White Denim have produced COVID-19’s first major musical triumph

Ever since the coronavirus fastened its grip on the globe at the start of the new decade, people have naturally turned to creativity to fill the time and prevent boredom brought about by strict government lockdowns. On individual levels, spare time is being filled with language lessons, experimenting with new recipes and exciting hours with new instruments. In the music industry, bands and artists are naturally looking at this time away from the road to write, produce and release new material.

With an unprecedented use of the word ‘unprecedented’ stapled to everything ‘COVID-19’, it was an odds-on bet that the often contentious and ill-advised voices of the music industry were going to act quickly to express their unique and reassuring views on the situation. Cue the likes of Twenty One Pilots and Pitbull, who were out of the blocks like rabid dogs to produce ‘Coronavirus anthems’ in April with their respective ‘Level of Concern’ and ‘I Believe That We Will Win (Global Anthem)’ singles.

The former, the duo from Ohio who aren’t The Black Keys, really read the room well by deciding to romanticise the pandemic with lyrics like “would you be my little quarantine?”. “Panic on the brain, the world has gone insane. Things are starting to get heavy” is just the level of poetic analysis needed in these dark times.

Pitbull’s entry is the national anthem for Frat houses determined not to be swayed by the mental and physical impacts of isolationism in lockdown, while defiantly speed-chugging. When you start your single with a spoken word yarn about how fear can spread faster than any virus, you know we’ve stepped into truly ‘unprecedented’ territory in global crisis music.

However, aside from assessing undercooked lyrics, other popular faces have also stepped forward since then, including One Republic. The ‘Apologize‘ hitmakers are very graciously donating all proceeds from Spotify streams and sales of their COVID-19 themed, ‘Better Days’, to ‘out of work musicians, writers and creators’. Avant-pop star Charli XCX is also keeping busy and is currently in the midst of putting together an entirely new album created during quarantine which is due for release this Friday (15/05).

What will undoubtedly be an impressive feat for Charli XCX (and many artists attempting similar projects), the first achievement of this kind will belong to a little-known rock and roll outfit from Austin, Texas. They go by the name of White Denim and their ‘World as a Waiting Room’ record was unleashed on streaming platforms last Friday (08/05).

James Petralli & Co. took to their loyal fanbase on the 16th March to detail their incredibly ambitious plan to write, demo, record, mix and master a brand-new record in only 30 days and not a second more. The clocks started ticking two days later and, by 17th April, they delivered on their promise and, in an even more remarkable move, pre-order purchasers received download files of ‘World as a Waiting Room’ the very next day – 3 weeks before the album landed on Spotify.

Never say loyalty is overrated, particularly in the music world.

This is the stuff of dreams for fans of the band renowned for their 100mph Live act, who have been treated to their third White Denim record in under two years and their tenth studio album in total. It’s another example of efficiency from a band who never sit still between recording and touring. This album is another intricate, eclectic and fascinating release from the quartet but, while we could dissect their discography until lockdown has been lifted, we need to focus on how the band managed to pull off this 30-day project to find the root of their achievement.

Speaking with local Texas Monthly in late-April, Petralli discussed the Whatsapp group that he formed to pull together contributors and collaborators to ensure the project delivered on its frantic turnaround time. The group consisted of ’15 or so’ trusted musicians and producers, including previous long-term White Denim drummer Josh Block, fellow Texan and founding member of Spoon Jim Eno and long-term collaborator Jim Vollentine, who were all tasked with submitting ideas. Petralli revealed that each collaborator ‘each wrote three or four things, and we picked the most fully developed ideas. The rhythm section started attacking them that first day’.

For a band that play at such a frightening pace, it’s comforting to see that breakneck agility seep into everything they do. With just over a week in the books, White Denim already had the basic demos and tracking for all 9 songs that appear on the record. Co-ordinating that number of isolated contributors, all working on different parts and separate ideas, miraculously merging these intentions into individual songs across an entire album is an absolute masterclass in project management.

White Denim have created not only another top-class record but a blueprint of how to continue to operate, create and collaborate successfully during these kinds of strict lockdown restrictions. As with Charli XCX, we’re bound to see many more great operating examples of how the music industry is continuing to produce and please their fans during these difficult times, but being first across the finishing line and in such co-ordinated and exultant fashion, ‘World as a Waiting Room’ should absolutely be considered COVID-19’s first significant creative triumph.

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