Monkey business

The John Whites

John White writes gospel songs about Charles Darwin.

John White writes gospel songs about Charles Darwin.

Photo by AMY BECK

The John Whites perform at the Biggest Little City Club, 188 California Ave., 322-2480, on Nov. 15. For more information, visit

John White laughingly shrugs off the notion that he might be the whitest man in America with this jocular response: “I bet there are some people that are paler than I am … I don’t normally see them around, but …”

However pale his complexion may be, spending any significant amount of time with him reveals anything but whiteness. This is to suggest nothing about his race, but merely that there is nothing bland or colorless about him or his music. He seems interested in everything and more than once his thoughts stray from his music to the origins of the universe, world mythology, Buddhism and monkeys.

And his music reflects his manifold interests and influences.

Though originally from Reno, he spent a large portion of his formative years living in Salt Lake City, where he began writing and recording music at the age of 17. He fell in love with the craft, and eventually all he wanted to do was write and record music.

“The main thing is that I record an album every year,” he says. “And I’ve done that for the last six years.”

From a young age, he realized his calling to be a songwriter. So he self-imposes deadlines for album releases in order to give himself a sense of urgency.

“I wanted to be a songwriter, and I figured that was how you did it: you wrote a lot of songs.”

Despite his appetite to write songs, he never wanted his albums to be simply a collection of them. He wants his albums to progress like a film, following different moods, concepts and imagery, which all coalesce around a central theme.

“The idea, for me, was not to make a lot of great songs, but to make great albums.”

Though he performs locally as a solo artist, his intention was never to write in the solo singer/songwriter format. Most of his songs he conceived as needing a band, which is why he records and performs under the name The John Whites.

When he was still in Utah, he began performing and recording with a group known as The John Whites. Though, the original members of the group are scattered around the U.S., they keep in touch, and are all planning on working on an album to be recorded and released in 2012.

Locally, he performs with the band Whadditdo as The John Whites, but for him, it’s all part of a progression of his work.

“The John Whites is more like a project; anything I am doing at the time is going to be what The John Whites is.”

His latest album, Monkey Man, demonstrates his various musical interests and influences. His songs are laced with ’80s pop, funk, classical and R&B. But his roots in rock ’n’ roll and folk cohesively weave all these elements together.

Aside from the range of musical genres on the album, there’s also the philosophical concept of the album. Though the album’s name initially appears kind of childish and goofy, it’s a reference to the humble origins of man and Charles Darwin.

Despite being an agnostic, there is, in White’s view, a religious quality to his music.

“You know, there’s a lot of Gospel songs out there, but not a lot of people write religious songs about Charles Darwin.”

Essentially, what he hopes to achieve through his music is that, whether listening to his albums or watching a live show, everyone understands that we are all sharing a common experience, and realizing his music’s potential to be that unifying force.

“Everyone is co-creating experience together,” he says scratching his head. “Everyone is a part of the universe … you’re viewing the universe, but it’s also the universe viewing itself.”

And then, to top off all seriousness with a joke, he adds, “I don’t know any of this stuff, and I’m not going to pretend like I do anymore. Plus, it’s way more fun to live in the mystery.”