. “Andy is that guy that I’ve always thought was way more talented than people recognized. [He] is a little bit of an outsider, but he’s always been an inspiration to me. So my motivation in recording his music is just trying to get the world to see him and appreciate him the way that I do.”
Thus, this holy grail of trust between creators and friends forged the beginnings of “Crystal Bullets.” Pickett sent Petralli the lyrics for the song and Petralli then organized the music to support the track’s verses.
Sonically, Petralli explained that the track features a sample nod to the famous chopped and screwed production technique made famous by DJ Screw. Living in Texas, DJ Screw’s home state, the band was familiar with his legacy and added their own layer to the technique.
Despite the band’s calculated efforts for this track, Petralli explains that White Denim just wants to sound approachable. “We always try and cut things that feel like a band playing music — regardless of the process — that’s generally the end goal. To feel like a group of guys playing music together,” Petralli said. “How can we make these things happen in our tracks and make it still feel believable and natural, not super modern, but not totally in the past?”
The band found this balance by meshing groovy techniques with breezy vocals. Then after polishing the track, White Denim set out to produce a music video for “Crystal Bullets.”
“Over the course of the last year in quarantine I formed a fruitful creative partnership with director/writer Jeremy Cohen,” Petralli said. “I set out to learn how to engineer and produce music on my own at the Radio Milk studio in Austin. I documented this progression through a series of cover songs. I filmed my takes on an iPhone 4 and sent the clips to Jeremy, who was locked away in his place in Los Angeles.”
Petralli continued, “When I finished ‘Crystal Bullets’ late last year with Jim Vollentine I started kicking around video ideas with Jeremy. Now that clubs are opening again and music can be made more safely in public, it seemed only natural that we create something that reflected our own experiences with live music. The Mohawk was where it all started for White Denim. We were essentially the house band there for years. The owner James Moody covered our rental of a tan Mountaineer to get us to our first CMJ and also let us rehearse in the green room at the club before he painted it green. Without his support, our story would be much different. This video is a love letter to in-person Rock and Roll, the Mohawk in Austin, TX, and the incomparable feeling of catching a good band with friends.”
Now at the end of our conversation about “Crystal Bullets,” Petralli concluded with a few pieces of advice that he’s picked up along the way. One is “whatever you do, make it different,” and two, “look closely and listen closely to what’s happening — and be flexible.”
Listen to White Denim’s “Crystal Bullets” below.
Main photo by Jo Bongard