Q&A: White Out chats about collaborating with Nels Cline, free jazz, visual art & more



Nels Cline with White Out's Lin Culbertson and Tom Surgal 
On Sunday, October 18 esteemed experimental improv duo White Out will be joining forces with legendary guitarist Nels Cline for a very special performance at LPR! The show will celebrate the release of Accidental Sky, White Out and Cline’s exciting new release on Northern Spy Records. We caught up with White Out’s Lin Culbertson and Tom Surgal to ask them a few questions about collaborating with Cline, making Accidental Sky and much more. Check out the interview below.
[For more great stuff from White Out and Nels Cline, check out their recent contribution to Dusted Magazine‘s Listed series—Lin, Tom and Nels each pick their ten favorite records!]
White Out with Nels ClineLPR: How did you first meet Nels? When did you first perform with him?
White Out: We first met Nels when Tom and Thurston (Moore) played in a Monday night series that Nels curated at the now defunct Alligator Lounge in West LA. We first started playing with Nels about 15 years ago at Spaceland (now Satellite) in Silver Lake, CA.
Your concert on the 10/18 is the release show for Accidental Sky. Can you tell us a little bit about the record and how it came together? Were did you record it?
This album is of great import to us as it is the first released document of the three of us playing together. In many ways it represents the culmination of many years worth of collaboration. This unit has cultivated a highly personal musical language together and we managed to faithfully capture that special chemistry on record. The recording session took place in our home, utilizing a mobile recording unit deftly operated by sound engineer extraordinaire Mark Maloof. The vibe was very relaxed and intimate and everything was recorded live to tape in one day.
Accidental Sky (Northern Spy Records)How did you come up with the album title?
We have an old TV that Tom found in the garbage and it is sometimes difficult to discern written titles when it’s in the program guide mode. As a consequence we misread the title for the Jackie Chan action vehicle Accidental Spy as Accidental Sky. It seemed like an apt title for a new White Out album, and Lin had an image that appeared to be the perfect visual complement.
How did you hook up with Mountains, who are opening your release show?
Mountains is one of our favorite bands currently performing. We are very pleased that they will be joining us on the bill.
How has White Out evolved since you started back in 1995?
We all like to think that we evolve over the course of time, but in some ways we were fully formed the first time we ever played together. There seemed to be an immediate rapport that has only improved over time. We have also expanded our sound by consistently playing with a select group of heavyweight collaborators including: Thurston Moore, Jim O’Rourke, William Winant, Zeena Parkins, and of course Nels.
Tom, can you tell us a little bit about your record collection and the documentary that you are working on, Fire Music: A History of the Free Jazz Revolution? How and when did you first start collecting, and what made you decide to pursue the film?
I first starting buying Jazz and Free Jazz albums when I was 13 years old, after hearing a particularly impassioned interview with Rahsaan Roland Kirk on the radio. I fell in love with the Free Jazz oeuvre and consider it to be one of the most volatile and important cultural movements of the Twentieth Century. I decided to make a documentary about the music that has historically been such a vital part of my life, because it has gone virtually undocumented up until this point in time. I wanted to chronicle the legendary architects of the movement while they were still with us. (Six of my interview subjects have died since shooting commenced.)
White Out & Nels Cline at LPR on 10/18Lin, we really dig the poster you designed for the show. Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process and influences when it comes to design and visual art?
For this poster I just reworked the image used for the album artwork and subjected it to a few rounds of Photoshop magic. I do a lot of my work in Photoshop and Lightroom and really consider myself to be more passionate about photography than design. For that reason I would cite photographers more than designers as my primary stylistic influences. Visionaries like Robert Frank, Jeff Wall, Francesca Woodman, Man Ray, Roy DeCarava, Sally Mann, Ana Mendieta…
You posted some “White Out Art Selfies” on the White Out Facebook page earlier this year. What inspired that? Any other art you’ve been into lately?
We go to a lot of art shows and we just got in the habit of snapping some pictures of ourselves in the course of our many excursions to the museums and galleries, for no particular reason. The art makes for really vibrant backgrounds. Facebook kept bugging us to post for our audience, so we just threw them up. We have seen so many really great shows of late: Sigmar Polke, Isa Genzken, Anish Kapoor, Michael Heizer, Robert Heinecken, Tehching Hsieh, Jeff Wall, Lee Ufan, Glen Ligon, Dan Graham, and Charles Burchfield, among many others. We get inspired by the ritual viewing of art, which we find to be creatively restorative.
Don’t miss White Out & Nels Cline at LPR on 10/18 with Mountains!

posted by John