INTERVIEW + LIVE REVIEW: White Mystery Plays Market Hotel

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Taken from the whitemystery.com press photos page
Taken from the whitemystery.com press photos page

Seeing a show at the Market Hotel can feel like gaining access to a secret club. Though obviously, anyone can go, you’ll pass a few confused first-timers milling around Mr. Kiwi before they spot the side entrance on Myrtle. If the show is sold out, you have to wait on a narrow staircase as the bouncer waves patrons in a few at a time, controlling the flow of the crowd. But once you make it inside, you’re privy to a unique view of the JMZ, the tracks of which wrap around the venue’s walls of windows, silently racing past the bands.

It feels like a different world. That’s why it was the perfect place for last Thursday’s show, which featured three garage rock bands with a very vintage lean: Shannon And The Clams headlining, Big Huge opening, and in the middle, White Mystery.

A brother and sister duo from Chicago named after an Airheads flavor, White Mystery are Alex White on guitar and vocals and Francis Scott Key White on drums. Their seamless live performance is due to their bond as siblings as well as their rigorous tour schedule, which they’ve documented extensively on the band’s website in a dizzying, endless list.

Alex has a voice that is high and piercing, seemingly from another dimension: a shocking ray of pure sound that defies tone and pitch. She materializes riffs, chords, and licks from her Rickenbacker with an effortless air, incredible considering the power behind her playing. During “Sweet Relief,” she and Francis switched places, with Alex taking a seat at the kit to provide a bass drum beat to her brother’s turn at the mic during a fast-paced monologue. Rarely has a band been so determined to make sure that every single person in the audience was having the time of their lives. Looking around, it seemed like everyone was.

Before their show, Alex answered some questions via phone about touring, gear, and her role as Vice President of the Chicago chapter of the Recording Academy. Read our conversation below: 

AudioFemme: When was the last time you played in Brooklyn?

Alex White: I think we counted that we’ve played Brooklyn almost 50 times in the last nine years. We’re from Chicago, so it’s kind of a blur, but I’m pretty sure the last time we played was at the Archeron.

You’ve definitely done a lot of touring.

For eight years, yeah. We’ve played almost a thousand shows.

In videos of your performances, I’m always surprised how full your songs feel considering there’s only two of you. As a duo, is it ever a challenge to fill space when playing live?

I would say the biggest struggle with being a two-piece is tackling the long drives when you’re on tour. That’s why for this one, we brought two people from Chicago with us to split up those drives. Filling up sound… being brother and sister, it’s natural to us. We have a musical dynamic where when Fran goes high, I go low, and vice versa. With good songwriting, you could be one person and make something sound really full. 

Is the Rickenbacker your main guitar?

Yeah, although this year, I played this 1971 Gibson SG for a couple of shows. The Rickenbacker I got when I was 15 years old, and I bought it brand new. It’s definitely an awesome instrument. Rickenbacker still makes everything here in the United States… they’re very fine instruments and I’m 31 now so I’ve had it for, like, 15 years. It might also have to do with that full sound you were talking about- on that guitar, you can really squeak out a lot of different sounds on it.

Do you use a  certain effects/pedal setup?

Yeah, actually, this year White Mystery released a guitar pedal called Fire Keeper. It’s a fuzz pedal I helped design with Daredevil pedals. That’s the only pedal I use. There’s a cool article in She Shreds about it.

I know you’ve previously listed a lot of classic rock influences like The Who, MC5, and T. Rex. Are there any particular artists you’re really into right now?

Yeah, I’ve been listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival quite a bit… kind of on repeat, you know? Where you find these songs that really work for you, like “Down On The Bayou” and “Fortunate Son.” I’ve also been listening to the Troggs a lot. They’re a 1960’s garage band and they were highly influential to bands like The Stooges. And now here we are in 2016 – way later – and they’re still such an influential band. 

You’re the Vice President of the Recording Academy‘s Chicago Chapter. What does that job involve?

I got elected into the position, for the second time. The Recording Academy is an organization that’s for music professionals; engineers, producers, full-time musicians can join, and it has a lot of benefits. There’s MusiCares, which is a charity part of the music academy for musicians who are in need; like their instruments were stolen, or their house burns down. Quite a lot of it too is that we lobby Congress for musicians’ rights… Just trying to make sure that the musicians are able to continue making a living, so it can be an actual career and not just a hobby. And a lot of that has to do with fair pay. [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][I] just try to be a good leader for that community. And for the Chicago chapter, that actually covers the whole Midwest, from Minnesota to Ohio, Michigan down to Missouri. We’re just trying to improve the quality of people’s lives, basically. That’s the goal. 

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