EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jack and White — Creatively Compatible

Jack Matranga and Brooke White make up Jack and White, a duo that came to be unexpectedly but with magical results.

She called it the “unexpected result of what could be considered a musical blind date.” After Brooke White was set up by her manager to pen a song with Jack Matranga, her plans to release a new solo record manifested into an entirely different project. Upon discovering the gold they both struck writing a song called “Feathers,” the two realized they were on to something.

“The inspiration was unstoppable,” White said through an email to Karen On. “We wrote again and again, realizing very quickly that we were creating a sound that wasn’t just ‘Brooke White.’ That’s when we realized that we needed to join forces and release a record as a duo.”

And so Jack and White was born. The union produced an EP entitled Gemini, which was released this summer, and a mini-California tour that took place over the past couple of weeks.

Music fans will most likely remember White as a finalist on American Idol, where she demonstrated exceptional artistry on classics like The Beatles‘ “Let it Be” and Pat Benatar‘s “Love is a Battlefield” during the 2008 season. She has worked non-stop on a variety of projects since then: She released her post-Idol debut High Hopes and Heartbreak in 2009, toured the West Coast with fellow Idol finalist Michael Johns, and came out with a few exclusive iTunes EPs, including a Christmas EP. She has written a few songs for movies and even had the opportunity to act in one herself, in a TV movie called Change of Plans, which aired on FOX earlier this year. She also started the quirky “The Girls With Glasses Show” with her friend, Eliza Magazine editor Summer Bellessa. Still, with her focus always being on music, she spent the last year-and-a-half trying to put out another record. She headed to Nashville to possibly pursue country music—until she and Jack started writing songs.

“That changed everything. My focus shifted to where the inspiration was flowing,” said White. “I decided to stay on the West Coast where we wrote, developed and recorded this EP independently in just six short months. I definitely felt like this was the right decision.”

Then there’s the “Jack” in Jack and White, to whom I mentioned that he was a bit of a mystery.

“I’m A-okay with being a mystery!” Matranga replied. Born and raised in Sacramento, CA, he describes himself as “a California kid who’s never surfed.” He started playing guitar when he was 14 or 15 and after he graduated high school, he “toured for days in a van with a band of adventurers [his band Self Against City] playing rock and roll shows in cities across the US (and across the pond to London, White added).” He started writing with White just a few months after he moved to Los Angeles in 2010. White said that Matranga “brings a very fresh vibe to our sound.”

“His guitar playing style is unique and really plays like a voice in our recordings,” she said. “He’s a free spirit yet extremely focused and self-motivated, a great combination.”

Despite being initially unknown to each other, White believes it may have worked for the best. “In looking back, we both think this worked in our favors, going into a creative partnership with little to no expectations,” she said. “Jack and myself are quite different in our backgrounds, yet when it comes to personality and musical instincts, we are of an extraordinarily similar mind.”

Both White and Matranga had much more to say about the inspiration behind Gemini, how their partnership has allowed their individual musical styles to evolve, what the recording process was like, and what lies ahead in their lives as an artistic pair.

The lyrics on Gemini are so lovely and substantial. What was the inspiration behind the music?
JACK MATRANGA: We wrote “Gemini” (The song and then eventually the EP) after we had come to find out that we were both born in June. That conversation led to one where we started talking about the dual nature of people, the balance, the dark and the light, and how it really is embodied by everyone. The lyrics in Gemini are based around the thought of accepting this concept and embracing the challenge of creating a healthy balance between both sides.

Brooke, I noticed that the music on Gemini sounds very distinctive from the music you’ve released on High Hopes and Heartbreak. Can you both talk about how the music you’ve made together differs from music you’ve made in the past?
BROOKE WHITE: Gemini is definitely the most sonically modern record I’ve been a part of to date, and I was ready for that. High Hopes and Heartbreak was intentionally very throwback – the sound was reminiscent of the 70s with no modern treatment. Unaffected vocals and vintage analogue recordings is what we went for. I am glad we did, it definitely gave me somewhere to go. That collection of songs are piano-based and more ballad in tempo, with much more vulnerable themes. On the contrary, Gemini is filled with guitar-driven songs that are much more aggressive in tone—adventurous at times, yet still smooth in delivery. I feel like Gemini is an extension of who I am musically. The structure of the songs is still very classic, but we wanted to give them a very modern presentation with bigger vocals, slick guitars, and cool synth sounds. I was vocally more courageous then I’ve been in the past, taking chances. As well, since this record is entirely independent, we were able to produce and record these tracks on our own along with the brilliance of our friend Danny Cocke, who helped engineer and produce. We really got to experiment on our sound without any pressure, which was very freeing and we both feel resulted in something that was very true and original to who we are as artists.
JM: This is the first time I’ve ever written with someone where we only have a set date and time to be creative. Brooke and I would say, “Alrighty, how ‘bout Tuesday at my place round 1:30? Let’s get together, write a song!” In past projects I’d usually write in a band dynamic, where the band has a rehearsal space that was open every day to jam, write, rehearse, etc. While we didn’t have that sort of freedom, Brooke and I both shared the intention of making the most of what little time we had.

What was the recording process like? From the videos on your YouTube channel, it looked like you were recording in somebody’s house.
BW: Absolutely! This recording style was very DIY. However, we were very fortunate to be able to record with Danny, who is a brilliant up-and-coming film composer. We recorded almost everything in his one-bedroom studio apartment where he has a modest yet very capable studio set up and has access to very professional gear to capture a sound that was current and powerful. We brought in a good friend, Justin Barnes, to record all the drums, and then we just layer-by-layer built these tracks, feeling as much inspiration in the recording process as we did in the writing process. There was very little overthinking going on – it was very instinctual and organic. We laughed our heads off daily, ate lots of tacos, and still managed to be completely productive. Having worked in a variety of recording environments, I have come to realize it really doesn’t matter where you record an album, as long as you are working with the right people who know how to capture and create the right sound. In today’s industry, you have to know how to do it yourself. The technology is at our fingertips, no excuses. This is how records are being made.

What can we expect for your upcoming shows? Any new songs, maybe some covers?
JM: We will for sure be playing at least one new song at our upcoming shows. Some covers will for sure be mixed in. Our first few shows had all been with two acoustic guitars and a hand drum. We finally had a chance to break out the full electric band recently in Sacramento and Los Angeles and most of the shows in the near future will be with a full drum kit, a bass player, Brooke playing acoustic, and myself playing electric.

You two have truly made some beautiful music together on this collaboration as Jack and White. What’s in the future for you both?
BW: Thank you! We don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves. We’ve been taking it a day at a time. Up to this point, the “no-plan plan” has worked perfectly for us — we set short-term goals we can accomplish and we do. We’re gonna keep going with that strategy because it’s working. We definitely have a lot of shows in the works as we get out there and play these songs live on a stage to our growing audience whom we greatly appreciate. We would absolutely love to make more music in this collaboration — a full-length album feels like a definite possibility. We are already writing more material and exploring that option. The future is wide open — we both are really looking forward to it!

For all things Jack and White, including tour dates and links to purchase ‘Gemini,’ visit their official website.

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