Discover the extraordinary musical odyssey of John Paul White, from The Civil Wars to solo success.
Meet John Paul White, the man whose musical journey has been nothing short of spectacular. You might remember him as one-half of The Civil Wars, that folk-infused duo that won over hearts worldwide and snagged four Grammy Awards. But after The Civil Wars went on a break, John Paul White ventured solo, creating albums like ‘Beulah’ and ‘The Hurting Kind’.
And his solo venture hasn’t been doing too bad. Not too long ago, he and Joy Williams joined forces with Taylor Swift for a revamped version of their own song, ‘Safe & Sound,’ featured in the Hunger Games movie. And now, he’s teamed up with a Swedish production outfit called Wildo DM to put his spin on Fleetwood Mac’s classic hit ‘Big Love.’ This track held a significant place in Fleetwood Mac’s repertoire – the kind of tune that defined their musical essence. So, when Wildo DM set out to reimagine it, they knew they needed an artist of remarkable caliber. That’s where John Paul White, with his amalgamation of folk, country, and Americana influences, stepped in.
From Grammy wins to iconic collaborations, John Paul White’s musical journey has been a rollercoaster of creativity and passion. With ‘Big Love,‘ he’s taking a classic and giving it a new lease on life, ensuring it keeps touching hearts for years to come. In an exclusive interview, we sat down with John Paul White to talk all things music, inspiration and sound.
Can you share a bit about your musical journey? What inspired you to pursue a career in music, and how did your journey as an artist begin?
I was born in the Shoals of Alabama, and grew up about 30 minutes away. Music was incredibly important to the area, and offered me opportunities few other places could. To be honest, I never even dreamed of being able to do this for a living – much less be a part of so many great experiences through my career. I just loved to sing, and took every chance I could get to do it. Things just kept falling in place, and I kept following my nose here.
Every artist has a unique musical identity. How would you describe your signature sound, and what elements or genres have influenced your style?
I think that’s probably true – although I have a hard time sometimes figuring out what my identity is. I’ve made a rock record for Capitol, indie folk records with the Civil Wars, a Southern Gothic stripped down record, and an homage to my country heroes from the 50s and 60s. I’d like to believe they are all me – that a thread runs through them all. I’m constantly pulling from my bluegrass and country upbringing, my mom’s crooner albums, and a healthy dose of rock and roll.
Walk us through your creative process. How do you typically approach writing and composing new music? Are there any specific rituals or habits that fuel your creativity?
I’ve probably created in every form and fashion. I would say the lion’s share has been started with me playing guitar – whether alone or in a collaboration. Invariably, things start happening – or they don’t! Conversations in the room seem to steer the music, and vocal melodies start becoming apparent. I don’t typically sit down with a specific idea in mind.
I just wait for it to fall out of the sky.
Music is a dynamic art form. How have you evolved as an artist since your early days, and what pivotal moments or experiences have contributed to your growth?
Each decade I get bolder and more resolute about making myself happy above all others. That’s easy to say, but it took me many years of futility trying to please the market. I figured out along the way that the only person I know I can please is myself. I get more and more protective of that, and try to keep that as my creative north. I almost quit the business because of the dead ends I was reaching with my work. Nothing seemed to click with others – including myself. I resolved to spend a bunch of my publisher’s money making some demos just for me, thinking no one would ever want them. The opposite turned out to be true.
Collaboration often leads to exciting new musical directions. Are there any artists, producers, or songwriters you dream of working with? How do you think a collaboration might impact your music?
I’ve been very fortunate and have been able to work with a lot of my heroes. They have definitely solidified my belief that collaboration is life blood. Most of my creative work has been part of a collaboration. I’ve learned that it’s usually not the obvious collabs that work, and am game to try to create something with folks that have less in common with me. So I don’t really have a list. If it’s meant to happen, it will.
Your lyrics often delve into unique themes. Can you discuss the concepts or emotions you enjoy exploring in your songs? What messages do you hope your audience takes away from your music?
Sad songs make me happy. I’m always drawn to those themes. It’s just a much more visceral emotion. I’m sure people worry about me sometimes, but my songs are not purely autobiographical. There are things pulled from my life, but also everything around me. That gives me leeway to explore any dark emotion I want – and not make my mother concerned about me.
Live shows are a significant aspect of an artist’s career. How do you approach translating your music to the stage? What do you enjoy most about performing for a live audience?
Almost all of my work starts with a guitar and vocal. I learned the hard way on the road when I played solo that without the guitar solo, or the piano fill, or the power of the rhythm section – the songs fell flat. I resigned myself to writing songs that were interesting to me top to bottom with no accompaniment but my voice and my guitar. Once I’ve made a record and prepare to tour, I can play with my band and use those arrangements, or wing it on my own. Hopefully it works either way. It does to me.
Fans often feel a personal connection to artists through their music. Are there any stories from fans that particularly touched you or highlighted the impact your music has had on their lives?
Every night I play I have someone tell me what one of my songs meant to them, what it made them feel, what it got them through. That is something I try to cultivate through writing songs that have just enough blurry lines that it could be their story and not mine. This makes the song a little more personal and powerful.
Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations as an artist? Are there any new directions you’re excited to explore in your music, or any milestones you’re aiming to achieve?
I’ve accomplished more than I ever dreamed. I don’t really have a bucket list. I’m a lucky man.