MUSIC

Letting Her Light Shine

Chicago apostle Miss Alex White of garage-blues duo 
White Mystery preaches the gospel of DIY

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Calling all devotees of the DIY garage-rock lifestyle — prepare to worship at the feet of Miss Alex White, the 28-year-old singer and axeslinger who, with her brother Francis Scott Key White, comprises primal punk-blues duo White Mystery.

There's far more to this band than just brick-thick rock riffs, fiery shocks of red hair and an avowed love of April 20, which marks the band's anniversary and annual release date for new tunes. Four hip-shaking, head-banging White Mystery albums have graced the world in the last four years, a feverish output that speaks volumes about the White siblings' commitment to a 100 percent self-sufficient artistic and commercial approach.

Folio Weekly: Will this tour really mark White Mystery’s first trip to Florida?

Alex White: We’ve played something like 39 states and, yes, this will be our first time in Florida — the 40th state that White Mystery has performed in. We’re really looking forward to St. Augustine, too, because we’re Greek and there’s a big Greek population there.

F.W.: When you started playing music more than 10 years ago, did you set out with the goal of controlling every facet of White Mystery's destiny?

A.W.: You hit the nail on the head. The whole White Mystery philosophy is DIY: We book our own shows, license our own music, do our own press. … I started my first label, Missile X Records, in the early 2000s, when Myspace and Napster were happening and the whole music industry was crumbling. I found that there was space for entrepreneurship — especially if you were bringing something interesting to the table. It's been a fun ride.

F.W.: You graduated from DePauw University with a degree in entrepreneurial studies, right? How has that helped you turn White Mystery into a successful band and business?

A.W.: Right. When I first started the record label, before Francis and I started White Mystery, I didn't know what entrepreneurship was — as a teenager, it just sounded like a really long word. But coming from a family of self-employed people, I wasn't scared to embark on a self-motivated journey where you have to take risks and save money to fund your projects. It's interesting, because a lot of people think that there needs to be a separation between business and art — that it's punk to keep those two things sacred. But I think it's punk to do exactly what you want to do, when you want to do it. I'm a full-time musician that pays my bills with music, so I've found a way to artfully run my business. It's cool to feel invested in your work like that.

F.W.: Do you feel like operating in the garage-rock realm, which is sometimes viewed as sloppy, boorish or amateurish, is difficult for you and Francis, who obviously run a very tight ship?

A.W.: Somewhat. At the end of the day, we're just trying to have the best time possible and stay positive no matter what. The best advice I ever got was from Buddy Guy, who started his career during a time of segregation and faced many challenges. He basically said, "Do you know how to drive?" I said, "Yes, of course." And he said, "You know how you hit all those bumps in the road? 
Keep driving."

F.W.: What was it about punk, blues and garage rock that originally appealed to you — and, four albums into White Mystery's career, still does?

A.W.: That's the mystery. What is it in that music that's so primal and moving, creating that Dionysian frenzy of energy? Rock 'n' roll just has that. It's a very American tradition to bring together blues, punk and even heavy metal into what's called garage rock. But what is "garage rock"? I think it's more of a mentality than an actual genre: Have fun, play well, bring people together and spread your energy wherever you can.

F.W.: Do you think your commercial and creative output has influenced other musicians, particularly young women who might look up to you?

A.W.: I'm 28 years old now so, yes, in recent years I've taken on a more active mentoring role for young women in Chicago. I've developed a six-week program about the music industry: how to publish your music, how to book shows, how to manage your own prospects. But I'm just sharing my experience, not enforcing my agenda on anybody. This whole start-to-finish DIY thing isn't for everybody, but rock 'n' roll has a great network of people who all want to see each other succeed. Maybe that comes back to the whole garage thing … I don't know. I'm just onboard with spreading a little more love and happiness to the world. You can be aggressive and assertive and like black metal — and still want to share a message of positivity through your music. 

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