Two years after their genre-bending musical foray, the ‘Goats’ are back, and they’re ascending the Black Peak. ‘Goats’, of course, was the name of the first album George Xylouris and Jim White made together, and it could also have been the name of their duet, before they opted for the simpler moniker Xylouris White. A lot has happened during these past couple of years. The two men have been touring endlessly around the world, performing before an eclectic mix of people − some come to see George Xylouris, lute virtuoso and a descendant of the royal family of Cretan music; others are attracted by Jim White’s command on the drums, a quality that has made him one of the most respected drummers in the universe of indie rock, post-punk and beyond. Few expect what they experience: a seamless combination of different styles, a dialogue of cultures, a kind of music that incorporates elements from rock, ambient, free improvisation, traditional Cretan music, something that is at once modern and ancient, cerebral and visceral. And once they are in a trance, Xylouris starts singing, echoing the mountains of his beloved country.
“We brought the singing more and more into the shows and we really liked that,” says Jim White, explaining the duo’s decision to feature more singing in their second album, ‘Black Peak’ (which he describes as more “succinct”, “straightforward” and “rocking” than the first one). It might prove to be a bold, risky move, considering that their instrumental debut gained praise from international critics and appealed to an audience that might not be Greek.
“I don’t understand Greek myself,” Jim answers, “but I love the words and the singing. It’s great if you understand the words, but singing is much more than that. It is a sound, a feeling and I think that’s universal, people relate to that. The intention comes through music.”
What they describe is a mystical connection with their audience.
“When I sing to an English-speaking audience, I concentrate mostly on the sound, rather than the words,” says George Xylouris.
“This gives me the opportunity to play with my vocal sound more than I’m doing in Greece and the audience’s reaction surprises me. These people who don’t know what I’m talking about are concentrating on my music and they come and tell me what they imagine it is about.”
As Jim puts it, “the audience is part of what we are and we become part of the audience ourselves”. What he describes is an emotional journey in which he is always learning something new. Not many seasoned rock drummers are open to this kind of leaving of their comfort zone to go out to the world, but of course, Jim White is far from the average rock musician.
“Hopefully we continue to have fun with what we’re doing,” he says, describing how Xylouris White has become the main project for him, as well as his artistic partner.
“Everything else we do is a break,” agrees George, expressing his enthusiasm with the project. “We don’t really know what it is that we’re looking for, but what we’re doing drives us, we’re faced to a direction. I love the sound we make with Jim and he loves what he’s doing because I love what I’m doing.
“We’re fanatics, we’re into it the whole time, non-stop. Sometimes it can get boring for people around me, because I want to play music and talk about it all the time. Even when we talk about other things, my mind is there; now we’re here talking but all I think, all I’m waiting for is for us to finish, and then pour a couple of rakes for Jim and me and start playing again and rehearse and try new things.”
This kind of blending of culture leaves traces in their other work.
“Everything is a continuum, feeding into each other,” explains Jim. Playing this kind of ‘music without borders’ has also affected their outlook on international politics and the human condition.
“We see a lot of the Greek diaspora around the world,” says Jim. “Not the old diaspora, but those who left now to study, or make a living wherever they can. They often come to hear George in Switzerland or England and it’s very interesting to realise that this is what people have to do now, this is how situations force them to cope.” It is not only a Greek problem, of course.
“Xylouris White has given me the opportunity to travel around the world and meet people and gain new experience and see that the problems are common to the people around the globe,” says George, describing things as “a mess at the moment; the world needs recovery, we need to look after nature, and look after the people and look after each other. We should do more”.
‘Black Peak’ by Xylouris White is out via Caroline Australia. Xylouris White will tour Australia in December.
Sat 17 Dec: Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall. Special guest Tiny Ruins (solo) – tickets on sale now via melbournerecital.com.au
Fri 28 & Sat 29 Dec: Woodford Folk Festival – tickets on sale via woodfordfolkfestival.com
Fri 30 Dec: The Factory Theatre, Sydney – tickets on sale 20 October via factorytheatre.com.au