Jim White claims not to have the dreaded Australian tall poppy syndrome yet he is modest about his drumming abilities. [pullquote]”My job, such as it is, is to be myself, to play like myself. I know that is kind of a simplistic statement but it covers everything.”[/pullquote] The drumming virtuoso began at the age of 14 in Clifton Hill, Melbourne. Though surrounded by many Greeks, he did not become acquainted with Xylouris or Cretan music till he was himself seeing bands around town and playing live music himself. White explains: “I grew up listening to Rolling Stones, country music from my family I guess. When I was a teenager and I got more into music, I used to love Skyhooks and you know David Bowie. I liked Slade a lot. When I was 14 I heard rock ‘n’ roll animal by Lou Reed, and David Bowie before that and then Iggy Pop. My older sister went to art school and she brought a lot of these records home. And then it was The Saints, things like that. And once I could go and see live music, it was all about that. I love live music and what was going on then. I missed out on The Saints but I saw The Laughing Clowns when I was about 18 at university, and then listening to radio stations like Triple R and things like that. I grew up in Clifton Hill in the inner city so you’d ride your bike around and try to find concerts. I’d see a lot of concerts at the Myer Music Bowl. I’d sit outside and listen for free; sometimes I’d sneak in. My high school was full of Greeks and Italians. So I didn’t really hear things like classic rock unless I heard it from my parents or my parent’s friends. But it’s kind of good to discover music on your own anyway. At my high school it was Sherbet or Skyhooks, Beatles or Rolling Stones.”
White continues: “Then with live music, I went a lot to The Birthday Party‘s shows in Melbourne. I started drumming when I was about 14. That wasn’t really part of my family life. My family liked music but no one really played. I just used to listen to records and I found music totally mysterious. I knew this guy across the road from my school that used to play drums. And I got a kit. But I didn’t really start playing with anyone till I got my license. Even though it was inner city, and is now filled with music. Maybe it was then as well, I just didn’t know. I felt like I didn’t know people who played music. It depends on your peers; it depends on your environment.”
The music of Crete and Greece didn’t come till later as well. White states: “It was weird because I was in this environment with a lots of Greeks and Italians but I didn’t get a lot of access to that music until later. I met George Xylouris through mutual friends. And I started hearing his music with Xylouris Ensemble and with his dad Psarantonis. [pullquote]It appealed to me straightaway. I found it so exciting, so beautiful and so earthy, yet so sophisticated and primal at the same time. [/pullquote]That’s what I like about that music that’s what I like about The Saints. Even though it’s so different, that’s what I like in music.”
Though different, White found the new music, and their 2014 release, Goats, refreshing rather than challenging. Goats includes “some dances, and some originals. Sousta is our version of a traditional Cretan song.” White continues, “I don’t speak Greek. A few words here and there. George usually translates for me. When I first went to Crete, we went to a friend’s studio, in a house up in the hills, and we just started playing and mucking around and George was showing me some of the rhythms, the dances, of Crete. And immediately a song would form. The songs have a very long melody and the only way to learn the rhythm is to learn the melody. [pullquote]Some of the most defining moments have been when we played in front of Cretan people, and they say ‘Go ahead, continue’ which is fantastic.[/pullquote] George has played these dances, these melodies, all his life and yet he still finds different ways into the melody. I guess my solution is, and I’m not a musicologist; I’m not trying to become a musician that I’m not, but basically we try to get the feeling of the music. We listen to a lot of old music. There are feelings that we like in some types of music. That’s what we try to get. And the way to get that is not to go to the library and learn from a book off by heart. Although that’s good too. But you just can’t do that.”
“If I’m good at anything in music, it’s that I try to have a freshness about it. Playing every night, I don’t try to reiterate exactly the same. It’s got to feel like it’s fresh. We’re very prolific with our songwriting but there are other essential songs that we’ll play all the time. Still there’s a freshness about them. And I find that very exciting.”
White definitely adds freshness to folk songs and originals, with his unique style of drumming, even though he has been drumming for years. He states: “When I was playing in Sydney last week, a friend who’s a really great drummer said ‘What the hell? You’re hitting it out the back of your hand now?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I guess I am, I just found it somewhere along the way.’ [pullquote]Yeah, the sticks are just flying around and you are just steering them. [/pullquote]I feel as I play longer and longer, you know, I love it and sometimes the sticks are just flying through the air and you’ve just got your hands around them and they’re just going by themselves. It’s like a freedom that’s in your hands. It’s like you’re steering the momentum rather than forcing it. I learnt this amazing thing from George about kind of playing up away from the drums like he does on the lute. George is an incredible musician.”
Definitely, George Xylouris is an incredible musician, as is Jim White. Together, they are Xylouris White.
Don’t miss seeing this spectacular, unique duo at their headline show this Easter Sunday at the Northcote Social Club.
GOATS is out now.
XYLOURIS WHITE links on What’s My Scene: