Band: White Hinterland
From: Jamaica Plain, MA
Sound: Summer and winter combined as one: light and dark, complex yet playful... dense and lyrical and jazzy with classical undertones.
Similar Artists: Joni Mitchell, Lavender Diamond, Rufus Wainwright, Vincent Guaraldi, Sufjan Stevens
Listen Now: "Dreaming of the Plum Trees"
If you participated in the world of indie music in 2006 you may remember a charming record title Wind-Up Canary from a young singer-songwriter named Casey Dienel. Her debut album was (rightfully) widely adored; however, Casey wasn't content to just stop there and keep doing the same old thing all over again for her second record. Instead, she wrote a slew of entirely new, more complex, and different songs - put together a band - and renamed her musical efforts White Hinterland. A daring move, perhaps, for an artist already reaching a core audience of people who'd grown comfortable with the songs on Wind-Up Canary.
Unlike her first album, White Hinterland's Phylactery Factory does not offer immediate comfort. Instead it eats away at you like a great novel might. Listen once and you'll be intrigued, but you'll perhaps miss a lot of the nuance. Listen again and again and the record will climb inside your mind and stay there, perhaps until list season, perhaps forever... Frankly, it's an astonishing record that truly rewards repeat listens; and, to say that it's been playing a lot in the EAR FARM headquarters lately would be a bit of an understatement. "Can't stop listening!" would be much more accurate.
We were fortunate to be able to speak with Casey recently about her recent musical efforts... about Phylactery Factory, and about food, and cats, and music in general, and favorite restaurants, and her recent work covering Björk for Stereogum, and, well, food...
EF: So I read somewhere that your van recently got broken into... that was in New York?
CD: Yeah, that was in Bed-Stuy.
EF: Sadly that tends to happen here...
CD: Yeah, we actually had another one happen in San Francisco too. But that time we only lost merch, they just stole CDs and t-shirts and stuff.
EF: I wonder what they did with that stuff?
CD: I'm sure that they thought, like, "aw yeah dude this is going to be great!" and then they opened it and were probably so disappointed and were like "shit man, what the fuck is this White Hinterland stuff?" I can just see all the CDs and they were probably like "well, let's just dump this at the bottom of the bay"... But who knows, maybe there was this big free inundation of White Hinterland LPs in San Francisco.
EF: Right, like an indie-music Robin Hood? Well, speaking of free White Hinterland... recently you contributed to the (free) Stereogum Björk tribute. What was that process like? I assume they contacted you, did you get to pick your song?
CD: It was fun... (a pause - and then a crashing noise and some shuffling and a strange animal sound) #@*! my cat is crazy! Sorry.
EF: Ha! How old is your cat?
CD: She's 10 months. She's a really peculiar cat.
EF: Wait, is that your big white cat in the pictures??
CD: Noo, that actually is my friend's cat... Shawn, who does the artwork with me.
EF: It's a cat model?
CD: Yeah, it's a cat model. I have extreme privacy issues and I don't want anyone to see what my cat really looks like! No, but what were we... oh yeah, Stereogum. No, they requested that we do that song. And I really like Björk, but I've never really listened to her extensively and initially I wanted to say no because I felt like, well, whenever I cover something I don't really want to offend. Like, that I'll take the song and approach it ignorantly I guess?
CD: So instead I sat with it and I really liked the record a lot - you know, I got Post and listened to it - and that was one of my favorite songs on it, so it just kind of worked out that I got to cover it.
EF: That's cool. And who else played on the track with you?
CD: It's just me and Matt. Matt plays drums. And I have this Rhodes, this suitcase Rhodes, and we hooked it up to a distortion pedal because we had seen someone with a farfisa that had a distortion pedal on it and I thought that was so neat so we were just playing around with it and also running it through another sort of delay pedal, and then also he has a Casio keyboard...
EF: I saw that - an SK1? Nice.
CD: Yeah, very classic. And it has that organy sound on it that we like so much and then also a little bit of my horribly out of tune piano. And then the rest was all pots and pans. We just took a bunch of cast iron skillets and things and wooden spoons - that was in February and we had the deadline and it was a week after Matt's drums got stolen. And I feel like every time I tell this story it sounds sort of pitiable, but it actually was really fun because it's nice to approach things playfully with a sense of curiosity about things and to and not take it tooo seriously.
EF: Absolutely, and I think all of that really came across clearly in your version, in a successful way. I guess that could go bad too, approaching something like Björk.
CD: I'm sure there are some people who thought we just were dancing on her grave or something. But I think, also looking at it too, I think Björk is a person who approaches things in a very curious way, in a very playful way. I think Björk probably takes her job very seriously, but she takes risks and I think that was what was exciting when we found out who else was working on the cover album. Some of our favorite bands are on it and the reason that they're our favorite bands is because they're all kind of, like, risk takers.
EF: And probably why all of you guys, ultimately, were chosen for the project.
CD: Yeah, for me I'd rather be someone who failed but failed flamboyantly and kind of interestingly than to play it safe. You know, you can have an acoustic guitar and play anything but it wouldn't be a very adventurous thing to do.
EF: Well, speaking of adventurous, one thing that came up a couple of times, that someone from Dead Oceans mentioned to me, is that you like to cook. I noticed a picture of blueberry pie on your blog (pictured above); and, I'm actually friendly with Olga Bell...
CD: Oh my God, you know Olga?!
EF: Yeah! Yeah, I first saw her play quite a while ago here and really loved her music and then got to know her and we became friends and so I asked her before speaking to you, when I noticed that you went to the same school as her, if she knew you and one of the first things she said was "that girl can COOK!"
CD: Haha! Olga's great...
EF: So, tell me about that - when did you first start cooking? What got you interested in it?
CD: Well. My uncle was a caterer and I started cooking when I was 10 or so and I think cooking really suits me, the kind of improvisational aspect of cooking... but also, I bake a lot too. So baking has the discipline, and doing both is really fun. And, I think I woke up to cooking, in a big way, because I lived in France for a while.
EF: Where did you live in France?
CD: I lived in Normandy... and Paris. I graduated from high school and then I went to France for the first time and, you know, I'd never eaten like that before. And not only did we eat, but we would really eat. It wasn't like a microwave meal or anything I was used to growing up.
EF: Well, are there any regional New England specialties from your childhood that you're particularly fond of eating or cooking? Or, do you have a "signature dish"?
CD: Hm. Okay, well I really like chowder actually, you know... classic. And "signature dish"? Well, I have a fennel apple salad that I make all the time. It's really good. It's really lemony and it has pistachios and olives in it. And, I also really like celeriac a lot so I'll cook with that all the time when it's in season. I think my favorite thing is to go to the market and see what looks the best, you know, even if it's something I've never cooked with, just try to take it home and work with it.
EF: Stepping outside of your comfort zone often...
CD: Yeah, I just got an ice cream maker for Christmas so I made a really good vanilla bean custard and I have this plum brandy someone gave me and I put that on top of the ice cream and it's so good. Sooo good!
EF: Wow, sounds like it.
CD: And I made taro ice cream the other day, Dirty Projectors were in town so I made them some ice cream.
EF: That sounds really good too... have you gotten into any crazy ice creams, like Iron Chef stuff?
CD: Um... haha, I haven't done any, like, salmon roe ice cream or whatever, but I wouldn't be opposed. I'm totally the adventure eater, I'll eat anything. I really like sweetbreads and terrines and things that most people would maybe not like. I like things not going to waste. Or... do you like oysters?
EF: I LOVE oysters.
CD: Yeah, oysters are my weakness. They have great oysters around where I grew up.
EF: Oh man, actually, I'll have to pass along this place I went to when I was in Paris last fall - Huiterie Regis - they were the best oysters I've ever had. It was amazing, it was just oysters and white wine... anyway, are they famous oysters around where you grew up?
CD: Yeah, Duxbury?
EF: Oh sure, those are very well known.
CD: Yeah those are from the town right next door. And then Marionports and things like that. They're so good, they're so briny. I think, my last meal, the first course would probably be oysters. I think they're, like, my favorite thing.
EF: Favorite thing in the world? Ever?
CD: If I had to eat oysters, if I had a whole day where I could just eat oysters... that would be a pretty phenomenal day.
EF: Yeah, you know, I can't argue. So, do you have a favorite restaurant in Jamaica Plain or in New York?
CD: Oh there are a few places. There's a bakery called Joyce in Prospect Heights and I think that's my favorite bakery. It's really French-style, and they have these little upside down plum cakes and they're so good. And they have macaroons, which I really like. But the place I really want to go to eat, that I usually try to go to if I can afford it, is Franny's. They always have really good salad and pizza and wine. In Boston there's a restaurant called Ten Tables and it's in Jamaica Plain where I live, it's like right around the corner, and it's the best. It's so good, they use a lot of local ingredients and it's just really good, really neat, food. What is your favorite restaurant?
EF: My favorite? Oh, I can't really say a favorite - too many - but in my neighborhood I really like Momofuku.
CD: Yeah! I almost said that, that's one of my favorites.
EF: Oh boy, I really really like that place. Because, well obviously their menu changes seasonally and is a lot of fun, but literally anything I've had there has been pretty amazing. Including their sweetbreads actually...
CD: Yeah I heard their sweetbreads are very good.
EF: They are! Especially, like, after a show you know, they're open late which is nice, so especially after a concert - if you've been drinking - you go there and get their pan fried veal sweetbreads with cucumbers and chili sauce and then the pork ramen...
CD: Ohh, that sounds really good.
EF: So good. And actually, their music they play in the dining room is generally pretty good too... do you listen to music as you cook? Do you write songs in your mind as you're cooking at all?
CD: Sometimes. I never write songs at the piano. I go on a lot of walks... but sometimes I listen to music while I cook. I usually put on my LPs... I don't know if it's my latent adolescent upsurge but I got this Joy Division record that I really like to listen to - it sounds so depressing...
EF: Well, they're actually one of my favorite bands. What record is it?
CD: I think it's called Still, is that what it is?
EF: Yep. Oh that's a good one.
CD: It's soo good! It's so good. Like, I never listened to Joy Division growing up and then I got the record and went and saw the movie, which was really great. But... it's really good to cook to, Joy Division. And, what else? Warren Zevon...
EF: Haha! Wow. I don't think I've ever listened to Warren Zevon intentionally.
CD: It's not bad! "Rolling the Headless Thompson Gunner" is a good song, it really is. But I have that, I have some Dolly Parton records...
EF: So, when you put your iPod on shuffle it's often going from "Werewolves of London" to Stravinsky to...
CD: Yeah! And then to like, well I really like Wu Tang Clan. I really like them right now for driving.
EF: Sure, that's because they're really good driving music!
CD: It's really good!
EF: Well, how about plans for you for the future... are you planning any more tours for this year or are you writing anything currently?
CD: I'm writing a lot. I'm probably going to stay home for most of April and I'll be writing. And I'm pretty sure we're going to go to Europe in the fall, which is pretty exciting because I've never toured there. And, I really want to make another record before the year closes so we'll see, we'll see what happens.
EF: And would you go back to Portland for that?
CD: I'm debating it. I'm thinking about that and then there's a couple of other people I'm talking to to figure out what would be best because the songs are really rhythmically dense and so I'm trying to find someone to work with that's really good with percussion and kind of go from there. But, the hardest part about making records is that you make the record and then a year later it's released finally... but now with Dead Oceans I have it set up so that I can record a record and then release it within six months; which, sounds like a long time, but it's not really. So, it's pretty special and I'm excited to do something different.
EF: Well I'm definitely looking forward to whatever comes next. And, I haven't yet seen you live so I'm looking forward to that as well.
CD: It's going to be fun!
EF: Yeah, it's going to be like, you know, Wu Tang except less violent maybe? I don't know though, I don't know what to expect. Might be all hard and like "BROOKLYN WHAT!?"
CD: Ha! Yeah, where I lived in Bed-Stuy was right around the corner from ODB's memorial mural, so I've got much Brooklyn love. It should be fun.
**If you live in New York, you can see White Hinterland TONIGHT at Mercury Lounge**
"Dreaming of the Plum Trees" (from Phylactery Factory)
"I Miss You" (originally by Björk, from Stereogum's tribute to Post)
"Vessels" live at the Bryant Park Project (from NPR)
See White Hinterland Live:
09 April - New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
19 April - Bloomington, IN @ Culture Shock Music Festival
Visit White Hinterland on MySpace
In the recent past, the following bands have been featured as EAR FARM's Band of the Week:
Hey Hey My My
See the entire list of bands featured as EAR FARM's Band of the Week HERE.
09 April 2008
Band: White Hinterland