Guitarist/vocalist/songwriter/producer/arranger/free jazz virtuoso Matthew E. White (a legitimate slashie) is heading to Australia for Vivid LIVE, and apparently figured he’d be a part of not one but two mammoth shows for the festival.
While he’ll be sharing the stage as co-creator of Sounds of the South for two performances, he’s slipped in a third – a performance of his debut solo album, Big Inner. Critics are busy labelling this album an “instant classic from a relative new comer,” but there’s nothing “new” about White. Yes, this is his first journey away from the chaotic free jazz of his most famed project Fight The Big Bull and into a more song-based project of Stax/Motown-inspired blues. Yes, he’s also taking on the role of front man and vocalist, but White is an old hand – at the mere age of 30 – when it comes to music (arranger for The Mountain Goats and guitarist for psych folk outfit The Great White Jenkins are some of the more prominent projects that also find themselves on White’s resume).
Having just embarked on a busy tour of the US to promote his latest album, White is repairing his voice. It’s on its way out when we chat, but tea and time are healing it well and he’s excited about his first Australian visit. Bringing this album to a live environment is a completely new journey for White.
“Trying to take what works on the album and make it work on stage can sometimes be tricky but it’s coming together OK and we’re having a good time,” White says. “We’re putting a lot of energy into it and we’re trying to create an energy where everyone can have a good time, you know? The audience and us. Live shows should be special events; there a time and place that should only happen once so we try to approach playing in that way and that’s what makes a live show so incredibly different to just listening to a record.”
For those who have followed White’s career it’s easy to assume that Big Inner is a typical solo album – a singer alone, on stage with a guitar and their innermost secrets – but for White this experience is totally removed from that concept. He explains that while he’s performing under his own name and not a band name, things aren’t really that drastically different in terms of the creative process.
“In some ways the idea of a solo project is a bit of a myth,” he explains. “With me, I’m leading the project but I’m still working with a lot of people just like I do with Fight The Big Bull. Conceptually, things aren’t really that different, apart from the fact I’m singing my songs as opposed to playing my compositions. When you’re singing and you’re truly a front man there’s a little bit more of a personal energy that goes into it I guess, but I think the main difference is stylistically. Fight The Big Bull is basically avant-garde, experimental music while Matthew White is songs that are far more in-the-box compositions. I like having that dual outlet; it’s more than it being a group and solo thing. It’s far out, experimental compositions versus songs that people can easily listen to and relate to.
“I feel the most comfortable in song-based stuff at the moment. I think my journey has been through all other music to that, and I think the more I’m touring all over the world playing these songs the more it makes me want to keep doing it. At the same time going through Fight The Big Bull and learning about composition and learning about arranging has been like a laboratory where I can bring my own songs and I’m able to bring that element into what I do in these songs.”
BY KRISSI WEISS
Matthew E. White plays Sydney Opera House for Vivid LIVE on Sunday June 2.