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Exclusive download & interview: White Denim’s woozy “Street Joy”

Exclusive download & interview: White Denim’s woozy “Street Joy” (photo)

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“At what point does a waterfall of surprises become just another drowning crush of predictable unpredictability?” asked Paste critic Jason Ferguson at the start of his mostly spot-on review of D, the fourth album by Austin quartet White Denim. Conduits of eclecticism in an indie rock atmosphere where such post-modern magpie tendencies have become increasingly common, White Denim indeed jumps from place to place on D, springing from jittery indie rock to psychedelic adventures at a clip that’s sometimes a bit unsettling.
But “Street Joy,” the first real mid-tempo moment of the band’s career, is appropriately a song about settling down and finding a truthful core. Though it’s not going to be a summer anthem for anyone, “Street Joy” does show that, despite all the surface-level jumpiness, there’s a strong songwriting core within White Denim. We caught up with frontman James Petralli while the band tried to find a hotel in downtown Chicago to talk “Street Joy,” which you can download here.

I haven’t seen you live on this tour, but I’ve noticed through a few live reviews that you’re leaning heavily on the new album, D, for the shows. Do these new songs mold well with the previous material?

It’s pretty continuous. We feel like all of our music lends itself well to the live area, so we’re able to segue the tunes. The new material fits nicely.

One aspect of your band seems to have long been changing older songs on stage. Has that started with the songs from D yet?

Yeah, but this record, more than any of the others, we’re true to what we recorded. That has to do with the pre-production we put into making D. I’m sure that, by the end of the next tour we do, we’ll be stretching out and working arrangements into new things. We never like to stay in one place for too long, but at this point, we’re pretty true to form. We’re definitely cutting sections and lengthening sections and doing different arrangements of some of the older tunes. It depends on what we’re feeling at the moment.

What’s your favorite new tune to play live right now?

I think I’d probably play “Anvil Everything” right now. It’s fun to lock with the band on that.

Tell me about “Street Joy,” the song just before “Anvil Everything.” It’s such a change of pace.

It was a late addition to the record. I wanted to write three more tunes for the record, and I put that one on the list thinking that it wouldn’t end up being something everyone was into. But it was quite the opposite; everyone got really excited about it, and we cut it. It’s kind of a different song for us. We’ve never really done anything super mid-tempo and stripped down like that. It was exciting, a completely different approach for us.

Why did you think the band might not take to it?

I assume that the band likes the up-tempo stuff, or would go for that. People generally do go for up-tempo over mid-tempo. It’s a moody tune, as well. It has an intimate, personal feeling, and I figured maybe that would be funny because it was so different. I sent them a demo of it, and I sent it in an e-mail. In the body of the e-mail, I said, “I’m not sure if you’re going to like this.” They listened to it once a piece and were really excited. I got super enthusiastic e-mails back within 10 minutes. It was pretty immediate for them.

How does White Denim work in terms of songwriting structure? Does the rest of the band add parts to your songs, or is it more collaborative than that?

It’s been different for each record. With D, I did a lot of demoing at home. The band spent the same amount of time listening. I was basically sending scratch tracks and all that stuff via e-mail, and we ultimately familiarized ourselves with the parts and got together and rehearsed everything for an extended period of time before we started tracking. All the arrangements and instrumentation changed, so it was definitely a more collaborative thing.

What’s “Street Joy” say to you or about you?

I think that this record, for me, deals with getting older and trying to make space for the goals that you have when you’re young and what that does to you as you’re aging. I think that’s what “Street Joy” is about.

What are those goals?

I think they’re always changing. I hate to be really political, but I think, at least for me, when I first started working on this thing, I just wanted to make pleasing but antagonistic punky rock. There was a lot more sarcasm involved in the writing. There was a lot of distance there. My goals shifted, and I wanted to say something that was a little more representative of who I actually am. I was projecting less.

That seems like a difficult change as a rock musician, giving up some of that bravado for more honesty.

I think this record, for all of us, was an opportunity to do something that was a little less self-conscious in the making of it. Everything is right there. All the parts are clearly audible, and we really focused on getting honest performances. On all levels, this record was that for this band.

Did that make the studio more stressful, just in terms of getting the parts right and not hiding behind an image at all?

In some ways, it was a little bit more difficult because we weren’t really allowing ourselves the luxury of punches. There was a little more pressure on the performances in the studio, and we upped the quality in the studio as well. We didn’t obscure things with effects as much. We wanted it to be like an early ’70s record, so there was that pressure. But over the years, I think we’ve realized that we can play well together in the live context. We wanted to try to apply more of that, so in that sense, it was more relaxed. We didn’t have to do much in post-production. It was more about the work we’d done beforehand.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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