WHITESIDE’s DAUGHTER: Southern Gothic Prog Rock

Whiteside's Daughter

Looking at the “influences” section on Whiteside’s Daughter‘s Facebook page reveals quite an interesting selection of artists that this Jackson, Mississippi trio cites in order to describe their work. The genre they make — dubbed as Southern Gothic Prog Rock/Proto Metal — is possibly the weirdest tag you could discover, but take a listen to a promo the band launched on Bandcamp, and you’ll be exposed to quite a pleasant collection of tunes.

The full-length album titled ‘The Life You Save‘ will be launched this June, and the trio — featuring Steve Poff on vocals, Brian Hughley on drums, and Steve Deaton on guitars, bass, and keyboards — tackles a concept story “about James, the gay son of an Alabama Pentecostal preacher, who in high school rebels and falls in with John, his ex-Baptist atheist classmate and guitarist for a high school death metal band called Village Witch.” 

Deaton spoke for Prog Sphere about the upcoming release.

Define the mission of Whiteside’s Daughter.

Our primary goal is to make music that we would want to listen to ourselves. We do aspire to create conceptual music that will catch the ear of those who enjoy adventurous music and narrative concepts.

Tell me about the creative process that informed your debut album “The Life You Save” and the themes it captures.

I’ve had this concept about fundamentalist religion brewing for some years, based on my own experience of growing up Southern Baptist and from the many similar stories I’ve heard from friends or read in literature. I’ve always loved the dark, grotesque, and taboo themes of Southern Gothic literature, especially in Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, and I thought the story of hellfire preaching, guilt, suicide attempts fit nicely in that narrative genre.  I’ve also been drawn to dark music (Sabbath, Pentagram, early Opeth) with dramatic riffs and minor keys, and thought it would be cool to merge Southern Gothic literature with progressive rock, gothic rock, and proto-metal.

What is the message you are trying to give with “The Life You Save”? 

Ultimately, I hope the story will stand by itself as a compelling narrative without any overt political or religious or anti-religious messages. But that being said, this story clearly wants to display the tragic consequences of young kids being told that Hell is real and that being gay, or having doubts, or listening to Iron Maiden, or having premarital sex or whatever will doom you for eternity. In the Deep South, that stuff is very real. I and many others I’ve known have experienced the depression and suicidal thoughts that come with all that. And a few of my friends have actually succeeded in killing themselves. The story is also about the liberating joy of rebelling against all that religious authority, and embracing the rebellious myth of Satan that comes in the teenage rebellion of Satanic metal, death metal, black metal, what have you. I lived through the “Satanic Panic” of the 80’s and was terrified of listening to Sabbath, Maiden, or Ozzy, or even KISS. No kidding! Some of my friends, though, somehow had already discovered stuff like Bathory, Slayer, and Celtic Frost, and that really scared me. When I began to finally shed all that religious baggage as an adult, it was so liberating to even listen to all that music, and I developed a real connection to it.

Whiteside's Daughter - The Life You Save

How did you document the music while it was being formulated?

Well, all three of us have DAW software such as Logic Pro and because we live in separate places in Mississippi and Alabama, we did the whole project through file sharing. So, for instance, I would have a rough idea for some riffs or chord progressions and I would send those to Brian who would come up with some drum ideas and send it back, or send it to Poff with a basic vocal melody and let him elaborate and modify it because he has a broader vocal range. So, a lot of back and forth, trial and error.

Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?

Yes. I really wanted the story to have that continuous flow—ups and downs, different moods, loud and soft—just like a good movie. The two albums that were obvious influences are Floyd’s The Wall and The Who’s Tommy.

Describe the approach to recording the album.

We really wanted the album to have a lot of variety of sonic textures, but overall we wanted a raw, vintage, live sound—even though we were never all in the same room recording. But especially the drums, we recorded with only four mics, using mostly the sound from the two overheads, and tuning the kit loud and open. We wanted it to sound like early Sabbath and Zeppelin, if we could.  And the guitar tones, I wanted to be raunchy at times—very 70’s. And even though we throw in some dramatic synth stuff, it is old FM synth with wild sweeps, like late 70’s and early 80’s Rush. So even though I love a lot of the current progressive metal and rock, a lot of the new stuff sounds very quantized and produced with drum triggers and such. We didn’t want it to sound like that.

How long “The Life You Save” was in the making?

We started throwing around ideas and file sharing early in 2017—so almost two years.

Steve Deaton

Steve Deaton

Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?

A lot of prog and metal of course—Opeth, King Crimson, Black Sabbath especially. The concept album idea was strongly influenced by Pink Floyd and The Who. But some of our Southern roots sneak in like the dual guitar work of Molly Hatchet or even The Allman Brothers. And the real poppy song about teenage rebellion is straight up power pop like Cheap Trick or early Who.

What is your view on technology in music?

This project couldn’t have happened without modern digital software. I think digital technology is simply a tool and can be used in many ways. Music can still sound very live and organic, if desired. It just makes the work flow a lot easier and a lot cheaper which is great for independent artists. And I don’t even have a problem with modern pop or experimental music that can be made almost entirely sitting at your laptop. As long as people are doing something inventive that is interesting to listen to, I really don’t care. Sure, it can make music production lazy and stale, but it doesn’t have to.

Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?

As I said earlier, I hope the music is always the primary objective and can stand by itself. But if this story concept by its very nature gets across a message that people can dig, or hate, or find solace in, that’s cool, too.

What are your plans for the future?

Even though this has been a studio project so far, we are planning to put together a live performance of the entire concept. We plan to periodically stage it as a musical dramatic piece in small theaters, in college auditoriums etc. And we already have some ideas for a new concept record, and we have added a bass player to our line up for live purposes, but he also will participate in recording the new project.

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