On the White tracks

Florida-based  musician, artist and writer Jim White
Florida-based musician, artist and writer Jim White

He searched for the wrong-eyed Jesus, he mangled his hand in an electric saw and now he’s working on music for a documentary about a circus clown in Siberia - it goes without saying, that Americana musician Jim White crams a lot into his life.

Now, the musician, artist and writer is preparing for a UK tour which brings him to Sheffield.

And while the Florida-based artist is usually averse to being on the road, this tour is proving to be a very special one.

“This tour has been very interesting so far. I’m working on music for a documentary about Slava’s Snowshow which is an existentialist circus and was very popular in Russia.” (And coming to Sheffield on tour in November).

“The clown who set up the show moved to Paris but the film’s about him missing the snow, so he travels to Siberia in the middle of winter with a film crew.”

The music – which White is co-writing with Paul von Fara – is a celebration of the extremities of Siberia. And to that end, this is familiar territory for White. The BBC documentary he worked on, Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus - named after White’s The Wrong Eyed Jesus album - is about the rural south in America. White took filmmakers on a tour of back-roads and backwaters to present a true picture of the beauty and hardship of America’s less celebrated society and geography.

“I guess both films are about extremes,” says White.

White moved to Pensacola, in Florida’s Pan Handle, when he was five years old. “We were real Yankees from Southern California and it was a shock moving to the rural south. It was especially shocking for my sisters, who were real beach blanket babes. They were older than me and left a California that was all Beach Boys and pop culture to live in the Deep South. They didn’t like it at all at first.”

For White, the Southern culture eventually got a grip of him.

“I can distinctly remember the first time I said ‘y’all’, I was at my friend’s house and they were a lovely loving and proper southern family - one son became a preacher and the other a criminal.”

These experiences, along with White’s author-like observations, can be found in his music, particularly his latest album, Where It Hits You. He is unusually outward-looking for a musician, a trait he attributes to the fact that he’s not solely a songwriter.

“This may sound mean to other musicians, but if someone told me I couldn’t do music anymore, I’d be okay. There are so many other things I could do.”

White was a model, appearing in Vogue, among many other things and then worked in a factory where he mangled his hand in an industrial accident.

“After the accident I finished a degree in film studies and was offered a job at Mirimax.”

Fate had other plans for the southern musician, however. “Music was just a hobby but David Byrne discovered what I was doing and I signed to his label, Luaka Bop.”

But for man so intent on searching, he wasn’t looking for any of this. “It just happened because that’s what was intended to happen.”

Jim White performs with Paul von Fara at the Greystones, Greystones Road, on Sunday. Slava’s Snowshow is at the Lyceum on November 20-24.