theaussieword.com special interview with Blanco White.
How and where did it all begin for you? What drew your interest to the music industry?
Although I began learning guitar from a young age, it wasn’t until I started writing songs as a teenager that I became really hooked on music. It felt like the perfect creative outlet for me. I’m hopeless at painting, and I think it was the way music and language come together in songs that drew me in. From that time I’d always dreamed of doing it for a living.
What motivates or influences you in your quest to make great music?
Beyond finding inspiration in the work of other musicians and writers, the thing I love the most about songwriting is that you get the chance to build a world in a song, not only in the lyrics, but also in the sounds and textures. It’s that search for an atmosphere that often drives me, and my aim is for the songs to have a surreal, dream-like quality. If that’s coupled with emotion in the music too, hopefully listeners will connect with it.
What are your biggest goals you hope to accomplish as an artist?
There are definitely venues every artist dreams of playing. The Royal Albert Hall in London, Red Rocks in Colorado and of course Sydney Opera House! You never know! I’d also really love to work on a film score one day. I’m really into cinematic music. But for now, it’s just about enjoying the experience of making my first full length record.
What can we expect from you in the coming months? Any plans to tour?
We’re coming to the end of a three month tour. We started in the US in September, and have been in Europe and the UK since then. It’s back to recording and finishing the album once I’m home.
Tell us a bit about your latest release and how would you best describe your music?
The album I’m working on is my first full-length record, and compared with the music we’ve already released I think the songs are a bit more rhythm focused and groove based. I particularly enjoyed writing more extensively on the bass guitar, often starting songs with that instrument in a way that I hadn’t before. I find it quite hard to describe the sound of the project because it draws on a big range of influences and genres, but I think the songs are definitely tied together by the charango and the ronroco, the cornerstone instruments at the centre of the sound. They are South American instruments from the Andes, and searching for tones that compliment them has given me parameters to work within.
Give us an insight into your creative process. What gets you writing songs?
I like to travel as much as I can during periods of writing, normally to southern Spain or the Black Mountains in Wales. The freedom to do that is one of the best things about this job, and being somewhere beautiful and ideally secluded is definitely inspiring. It’s great to be at home with friends and family, but I’m more productive when I take myself away somewhere, and get itchy feet after being at home for too long. If I go to Spain, I normally drive down with my gear and settle somewhere for a few months. Giving myself that sense of space and time feels really important. It means I’m free to delve deeper into the songwriting process, without rushing things.
Is there a hidden meaning in any of your music?
Normally I find it hard to be direct and literal when writing lyrics. I prefer the songs to be more cryptic, where the meaning isn’t immediately clear. To me, they are more interesting that way, and I feel able to be more abstract with words and language. ‘El Búho’ (The Owl) is a song about blindness, inspired by the work of blind poet Anthony Naumann, but it would be hard for a listener to know that from listening alone. A lot of the music has themes and meanings that are a bit more hidden like that.
Success, what is the secret to it?
Don’t ask me, I’ve got no idea!
What has been your biggest career highlight so far?
A couple of years back I got to support one of my all time favourite bands, Tinariwen, at Electric Brixton in London. That was really special – they’re real musical heroes of mine.
Which stars of the music industry do you find inspiring?
I think Rosalía is making really interesting music. There’s been so much breadth in what she’s released so far and you never know what she’s going to do next. In the film world, I love Gustavo Santaolalla’s scores – he’s a big influence. Feist, José Gonzalez and Beirut are some of the other artists I find most inspiring.
Are there any new projects in the pipeline?
I’m pretty focused on the album and touring for now, so nothing specific, although I’m hoping to do some work on music in film next year.
The music industry is huge, where do you see yourself a few years from now?
To be honest I’m just trying to take each year as it comes, without putting too much pressure on myself. I think it’s best to avoid having too many expectations and to just focus on the music instead and the stuff in your control, otherwise that pressure inevitably becomes too much.
What is your favourite and least favourite part about this line of work and why?
I think the chance to travel, especially when writing, is something really great about this job. Not many professions grant you that kind of freedom. I also really enjoy meeting people after the shows when touring. Music makes connections between strangers in a very unique way, and it’s always special to talk to people who’ve connected with the songs. It is, however, definitely a line of work that becomes all consuming, and so it’s hard to find much balance between working on music and keeping up with friends and life back home.
Name a few of your favourite Australian artists.
I saw ‘D.D Dumbo’ play at Green Man festival in the Black Mountains in Wales a few years back. That was really inspiring – he and his band have such a original sound. His album ‘Utopia Defeated’ is amazing. I’m a big fan of ‘Tame Impala’, and ‘King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’ are awesome too. Some Australian friends showed me the music of ‘Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu’ a while back – his music is very moving and beautiful. There’s so much great music coming out of Australia at the moment.
The shape of the music industry has changed significantly over the years, including the use of social media, how do you feel about the industry as a whole and what does it mean to you in getting your records out into the public eye?
I think it’s definitely an exciting time to be making music. It feels like people are listening to more varied music than ever before because of streaming, and it’s arguably made it easier for labels and artists to release music more independently. The support I’ve received from streaming platforms has been very important in my own career, enabling me to develop and to tour as well, so I’m hugely grateful for that. I guess social media is another tool that can help artists follow a more independent path as well, but it’s a tool I often resent. Maintaining a presence online isn’t always easy, but there’s no doubt how important it can be.
How do you plan on cracking the international market?
I think touring will always be a hugely important part of it. We tour as much as our resources allow, and we’ve been desperate to make it out to Australia for a long time. There are plans in the pipeline! I guess in the end it comes down to whether people connect with the music, so my job is to focus on that creative side.
Do you collaborate with others? Who is on your wish-list?
I’ve collaborated a lot with Malena Zavala and her brother Lucas (Oh So Quiet) since I first started out recording music. Malena is about to release her second album after her amazing debut ‘Aliso’. Lucas is going to be helping me out recording some bits this December for my album, as well as William Stokes of ’Wovoka Gentle’. We were really brought together by Yucatan Records, the independent label I’ve worked with from the very start. It would be an absolute dream to collaborate with Tinariwen.
What advice do you give for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
It’s really important to have good people around you who you can trust, who can help guide you and even more importantly, be honest with you when things are not working or if ideas need developing. I also think searching for a unique sound that’s authentic is just as important as writing good songs. When I get hooked on a new band, it’s normally their sound that I find bewitching first, and then I grow to love the songs later on. Experimenting with recording styles, and different instruments, tones and textures is definitely time well spent.
A message for your fans. How do you best interact and respond with your fans?
Although I’m a little hopeless online, I try my best to respond to messages that come my way. My favourite time is to chat with fans face to face after gigs.
Any last words?
Thanks for having me for the interview – I really hope we can come out to Australia soon, and try and time a tour with winter in London and maybe even an Ashes series!