A War of Words

A War of Words

John Paul White stresses the need for meaningful lyrics and music

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Former Civil Wars singer John Paul White has played the Musical Instrument Museum three times. Still, he doesn’t think he’s quite grasped the North Phoenix landmark.

“I’m a dork,” White says. “I read all the cards and watch all the videos. But more than that, the staff is the palate cleanser we need.

“We’ve been playing rock clubs and dive bars with terrible green rooms. They don’t give us what we asked on the rider, which is necessary to make our lives comfortable and livable while we’re away from home.”

The MIM, he says, goes above and beyond.

“They cater food,” White says. “The sound guys are incredibly professional and great at their job. There’s a built-in crowd who’s very respectful of the music and the musicians. This isn’t just hyperbole. I mean it.”

White returns to the MIM on Monday, June 10. This time around, White will have a full band so the shows will reflect the musicality on his third solo collection, “The Hurting Kind,” and previous solo records.

“The last time, it was just me and a guitar,” he says. “I have a band I’m incredibly proud of. The new members are really geling. This record is a lot more orchestrated, with fiddle and pedal steel guitar. I wanted to re-create that live.”

Leading up to the sessions for The Hurting Kind, White asked classic writers like Whisperin’  Bill Anderson and Bobby Braddock to work with him.

“The Hurting Kind” was recorded at Sun Drop Sound, White’s new home studio he converted from a turn-of-the-century home in the historic district of Florence, Alabama, and at legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Lee Ann Womack, Erin Rae and The Secret Sisters lent their vocals.

With “The Hurting Kind,”  White draws on the lush, orchestrated music made in Nashville in the early 1960s, writing about overwhelming love, unraveling relationships and the fading memory of a loved one.

“It was challenging, but I knew that going in,” White says. “I intended to write a record that was challenging, more complex, more adult and more mature. I didn’t want to make another record that had all those keywords—‘raw,’ ‘organic’ and ‘live.’ That’s all the stuff people say.

“I’ve made those records and I love those kinds of records. I really set out to go for something like those old country records. That raises the difficulty level when I try to pull it off live. It’s a challenge and I wanted these guys and gals—I have three guys and two women in the band—and they just crush it.”

White grew up in Loretto, Tennessee, and has cultivated his career in Nashville for two decades, first as a songwriter for a major publisher, then as half of The Civil Wars, who won four Grammys before disbanding in 2012.

White is also a partner in Single Lock Records, an independent record label based in Florence, Alabama, that released his album. Looking back on his catalog, he’s really enjoying “The Hurting King.”

“It’s become a stereotype to say, ‘This is my favorite record,’ ‘My most personal record.’ I do the same, but I roll my eyes. As an artist, usually your last song is your favorite song. It’s where you’re head’s at and what’s giving you chill bumps at that moment.

“I hope I’m always so self aware that I know whether my craft is sliding and I’m making a record that doesn’t thrill me. I’m proud because it’s the first time I made a record 100% on my own terms. I was able to ask myself what I wanted to do and what I wanted to sound like.”

His last song is the title track of “The Hurting Kind,” which surprised him.

“I have an affinity for that one,” White says. “It’s different in that when I sat down to write it, most of the record was done. I didn’t intend to write another song. The song title popped in my head. I didn’t know what it meant.

“It’s a song about abuse; not a particular one. Just someone who’s in a very harmful relationship. As I went along, things rhymed and felt correct. It’s from a female’s perspective. I don’t normally choose to tell the listener what the song is about. I purposely don’t put a pronoun in there. When listeners hear a song, I them to imagine themselves in it. I do not apologize that my songs are sometimes vague.”