Matthew E. White Isn't Afraid of Sincerity on the Lush, Expansive Fresh Blood
"There's not a veil of irony over anything I do," White says
Matthew E. White is something of an anomaly in the current indie-rock landscape. He doesn’t favor huge-sounding distorted guitars or electronic noise on his newest album, Fresh Blood, but rather lush string arrangements and choirs. And the record is defined by wide-eyed, heart-on-the-sleeve sentiment rather than winking irony.
Recorded at the Richmond, Virginia, studio of his record label, Spacebomb (which is an attic), Fresh Blood features horns, gospel choirs, all kinds of keyboards, and floating above it all, White’s warm, friendly voice. And while he tackles heavy subject matter throughout, like Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death (on “Tranquility”), it’s hardly a “downer” record.
“It’s a very traditional singer-songwriter record in some senses,” White tells PEOPLE at a recent tour stop in Brooklyn. “A lot of it is autobiographical to some sense, but because the team I worked on it with is so close and I’ve worked with them for so long, there was the ability to meld these personal songs with these big ambitious arrangements in a way that didn’t take away from the intimacy of the songs.”
For White, the two hardest songs to write were “Holy Moly” and “Circle ‘Round the Sun,” which dealt with sexual abuse in a Catholic church in White’s hometown of Virginia Beach and the suicide of a friend’s mother, respectively.
“To get at a song about [those things], you have to sort of get to that pain,” White says of the writing process. “You have to try and access it so you can write about it emotionally and honestly.”
Talking to White, there’s the sense that “honesty” is a big part of his vibe. Unlike Father John Misty, to whom White’s spacious arrangements and sound might be superficially similar to, there’s no archly-raised eyebrow in his music.
“I’m aware of what our generation gets dinged for,” he says. “And I feel like that’s not my voice. I get a little bit criticized for writing straight up and down love songs and I don’t mind it, but I really would defend that kind of writing to the grave. There’s nothing cliché about writing love songs. There’s a difference between something that’s cliché and something that’s tradition. They’re not the same thing.”
“There’s not a veil of irony over anything I do,” he continues. “I don’t write big string arrangements because it’s culturally ironic to do something like that. I do that because I think they’re beautiful and that’s it.”