Q&A: White Out's Tom Surgal And Lin Culbertson On Their New Record, How The Sound In DIY Spaces Sucks, And The Secret To Being A Couple In A Band

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courtesy White Out
White Out—along with Gotham lifers like Glenn Branca, Sonic Youth and Unsane—head a slate of disparately drawn iconoclasts who, despite downtown's colossal overhaul, still unequivocally bleed NYC guts and grit through their musical veins. Inseparable since being introduced by former SY drummer and acting legend Richard Edson in 1986 outside CBGB at a fuckin' Big Black gig (how New York is that?), percussionist purveyor Tom Surgal and analog synth guru Lin Culbertson have operated under the White Out moniker since the mid-90's.

Album number six, the just-released Asphalt and Delay, once again highlights White Out's revolutionary ecstatic avant-jazz jammage, which regularly illuminated NYC experimentalist joints like the old Knitting Factorys, The Cooler and Tonic. This time though, Surgal and Culberston recorded Asphalt and Delay sans collaborators like Thurston Moore, Nels Cline and Jim O'Rourke, and the results are stunning. Its five compositions—recorded in their apartment—drift in and out of atonally gorgeous realms, as Culbertson's ethereal moans and shrieks and synth jabs converse perfectly with Surgal's drum caress n' gnashing.

Sound of the City caught up with the amusingly snarky Surgal and the sweet Culbertson via email.

Tom, you were ill last month and had to postpone the original record release show at Zebulon. Are you completely recovered now?

Tom Surgal: Ask my malpractice attorney.

Throughout White Out's trajectory, you've been famous for your collaborators. Asphalt and Delay is your first album as a duo. What brought you to the decision to record this one as a duo? Was it a conscious one?

Surgal: Jim O'Rourke approached us to do a record for a label he was doing for Sony Japan, and we needed to get something together quickly. Recording as a duo was logistically the most expeditious approach we could take. Then Jim's deal with Sony fell through.

How challenging was it not to have, for instance, Thurston Moore supplementing your sound, or Nels Cline, Carlos Giffoni or Samara Lubelski or O'Rourke?

Surgal: No more challenging than any other music we've ever played. We don't depend on other outside influences for musical inspiration; they augment our sound, they don't create it.
Lin Culbertson: It was easier in a way. There was more available air space and no danger of overplaying.

Was there no one available to collaborate with when you decided to do Asphalt and Delay?

Surgal: It wasn't a question of other peoples' availability. What we did with this album was to make a maximum amount of sound utilizing a minimum of personnel.
Culbertson: There are always numerous people to collaborate with at any given time, that's what's so great about New York—lots of improvisers from which to choose from. We just decided to record this album as a duo.

Can you explain how you went about recording this one?

Surgal: We set up mikes and pressed record—pretty straightforward, no overdubs or postproduction effects.
Culbertson: I think it has a relaxed quality because we weren't rushed; we weren't all stressed out constantly worrying about studio time. We experimented more with different combinations of instruments because everything we own was at our disposal. You never have the luxury of transporting every instrument you posses to a gig or recording studio.

Was it purely improvised?

Surgal: Yes, as with everything we play it was both pure and improvised.

Asphalt and Delay was released by audioMER. How did you hook up with this particular record label?

Surgal: We have a close friend who lives part of the year in Brussels, where audioMer is based. She passed the material on to them and the rest is history.


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