George Xylouris and Jim White have embarked on their tour in Australia, to introduce their latest release, The Forest in Me – an instrumental with 10 tracks, and most don’t make it past two minutes.
Xylouris’ on Lyra and Laouto and White on drums and percussion.
The space between the cyclical melismatic Byzantine movements, the microtonal intrusions, the distance between the notes, the rain of drumdrops, and the wail of the ancient Cretan instruments, all make the space necessary.
“We started in Athens”, says Xylouris, then they did the U.S. Tomorrow, they’re playing two shows at the Brunswick Ballroom, Melbourne, before touring most of Australia.
The Forest in Me is produced by Guy Picciotto, ex-Fugazi, and is the pair’s fifth album. It is a pattern of moods. The intense, frenetic Cretan war dances and sweaty Melbourne underground rockers are hinted at only.
“Is it too noisy for you there?” Xylouris asks, as they both scramble to share the iPad screen for the Zoom interview, from a coffee place in Brunswick – their old haunt.
In his native Crete, George Xylouris, and the Xylouris clan are musical nobility and politically prominent across Greece. Jim White, formerly with The Dirty Three, and many underground notables has worked with Xylouris for years.
The Forest in Me has echoes of an ancient almost primal Crete, it includes urban jazz tonalities, Celtic folk essences, event hints of Tom Waits circa Rain Dogs, and otherworldly Eno soundtracks.
It is a trek through a verdant wilderness and across empty sandy coasts. There is immense emptiness built on mesmeric sound architecture.
“I didn’t sing; this album is something else; singing was unnecessary,” says Xylouris.
A sense of feelings only; time is infinite, and the music stares into the horizon.
“It represents the time we were in when making it, the distance,” White jumps in, “because of COVID”.
“Time slowed down,” Xylouris adds, “we were isolated from each other, there was distance, and the only solution was to record from a distance.”
“Time for me, was just time, like everybody else, I was locked down in Crete, in my room.
“Loneliness, endless days, holding the instrument, trying to express feelings through recording, my world hung on waiting to hear what Jim was sending next, that my connection.”
Xylouris was “cruising in the forest, walking in a forest in me”.
“The forest was inside me, in my heart and my feelings, and in that forest, I discovered another me,” he says.
Their language was sound, beats, tones, drones, space – they spoke it to each other. “There’s no need to say anything. People can understand it or not understand it,” Xylouris says.
He breathes and thinks: “You know, all things disappeared; the singing disappeared”.
White agrees and in a well-honed call and response born of the two working together says, “The meter disappeared, the couplet, the rhythmic structure all disappeared.”
“And the angst disappeared.”
Peace in the forest
“The excitement, the buildup and the dynamics all disappeared, but then we listened to this thing we made; it was beautiful,” White says.
Like reconstructed music for a Greek theatre chorus, ancient East Asian two seven-tone scales, with a pentatonic core, with the lucid bare bones of a Raga and even a tilt to Miles Davis’ sculpting space for anticipation. The Forest in Me is important to work.
They agree that it wasn’t only loneliness that was the mother of the album, but the loss of anxiety, a new calmness, a meditative liminal space,
“Maybe aloneness, not a loneliness”, White says and looks at Xylouris, “Yes, not loneliness, an aloneness, that’s it.”
“And at some point, we can hear the dog barking in the recording.
“I’m out of the forest now,” Xylouris says, “we started again.”
He says that by taking things away, you may think nothing is there, “but, you see, there’s something really beautiful.”
“You open the door for things to come in.”
Xylouris tries to describe an intangible feeling and says, “Imagine under the water, the sounds under in a river, and in a forest under there it’s organic.”
“Exactly, yeah,” says White.
Xylouris and White tour dates @ www.xylouriswhite.com