The Hippo


May 24, 2020








Xylouris White. Photo by Manolis Mathioudakis.

Xylouris White

When: Sunday, Oct. 19, at 8 p.m.
Where: The Red Door, 90 State St., Portsmouth
Tickets: $10 

Dynamic duo
Greek lute star and post-punk drummer team in Xylouris White

By Michael Witthaus

The fluid, expressive drumming of Jim White is integral to the sound of an indie rock who’s who that includes Cat Power, Will “Bonnie Prince Billy” Oldham and Beth Orton. As contributor and collaborator, White’s been an A-list session player since the mid-’90s; he’s also the linchpin of Australian improv rockers Dirty Three.

The first time current musical partner George Xylouris asked him on stage, however, White felt a bit intimidated. Xylouris, a revered lutist from Crete, was playing All Tomorrow’s Parties, a festival in Brisbane, Australia, joined by his father, a Cretan Lyra legend nicknamed Psarantonis. 
Though White loved Xylouris’s music, he’d never played it. In a recent phone interview, he described the experience. 
“It was me trying not to [screw] up,” the bushy-haired drummer said. “I had a snare with tape on it trying to imitate the sound of what I thought Cretan music should sound like. Then George and I began playing and it was more open. … That’s how it started.”
Several informal jam sessions later, they decided to form a band called Goats (because “the music is goat-like,” White told one writer). Sadly, the duo had to settle on Xylouris White upon learning the name they wanted was taken. 
Later, White flew to Crete and spent time with Xylouris and his wife.  
His musicality, White said, was the driving force that transported him from Australia to Greece. 
“I went there with the intention of playing with him, I learned things about the music and it just developed,” he said.
A debut album produced by Guy Picciotto of Fugazi drops Oct. 14. Five days later at the Red Door in Portsmouth, a few fans will be among the first in the U.S. to hear the new works played live.
The record (titled, of course, Goats) pulls off a deft feat, placing front and center two instruments better known for supporting roles. The plinking of Xylouris’s lute gives the sound a decidedly Cretan flavor, while White’s organic stick work pushes things to a deeply visceral place. This music needs to be heard up close, felt intimately; the Seacoast venue is a perfect setting. 
White is ready for the change. 
“Last summer I played in the big places, and I generally like to take a small approach,” he said. “I really think a lot of people haven’t seen it live and there are a lot of preconceptions about it … you can go into a big room and be pushing it out all the time, but I think those elements depend on what’s going on and you can’t do it as well.”
Though the record is a departure from White’s other projects, he believes fans will follow even if the music is at first forbidding. 
“You don’t have to be familiar with it, the rhythms and melodies are very accessible even if you don’t know it,” he said. “I’m as new to it as you. I’m making it up, when you think about my background. I’ve been listening to it for years — it’s very enjoyable and very immediate, but it’s not in my musicology.”
Asked how this differs from other collaborations, White pauses briefly. 
“That’s a good question, I haven’t thought about it much. It varies with each project. With Will, when you record you have songs you’re trying to get across and you don’t want to mess them up. This is much more of a band,” he said. “With George, as soon as we started playing there were all these possibilities. He is so great at playing in the moment.  That’s something I like, not playing by rote.” 
As seen in the October 9, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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