Image for White Ox – Keeping It Free Form

White Ox – Keeping It Free Form

Written by Michael Carr on June 18, 2010

Originally finding their feet as a bedroom recording project for Warhorse and Arkestra frontman Jasper Clifford Smith and Warhorse and Whipped Cream Chargers guitarist Louis Roach, White Ox haven’t played shows in a while. That’s all about to change though, as the band, returning with a new line-up and new approach are set to play World Bar tonight.

Existing in the borderlands between psychedelia, punk and hip-hop, White Ox aren’t exactly the easiest band to describe. In an effort to try and find someone who could explain things better, I caught up with Jasper before the Australia vs Germany match last Sunday night to see if he could shed some light on what we should be expecting from the triumphant return of the White Ox.

“Louis Roach, who‘s been involved with White Ox since day one is still in the band,” he tells me as we sit in the street-lit backyard of his friend’s Newtown terrace. “I’ve known Louis for about five years now, our parents are friends…” he pauses, before clarifying, “that’s not how we met, it’s just something we figured out over three years of friendship.”

He wanders off on a tangent for a minute, refilling his glass from the silver bag of destiny sitting amorphous between us on the shaky wooden table. I gently probe him back towards White Ox. “But yeah, Louis remains in White Ox from before, and Jasper Fenton who I’ve played with in Warhorse and other bands before that, he’s joined up. But yeah it’s a new approach; we’re just going to see what happens. It started out a bedroom recording project and now it’s just like whatever.”

“I mean, with White Ox at the moment there’s been no writing done. It’s completely free. It may not be entirely improvised, but it’s based on the idea of the freedom of the three of us to come up with what we can, and to be as interesting and entertaining as possible. We’re just going to be doing our thing, whatever the fuck that is.”

As he finishes this thought, a tall, lanky, flaxen haired man dressed in layers of Los Angeles Lakers merchandise enters the backyard, quickly installing himself next to Jasper and starts speaking to him in a heavy Haitian accent, ignoring me completely. Jasper introduces him to me as Pele, a friend of a friend of a friend of the band who’d just moved back to Australia because of the earthquake. Aside from that though, Japser informs me that Pele, under his own insistence, is the new manager, publicist, booking agent, tour manager and masseuse to the band, a role he wouldn’t leave if he was forced to.

“Well like, itsa funny story like,” he tells me of how he first met Jasper only a few months ago. “It turn out dat, cos of de J. Cliff’s other project, de Arkestra, a mutual friend told me dat Arkestra was a lot like de Massive Attack and dat dey’d had some interest from Massive Attack. It turn out dat dat was not true, but I realised de sheer genius of de band and I ad to get involved. I’m not so much playing wit de White Ox, I’m more like de bankroller, de money folder.”

By this point the match has started and Jasper, the eternal patriot that he is can be heard screaming something about Bismark or The Kaiser from the front room of the house, leaving me with Pele, who having found out I’m a journalist insists on explaining how he’s helped to put White Ox back together.

“Dere was some members of de band who weren’t interested in playing any more, and Pele he just looked past dat and saw that the nucleus of the band were living together under de one roof, you now what I mean, and dat’s how it had to be, you know Pele had to basically facilitate dat, instigate dat, cos dey weren’t’ going to do it for demselves. The one thing Pele is good at is facilitation, he facilitates action,” he explains, referring to himself and the third person and hitting his chest every time he says his own name.

“Money holder, money folder!” he exclaims before I have a chance to even ask a question. “Pele been making some serious cheese all his life man, people always think Pele be a deadbeat. Like oh yeah, he’s Haitian and he speak in an accent, but he’s white and he’s Australian. I mean Pele’s back-story is long and complex , you know, you don’t get back-stories more longer and more complexer dan mine man. I was born in Australia man, I come back here I got citizenship you know, after earthquake you know, I had to come back. My house got destroyed but my stash stayed the same and I still fold the money the same way man, don’t let anyone tell you uderwise,” he tells me, his face at this point barely ten centimetres from mine and the kind of look in his eye that those men who flash women on the train have just before they get it out.

I go to try and disengage myself, but he stops me, putting a disturbingly small hand on my shoulder and forcing me back into my seat. “But basically what it come down to is dat I see some genuine talent and ability in a sea of bullshit and I can hone in on dat, I can hone in on it like a laser pointer, like a spotlight in front of a gas chamber. I’m like de teeth biting into de jugular vein man, but de jugular vein be de White Ox and de Arkestra.”

“Fact is, Pele is already a superstar, but he sees that potential, he be elping dese guys you know, it’s like philanthropy, it’s like being a patron of de arts, while just being de arts itself, being de living embodiment and de walking embodiment of de arts demselves. You know I’m not talking about any of dis bullshit you know, dis art Biennale shit man you know.”

In a desperate effort to get a word in edgewise I suggest a similarity between his ‘artistic philanthropy’ and pitching up a hitch hiker. Pele responds with characteristic fervor.

“Yeah man! I’m giving them a lift down the road in my really expensive car you know what I mean,” he says, no hint of laughter in his voice and an expression of deep contemplation on his face. “You know I got Bentley’s I got a Jaguar, I even got a Toyota Prius you know, for them hippy girls man,” he finishes, laughing and jabbing me in the side with his elbow.

This brief spell of hilarity is short lived though, as Pele drops back into a serious tone to explain his and the band’s concern over the environment.

“De environment also be very important for de White Ox, dat’s why dey cut back from five members to three man, carbon footprint! You don’t want to be running all dem amps and running all dem microphones!”

I take this as a joke and laugh, but am met only with a cold stare of incomprehension and slight offence. Apologising for the misunderstanding, I ask him what we can expect from White Ox over the coming months and whether things are going to be too different what we’re used to.

“Free-form jam man, just basically making the best songs, better technologically, artistically than anyone else,” he informs me quite enthusiastically.

“I‘ve always been free-form man!” he continues rising in energy and volume. “I got a tattoo right here on my neck man that says free-form man,” he exclaims standing up and pointing at his neck, “right here man, right here on my neck,” he reiterates, still pointing energetically. I ask him to calm down, that he’s scaring me, and that I’m pretty sure he’s woken up the neighbours.

Calming down and lighting up a big spliff he pulled seemingly out of thin air, he insists on finishing his train of thought. “Dat relates to everything man, how I make my music to how I live my life man, you gotta keep it free form.”

A police siren sounds in the distance and Pele is on his feet and over the fence in a blink of an eye, leaving me questioning whether the previous half hour actually happened or was just a delusion fuelled by listening to too much Sean Paul, but to be honest, I’d rather not know.

If you’d like to meet the man himself be sure to head down to World Bar, or Werld Bar as Pele would put it, tonight to catch White Ox.

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