Celebrity focus: John Paul White finds peace at home after Civil Wars breakup
Sat., Aug. 20, 2016
When singer-songwriter John Paul White returned home to Alabama after the breakup of the duo Civil Wars, his mind and schedule were blissfully clear.
“I was creatively, or at least songwise, just a little burnt out, and I didn’t hear anything in my head,” White said. “And I was OK with that.”
White, 44, has returned with “Beulah,” his first solo record in nearly a decade, out Friday and his first since White and singer Joy Williams officially called it quits in 2014.
The Civil Wars achieved great success in an abbreviated career starting in 2009. They won four Grammys, released two critically acclaimed studio albums, recorded with Taylor Swift and toured with Adele.
But they dealt with constant speculation about their relationship despite being married to other people and canceled their tour in 2012 citing “irreconcilable differences of ambition.”
White said he didn’t actively decide to do anything after the breakup and focused instead on catching up on missed time with his children and wife.
“When my kids told me about their day at school, I wasn’t thinking about another song or I need to pack my bag and be ready for this show or I need to change strings,” White said during a phone interview from Dallas. “I could be 100 percent present.”
But the music found him. Ben Tanner from the rock band Alabama Shakes and Tanner’s friend Will Trapp persuaded him to join them in starting a record label called Single Lock Records in Florence, Alabama, in 2013. The label helped launch the careers of a talented crop of young bands like St. Paul & The Broken Bones, and White produced an album for Muscle Shoals songwriter Donnie Fritts.
“Little by little there was a note here, a line here, a melody here that would pop into my head and drive me nuts,” White said. “I would sing it into my phone so it wouldn’t be on loop.”
Those persistent songs became the basis for “Beulah,” a romantic ode to Southern contradictions in life and love.
For Civil Wars fans, there’s plenty to like. White’s breathy vocals, his literary lyrics and his acoustic pop melodies are the bones of the album. But he also draws on his rock influences on songs like “The Martyr,” or his love for classic country music on “I’ve Been Over This Before,” with its shimmery vibraphone and backup vocals from the Secret Sisters.
But after the music was recorded, he was apprehensive about touring again. “It was not like riding a bike at all,” White said. “Everything felt awkward.”
He’s keeping his new tour more low-key, with shorter trips away from home and booking small venues that allow him to interact with the fans.
“Like any normal human you learn from your past,” White said. “… I will never burn the road up the way I used to.”
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