Exposure: White Hinterland
Wilfully unpredictable and hypnotically evocative, the music of White Hinterland calls to mind everyone from Feist to the Dirty Projectors via jazz divas and tribal rhythms. Leaving behind the piano-led songwriting of past work, singer and songwriter Casey Dienel, along with new collaborator Shawn Creeden, has embraced beats, loops and bass as the backdrop for soulful vocals on new album, Kairos.
Give us five words that describe your music.
Blue, atmosphere, fractals, sex, dactyls.
Why the move from recording under your own name to White Hinterland?
I think of the band name as a way of contextualizing what we're doing. It sets a tone, an atmosphere, in which our songs reside. It's special, not ordinary or everyday. It's like creating an act of suspension with tight-rope walkers. Mood is so vital for us. Not just the music, but the setting when we play live or the artwork when you buy the record. The visual aspects of White Hinterland are equally important.
The other aspect that appeals to me is that the focal point then becomes the music as opposed to me. It's not so much important that the music comes from me but that the music takes me somewhere, and carries the audience with me. It should be transporting. And I love that it can be whatever it wants – like a location. It can be calm, quiet, or frenetic and wild. It can involve other people or just be the two of us.
Ukuleles – everyone's playing them. Why?
Lots of people have always played ukulele, they have a wonderful timbre and are fantastically lightweight to travel with. I don't know that there are more people playing them now than there were in the past. They sound especially good with loads of natural distortion.
There are so many different styles of music evident in your songs – where did it all come from? What did you listen to as a kid?
I have what some of my friends have called "broken ears." I've always been really drawn to sound, like so totally fixated that it was hard for me to do other things when something really great came on the radio. I don't hear any music different from any other kind of music. It's simple for me: what I like and what I don't.
I'm not sure why some music speaks to me more than other kinds…but I grew up listening to Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey, playing Debussy and Schoenberg, stretching out on the lawn with the boombox playing Nirvana, then Selena, then TLC, then Sonic Youth. I loved hip hop and jazz. And I never really thought there was anything unique about loving so much music when there was always so much to love.
What prompted you to start using electronics and no longer the piano for Kairos? Do you think you're the type of artist who will always be exploring completely new forms of music, or are you looking for one way of doing things that suits you?
We began incorporating electronics when the White Hinterland line-up became Shawn and I. We needed a way to flesh out the arrangements to songs together, using some creative problem solving with looping and sampling. I've always been interested in electronics and early on it was clear the melodies I was hearing for Kairos demanded earthy, thumping, bass-heavy drum programming so I spent a few months learning how to do this and how to produce our record.
I'm sure discovery is in many ways inextricable from my experience as a writer. I am really curious about a lot of things: how to record, how to produce a good sound in the voice or sample a flock of birds flying overheard. Shawn is the same way – this is why we work so well together. So I never rule out the possibility of change. If something sticks, then great – but I am a firm believer that it's always best to let go of any steadfast notions of self. What's worth keeping becomes innate, it will stay with you if it's meant to be.
Have you been to Scotland before or heard anything about it?
No and yes. Shawn is saying something about you lot being able to toss trees? I'd like to see that.
White Hinterland are playing as part of Stag & Dagger, Glasgow, Sat 22 May and supporting Samuel & the Dragon, Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh, Sun 23 May.