Irish singer-songwriter Andy White heads out on tour this November in support of the release of his boxset Studio Albums 1986-2016 – a collection of all 12 of his studio albums, including new album Imaginary Lovers (available separately 4 November). He tells Big Issue North about his evolution over the albums but says, in the end, they’re all just about trying to fit as many words as possible into the first line while playing A minor.
Tell us a bit about your sound and your influences.
For me every album in the box set has a particular sound, though they can be grouped together into the ones recorded in Randalstown, the Dublin ones and the Australian ones. But in the end it’s just me and my acoustic guitar trying to fit as many words as possible into the first line while playing A minor. As far back as Rave On I wanted them to last – this is a continuing story and you’ve got to be able to listen to the first chapters even if you jump in to the book late on. So although we always used samplers and electronics from the early days, everything’s centred around drums, bass, piano and guitars. Vocals up front so you can hear the words. My influences were my mum and dad’s record collection – Beatles, jazz, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Burl Ives. Punk, which arrived when I was a teenager and we hung out on the stairs of Good Vibrations trying to pluck up enough courage to go inside. Folk, since John Martyn played the Whitla Hall with an SG and an Echoplex. John Lennon and Bob Dylan who showed me how to sing what you feel. My grandmother taught piano on the Ormeau Road. She raised a family on her playing and taught me that you can have a life in music, doing what you love.
How have you evolved as a musician over the years?
Slowly. There’s an old black and white Spike Jones video called the History of Music, which starts off in a cave with people hitting rocks together. It goes through the centuries, ending up with rock’n’roll when everyone starts hitting rocks together again. Feels a bit like that – you learn a lot about writing, recording and playing live, but you have to retain that arrogant naiveté that’s there at the start. Spontanaiety and the imagination don’t really change – you maybe just learn how to channel them better, know when something is working, and start trusting in coincidence more. I certainly haven’t learned any more chords.
Were there any alternative band names before you arrived at this one?
No, as soon as I started writing it’s always been my name in the title.
What are you up to at the moment artistically?
Putting together the box set has been a big deal. Looking through notebooks, photo sessions, cuttings, tracksheets and photo sessions, listening to the masters recorded on tape, DATs, Betamax cassettes and computer files. There’s a new album in the box called Imaginary Lovers, which hasn’t been released before. Recorded in Melbourne with my son Sebastian on drums, it’s the follow-up to How Things Are and leaves things open for my next album. I’ve started writing it, but right now I am pretending I know how to be a record company and trying to learn all the old songs in preparation for the UK tour in November/December.
How do you stand out from the crowd in a saturated industry?
Six foot one, perhaps I should buy a pair of those platforms I always liked Mick Ronson wearing. Yes, the industry is saturated so you just have to concentrate on the music and keeping it as individual as possible. I’m lucky, since I started when there was much less to choose from. People are used to seeing rather than listening now, but my graphics and sound have always been as simple as possible. It’s the lyrics which make the difference.
What’s on your rider?
The average age of my band is 23, so there’s probably too much beer. If there’s coffee, red wine and Marks & Spencer sandwiches I will be a happy man.