About Jim White
A singer and songwriter who blends American musical traditions with a surreal wit and the literary sensibilities of Southern Gothic authors, Jim White has followed a singular creative path since emerging in the alternative music community of the mid-'90s. While his melodies are rooted in elements of country and gospel, he pushes them in an atmospheric direction, twisting the ingredients with layered instrumentation and electronics, and the mild twang of his voice gives his lyrics a suitable air of mystery. White won critical acclaim and a cult following with his debut album, 1997's Wrong-Eyed Jesus! (The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted); 2004's Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See added inventive production and some notable guest stars to his mix; 2014's Take It Like a Man was a lively collaboration with the Packway Handle Band; and 2020's Misfit's Jubilee was a raucous and stripped-down set that included the topical "The Divided States of America."
Jim White was born Michael David Pratt on March 10, 1957, in California. He moved with his family to Pensacola, Florida, when he was five years old, and grew up in a largely Pentecostal community, soaking up the influences of gospel music though radio and TV. At the age of 18, White broke his leg, and while he was stuck inside recuperating, he taught himself to play guitar. Not long after he had taken up the instrument, he hurt his hand in an accident with a table saw, which compromised his technical skills and forced him to adopt a more elemental approach to his playing. For years, he lived a nomadic existence, working a variety of odd jobs, including washing dishes, landscaping, cooking, laminating surfboards, and paving roads; he also claims to have worked as a model and pursued a career as a professional surfer.
For 13 years, White lived in New York City, where he supported himself as a cab driver. He also studied film at New York University, though he failed to complete his degree after falling into a deep, chronic depression. To aid his recovery, his family helped him rent a house by the beach, where he began writing songs. He recorded a demo of his song "A Perfect Day to Chase Tornadoes," and a copy of the tape made its way to Luaka Bop Records, the eclectic label run by David Byrne. Luaka Bop offered White a record deal, and they released his debut album, Wrong-Eyed Jesus! (The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted) in April 1997. The set received rave reviews, and for the follow up, 2001's No Such Place, he crafted a sonically diverse record that blended White's idiosyncratic Americana with production from Morcheeba, Andrew Hale of Sweetback, techno DJ and musician Q-Burns Abstract Message, and Sohichiro Suzuki of Yellow Magic Orchestra.
Joe Henry and Tucker Martine teamed up to produce 2004's Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See, which included guest appearances from Aimee Mann, M. Ward, Bill Frisell, and members of Barenaked Ladies. Filmmaker Andrew Douglas directed a documentary about White, 2003's Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, and in 2005 Luaka Bop issued a soundtrack album, which included performances by White as well as the Handsome Family, 16 Horsepower, David Johansen, Cat Power, and Johnny Dowd. Dowd also collaborated with White and Willie B in the side project Hellwood, who issued the album Chainsaw of Life in 2006. Joe Pernice and Mike Deming joined White in the studio to produce 2007's Transnormal Skiperoo. In 2009, White published an essay called "Superwhite!" about his experiences working with David Byrne that appeared in a book published to coincide with a show of his visual art at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin, Ireland.
White cut ties with Luaka Bop and struck a deal with Yep Roc Records for the 2012 album Where It Hits You, recorded with members of his road band. In 2014, he was approached by the Athens, Georgia roots music ensemble the Packway Handle Band to produce an album for the group, and the project grew into a collaboration between White and the Packways, 2015's Take It Like a Man. The independent PIAPTK (People in a Position to Know) label distributed White's next musical project, a set of songs he wrote in collaboration with Mike Pratt entitled Waffles, Triangles & Jesus, released in 2017. 2020's Misfit's Jubilee was a relatively loose and upbeat effort from White, though it closed with the surreal but topical number "The Divided States of America." ~ Mark Deming