Brooke White and Jack Matranga Write Free as Jack and White
On paper, it would seem that indie rocker Jack Matranga and American Idol alum Brooke White have very little in common musically. But good music isn’t made on paper. It’s made by people who share an undeniable connection. Though the two songwriters may have had different paths that brought them to this point, it’s apparent from listening to their debut EP as Jack and White, Gemini, that the duo may very well be meant to be.
While both describe their partnership as remarkably easy, getting together was a bit difficult. Matranga, a Sacramento native, was guitarist for Self Against City, which released Telling Secrets to Strangers in 2007 on the Rushmore imprint of Drive-Thru Records. Since then, he has worked as frontman for Tin Can Notes. White released an album in 2005 with co-writer/producer Tim Simms titled Songs from the Attic, but it wasn’t until she became a finalist on the seventh season of American Idol that she received national attention. While she didn’t win the competition (though showed well by landing in the top 5), her time on the program was spent wisely. She ended up starting a record label with Randy Jackson (June Baby) and released a second solo album in 2009, the aptly titled High Hopes and Heartbreak. She was set to work on a third solo album when she met Matranga and both their courses were altered.
White and Matranga were set up to write together by Brooke’s manager. But it took some effort to actually get the two songwriters in a room together. Matranga says they tried for “four or five months before we actually did it.” White remembers that the two had actually met prior to that at one of her gigs at the Hotel CafÃ© in Los Angeles, but Matranga may not have made the best of first impressions.
“Technically, we did meet at the Hotel CafÃ©, and Jack came to meet up with Brad [Fuhrman], who’s our manager, to go to a Paul McCartney concert,” White says. “So they came and left my show to go see Paul McCartney.”
Perhaps getting stood up for a Beatle is understandable. A year later, in February of this year, the two got together to write for White’s third solo album. However, by April, they’d decided to start writing as a band instead; thus Jack and White was born.
“We would set up these writing sessions, and I was writing to exhaust,” White explains. “I just was not in the mood to do any more co-writes. I was like, ‘I just can’t write any more today.’ I would call Brad and be like, ‘Can we reschedule with Jack? I’m really sorry.’ When we finally wrote, it was like, just… There you go. Here we are.”
“Yeah, that wasn’t so bad,” Matranga adds, laughing.
Though the two were set up on a sort of musical blind date, the sparks starting flying almost immediately. It took both of them by surprise.
“It’s not forced at all, and it’s kind of weird… I’ve never written with anyone before like that, like a writing session style, where you’re writing for someone else’s record,” says Matranga, who was comfortable working in the band dynamic prior to Jack and White. “This was a lot more focused, and I guess a lot more free-flowing, because we just naturally let lyrics, melodies and chord progressions come out. It was all a jumble of natural expression.”
“Free” and “natural” are words that could be used to describe Gemini, a six-song EP that was released on June Baby Aug. 23, 2011 and produced with indie film composer Danny Cocke. Each track has a smooth-as-silk, instantly hook-y sound. It’s not music you have to think about, just pop on and enjoy. In the following interview, White and Matranga talk about what it’s like finding musical serendipity and why they’ve decided not to overthink anything in regards to Jack and White. We spoke to the duo over the phone from Los Angeles on the day of Gemini’s release.
I think this is the first time I’ve ever spoke with a band on the day of their record release. How has your day been?
Brooke White: We’re writing a new song.
Jack Matranga: Yeah, we’re writing a new song right now.
BW: We don’t quit, James, we just keep rolling here. No rest for the weary.
Can you talk about what you’re working on right now?
JM: Yeah, it’s a new thing that we wrote while we were recording a little acoustic session. We just started working on it out of nowhere and got a few bars of it and decided that we needed to write it in the next couple of weeks. It just turned out that we were getting together today. Got together last week to work on it a little bit and decided to finish it up today, which is kind of random. We didn’t really plan on finishing it up the day we released the EP.
It seems like that’s how a lot of the band has come together. You didn’t really plan on it, but it ended up working out.
BW: No plan is the perfect plan.
Brooke, had you heard any of Jack’s music prior to this?
BW: No, nothing, never heard a darn thing. I knew that he was in Tin Can Notes, but that was all I knew. Brad had hardly given me any introduction. I’d remembered meeting him briefly at the Hotel CafÃ©, like vaguely. I totally remembered meeting him, but I couldn’t remember what he looked like…
Have you since gone back and listened to it at all?
JM: We’ve listened to so much of each other’s music that we’ve done in the past now after knowing each other, more than we ever would have had we never had met.
BW: I don’t think Jack would have ever naturally listened to my music, and I don’t think I would have ever found out about his music. It’s so funny, because I think that was one of the things for me when I was thinking about us writing, part of me in the back of my mind was thinking, “Really? Are we really going to be good to write together?” He’s this indie, pop rock kind of guy. I thought he was that hip, rock…not that I don’t think he’s like that anymore! I don’t know if I thought we were going to be a great musical match. Whatever it is that we are together, works very nicely. I was saying to Jack that a lot of my previous writing sessions, I write with songwriters–quote, unquote–people who are doing this every day for a living.
JM: Clock in, clock out kind of guys.
BW: Not that I’m saying Jack doesn’t do the same thing, but older, established writers. I hadn’t written with someone so close to my age with such a youthful, fresh energy… Now that makes some of my other writers sound like…I’m not trying to hack on anyone! I just think we’re on the same wavelength of energy.
I would imagine, and correct me if I’m wrong, a lot of the people you’re used to working with don’t just work with you, but they also work with…
BW: Yeah, a lot of writers. It was just completely different, and maybe because Jack hadn’t worked in this kind of environment is what made it so fresh.
Did that take a bit of adapting on both of your parts? Since Jack was used to working in the band dynamic, and Brooke was used to working with more established songwriters?
JM: It was very easy.
BW: No adapting. If anything, it was adapting to something that was easier than anything I’d ever done before.
JM: It was just not overthinking and allowing it to be such.
Listening to the EP, it sounds like you’ve been working together for a long time, but you really haven’t.
JM: That is one of the most magical parts of the entire thing.
BW: That’s something you can’t make happen. You can’t force it. It’s just lucky. You luck out when you find something. That being said, it’s not like Jack and I just started this. On our own, we’ve been developing, growing, trying, beating our heads up against the wall in a variety of ways to finally get to a place where it’s like, “Woah, there you go.”
JM: This is how it’s supposed to be…
Brooke, you were supposed to be working on a third solo album. Are you still working on that solo album?
BW: No. Not right now. I’m not saying that I won’t in the future, but my whole focus has shifted because, like I said, I’m taking it as it comes. This is a gift to me. It’s a gift, it’s rare, and I want to continue with the thing that feels the most natural and has the most inspiration and energy around it. That’s when I feel you really create art. There’s the craft part of it, the work part that we all have to do, and I definitely do that. I’ve worked at it. But when you hit inspiration, it’s definitely better than something that you could have worked a million hours on. Just because you’ve worked super hard on it, doesn’t make it the best. I think the inspired stuff, at the end of the day, usually takes the cake. I’m not saying that I’m not going to do that [a new solo album], but I’m just so intrigued by [Jack and White], I’m very fulfilled by it, so that’s where I’m going with it.
I saw the acoustic video for “Telephone Games.” I think Brooke says right before you start playing, “I’m thinking about it too much,” and then you recount and start all over. Has that become a mantra for you guys, or is there a certain head space you have to get into where you just kind of clear your mind?
BW: It’s weird. You have to get there without trying to get there.
JM: The performing of it is a completely different ball game than getting in the mindset of writing. Everyone has their own thing for getting in the mindset to perform, and I think that’s what was being referred to in that video. Mostly with the project and the writing, we’ve fully embraced the freeform spirit, don’t worry too hard, don’t over think. That has probably been said at every one of our writing sessions.
BW: And not just in the writing. We didn’t have an A&R guy standing over our shoulders… We had a plan. It’s amazing we’ve been able to come out of this in a timely manner with a such a great finished product and also enjoyed it and went at a pace where it wasn’t stressful. We pulled a few late-nighters, but the whole thing never felt pressured. There was no pressure. It was just an experiment that worked out really well.
You didn’t go into this with any expectations, but now that the EP is released, do you have any expectations for the project?
JM: I have one. It includes playing the music live in front of people. As a fan of music, when one of my favorite artists puts out a record, I expect to see them live playing those songs somewhere near me. For all the people who have now heard the record, I’d imagine that if they enjoyed it, they’d want the same thing, and we should deliver. As far as anything beyond that, I don’t think it’s good to have expectations.
BW: I have a hope that we get to make more music. I want us to make a record. That’s the only other thing that I can see that happening.
Do you see anything standing in the way of that?
JM: You can’t tell what can come up. You can’t tell the future… We’ll definitely not put anything in the way of that happening if that’s the question.
BW: The strategy of taking it as it comes is working so well right now, we really don’t want to mess with that.
See Jack and White live at Luigi’s Fungarden on Sept. 17. The show starts at 8 p.m. and has a $7 cover. Also performing will be Shannon Curtis and Sherman Baker. The Gemini EP is now available through iTunes, and the band was even featured as the online music retailer’s Single of the Week.