Ward White – The Tender Age (Q&A)

Ward White describes himself as an art-rock crooner. An accurate description, I would say.
On The Tender Age, Ward reminds me of David Bowie and Parthenon Huxley.
Quality for gourmets. What an overwhelmingly beautiful record.

++ Sweet Sweet Music Song premiere ++

Easy Meat is the second single from The Tender Age!

Ward White talks about cinematic incidental music, unexpected layers, the instant-gratification itch, and the creation of his new record.

Lyrics are too often taken for granted.  What is the line of text, or are the lines of text that you hope listeners will remember?  And why?

Lyrics come to me as snippets of dialogue, often as a fully-formed opening line. There’s very little in the way of first-person confessional in my writing these days. I rarely know what’s happening in these songs; I’m dropped in the middle just like the listener. I try to shepherd things in a reasonable direction, but I never look to foist a resolution on any of them – I prefer the mystery.  I suppose there’s an element of cut-up technique at play, as well. I would hope that listeners formulate their own backstories for these characters and their odd conversations, with the arrangements serving as cinematic incidental music.

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

I’ve been enamored with the recording process since I first laid hands on a Tascam Porta One. There’s a challenge to chasing down a sound you have in your head, layering elements until it comes as close as possible to the ideal; conversely, as a track develops, it often exposes unexpected layers to the song, sending you in a completely different direction. Some of my favorite moments have come from subtractive mixing – stripping away recorded components of the arrangement to reveal a whole new palette. You can gain a lot by being brave enough to throw things away.

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

High-quality recording is certainly more accessible now, and technology has made the process infinitely mutable. You still have to do the grunt work, but it allows for a level of immediacy that was impossible in the past. That immediacy extends to distribution of the finished product – you can hit ‘export’ on your final mix and have it for sale on Bandcamp five minutes later. While it certainly scratches the instant-gratification itch, it contributes to a flooded marketplace, wherein it’s nearly impossible to parse the onslaught of content. This is hardly unique to the music business, just a symptom of our internet-addled culture. For all its flaws (and there were MANY), the old record label system did serve as a filter; if they were going to push a record, you were going to hear it. You can spin a million hypothetical arguments around whether iconic artists of the past would have equal success in the current climate. Randy Newman once said to me, “I don’t know how you guys do it now. I’d never have a chance today!”

How great is the urge to stay creative?  To keep writing songs and lyrics?

There’s a fine line between urge and compulsion, I suppose. At a certain point, the process automates itself to a degree; I’ve managed to put out a record every year or so for more than a decade. The funny thing is, they never begin with any deliberate intent to create. It’s really just a waiting game, and without realizing it, I’m knee-deep in the muck again. As exhausting as the mantra of “write/record/promote” can be, I always come back to it, so I’d classify it as semi masochistic. The trick is to never let yourself get too precious about what you’re working on – every record is just the one after the last and before the next.

How did this record come together?

As with my last few records, I wrote, produced, and provided vocals, guitars, and bass. I worked with my usual co-conspirators, drummer Mark Stepro, keyboardist Tyler Chester, and engineer/mixer John Spiker. I’m always thrilled to reconvene with these guys, especially given their schedules; Tyler, who is as gifted a bassist as he is a keyboardist, produced and co-wrote Madison Cunningham’s Grammy-nominated debut album Who Are You Now. I was able to grab Mark just as he wrapped up tracking drums on The Wallflowers’ Exit Wounds, and John is always busy as bassist, engineer, and producer for Tenacious D (as seen and heard in The D’s viral YouTube cover of Time Warp for Rock The Vote.) We tracked drums, and basic guitars at Spiker’s studio, keyboards at Tyler’s place, and I did all my parts at home. We came back to John’s to mix, and I was happy to have my old friend, Joe Lambert, master it.

Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?

I dunno… can you give me a lift to Radio Shack?

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