While Matthew E. White, set to perform at Motorco Music Hall in Durham next week, has deep ties to the Triangle area, it is only when attempting to get him on the phone that you discover just how popular he is overseas – our first interview attempt was foiled by fans lining up to see him after a show in Brussels, Belgium.
When we finally connected, I asked White how a musician based in Richmond, Va., manages to chart his albums throughout the world on an indie-rock marketing budget.
“I think the main reason for that was a little more behind-the-scenes type stuff that may not be the most interesting thing to talk about for interviews,” White says with a laugh. “My label situation switched over here faster. Domino Records (based in London) was able to put their energy and muscle behind the album faster over here where they released, while in the United States the label that I run, Spacebomb Records, released it, which is basically the difference between working in a house and working in a 50-person office in London. So there was a big, big difference when it came to the administrative muscle, promotion and advertising, and all that kind of stuff that comes with putting an album out. That makes a big difference as far as where doors open up and the rate in which they open.”
And White acknowledges that the overseas audiences seem to appreciate his style of music a bit more than stateside fans.
“As far as the audiences go, there is something to be said for the way that the audiences over here really love what I consider to be the very American quality to my music that is taken for granted by audiences in the U.S.,” he says. “I don’t mean taken for granted in a bad way, necessarily, it’s just that it’s such a part of the fabric that it’s harder to notice in some ways. Also, just from where I’m coming from with the listening touchstones, in some ways are more prevalent over here. Old soul music has a real massive culture over here, where in the States it’s just beginning to happen. It’s basically mainstream over here, and the possibility of my being played on the radio here is much better than in the States, just due to that structure.”
White is currently touring behind his sophomore full-length solo release, “Fresh Blood,” but many fans in the Triangle still speak in reverential tones about his performance at the 2012 Hopscotch Music Festival in downtown Raleigh.
Taking the stage with a 30-piece band accompanying him, he not only blew away the locals with his gospel-tinged harmonies, but became the talk of the online music blogosphere. With coverage by such outlets as Spin Magazine and Consequence of Sound, White followed his appearance that September, dubbed “One Incantation Under God,” with a string of sold out performances and having his debut disc (2012’s “Big Inner”) proclaimed “One of the great albums of modern Americana” by Uncut Magazine.
Reminiscing about that night, White says, “We got pretty good video coverage, and pretty much sold the entire European tour based on that video coverage. It was basically the only thing we had, as I’d never really performed as a solo artist at all, and things were starting to pick up faster than we expected. It was a really good show, and a really dynamic performance, so in that way we were able to convince people that this was a live show worth putting on, even if we obviously weren’t traveling around with 30 band members. It was a huge difference maker, and we did pretty much the same thing up in New York City this year where I launched the new record with a sold out show, and that was sort of based on the success we had at Hopscotch.
“That show was influential in not only showing people what we could do, but in helping us believe in ourselves in that way.”
His own record label
White has his own record label, Spacebomb Records, and it was built on the strength of his believing in himself. Taking a cue from the golden age of Jamaican reggae, where the studios that produced those classic albums became an influence to White in “not only how we make records, but in how we promote them as well,” the singer thought of his company as a modern-day Stax Records of sorts – a studio that could offer a recording artist not only a professional house band, but major label quality production and engineering capabilities as well.
While his solo performing career has taken a little of White’s focus away from the label, he blogospheresays a plan was formulated quite awhile back for just this sort of distraction.
“Spacebomb was built for success; we were not built to not succeed. We did what we did because we thought we had a voice to share, both artistically and commercially. To have a couple of records that have done really well and allowed us to grow the business as well as our opportunities as artists, that is what we were built to do, and what we intended. There are kind of growing pains, but we knew there would be in advance. I remember sitting around the coffee table, talking about what we were going to do when everything starts going well but everyone that makes the music is out on the road: ‘How are we going to solve that problem?’ That’s an issue that we talked about five years ago, and it’s happening now. Even when you plan for things in the hopes that you succeed, it still comes as a surprise when they actually happen.
“We definitely laid the groundwork for all of this to happen. We just didn’t expect everything to take off in three years, but that’s better than 10.”
Who: Matthew E. White
When: 8 p.m. Thursday (May 7)
Where: Motorco Music Hall, 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham