In the years they have spent playing together, George Xylouris and Jim White have gotten to travel extensively. They've played cafes, bars, lounges and everywhere in-between; all across Australia and overseas. In January, however, they faced a new frontier entirely – an arena-sized tour, supporting iconic UK singer PJ Harvey. It's not every day that a unique blend of Greek folk music and freeform jazz is literally given such a large platform – something not at all lost on the performers themselves.
“They were great shows,” says Jim White, the veteran Melbourrne-born, New York-based, drummer who makes up the latter part of Xylouris White. “We both thought that her and the band were just so wonderful on this tour. We got to play over in Fremantle for the first time, we got to play the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, the new venue in Sydney [the ICC Sydney Theatre] was really cool... really couldn't have asked for a better run of shows. I was really taken with how musical and how disciplined PJ's show was.”
Xylouris White's collaboration is living, breathing proof of music's complete lack of borders and boundaries; exemplifying the philosophy of music as a universal language. “It's funny – we've been doing this particular project for about four years, but our original connection goes back to before even Dirty Three had formed,” White explains of the duo's origins.
“We're talking maybe 25 years ago here. George and his dad [Antonis Xylouris] were playing in Melbourne, and he ended up moving there for about eight years. I met him during that time – he was actually my introduction to Cretan music. I found it fascinating. When Dirty Three started playing shows, we'd always get him up to play with us if we were in the same city. It was actually George's dad – who is an amazing musician in his own right – that kind of pushed me in the direction of playing with him. The long story short is that we've been in one another's musical lives for a while – the idea of doing something together just happened.”
Once voted as one of the all-time greatest alternative music drummers by SPIN, White is a veteran of over 35 years. Having played on stages and in studios with the likes of Marianne Faithfull, Cat Power and Will Oldham, White has developed a distinct playing style that allows him to stand out in a big way. When it comes to his particulars surrounding his performance, however, he tends to keep things to a very small, simple set of rules. “I play Vic Firth for my sticks, brushes and mallets,” he says.
“The mallets are usually T1 or T3. The sticks are either 5A or 8B wood-tips. I don't really have a go-to for kits and cymbals, but I definitely prefer my cymbals to be dark and woody in their sound. I like it when there's no brightness at all. I guess I like older kits, too – at the Sydney show we just played, a friend of mine supplied me with this beautiful old Gretsch kit. It sounded great. Afterwards, my friend told me that the last person to play that kit was actually me – it was the same one I used at the last Dirty Three show at the State Theatre.”
Aspects of White's drumming style include some unconventional techniques that bring out a distinct, identifiable sound. One such technique is White using his dominant hand to tactfully and intentionally drop a drumstick so that it falls onto his ride cymbal, then to the floor tom and finally to the floor. “I'm glad that people are picking up that it's purposeful,” he says. “I've been doing it for about the last year or so. It was something that just came out of jamming and improvising with George – I liked the way that it sounded, so I tried it out and now it's a part of nearly every set. I've even got a name for it now – I call it 'the drop'.”
It would also be remiss to discuss White's drumming without bringing up his over-arm playing style, quite literally swinging his way into each rhythm. “That started back when I was playing drums in this band called Venom P Stinger,” White says. “I had written this drum beat, and I had noticed that I sort of rotated my left arm through the air. Somehow, by doing that, I made it sound how I wanted it to sound. I still do it a lot now – I feel like it marks time a little bit within the space of the songs that are a bit more free-form in their time signature. Rhythm is movement, so it allows me to explore different things that I think work best with whatever the song might be.”
The rest of 2017 will see White mostly focused on touring with Xylouris White, with a national Australian tour booked for March. His former day job, the inimitable Dirty Three, are currently inactive; and look to be staying that way for the foreseeable future. “We all live in different countries, and at the moment all of us are pretty focused on different projects,” White comments. “There are no immediate plans to get back to touring or writing just yet.”
A second album with Seeker Lover Keeper – the supergroup of Holly Throsby, Sally Seltmann and Sarah Blasko – may also come to fruition; although there are only pockets of talk surrounding it.
“I saw Holly just the other night, actually – she came to PJ Harvey, so I caught up with her there,” White says. “As for another record with them, honestly, I don't know. The main reason the last one worked out is because they all came over to New York to make it. I did love playing with them and touring with them, of course. All three of them are such great writers."