Last time we caught up with our friend/V13 family member Josh Van White this past August, he discussed new music he was working on, which included a brand new studio album titled Pacific Transmissions. Well, White spent the latter part of the summer and the early part of the fall finalizing said record, and he formally released it last month.
Consisting of seven new tracks, including the previously released single “Is Love Electric?,” the album is again White, working mostly on his own, using his musically experimental mind to create sounds and melodies that are still kind of new to him. This more electronic sound is a significant departure from White’s previous more guitar-focused sound that was evident in his work with his rock band Modest Apollo.
We are extremely pleased for White to join us for a special track-by-track rundown of Pacific Transmissions, wherein he gets into great detail about his motivations, thought processes, and writing process behind each song on the record.
1. “Repeating Goodbye”
“To me, a good album opener really sets the tone for the rest of the rest of the record. Not that it’s something owed to the listener, but it really presents the album as a package, as opposed to a collection of songs. If the album is all over the place musically, I think the first song should reflect that. I wanted that for Pacific Transmissions.
“Before I wrote this song, I knew two things. One, I wanted it to be short. Something that might not even be considered the first real song on the record but rather just a lead-in. And two, the lyrics would convey the themes of the record in a mildly convoluted way. I think I accomplished it well enough. The music is very simple and groovy, while the lyrics are brief, but dense. In only a handful of words, it brings up saying goodbye, and the way repetition of even the most emotional moments can lessen their significance.
“Like the way you can tell your partner you love them, for instance. The first time is a big deal that brings up all sorts of feelings and can even be nerve-racking. But after a while, ‘I love you’ becomes a phrase you use daily. Not that the love has diminished necessarily, but the phrase itself that was once such a powerful three words doesn’t stir up the same emotions as that first time. It’s the way anything can have an emotional satiation of sorts. I think this song sets the tone for the album, musically and thematically preparing the listener for the next 30 minutes or so.”
2. “Diamonds in Your Eyes”
“Sometimes, when taking a lot of time to finish an album, the songs you wrote early on just don’t cut it anymore. This track is an example of that. I came up with a lot of different riffs for guitar, synth, and bass that all fit well, but there was no way to include all of them without making the song pretty musically convoluted.
“So I had to decide what kind of sound it would take on and go from there. The problem was, I kept changing my mind on what style I wanted it to be. Then depending on that, I ran into the trouble of finding an intro I was satisfied with. I would be content with how it sounds for a while, but then find problems with it somewhere around the 15th listen. It was one of the first songs I wrote for this album, but it was definitely the last one I finished. Maybe one day I’ll go back and release the alternate versions, hearing them after some time could show them in a new light that I actually enjoy.
“The trouble with being a musician, or doing anything creative, is it’s hard to turn into a career. When I was young and got into music, I knew that writing and performing would be the ultimate dream job. But contrary to what the recent surge of rock and roll biopics portray, things don’t just fall into place like that. For me, it quickly became apparent that music would have to remain a hobby while I did necessary life things like get an attainable job to have the money to survive. I feel like this is the case for most people. Not just grandiose dreams either, even small things that you enjoy can be cast aside to make room for the dull parts of life. At a certain point, you might just say enough is enough, and make a big change to shake up your life just for something different.”
“A duet! The bare bones of the song had been something I’d been sitting on for a few years now. I had kind of forgotten about it until I was pitching songs to duet and came across some old lyrics. It took me a little bit to remember the melody and chords, but once I had that the rest of it came together quickly. Just had to come up with a couple of verses and a bridge, and it was all laid out.
“Even though I’m relatively young, the looming idea of not doing enough by my age is a reoccurring concept. It’s always stuck between, ‘I’m not doing enough with my life,’ and ‘better just play it safe and stick with this little life I’ve built.’ Sometimes you just have to hope for the best and make a drastic decision to at least attempt to find meaning in a life of mundanity.”
4. “I Want to be Afraid of the Dark”
“This was the first song I wrote for the album, with the origins going back a couple of years. I came up with the main riff and chords while learning how to play ‘Never Going Back Again’ by Fleetwood Mac; it has the same tuning and capo placement. The timing on it is a little strange, so I had trouble coming up with a vocal melody, but it finally came together for this record. It became a classic at the open mic I regularly attend, so I didn’t want to stray too far from how I performed it live. This meant keeping the song as a stripped-back acoustic tune.
“Of course, I couldn’t keep myself satisfied with just guitar and vocals, but I think I restrained myself the perfect amount. Just a touch of bass coming in on the chorus, some soft synth, and a bit of drums for the last leg of the song. The instrumentation kept the focus on the guitar and vocals without letting it get too repetitive. Musically, it doesn’t quite match the rest of the record, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Overall, this is my favourite on the album, possibly my favourite I’ve ever written.”
5. “Is Love Electric?”
“I don’t really like songs that sing about love; at least too explicitly. I especially don’t like writing love songs myself. Occasionally when I’m coming up with lyrics, I will fall into something that resembles a love song, and I have to scrap it. This was how ‘Is Love Electric?’ started out. I had just started a new relationship when I was writing it and in singing the first thing that came to my mind, it got cheesy pretty quick. But I liked the melody, and the sentiment behind it was still nice.
“So I changed the lyrics to more of a discovery of the feelings without being explicit. It went from ‘Oh wow, I think I’m in love,’ to ‘I don’t know what this, but I like it.’ This put it on the listener to figure it out. Then the big ending poses the titular question, wondering if the feelings of electricity are in fact the same thing as what those cheesy love songs are singing about. I’m not incredibly subtle, but I still danced around it enough that it didn’t seem like an outright love song, which is about as close as I’ll get.”
6. “This Time Last Year”
“There was a song called ‘The End of the World of Your Very Own’ that I originally wrote to be on this album. It was even recorded and mixed in full, but in the end it just didn’t fit. Maybe it was the lyrics, maybe the music just wasn’t quite there, I’m not really sure. What I know is I needed a new song to fill out the record.
“While writing and recording the rest of the songs, I got really into Joy Division and wanted to lean into their sound. I came up with the chords, melody, and even a verse or two fairly quickly; but the concept was still nowhere to be found. I’m no Noel Gallagher, I can’t just write nonsense lyrics and fill out a whole tune that way. I really rely on a concept to give me direction for the lyrics. So I was stuck for a few days, maybe a week. But I was determined to make this the song. I had taken longer than I wanted on this album and just needed one more track to make it complete.
“Then one day doing a mindless job I work, I found my mind wandering and reminiscing. I thought to myself, ‘what would become the exact lyrics of the chorus and the ultimate direction of the song?’ ‘This time last year I feel like I was in another life.’ I wrote it down immediately and the rest of the verses followed quickly after. From its inception to finishing the mix, ‘This Time Last Year’ was by far the most natural to come together. If only they were all this easy.”
7. “Going Away”
“I was never a fan of watching movies or TV shows where teenagers have parties and do stupid but fun things. I’m still averse to watching shows like Euphoria or Skins, no matter how many people tell me they’re amazing. And it’s not because I don’t care about teenage problems. My issue is, when I see teenagers (or 20-somethings posing as teenagers) being dumb and getting wild, it makes me feel like I missed out on something formative. I was never a big partier, didn’t really start drinking until I was legally allowed. I had a bit of a streak in my early 20s where I collected some fun experiences, but for the most part to me they seem pretty tame compared to what I see in media or hear from others’ escapades.
“Now I’ve reached a point where I don’t stay up very late and only have the occasional social drink. The worst part is, I kind of prefer it. I feel productive, healthy, and managed to piece a nice little life together for myself. And yet, few things depress me more than seeing dumb teens making dumb decisions while having the time of their lives. Not because I think I’m better than them, but because I envy them. As happy as I am with the life I’ve made for myself, I am not content with it.
“Not long before starting to write this record, I decided to move to New Zealand — the other side of the world. I didn’t have a plan as to what to do there, still don’t really, but a change felt necessary. All the existential anxieties of mundanity, questions of not having done enough, and general uncertainty, came together to make this decision. These thoughts found their way into all the songs for this album, even if I wasn’t consciously aware. ‘Going Away’ sums up all of it, and declares the outcome. After it was finished, I thought, ‘There; if anyone asks why I am moving away, they can just listen to this song.’”