How Silence Inspired John Paul White to Start Writing Music Again

John Paul White plays in Denver January 19.
John Paul White plays in Denver January 19. Allister Ann

After the Civil Wars broke up in 2014, singer-songwriter John Paul White stepped away from the music scene. But he couldn't stave off the creative urge for long. Last August, he released his first solo album in over a decade, Beulah.

Westword spoke with White about where the title — a Hebrew word for "married" — originated, his process writing and recording the album, and how he shares music with his fans.

Westword: Since the album was named using a term of endearment — a word personally meaningful to you — what does that say about the songs on the album?

John Paul White: It's definitely a personal title, for a personal project. I'd been so immersed in my family life for quite a while. It made sense for some sense of that to be attached. The term is also tied to the idea of healing and centering, which was also the case.

I would think there may be a lot of anxiety surrounding a first solo record in a decade, but it sounds like your creativity/inspiration was rather free-flowing. Could you tell me about that?

There honestly was no anxiety around it. I got to a place where I had to make the record. The process was incredibly organic and natural. I never thought too much about how it would be received until I'd finished. Thankfully, it's been received as well as I could ever hope.

What was the main creative trigger for this album? What was your main source of inspiration?

I would say my main creative trigger was that there was no trigger. I know that sounds cryptic, but it's true. I was hearing nothing in my head creatively for quite a while. When these sounds and images came forth, it was completely unforced and out of nowhere. I believe that because I was so quiet for so long, some things inside me grew back.

Sharing your music with your fans seems to be a high priority for you. When you created this album, did you have them in mind, or were you trusting that they would like what you produced?

Completely trusting. I would never presume to know what others will like. I figured that out long ago and decided to just please myself. I had to believe there were other people out in the world that would be pleased with that as well.

How would you describe this album as a whole? Where do you hope to go in the future, in terms of the direction of your music?

This album is unique for me in that it was recorded immediately after writing the songs. I normally play the songs for a while, whittle them down, rearrange — whatever they might need. You're hearing these songs exactly as they were born. I'm happy I went about it that way, but I doubt I'd do that again. The next record will probably be more intentional and thought out. Especially since it'll be prog rock — just kidding.

John Paul White will perform this Thursday, January 19, at the Bluebird Theater, with The Kernal.

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Riley Cowing has been writing with Westword since July 2016. She is originally from Kansas City and graduated from the journalism school at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She enjoys connecting with local artists, drinking all types of espresso and loves any excuse to watch The Devil Wears Prada.
Contact: Riley Cowing