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White Denim’s James Petralli and Austin Jenkins Psych It To You

Guitar pair reflect on band’s ear-shattering first decade

James Petralli White Denim performs

James Petralli of White Denim performs in Southwold, England.

Caitlin Mogridge/Redferns via Getty Images

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WHO: Guitarist James Petralli has been helping the Texas quartet White Denim churn out ear-shattering psychedelic blues rock for nearly a decade – and in 2010, new guitarist Austin Jenkins came on board. On albums like last year’s Corsicana Lemonade, the band has nailed a heady fusion of jazz, punk, stoner rock, experimental noise and Seventies-style arena pomp (check out their Jimmy Page-biting steez in “At Night in Dreams”). Jenkins credits their chops to lots of fiddling around during free time: “I practice be-bop or western swing,” he says. “Jazz is one of the most rhythmic vocabularies out there – there’s a lot to be mined.” Back in 2005, White Denim were gigging in Austin clubs and recording in drummer Joshua Block’s converted 1950s-era Airstream trailer, but their national profile is finally rising – in March, they had a hometown heroes’ welcome with a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live during his South by Southwest residency.

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TOUCHING ALL THE BASES: Frontman Petralli comes from a remarkable lineage of baseball players. His brother plays in the minor leagues; his grandfather Gene Petralli had stints with the Yankees and White Sox in the Forties and Fifties; and his father, Geno Petralli, was a catcher for the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays in the Eighties. While Petralli’s dad didn’t understand his son’s musical ambitions at first, he’s come around. “He’s seen me play a couple of times,” the junior Petralli says. “Baseball is so big for him, like music is for me. So we try to make comparisons to our crafts when we talk.” (Cool fact: Block’s grandfather was also a pro baseball player, for the Washington Senators.)

AWKWARD INTRODUCTION: Though Jenkins was “totally a fan” before joining, his entry into White Denim was preceded by an embarrassing encounter. “I got totally trashed at a show and said to them, ‘You guys are the only band playing music anymore! You’re not afraid!,'” he now recalls with a laugh. “I felt ridiculous but I meant it.” When first asked to join, he was reluctant. “I thought about saying no, not because I didn’t want to do it, but because the trio was such a ferocious thing. Since I’ve joined, James has some room to stretch out in a different kind of way.”

TWEEDY’S TUTELAGE: During the sessions for their most recent album, White Denim sought Jeff Tweedy to produce. The group holed up at Wilco’s Loft studio in Chicago and had a blast messing around with the impressive collection of vintage gear there. “He encouraged this group dynamic that made for a lighthearted atmosphere,” says Petralli. Perhaps too lighthearted: “We were super unprepared.” The band only ended up keeping two tracks for the final album, but Petralli hopes the rest will eventually get released. “We had this 20-minute kraut-rock thing,” he notes. “We’ll definitely put that stuff out one day.”

In This Article: White Denim


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