Photo: Ian Watson
Jyoti Mishra has been releasing records as White Town for over twenty years, starting with the self-financed White Town EP in 1990. At the time, White Town was a full band and even played gigs with Primal Scream, before becoming a one-man project. White Town released three EPs and an album on the Parasol record label in the early 90s before achieving worldwide fame – and a UK number one hit – for the home-recorded single ‘Your Woman’.
After brief flirtation with the world of major labels, Jyoti returned to self-releasing records, including the 2000 album ‘Peek and Poke’ and the 2006 album ‘Don’t Mention The War’. Fiercely independent, often political and a regular Indietracks attendee(!), we’re delighted to be able to ask Jyoti some questions.
Hi Jyoti, you've been releasing music as White Town for twenty years now. What do you have planned in the near future and will you carry on forever?
Twenty-one: our first gigs (back when it was a band and not just me) were in 1989! The first single was in 1990, though.
As for plans, I'm just going to keep making music. I've been a songwriter for the last 28 years so it's kind of a habit for me. It's also a refuge and an escape tunnel. I want to keep pushing myself as a writer, there's always a gap between the Platonic song in your head and the idea made flesh. Reducing that gap is something you do over the years but it only ever approaches zero, never reaches it.
I love music. It's the best thing ever.
We've seen you described as techno-rock, folk, electronica, bedroom pop... how would you describe your music and how has it changed over the years?
I make pop music. Most of what I write is song form, short, with lyrics, choruses and is about my everyday life. I don't make challenging music, I don't care what fucking time signature or tuning something is in, that's irrelevant for me. A three chord trick and some deviant lyrics and I'm happy.
Admittedly, only one of the hundreds of songs I've written has ever become an actually *popular* pop song. The rest are unpopular pop songs. :-)
If you look at my tags on Last.fm, you'll see that some people think I'm pretty much everything. The only one I really take issue with is Britpop. Yuk!
You're fiercely independent musically, recording everything yourself. Why is that? Are you ever tempted to collaborate with other musicians?
I will always record White Town totally by myself because I couldn't hand my song over to someone else to engineer / produce. I've been recording for so long that I know what I want and I know how to achieve it. Why put someone else between me and that, even if she/he is a great producer, they're not me. I could maybe work with a telepath?
On the other hand, I often get other people in to play shit that I can't. On the last album, I was in a weird place in that I wanted no-one else on it at all. Just me. I took this to such an extent that I gender-bent myself into a girl for the backing vocals on 'I Was Trotsky's Nun.'
But this coming album, who knows? It's all over the shop stylistically, from synthpop to shoegaze to pop-punk so maybe I'll get some better musicians than me in. Which won't be difficult because I'm very average on all the instruments I play.
As for collaborations, as I'm such a humourless hard lefty, it's a politico-philosophical minefield. Unless the would-be collaborator agrees that China is a deformed workers' state rather than state capitalism or some other nonsense, how can we write love songs together? And what about sex? Can they build their own orgone accumulator? Cloudbuster?
So you see, unless they embrace both 'In Defence Of Marxism' and 'The Function Of The Orgasm,' collaboration would end in a ruin of doctrinal squabbling, tears and improperly ejaculated bodily fluids.
You don't play many gigs - what would tempt you to play live more often?
The right people. I agreed to play a gig for Mattias Cosy Den when he asked me in 2005, after more than a decade of not playing because he was and is a good egg. His email moved me. Anarchist, passionate, loving, real. He's uncool in the same way as I'm uncool - we're both massive geeks. As much as it sounds like I'm being facetious in my political rambling in the previous answer, I don't want to work with Tories or apolitical fucks. Life is way too short. I want to connect with people live, to be able to see people's faces and enter into some kind of dialogue. When the wrong people put on gigs, that connection gets lost. When the right people put on gigs, it becomes the heart of the experience. The gigs I've played for Mattias are still the best I've ever played in my life. Really. If it wasn't for his email to me in 2005, I wouldn't be playing Indietracks this year. He re-affirmed my faith in the possibilities of live performance.
I would rather play in someone's front room than a "proper" venue, I'd rather play to five people into what I'm doing than 200 people who aren't that bothered, I would rather be told secrets than sell records.
A few years ago you played in Sweden and loved the welcoming indie scene there. Is the UK getting any better and what can we learn from Scandinavia?
As I've said before, there are good people everywhere and in the last couple of years, I've met some lovely UK peeps. But, from my experience, the scene in Sweden does *generally* seem less cliquey and far more welcoming. I realise there are probably Swedes reading that last sentence and getting irate but that's what I found. And to bring up the 'P' word again, it's a political scene. After the first Cosy Den gig, the kids I was talking to were arguing with me about straight edge, Dworkin, pop song narrative structures - all the stuff that fascinates me. A gig should be a provocation, it should open up both the performer and the audience to new perspectives. That's what's happened at every gig I've played in Sweden and Finland.
Ummm... asking what the UK needs to learn from Scandinavia implies that there is in fact something *objectively* lacking with the UK indie scene. I can't say that's true. Could it not be that I'm just a better fit over there than over here? Believe me, I'm quite used to being the weirdest person in the room, metaphorically and literally. I don't expect that everyone else should put themselves out to make room for that strange.
Do you think it's easier or harder for new bands to be independent and get themselves heard today?
It's a question of mindset. If I'd discovered a way to make my own CDR in 1990, I would have been amazed. If I'd had access to programs that could design album sleeves, master music, put together a pop video, I would have fainted. But the ubiquity of such tech often makes people think its products are therefore worthless. I'm always surprised there aren't more CDR labels. Or fanzines. Or indiepop videos. Maybe it's a version of Adorno's dour take on Benjamin's loss of aura: the ease of reproduction has led to lassitude, a lack of the actual urge to produce? Or the revolutionary potential therein?
The tools are there if you want to pick them up. It's never been easier, from the production side. You don't need a label to actually make music and get it onto iTunes.
But getting it heard... that's another story.
You had a UK number one - do you think the pop charts mean as much as they used to?
Nope. Objectively, they can't do if you look at the sales figures. That being said, I was insanely happy when Tinie Tempah and Rihanna had the number one and two spot recently. Best top two in years!
What do you think of Wiley's version of Your Woman, which made the top 10 earlier this year?
I really like it. I like his lyrics and I've liked Wiley as a rapper for a while now, from his grimier days. I listen to more UK hip hop than I do UK indiepop, to be honest. I was gutted when Braintax buggered-off to Australia. :-(
You've promised some surprises for your Indietracks performance. Can you reveal anything for us? Will you be playing with a band on this occasion?
I'm keeping Mum for two reasons: first, that I might not be able to get it to work. Second, that certain personnel might be unavailable. That's all you'll get from me, copper!
You've been to a couple of Indietracks before, including the first festival in 2007. What have your highlights been from the festivals?
The best thing about Indietracks is the possibility of surprise. I'll freely admit that I had heard but hadn't loved Butcher Boy before seeing their set last year. Didn't hate them or anything but nothing had connected. Then they played and I was converted. They were so true and real and dark and just breathtaking. I found myself grinning through their set like a pillhead.
And then Cats On Fire came on and took it all even higher. I love the way the mainstream shit music press doesn't understand them at all, they spew lazy Smiths comparisons (they're ripping off Felt and The Monochrome Set, motherfuckers, at least get it right!) and then they take to the stage and get the whole Indietracks crowd dancing and whooping. That was a beautiful thing to see.
The first year, I have great memories of gigs in the Church: Arthur & Martha were ace and it was the first time I'd ever seen Horowitz. Warm, glowing synthpop and beltsander guitarpop, they were fabulous. I've also got a huge soft-spot for Teenage Fanclub so seeing them play last year was special.
And that's just the bands! Dancing at the indiepop discos, meeting international indiekids, celeb-spotting, the model railway layouts, sitting in the cafe having a chip cob, falling in love with random passing girls... ahhhh!
Ahhhh indeed! Thanks very much Jyoti, see you at the festival!