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Mystic Seers – Derek White

Mystic Seers – Derek White

By: Lori Smerilson Carson

To say it’s all about the music, definitely applies to Pittsburgh band Mystic Seers. Whether its referring to music and lyrics or production; singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Derek White puts his all into his work, that everyone will want to hear.

Catching up with this extraordinarily talented musician, he revealed some details about the new self-titled Mystic Seers album, how he became a musician, and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: You have a new song “Keep It Steady” and a new self-titled album coming out in April. What inspired the album?
Derek White: So many things. It’s been sort of worked on and off in the past like probably six or seven years. I had released it on CD and Vinyl. Kind of came out in 2020 on CD and then it got pressed on Ring Records in 2021, like middle last year on vinyl. Finally, its seeing the light of day in the digital realm this year. So, I think because COVID kind of came and screwed everything up, I just sort of had this slow long drawn-out release strategy. I don’t know if that makes much sense, but that’s how we decided to do it nonetheless. Yeah, so the album is sort of just personal redemption. Trying to make peace with myself for like a lot of mistakes I’ve made in the past with relationships and you know, spiritual discovery. All that kind of stuff.

SFL Music: What is “Keep It Steady” about? I like the song. I saw the video. I like the techno stuff. It’s very melodic. What inspired the song?
White: Well, that song, I was playing around with a loop pedal one day and you know, just sort of playing with different patterns and bass guitar and adding in like ambient guitar elements. So, I just sort of built off of that idea and when it started to come into focus in the studio, I was trying to find like whoa, what does this mean because I was in the moment when I was singing “Keep It Steady”. I didn’t even really know what it meant at the time, but later on, I sort of carved it out and made more sense of it all, and it’s just sort of a celebration of my love and appreciation for rock and roll and music in general. Just keep it alive and that’s basically it. It’s quite simple actually. It’s like the moment on the album where I kind of step away from all the seriousness and just kind of have fun and explore.

SFL Music: That’s a great idea. That’s what everyone needs, right?
White: For sure. For sure.

SFL Music: What inspired you to go into music as a career?
White: Well, it’s kind of always been a part of my life. Ever since I was like probably four or five years old, my parents always had records sittin’ around the house and my dad has always been a big guitar collector. So, we’ve always had like acoustic guitars, electric guitars and drums at the house, and probably sometime in like the mid-nineties, I started picking up the guitar. I was a big fan of bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins and all that kind of stuff. You know, very inspired by Kurt Cobain back then. My first love was The Beatles, so it’s kind of just always been a huge part of my life. Later on in the mid-nineties, I started playing drums actually. Like drums became my go to instrument and I was always kind of playing in friend’s bands like whether its punk or metal and what not, and I learned how to record probably sometime in 1998. Went to recording school in 2001 and then from there, just bought a digital 8-track and started recording a lot of local bands. And then every time I ended up in a band, I ended up being like the so-called producer. So, I learned real fast like, OK, I could do this on my own. I could lay down all the parts and be a solo artist and a songwriter and just kind of kept working at it year after year, growing.

SFL Music: Did you have formal music training?
White: No. Not at all. It’s always been like emulating what I’m listening to at the time or just messing around with different sort of scales. Just making stuff up. A lot of times I’ll hear a song I love and resonate with some of the chords and try to figure out how to play them. I do it all by ear actually. I’ve always had that ability to sort of dissect what I’m hearing and isolate it and try to find the finger placement to get that chord down.

SFL Music: Is that what lead to wanting to work on producing music and working with other bands and ultimately going to school for that?
White: Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s just a love for it. Like a lot of times, say if I were at a band’s show and I’d be listening to their music. A lot of times I’m thinking, ok, how would I produce them? How can I make them shine or make them sound better? And this is all just like you know, subjective. It’s all my personal preference of what I think would make a band or a song better, but it’s just a love for music in general. It’s always been there. It’s always been a huge passion of mine. I kind of stepped away from recording and producing a lot of other artists and that’s when this album came about. I started brainstorming on it probably sometime in like 2014, but I had a break up around that time and had moved and I was kind of indulging a lot in other things, so I lost focus when it came to recording this project, and I would come back to it each year and you know, tweak certain things, fix certain things, but it was this ongoing process. A lot of times, I would be doing the work while I’m driving and, in my head, like how do I make these songs connect or like recycle these old bits and turn them into one song. So, it was a lot of me stepping away and coming back to it. Very obsessive process, but eventually it took like I said, six or seven years to finalize the whole thing until I was happy with it and didn’t want to mess with it anymore. So, this has been sort of my big artistic vision in life to finally nail down an album that flows like an album, and that’s basically the way I look at this Mystic Seers album.

SFL Music: Now this was all done in Pittsburgh?
White: Yes, yes. Just like a lot of random home studios. I did most of the work in my attic at my wife and I’s current house, but I’ve recorded bits like in basements and hallways of apartments and friends little jam studio. So, like all over the place ‘cause I had a lot of portable recording gear I was dragging all over the place.

SFL Music: You said your songs basically are from your life experiences?
White: Yeah, basically like a whole lot of guilt, a lot of sorrow. This is kind of the first time I made a sort of a bummer kind of album, but there’s a lot of healing in there too. So, it definitely has a positive uplifting feel to it. I don’t really think this album has like the single type of song structures that a lot of people might prefer. Like there’s not really big hooks or anything. That’s never really been my knack for writing hooks. This is more just your classic, sort of seventies experimental progressive sort of album because I’m a big fan of like seventies prog rock and all that stuff, but it also has a melodic feel. I pull a lot of those old nineties’ influences, sixties influences. A little bit of jazz. It’s just kind of all over the place. Just everything I love lumped into one album.

SFL Music: I can hear some of that in the song “Keep It Steady”. What would you say if anything, Pittsburgh has contributed to your music career?
White: I just love the landscape. I’ve been here my whole life since like 1983 (he chuckled). Just a lot of years driving across bridges and all throughout the hills. It’s a very hilly, mountainous sort of landscape, so I spend several hours in my car of like years, just checking mixes out. That’s sort of how I do my tests to see if the song is working. I’ll test it out in my car stereo and sort of take notes when I’m listening and driving. So, that’s been the biggest, sort of me pulling the vibes of Pittsburgh into the music, is mostly from the landscape. Of course, there’s many talented musicians here. There was one point I was playing shows with Mystic Seers sort of prematurely like in 2016, 2017. I mean, that probably had a little bit of, it definitely helped these songs evolve a bit because we had this moment where we were playing some of these songs live and hashing ‘em out, but I had to kind of like put an end to that band because it was taking too much time away from the recording process, but it definitely helped these songs grow you know, playing shows with some other cool local bands. We had a good time. Good little stretch there.

SFL Music: What would you recommend to new bands? To get out there and play?
White: It’s such a hard, complicated question, like these times. I think it’s important to still celebrate live music despite all the uncertainties. I think life is healthier when people are together and listening and enjoying music and seeing each other. I think for me though, I had a baby in the past year. My first child.

SFL Music: Congratulations!
White: Oh, thanks so much! Yeah, so my priorities have definitely changed a lot. My focus has been more so on the art of recording and that’s where my true love and passion is, but I also have a great love for playing live as well. It’s something I would love to get back to, but that would involve me getting some friends or hired guns together and rehearsing, and I definitely see that on the horizon, hopefully maybe play some shows in the summer or possibly next year, but like I said, my heart is in recording. Like I’m already moving on to the next things after this album and you know, coming up with new concepts all the time.

SFL Music: So that’s something for fans to look forward to, possibly some live performances?
White: Oh yeah, yeah, definitely. It’s something I’m not just going to like abandon playing live. It’s just you know, I think with the baby being my priority, like I’m still able to focus on recording, but live music, it’s definitely on the horizon. I’m just finally getting into my groove after being like 18 months you know, (he laughed). Like that first year just kind of wiped me out. I was a bit in shock of the amount of responsibility there is with raising a child and keeping her safe and all that stuff.

SFL Music: A lot of joy too!
White: Oh absolutely, yeah!

SFL Music: Are there any new videos fans can look forward to? Any other songs that you’re going to be putting out?
White: Yeah, I believe there’s gonna be probably one more single from this album. We’ve talked about “Path of a Fool” which seems to be a favorite album track when most people hear it. If there is a video, it’s probably going to be like some sort of low budget thing where maybe a friend and I will throw it together. That’s been my main struggle as an artist, is just like having good quality stuff. You know, like good quality resources. I make things work with what I have. Like when it comes to art, typically, I’m the one designing my covers. I’m the one drawing the stuff and designing and editing. You know, throwing that all together. Like, I recorded this album. I mixed it. I played most of the instruments on it, so I’m just kind of used to just relying on myself anymore these days, but I definitely for any artists, I’m always open to people reaching out to me and collaborating more with people.

SFL Music: You do the drawing too? Were you taught?
White: No, no. My mom is an artist, painter. I think when I was sort of like in my crisis mode, I don’t know, 2014. I was sitting up on a hilltop at a local park with some drawing supplies and just drawing a lot of abstract stuff. One of the pieces became the front of the album. It’s sort of this like disheveled looking moon face. I think I was originally gonna call the album Miserable Moon, but one of my good friends said, “oh, that’s too negative.” Then we thought, hey maybe Manic Moon, and then I finally decided I’m just gonna have it be a self-titled album. Just keep that simple.

SFL Music: Is there anything else you want readers to know?
White: Yeah, we’re very excited to get this album out in the digital realm. I think that’s like kind of one of the things that helped me getting pressed back. It held us back a little bit because you know, we released the album on vinyl. I think my biggest challenge is just getting people to stop and listen to the work. It’s hard to do when there’s no digital reference out there, like on streaming and Spotify. I think I might have like five songs out in the streaming world. Meanwhile, I have a whole album and a bunch of unreleased tracks that I plan on getting out there. So, people could access them and finally see what Mystic Seers is all about.

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