Xylouris White is the project that includes lute player and singer-songwriter George Xylouris and Australian drummer Jim White (Dirty Three). Two years after Mother, they released a new album. The Sisypheans is out now via Drag City. They will end the European tour with two Italian dates: On November 22nd they will play in Milan at Fondazione Feltrinelli and on November 23rd at Transmissions Festival in Ravenna.
We had a nice talk with Jim White about the new album, the story of the album artwork, experimentation, and much more. Check it below after the official video for the track “Ascension“, directed by Shelagh Hannan.
Let’s Start from the new album “The Sisypheans”. What was the path of this work and the creative process?
It came at us from a number of ways. I’ve always thought the skill of a musician is to play things like its the first time. That’s pretty simple words but its elusive what it means but it does mean something as we can sense it .
This applies to other things too , and to carrying a rock up a hill – if you want. It also came about from George telling me one day that at home in Crete some regular concert goers said to him “we love your concerts but we wish we could hear what you play at home ,”
He said I didn’t tell them but I play proto Hanoti at home every day , every night , all the time. That is a song that he plays in the concert too, at sound check, all his life, he loves to play it and he finds something new for him every time. He plays it and he thinks about different things and then he listens to what effect that has on the piece, for example rhythmic structures. Protohanioti is a life work apparently. The rock.
So we would talk about sisyphus as we travelled around and one day a restaurant worker heard us talking and suggested the Camus essay , the essay fitted with Georges description of Sisyphus carrying the rock in different ways , watching the seasons change. Then we had the opportunity to have some studio time and we didn’t have anything prepared, we played some traditional pieces as our own versions, and we made some stuff up, we found we felt we were making the the Sisyphean album we’d thought of.
The title refers to Greek myth of Sisyphus. What is the trait of Sisyphus which has had the biggest influence on the composition and the idea of the album?
We have a quote that we often use, It’s what I do that teaches me what I’m looking for (Pierre Soulages). I think the trait you ask for is perhaps ‘carrying on ‘ and all it ensues.
The album is also a meditation of the life of a traveling musician. I’m very interested to the connection between the places we live over the years, the territorial geography of our roots, the concept of traveling and the art. How do you feel these theme connected to your music, your way to think music?
George and I have different ways of looking at music, me a rock musician from Melbourne, him a traditional musician from Crete. We’ve find that some things that you take for granted aren’t a given.
We try to protect what is important in both our approaches – approach is I think geographical (society) determined as we have strong back grounds in our places , our band is a natural band, it’ s not a construct or conceit – it works, it appeals to my sense of essentialism.
The artwork is stunning and it was created by Elsa Hansen Oldham. How did you choose it?
We love the artwork, we were travelling, we were in Louisville, Will Oldham was singing backing vocals on a track on black peak, we saw this artwork on the wall in a work room, we kept it in our mind as we already knew we would make The Sisypheans one day and when the time came we wrote and asked Elsa if we could use it.
You recently played a show at “Le Guess Who?” in Utrecht. The festival is focused on unknown and experimental music. What is you relationshiop with experimentation and how much is important for your way to think music and art?
I don’t know what experimentation means in this case, le guess who was a great experience for us , we were programmed at midnight on Saturday night which was great , perhaps it was experiential to have us on at a festival at midnight but we often play midnight on a Saturday night at our own shows , it would have been even more experimental to play Saturday night if it was a weds, there were some collaborations going on that I saw , people playing together for the first and perhaps only time, and I saw an organ performance that was site specific I think so that may be experimentation , I hope that Xylouris White is always site specific, always moment specific, I’m not trying to be obstructionist about the use of this word – I experiment all the time if that means trying things out, is that kind of like making things up, everyone does that I imagine and then you decide, here I’ve looked it up.
Experimental music is a general label for any music that pushes existing boundaries and genre definitions (Anon. … Elements of experimental music include indeterminate music, in which the composer introduces the elements of chance or unpredictability with regard to either the composition or its performance.
I like to have the feeling of openness in music, and I like to have structure, and I like to have unpredictability to get to the feeling of a moment, it’s hard to talk about, I like to add structure in the moment and take it away, I like to take risks and I like to feel I have a good chance of something worthwhile (according to me) happening in front of the audience.
You will also play a show at Transmissions Festival. What kind of show we can expect from you?
Sisyphean, goatish, calm and exciting I hope.
Ritual question. What are the best releases you recently appreciated?
I am currently enjoying Lana del Rey, Alice Coltrane, Bill Callahan, Charlie Rich. Natural Information Society and Iris Dement.