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I don’t want to be known as a wedding singer,” declares Denny White. “I just want to play the music I love: jazz, love standards and pop.” The Costa Mesa native’s artistic vision led him to leave his band Western Front last June to follow his muse alone. He quickly released an eponymous debut EP last year. Now that he’s working on a second solo set, due later this summer, he’s performing with vocalists Piper Michelle and Keila Morris (both of Canvas), guitarist Eric Nelson, bassist John Carter (of Huntingfield), and drummer Tyler De Young (of the Trade and Stacy Clark’s band). White’s newer sound is funkier, jazzier and less indebted to modern pop/rock—which means no more Maroon 5 comparisons for this young troubadour. Catch the crooner on Mondays at his Detroit Bar residency.
OC Weekly: You have a distinctive, soulful sound. What music took you in this direction?
Denny White: I grew up listening to Motown—Stevie Wonder, the Temptations and the Four Tops. Everyone is dancing and singing in that music culture. A lot of my sound comes from that.
When did you first start playing piano?
I started piano lessons when I was 6, but I hated it. For the first eight years of my life, I was homeschooled. Playing piano was a weekly activity. My mom didn’t force me, but it was routine. I went to learn from this old piano teacher. Every week, I would practice right before the lesson, and she would say, “Oh, you’ve practiced!” But, of course, I hadn’t. I literally just had looked at the song. It wasn’t until high school that I got into blues, jazz and soul. I was totally the dork who played piano in jazz band but thought I was cool. Well, it’s paid off now.
Were you already into singing and writing lyrics?
There are moments in life when you have to write things down. My songs are what I want to tell the world. I started singing in church in high school. My youth pastor was a big inspiration. He always said, “You have to sing!” I was horrible, but he believed in me. Sometimes, I feel more comfortable singing than talking. I wish I could walk around singing all the time.
You are about to release your second EP. Did you actually release your first EP to the public?
No, I only share it with friends. I wasn’t stoked on it. It came out more pop/rock than I had wanted. It was like John Mayer-meets-John Legend. I’m going to redo “Out of My Head” on the new EP, though.
The majority of your songs are about relationships. How does your personal life affect your musical output?
Pop songwriters are a dime a dozen. Musicians always sing about break-ups. Everyone is looking for meaning and purpose in life. How can I relay my message in music and make it different? I feel like I’ve always been on the heartbroken side of relationships. I’m like a loyal Labrador. Everyone has gone through it: You want someone out of your head, but they just won’t leave.
On YouTube, you have covers of songs by Kings of Leon and Jason Mraz. Are they inspirations for you?
No. I did those songs for a couple’s wedding. I threw together the videos for them. It’s an ongoing joke covering the fun pop songs, but they don’t inspire me at all. Pop’s a guilty pleasure. Well, not that guilty because I love it.
At your first show at Detroit Bar last night, I overheard someone call you a “sexy bitch.” Now that you are playing shows, are you noticing fans swooning over you?
[Laughs] I’m flattered, but I don’t want to be anyone’s bitch. I have a girlfriend, and she inspired a lot of my new songs. Musicians are like everyone else—looking for love.
Denny White performs with the Steelwells at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. Every Mon., 9 p.m. Through June 28. Free. 21+.
Hey, Orange County/Long Beach musicians and bands! Mail your music, contact info, high-res photos and impending show dates for possible review to: Locals Only, OC Weekly, 2975 Red Hill Ave., Ste 150, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Or e-mail your link to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column appeared in print as "White’s Problem."