White Denim frontman James Petralli talks about new video for ‘Street Joy’

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Those looking to revive the kingpin of high school social events ought to take a gander at White Denim’s new video for ‘Street Joy’ from their latest album, ‘D.’ Besides being a mullet-tinged slice of senior prom nostalgia, the video taps into the innate slow-dance factor of the song. Typically known for pummeling classic rock energy and dexterous guitar work, White Denim’s song is one of the few key slow jams on the new album, one that has garnered a fair amount of buzz as they prepare for another U.S./ Canadian tour.

Culled from a pile of found prom footage, the video sets the Texas four-piece in the middle of all the classic, anxiety-filled awkwardness of your last high school dance. From the precarious pinning of the prom corsage to the sweaty, dance floor smooching, the video depicts it all in less-than-stunning VHS clarity. We managed to catch up with White Denim singer/guitarist James Petralli to see if the opportunity to play a fake high school prom brought back any fond memories.

Pop & Hiss: Where did the concept for the video come from?

James Petralli: I wish we could take credit for it, but it was actually somebody at our label that kind of developed the concept, a guy named Michael Pontecorvo that works [as general manager] for Downtown Records. The idea came when we played at Webster Hall. We had just played 30 minutes nonstop, a pretty loud, heavy set since we were first on the bill that night. [Pontecorvo] spotted a couple that was slow dancing in the audience when that song came on. I think the idea was just kind of born from that.


How did the idea of incorporating old prom videos come into play?

There’s a lot of found footage. The director of the video and [Pontecorvo], who developed the idea, I think they just scoured the Internet looking for vintage prom footage. Our shots were done in a warehouse that the director set up to look like a prom locale. So we just rented tuxedos. The whole thing was done for under $500.

Did it bring back any prom nostalgia for you?

Not really. I was jealous of the guys that got to play my high school prom. I would’ve loved to have played it. It was kind of an opportunity to live that out, even though it was totally fake. I wasn’t really super jazzed about high school and high school functions, I was already pretty obsessed with music at that point, just waiting to get out. I spent most of [prom] out in the parking lot smoking cigs and trying to get loaded, honestly.

Do the song lyrics fit the video at all?

I don’t think so, really. I was against the idea at first for that reason, because it’s completely unrelated. But then I started thinking about all the times I slow danced during “Stairway to Heaven” when I was in high school. The message of the tune doesn’t really always matter to how people are responding to it. It took some convincing but I think the feel of it is definitely appropriate.

Can you talk about the message to the song or what it means to you?

I like for everyone to take what they will out of it. But for this record, I tried to approach the lyrics like they were some kind of painting or something. It’s fairly abstract in the end result. Most of it was kind of about the process of writing a record. This was the first record that we made with a label that was kind of funding the whole process, so naturally with that there comes kind of a license there on their part. We had to pitch certain song ideas to them and they were looking for different things from us. And it’s about a lot of the feelings I was having where we had to involve somebody else were put into the record in kind of an oblique way.


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--Nate Jackson