Published on March 5th, 2018 | by The Local0
John Paul White Performs in Dothan March 22
Last summer I had the distinct pleasure of seeing John Paul White perform at Saturn in Birmingham, and while I’ve seen more shows over the years than I can count, something was unique about this one. In a sold out crowd of mostly 20-30 somethings with a steady stream of alcohol flowing, it was a quiet as a prayer as JPW began his set and stayed that way throughout the remainder. Commanding the stage like a salesman come preacher he wove a night that resonated and reverberated for weeks that followed. So when it was announced that the Grammy-winning White would be playing our humble Opera House I was elated that the good locals of Dothan would get to experience that magic.
It’s fitting that White was born in Muscle Shoals, AL with its rich and important musical heritage. Home to FAME Studios, the area bred soundscapes cultivated by Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan to name a few. White started what he calls “a long slow arc” of cultivating his own sound, and throughout the years has gone on to huge success with The Civil Wars, and to receiving critical acclaim for his most recent solo record, Beulah. Currently residing in Florence and manning his own record label, Single Lock Records, John Paul was courteous enough to grant me some time to discuss his career, influences, and his plans for the future. Dothan, get ready for an unforgettable night of storytelling and excellence on March 22, 2018.
BC – Hey! I’m calling from Dothan, Alabama, which as you may not know is the cultural metropolis of the South. Thanks for taking time to do this. How are you today?
JPW – Haha! No problem! Isn’t Alabama as a whole the cultural metropolis of the United States? I’m doing good. I just got off the Cayamo Cruise, (this is a cruise that makes its way from Tampa down into Jamaica and Mexico filled with today’s best singer-songwriters) and it’s a cold day in Florence. I’ve been used to tropical weather for a week so I’m adjusting slowly.
BC – How was the cruise?
JPW – It’s fantastic. It’s like a psych experiment. I’m a semi-introverted person so it’s like being locked in a creative prison with all these amazing musicians. And you play your sets. But then you just collaborate and get to expand your creative limits with all these greats. It’s like a summer camp with boat drinks.
BC – Speaking of collaborations how was it working with the great Rodney Crowell on his “It Ain’t Over Yet”? And congrats on the Americana Song of the Year award that it won!
JPW – Thank you! It was surreal. An absolute dream collaboration. His people set it up and we went to record it and just immediately became like two old friends. He is one of the guys that really embodies what it’s like to not really just rest on your laurels. He is consistently looking to carve out something great. It was incredibly inspiring.
BC – You make this very haunting, almost roots-like Americana music. Was that your biggest influence coming up?
JPW – Well, coming from Alabama you had country music and Top 40 or what your parents listened to. So that’s all I knew. Then a cousin in the Navy, who had been stationed in California, came home with these records by Dead Kennedy’s, and The Descendants, and Black Flag. And I remember thinking, “This is just awful. And then a week later I thought, ‘This is incredible’.” Then in college I was exposed to so much great music that my world just multiplied.
BC – What do you think of the current landscape of music being put out by Alabamians right now? Jason Isbell, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Alabama Shakes, and Anderson East to name a few.
JPW – It’s great. Alabama had such a heyday with the Shoals sound. This incredible music was just flowing. And then it went quiet for a time. But I think the sons and daughters of that generation grew restless and have really opened it back up. That and the internet happened.
BC – I found it amazing when I saw you play last summer at the command you had over the crowd and how well it responded and respected you back. Is that something you strive for, or is it natural?
JPW – Both, I think. My goal has been to not open for someone else. To have a fully realized thing when we go out and play. I’ve worked diligently over the years to cultivate my own sound and it has been a long slow arc. But it’s working.
BC – So when not touring are you at the helm of your record label?
JPW – Yeah. Just putting out records we deem important. Currently we are making a record for Lera Lynn that we are very excited about. (* Lera Lynn opened for JPW at the show I saw and she is other-worldly. Check her out! The fact that they are working together is the best of news)
BC – Will anyone be opening these shows and will you have a full band?
JPW – Cory Kilgannon will be opening these shows up. He’s phenomenal. And I won’t have a full band, but more of a three piece. Guitar and steel. It’ll be interesting to see how we can let these songs open up and breathe.
BC – Any news on a new record from you?
JPW – Yeah! I’ve got a bunch of songs in my head that are vying to get out. I would think probably something in the fall but I wouldn’t be surprised to release something earlier.
BC – I’ve always been impressed with your selection of cover songs. From Smashing Pumpkins to Elliot Smith with The Civil Wars, to Dan Seals and KD Lang in your solo work. What’s the process in deciding which songs to pick?
JPW – It’s more of being a fan of the song. Taking something and approaching from a different perspective.
BC – I can’t thank you enough for being gracious with your time and answering some questions. We can’t wait to host you in Dothan!
JPW – My pleasure. I’ve never been to Dothan before so I’m excited.