John Paul White, previously a member of the band The Civil Wars, just released his first solo album in almost a decade — "Beulah" — in August. He will be performing Oct. 8 at Fletcher Opera Theater in Raleigh. White spoke to staff writer Paige Connelly about his music, influences and journey from being in a duo to being a solo artist.
The Daily Tar Heel: What’s it been like, going from being in a duo to being back on your own?
John Paul White: I didn’t focus on anything to do with me for quite a while. It wasn’t really a transition from one to the other as much as just kind of a reprioritization of my life and of my focus where I could actually, you know — when my kids or my wife would tell me about their day, I’d actually be listening. Because for about 10 years, I’ve been touring, and I was always thinking of, ‘Is my bag packed, do I need to call somebody for an interview,’ and those sorts of things — it was always something in the back of my head. And so I could finally laser focus on what was right around me, which was a really good thing for me.
So when these songs started popping up in the back of my head — which I really tried not to write, I was so very happy doing what I was doing — these songs started popping up, and I heard them, and the only way I could move on is to get them out of my head, because they were on loop, over and over. And so once I put them on a page, I could totally hear the way they should sound recorded. I have a studio, so I thought, ‘I’ve got to do this,’ I have to record it. And just one thing kept leading to another.
The strangest part of it was me realizing how much I wanted other people to hear the songs, and I couldn’t make sense of that. Because I didn’t care what anybody thought about anything I was doing, for a while, and as soon as I wrote these songs, all I could think of is, ‘What will people’s opinions be, what will make them react, will there be a connection? Will people be able to stand inside these songs and look at themselves as characters in the song?’
So, eventually, I got to this point so once all of that metamorphosis happened, I don’t know. I didn’t really think twice about it. It just made sense to play it in front of people, me and a guitar.
DTH: Do you think having a break helped you grow as a solo artist?
JPW: It was the first time I had done it, so I’m not sure if everyone should do it, or needs to do it, or if it would always work for everyone else. But I would greatly advise giving it a show, because I had no idea how so fried I was until all this stuff started growing back. All the stuff in my head that had been cauterized because when I was first here, I wasn’t hearing any music in my head at all, and I was perfectly fine with that. So, when it all started coming back, it was a really strange sensation because I’ve been writing songs for about 15 years for a living before that, so I’d always been able to just kind of turn it on and turn it off when I needed to. This is the first time I can remember that I was just writing purely from inspiration.
To be in my early 40s, for that to be the first time it happened is a strange — it’s a strange experience that I hope other writers don’t go about it the same way I do.