Shaker Notes and Strange Dreams: An Interview With Paul White

A deeper look into one of the most creative producers of the last half-decade.
By    October 21, 2014

Legendary beat and hip-hop producer Paul White just dropped his fourth solo joint, Shaker Notes, via R&S Records. You’ll recall how much we loved the debut single, “Honey Cats.” I took a moment to catch up with Mr. White recently via email, and the resultant convo took place. No exclamation marks were added; White just really likes them. – Chris Daly

 You’ve made a well deserved name for yourself as one of the best beat/hip-hop producers today, largely for your work in the booth, spinning, sampling, etc. Why the seemingly sudden change of direction?

Thanks a lot, man, that’s greatly appreciated! That was always the dream for a very long time, at the start whilst releasing instrumental beat music I always wanted to one day work with MC’s. So when that happened, wow, I was an extremely happy man, still am! But I think part of my personality is to always push and experiment and change, never settle, to keep trying new new new things, always! So another dream began in my head a good while back! The new dream became making music like these records I was sampling! So the last two years I’ve been making beats and writing more music side by side. I came from writing music as a kid, and throughout writing beats I’ve been writing bits of music for UK TV. So I’ve always been playing a little, and, in fact, there’s me singing harmonies on my first album Strange Dreams, not that I ever told anybody. So it’s kinda always been there, but just more in the background and during the last two years, it’s come more to the forefront. As well as this album having to do with my love of exploring all kinds of music and sound, it was also brought out by changes happening in my life, so it all felt tied together and the same thing, you got to keep exploring and learning and evolving, sometimes you go through experiences that force you to think more and learn a lot, in life and therefore my music, too! A lot of the time recently I find myself playing my guitar or singing or playing bass or keys and pouring my soul into that just as much as writing beats; life’s too big, music’s too big, not to explore!

Both on your previous works and Shaker Notes, you’ve worked with some pretty big names, from Danny Brown to Guilty Simpson to Homeboy Sandman and now onto the likes of Jamie Woon and Nancy Elizabeth. How do you pick your musical partners? Without asking you to talk out of school or anything, who’s been the most “fun” or “interesting” or “adjective of your choice” with which to work? Any particularly juicy stories you’d be willing to share? Bonus points if they involve exotic drugs and/or Shetland ponies.

It’s a vibe thing, or a spirit thing, I like to work with people that I feel I know already before meeting them just through listening to their music, that’s what always feels magic and crazy, when I meet these people I feel I’m meeting part of myself! Obviously more so with some than others probably depending on similar life experiences or beliefs or whatever. I feel honored whenever I get to work with these people, and it’s always incredibly inspiring for me. The thing is I get something different back from interacting with different people and places, and that goes for everything. Imagine if you only had the same experience in life all the time, you’d get bored, so I’m lucky that I get different inspiration and energy back from all these different people!

Danny Brown is probably the person I’ve worked with the most, and I feel like we’re very similar in ways, I definitely felt like I knew him way before I met him. In fact, for “Fields,” I’d sampled this song that was all about world war 3 and how the city and land had been destroyed, then when Danny turned around that beat to me, and I heard what he was talking about and the title of the song that tripped me out! We still got a song from the last album that never came out too, and we’re still working! Same with Homeboy Sandman, we’re working right now, he’s the same, totally pure and true to himself, these are the people I like working with, true pure people not willing to be anybody but themselves because that’s all I can be too! That’s a message in itself despite the music! Working with all these people is a dream, and I plan to work with more and more.

As far as crazy stories involving exotic drugs and Shetland ponies, that’s to keep hush hush!! One thing I’ll say is the last time I hung out with Danny and Skywlkr, we got so high I don’t know how they performed, but they still smashed it to pieces!!

Realizing every track you write probably is like one of your children, what’s your favorite joint on Shaker Notes? Why?

Well as long as you don’t tell the other kids because this is kinda bad… I’d have to say “Where You Gonna Go” and “Sitting In Circles” because of my family members being on there, my sister Sarah Williams White on “Where You Gonna Go” and my uncle James White on “Sitting In Circles.” Those feel really special to me. Me and my sis are planning an album together, and I wanna get my dad on there on harmonica, too, as well as more electric violin from my uncle James! But I feel bad on the others now!

In the same vein, what’s the best track period you’ve ever had a hand in?

Singing and playing guitar on “Dirty Diana” on stage with Michael Jackson in a dream I had when I was 10 years old!

Now that you can add vocalist and multi-instrumentalist to your list of accomplishments, what’s your favorite hat to wear when making music? Producer, DJ, guitarist, singer, etc.?

My new thing, with music, is in my mind it’s getting more and more similar to how I’m looking at life nowadays, everything is pretty much the same in the sense that were not alienated on this planet, we are all linked and connected to everything in the universe, life becomes beautiful if you remember that, fear falls away, and music is exactly the same thing, all is the same, life is a feast, when you let go of references, what then, you know? I’m fascinated by that, forgetting all reference points, then who’s to say whats different or separate, or what is what? So in life and music, I think the same, all is tied to one another, I’m noticing how much singing helps my guitar playing, how bass helps melody, etc., etc., everything, you feel your mind opening up to more things in general, so I want to wear one big hat that has faces of all hats all round the sides, with spare patches for new hats too!

From what sources are you drawing inspiration these days? What are you listening to these days?

A lot more styles of music, I’m loving the Vaughan Williams the Lark Ascending at the moment, the classical piece, I’m not thinking genres anymore, I hate that, a soul is a soul, if you can feel it, the music’s good in my opinion! Over the last couple years, I’ve been listening to a lot of Tame Impala, also Moondog, lots of jazz, a lot of Don Cherry, then Hiatus Kaiyote, JJ Cale, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Gong, Soft Machine, David Crosby, lots of music from different parts of the world. Even some techno and house, Andy Stott, Tenderlonious and a couple others! Lots of Jaco Pastorius! A lot of different things! Recently been checking out Goat, Low Leaf, Twigs, mainly Tame Impala, though!

Since the spotlight is shining on you that much brighter right now, give us an “unknown” or “up and comer” you think deserves more recognition. In other words, who should more cats be tuning into, according to Paul White?

Sarah Williams White, she’s been writing music on her own for years, and it’s always seriously seriously impressed me and inspired me a lot. She’s released music on her own and soldering it which I fully respect, but more importantly has just made a killer killer new album! She’s an amazing song writer, singer, keyboard player, and lyricist! The new album is kinda, pop, synth, folk, funk, electronic, jazz, RnB, soul!!! Hopefully that will be out soon!

What’s next for Paul White?

I wanna work with choirs, orchestras, films, more musicians, more beats, more albums, more collaborations, more live shows, crazy instruments, as much as I can! Got an album done under a band name Golden Rules with a guy called Eric Biddines, thats all done and should be out start of next year, I made that and Shaker Notes side by side which was real nice to do, but Golden Rules is totally different from Shaker Notes!

Been working with Jamie Woon, Jesse Hackett, more Danny Brown, more Homeboy Sandman, Trim, Jehst, Red Pill, couple of remixes, gonna be doing a project with Mike Eagle which I’m looking forward to. Been also working with Fem Fel a bit, Simbad, Thunder Bird Gerard, Worlds Fair possibly. I’m producing an EP for a band out in LA called Red Ferguson at the moment! I also hooked up with Arni the bass player from The Vaccines, and we made a psych synth EP hopefully that will surface! Just wanna do more and more, keep doing beats, keep writing songs, more collaborating!! All styles of music! Going to hopefully form a proper band soon! Just done some live versions with a band of a couple songs off Shaker Notes! My new big dream is really music for some kind of film or picture!

Beyond the album, anything else you’re pimping these days you’d like to shout out to?

White Sage and Pears!!!

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