The members of New York-based band Whitewash found each other while wandering through the halls of their college dorm. Almost immediately, their friendship formed on the basis of their shared musical interests, from Radiohead to the sweet sounds of soulful jazz. Looking back, it seems as though the psychedelic, experimental garage-rock outfit (think Pink Floyd) were destined to find each other.
Whitewash consists of lead singer and guitarist Sam Thornton, bassist Jonathan Ben-Menachem, rhythm guitarist Aram Demirdjian, and drummer Evan Glazman.
We chatted with the band about sexual innuendoes, grandmothers, and the release of their debut album Shibboleth, out now via Tree Machine Records.
BreakThru Radio (BTR): How did you all start playing music together as Whitewash?
Jonathan Ben-Menachem (JBM): Well, Sam and I lived across the hall from each other, and the first time he stumbled into my room I think he judged me pretty hard because of my basic bitch OK Computer poster. Eventually we started 420 blazing it and bonded over weird music like Ween and ended up playing bass/guitar duo covers of that kind of stuff. Evan and I met via the jazz program, and Aram was randomly assigned to live with Evan. We all lived in the same dorm building, just in different parts.
Aram Demirdijan (AD): College dorms hah, [we all shared] the same feelings of “fuck college housing.”
Evan Glazman (EG): I mean, my intentions coming into NYU were very much to start or join up with a band, and I guess I count myself lucky that I stumbled into not only some great musicians right away, but some pretty cool dudes as well.
BTR: What is the significance behind the band’s name?
EG: Whitewash has so many uses and connotations in the English language. As far as how we settled on that word and embraced it as our moniker, it’s my understanding that Sam was flipping through Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon and stumbled upon the word in reference to both the foam that sits on top of crashing waves in the ocean on days with rough surf and, we later realized, sexual fluids–it’s a weird book. At the time, it seemed like a radical improvement over BFLO or Buffalo or whatever we used to call ourselves. Actually, it still seems like a radical improvement.
BTR: On Bandcamp, you describe your music as “intergalactic softcore pornstar rock outfit weirding out your grandma since 2012.” That description rules. Now please explain.
JBM: It’s “softcore porn” because we are sensitive intellectuals who would rather imply sexuality rather than perform intercourse on camera. It’s the classiest kind of pornstar. Plus, there are a lot of delightful intersections between the music industry and the porn industry. You can look to Miley Cyrus and Kendrick Lamar if you need more elaboration.
As for the grandma bit, when I played our new album Shibboleth for my grandma, her response was “this is weird.” I quickly realized that this was exactly the kind of sound I had been shooting for all along–something that doesn’t make my grandma’s generation feel too comfortable, but still something that’s pleasant.
BTR: You released your debut LP in May. Would you mind talking about the writing and recording process for Shibboleth?
JBM: Shibboleth was recorded after the band spent five months apart. I was in Paris with Aram, Evan was in Prague, and Sam was back in NYC. So we did a lot of inter-continental demos. That, combined with demos we’d worked on pre-Europe and new post-Europe compositions, grew into the album that we all know and love.
We recorded in a pretty fantastic home studio called The Pancake Factory in Gowanus, owned by Mike Hurst. We did most of the foundation tracks as a live trio in a three or four day stint of recording sessions in October, then pieced the rest of the layers together over November and December.
BTR: You recently joined forces with Tree Machine Records. How did that come about and how are you all feeling about this big step?
JBM: I run a music blog called No Smoking Media, and I used to write for a larger one called DINGUS. Andrew [Prieto] from DINGUS has a project called Ender Belongs to Me, and I reviewed it on my site. It had been released via Tree Machine, so that was the start of my relationship with [the label’s founder] Zack [Anselm].
We’re feeling pretty damn stoked about the transition! It’s great to have someone who is sending emails on our behalf and giving advice about what we should release officially/not-so-officially. It’s also going to be awesome to eventually get some vinyl out there.
BTR: What can we expect from Whitewash in the upcoming months?
EG: New content in all shapes and sizes, and lots of sexy gyrating at live shows. Synthesizers. The collective alignment of our chakras and opening of our third eyes. Space exploration.
AD: Hopefully more of the same, refining and expanding our sound and adding new content to the mix. Getting in touch with what the people want and need.
JBM: Ice cream and ego death.