A 'Place' For Jim White

Jim White calls "No Such Place," his sophomore Luaka Bop/Virgin effort, "a junkyard of music."

Jim White calls "No Such Place," his sophomore Luaka Bop/Virgin effort, "a junkyard of music."

Don't get him wrong -- the Pensacola, Fla., singer/songwriter is quite fond of junk. "At one time when I was living in New York City, everything I owned came out of a Dumpster. I was a Dumpster diver. TV, stereo, 12-piece bone-china serving set, pots and pans. I was leading quite a life," he recalls. And in the next breath, he compares his 13-track set, out Feb. 13, to "a mismatched can-can line, with a big fat guy and a little skinny woman. I'm proud of them for working so hard."

If White sounds a tad eccentric, he is. And his album -- an epic, rootsy canter through the artist's immensely creative consciousness, where warped Southern love stories abound and characters embark on more road trips than Jack Kerouac -- is no less engaging. His speech melts into his Lyle Lovett-cum-Paul Simon singing voice throughout, from the haunting murder tale "The Wound That Never Heals" to the echoey, vibraphone-enhanced "Hey! You Going My Way???"

"I'm a big-time mythic storyteller kind of person," says the 43-year-old White, who swears his deal with Luaka Bop stems from a big coincidence. Yale Evelev, president of Luaka Bop, concurs.

"It's very obscure, how Jim came to us," Evelev says. "Someone sent a tape to someone in L.A. whose child went to kindergarten with [manager] Melanie Ciccone's child. She contacted Jim and convinced him to send it to us -- and he sent us a tape with no name, no phone number, not even recorded in stereo. It was really raw. I loved it, [label founder David Byrne] loved it, and we tracked him down."

White has been a filmmaker, a model, a student, and a cab driver, among other things. But he's just as enthralled by "the music of writing or photography or being my daughter's father," he admits. White was tickled, however, when he met Byrne for the first time -- mainly because years before, while working as a New York cabbie, White had indulged a whim and followed Byrne for a few blocks on University Place.

"I told him about it after the contract was signed, and he didn't seem surprised," White says. "But the point is, he is a magnet for odd people. He may have had seven or eight incidents like that on that particular day. Poor ol' David Byrne; I went on tour with him, and I found out how many stalkers he has."

The tour, in support of White's debut, "Wrong-Eyed Jesus" (Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.), was productive; the artist met the British rock/electronic act Morcheeba, which has produced Byrne's work in the past, and it came on board to produce three tracks on White's "No Such Place," including the upbeat, offbeat first single, "Handcuffed To A Fence In Mississippi." "They have a great reverence for Southern music," says White. "They're very erudite."

The album also includes production work from Sade collaborator Andrew Hale and electronic artist Q-Burns Abstract Message ("He's real smart and knows what he wants to do and how to do it -- I had to say, 'Put more of yourself in this.' He has so much respect," says White). Yellow Magic Orchestra's Sohichiro Suzuki and White himself also produced tracks.

The single, which went was sent to commercial triple-A radio in January, is a twangy, humor-filled jaunt comparable in spirit and appeal with Byrne's own work and is "getting incredible enthusiasm from radio," notes Evelev.

Dana Marshall, music director at Chicago outlet WXRV, says, "I listened to it four times last night, and I can't get enough of it. It's smart and funny and stands above and beyond most of the things I am hearing right now."

Ray Gmeiner, VP of promotions at Virgin Records, acknowledges that garnering enthusiasm for White, a relative unknown even in roots and folk circuits, is a challenge; it's been four years since his low-profile debut outing. But the executive is confident that White's left-of-center sense of humor will transcend the singer/songwriter competition.

Ryan Reynolds, record sales manager at Tower Records in Chicago, agrees. "It's been so long it's going to be like starting over, but his fans are fervent, if not many," he points out. "We love Jim -- he's the great American storyteller, and it shows in his lyrics."

White even has a story to explain the title of "No Such Place." "It was born from a haphazard manifestation," he recalls. "I walked into the Luaka Bop offices, and David Byrne's assistant, she said, 'How are things in Pensacola, Texas?' I laughed, because, of course, I live in Pensacola, Fla., which I call 'Pensatopia,' and then I wondered, 'Why the hell am I laughing about that?'

"From there, it occurred to me that she was right -- I am from there. I had invented that place in my mind, and I was grateful to her for being open," he says. "It seemed logical to call the record that. I'm not a true Southerner or Northerner or anything -- I'm from a place I invented. I can describe it in terms of an absence. It's like the mystics, who talk about God in terms of an absence. I got that a little bit with 'Wrong-Eyed Jesus' and a little more on this one.