Alex White of White Mystery Interview
Miss Alex White, a staple in the gritty urban Chicago garage rock scene for nearly a decade, is a true veteran of the scene. Growing up on a steady diet of house shows and sneaking into bars to witness some amazing local and touring acts from a young age (sshh, we won’t tell if you don’t) has honed her ear for catchy riffs and classic guitar tones to a razors edge; if you don’t believe it, just check her resume. It has propelled her to the forefront of the thriving Chicago music scene and more recently, a national platform, with White Mystery. Playing in bands starting at the ripe old age of thirteen, White has evolved through a plethora of bands, and continues to push the bounds in the form of her brother and sister duo, White Mystery, moving into new territory with every album and project. “Telepathic”, White Mystery’s third full-length album due out on April 20th promises to be no different. With 2013 heralding their first European tour, another full-length record and who knows what else, I thought it an opportune time to catch up with White about White Mystery’s upcoming album, what it’s like being the owner of her own record label, working with her real life little brother in a two-piece band and growing up in household she describes as “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse with curly headed people” before she disappears in a whirlwind of US and overseas touring, recording and picking apart the music industry, putting the pieces back together her way!
You have been in bands starting at the age of 13 correct? I know you have been in Psychotic Sensation, Red Lights, (Miss Alex White & The) Red Orchestra, Alex White and Chris Playboy (Saathhoff), Hot Machines and White Mystery. Is this a complete list of the bands you have been a member of?
Yes. Your list is correct, plus Headspacer: http://www.myspace.com/headspacer and White Mystery was originally a recording project called Forestbride: http://www.myspace.com/forestbrideforever
You are a Chicago native and have played a large part in defining the Independent, DIY sound coming from Chi-town in the last decade or so. How has the local Chicago scene impacted your music and your approach to performing/playing? (eg. most people learn stage moves from watching video of Keith Richards). Did your exposure to the local scene in Chicago teach you anything that other people from smaller, less intertwined musical communities might not have been privy to?
My identity is shaped by an urban Chicago upbringing…basement parties, all ages Fireside Bowl shows, backyard fests, record shops, and public transportation create the ideal environment to fall in love with rock’n’roll. In the 90s, during my youth, I saw bands on their early tours at teeny tiny clubs, like the Kills, Raveonettes, Clone Defects, The White Stripes, TV on the Radio, Demolition Dollrods (including Danny from the Gories), the Teen Idols, Screeching Weasel, the Riffs, Slaughter and the Dogs. It was great being a teen in a band, because we’d play for free just to open for these big bands at bars, even though we were underage.
You started your own record label, Missile X Records and released 7”s by three artists, Alex White and Chris Playboys (“Young Monsters”), The Dirges and The Spits. Did you enjoy the experience? What did this teach you about the industry?
It was important for me to retain rights to my music and to maintain artistic control, so I started the record label “Missile X” when I was in high school. This was the era when Avril Lavigne was big, and major labels were knocking on my door. I said, “no,” and sure enough the major label industry took a big dump after that, dropping a lot of indie artists. Running a label was an early lesson in finance, distribution, and creativity that set the foundation for White Mystery to succeed as an independent entity, from booking to licensing, publicity, and more. Now rock’n’roll is my full time job.
I know you attended college in the early 2000’s, what did you study and were you still playing at that point or did you devote yourself to school completely?
I went to business school at DePaul University earning a degree in entrepreneurship and graduated cum laude in 2007.
It seems like you and your brother really get along, most people would end up strangling their siblings if they went out on tour with them – did you get along that well growing up and did you two jam together when you were younger?
Yes, it’s easy to get along with Francis because he’s a great guy and we’ve been best friends since he was born in 1987. We go on tour for months at a time, come home, and still hang out around the clock!
How and when did White Mystery come about?
White Mystery was founded on April 20, 2008 when I found an Airheads candy wrapper on the ground. It said, “White Mystery, OUT OF CONTROL!” so we started a band based on that philosophy. Now the band releases new music with a big party every 4/20, this blog post explains it a little bit more http://www.whitemysteryband.com/2012/12/17/420-psychedelic-meltdown/.
You have self-released your last two records with White Mystery and are planning on releasing your third full length, “Telephatic” on April 20th. while previous endeavors like Alex White/Chris Playboy came out on In The Red Records. What are the advantages and disadvantages of self-releasing your own albums?
The advantages of a self-released record is that you own 100% of the intellectual property, always have inventory on hand, and get to stamp your logo on the back. The disadvantage is that sometimes you fail, and lose your own hard-earned money in the process. Guess what? IT’S WORTH THE RISK!
I’ve seen you live several times and watched a lot of video of you performing and you always seem to have the same rig – an Orange cabinet and your trusty Rickenbacker guitar. How did you happen on the combination and how long have you been using that set up now?
I bought the Rickenbacker new at age 15, so now it’s almost half my age. I’ve played through an Ampeg Musicman, and finally got endorsed by Orange Amps a couple years ago. It screams!
White Mystery has been making big moves this year playing with the likes of Shonen Knife, Coathangers, Garbage, The Hussy (who I am going to be talking to soon!), not to mention Riot Fest where you played on the bill with The Stooges and Elvis Costello. Did I miss anyone? Who was your favorite act to play with?
It’s always cool playing with the Night Beats and Thee Oh Sees, too, as well as Burger Records Showcases.
Besides your first European tour and releasing your new album “Telepathic” does White Mystery have any other big moves they are making this year?
Visit the White Mystery BLOG to stay on top of news http://www.whitemysteryband.com/blog
Is there anything else that you would like to add or talk about?
Come see White Mystery live in concert and order records at http://www.whitemysteryband.com
You mentioned seeing several duos live (The White Stripes being probably the most notable along with The Kills, who’s lead singer Allison Mosshart, would go on to join Jack White in one of his later projects The Dead Weather). Had you already experimented with the two piece band format at the time or did that open the door for White Mystery?
I started my first duo The Red Lights at age 15, because it was originally supposed to be a three piece, but the third member dropped out. So it was just us two girls left standing, and that became an efficient rock’n’roll package that extended into my subsequent two piece Miss Alex White & Chris Playboy. Additional influential two pieces to throw in the mix are Mr. Airplane Man, a female two piece that played Chicago during my teens, and Flat Duo Jets with Dex Romwebber.
Since White Mystery evolved from the recording project Forestbride can you give us a little background on that project and it’s evolution into White Mystery?
Forestbride started as basement recording project made possible by the introduction of a little program called Garageband and a website called MySpace. We witnessed the streaming music revolution! Francis and I started layering tracks and making songs that would become White Mystery tunes, like “Ye Olde Stone.”
What was your house hold like growing up? It seems like your parents must have been pretty musical since you and your brother ended up in a rock band and they don’t seem to have a problem with it!
It was fun and crazy, like Pee Wee’s Playhouse, with curly-headed people.
Besides the bands we’ve already talked about who influenced your musical approach as a kid? Not necessarily the sound or musical angle. White Mystery seems to have a “philosophy” behind it. Is that something you took away from your studies in school or from paying attention to other artists?
Besides all the oldies, the Who were the first band to blow my mind. Then the MC5. Kick out the jams, brothers and sisters.
You have been involved with the Chicago scene for a long while now and you keep tabs on what is going on with the music scene. Is there anyone that you would recommend “It’s Psychedelic Baby” readers check out in in the Chicago scene? Who would you recommend people being listening to nationally and internationally?
Sons of the West
2012 was a busy year for Miss Alex White and White Mystery and 2013 is already proving to be another big year. As of January they have already announced their first European tour and a third full-length, self-released, CD/LP due out on April 20th (available for pre-order NOW from WhiteMystery.com ). Make sure to keep an eye on http://www.whitemystery.com/blog for up to date details about upcoming shows, new releases and other exciting happenings in the White Mystery universe!
(2003) Miss Alex White and Chris Playboy – “Young Monsters” – Missile X Records – 7″
(2005) Miss Alex White And The Red Orchestra – “S/T” – In The Red Records – CD/12″
(2005) Hot Machines – “Hole In My Heart” – Cass Records – 7″
(2006) Hot Machines – “Hot Machines 2″ – Dusty Medical Records – 7”
(2006) Candy Apple Killings – “Leather For Liquor” – Solid Sex Lovie Doll Records – 7″
(2006) Miss Alex White & Chris Playboy – “Live” – In The Red Records – 12″
(2007) Miss Alex White And The Red Orchestra – “Space & Time” – In The Red Records – CD/12″
(2009) White Mystery/Black Apple – “Split” – Swirly Vinyl Records – 7”
(2009) White Mystery – “Powerglove” – Hozac Records Hookup Club – 7″
(2009) White Mystery – “Take A Walk” – Whistler Records – 7″
(2010) Various Artists – “Hookup Club Vol. 1″ – Hozac Records – CD/12”
(2010) Schiller Killers/ I.V. Club – “Split” – Rubber Vomit Records – 7″
(2010) White Mystery – “Self-Titled” – White Mystery Band Records – CD/12″
(2011) White Mystery – “Blood & Venom” – White Mystery Band Records – CD/12″
(2012) White Mystery – “People Power” – Perpetrator Records – 7″
(2013) White Mystery – “Telepathic” – White Mystery Band Records – CD/12″
– Roman Rathert