SXSW: An interview with Dustin White

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

As one of the minds behind Freedom and the late Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and sound guy at various night spots, Dustin White is one of the more recognizable faces in the Columbus music scene. Recently, though, he skipped town for a while to play keyboards with LA folk-pop combo Sea Wolf. Before Sea Wolf's SXSW showcase at Blender Bar at the Ritz, we talked about his past, present and future musical endeavors.

Alive: You've mentioned that Sea Wolf is totally different from the music you normally make, and the band is based all the way across the country. So how did you get involved with the band?

White: A mutual friend of mine, Cat Solen, she's a director, she did the last two CSS videos, she's about to do another one, she did the Bright Eyes "Bowl of Oranges." She's a really old close personal friend of mine. My old band Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, she did the cover art for that record. Her neighbor is Alex (Brown Church), the guy that basically is this band. He sent out a thing basically asking people to tour because everyone he had been playing with was busy with their own projects and stuff, so he wanted people that were willing to tour, that could take time off to go tour. So I got to talking to him, and I decided I liked the f---ing songs. They're good songs. Because I specialize in doing one thing, it's not by any means all that my world consists of.

Explain what kind of music you normally do.

Um... way out sh--? (laughs) Much more drony, druggy, psychedelic rock stuff, I don't know, fairly heavy in sections. So it's not... This is something that I've wanted to do for a while. I've really been interested in the idea of just being given parts and backing someone who's a great songwriter. It just seemed like a fun way to do something different without having to spend the time being part of that kind of band writing a record. I mean, it just being like, "Here's the record, play this," is something that I've been wanting to do for years. To do something totally different, but not spend the amount of time that writing and being in a band takes. To be like a hired gun. It's really fun, and it is really interesting. Not only is it different musically, it's a whole different experience because you don't have to put in the time investment you normally do. You can see how someone else works, how they think, how, when they're getting a band together to play their stuff, how they work with those musicians; it's just a whole different perspective, and that's part of why I really wanted to do it. It's really fun.

Is it totally weird for you to play this totally poppy stuff?

No, I mean, I've played in a lot of different bands growing up. I played in basically a power pop band for years. It's something a lot of people don't know about me. People that don't know my youth, that I played in a band that just wanted to be Cheap Trick for years. Depending on when in the course of the band it was, initially we were much more like on the punk side of power pop and wanted to be like the Undertones or the Dickies. That was like when it started, and as it progressed, it eventually turned into like Cheap Trick or the Raspberries is who we wanted to be. So I have a huge thing for that. I just happen to have spent a lot of years now playing stuff that's not that because that's just where my head's at now. But I still f---ing love a good pop song.

So after SXSW, you're coming back to Columbus for a bit to work on the Freedom record, then you're going back out with Sea Wolf for another tour?

Yeah, we're doing a bunch of dates with Silversun Pickups on the West Coast. Like Vancouver, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco with them. It's going to be awesome.

So when are you going to be back for good?

Who knows? I'm going to be back and forth for a while because I'm going to probably keep doing this because I'm enjoying this, and so long as I just have a room in Columbus—like, I could go home to Columbus and work for a weekend and pay my rent for three months, you know? Because of the nature of how I have things set up there. I work at a terrible, terrible cover band bar Downtown, getting paid stupid money to do sound at night. And I live (garbled... I think he said he lives with his bandmates, but the point is his place doesn't cost much) so the math adds up that I can afford to go back and forth and work on Freedom and do this and see what happens. Cause I want to do our record, but also things haven't lined up right for it. Like I haven't been happy. It's like, I have that record in my f---ing head, and I'm not going to be happy until I get what's up there on tape. So I'm taking my time with it.

But you think it's definitely coming out some day?

That record will get finished in the next couple months, probably. We're going to go, actually the day that I get back we're getting a practice space Downtown, and then busting ass for the next couple weeks. Even before I left, we've been demoing a bunch of stuff for a while. I've got a bunch of tracks. Sort of the core groups of me and the drummer Travis (Kline), some of it's just me doing everything but drums and vocals. Nick (Tolford) from the Slide Machine played bass for us a little bit. So it's just been kind of figuring that out, who we want to play with, because there's no one who has free enough time to work on it that I do from the start. That's the way I want it. It hasn't worked out right. But I know what I want to do. And also, doing this I've been learning a lot and meeting a lot of people. It's crazy. Like, the first two shows I played with this band were two sold-out shows opening for Clinic. You know, in LA and San Francisco. So it's a really interesting other side of the coin from doing very DIY punk-rock touring in the past. That's what I grew up on. It's funny because some of the people that I've met, they don't know that. They're never done that. Like the band Earlimart, we played two shows with them, and they, it's like an alien world, sort of, I could tell, just from having this discussion. They were awesome people doing what they do, but they just grew up in different worlds. I grew up in West Virginia, where that's all that there was was the very DIY aesthetic in, like, a rented all-ages space. It's a whole different mindset. It's been awesome though.

Any last words?

I'm just enjoying doing this. I'm sort of overwhelmed. My mom lives in Austin, but I've never been to South by Southwest, and I'm kind of on indie overload. It's like this weird double-edged sword. On one hand, it's amazing to be surrounded by all of this, but on the other hand it makes things feel so not special in a way. Because it's so big, it makes it not seem like 40 people in a bar having their lives changed. It's like ads everywhere (as he says this, he's sitting in the "VCast lounge" on a red couch with black Verizon Wireless pillows). I have a lot of apprehension about indie marketing and all of this because... it comes from growing up in a place like West Virginia where you had to look to find anything. This was never handed to you. This was something you had to f---ing hunt for. It's just really weird. That was one of the things about Between the Devil, one of the weirdest things for us is that this whole sh-- was really starting to happen around that time period (early this decade), and we were all so like "this 7-inch that there are just 200 copies of changed our lives," that we were all kind of fighting... whenever it came time for like one-sheet for that record and all the business stuff, we had the hardest time. On one hand we were like we wanted to f---ing just do this, but on the other hand we kept shooting ourselves in the foot in that band on purpose. Like we would be purposely sloppy, we'd f--- up big shows just because. Like, we had that Replacements complex. Or like f---ing Brian Jonestown Massacre, the same thing, like "What, we could get famous? F---." It sucks, but that's how we were. And I'm trying to find a... you know, art vs. commerce. Every time anybody did anything.

Listen to Freedom Listen to Sea Wolf