John Paul White spent years of his life on the road. Formerly one-half of the prolific duo The Civil Wars, it was not unusual for him to spend 300-plus days a year on tour. Once that project came to an end, White returned home to Florence and began a period of centering himself, settling in as a father and a husband—and eventually as a producer and owner of a record label. He told Paste Magazine, “I made a conscious decision to focus every bit of my energy on being a good dad, a good husband, and that segued into becoming a label partner and a studio owner. So everything has kind of been me, following my nose, but me paying close attention to what was within 20 yards of me, me pulling in the reins and staying connected to what’s within arm’s length.”
John Paul and his partners Ben Tanner and Will Trapp of Single Lock Records have spent the last few years focusing on helping less established artists find a foothold in the music industry. He and Tanner built a recording studio in White’s back yard, and John Paul has been one of the most prominent voices speaking out for and supporting artists in our community. But, he has done all of this with the understanding that being present for his family is his priority. It’s been quite a while since John Paul White has considered re-entering the world of writing and recording his own music… And yet, here we are.
John Paul says that he initially resisted the urge to go back to songwriting, even as songs began to come to him—uninvited. He did not want to be pulled away from his family and this time and this place, but the songs kept finding him. “Songs that a lot of me tried not to write,” he said. “Songs that wouldn’t leave me alone. Songs that moved me enough to want to share them.”
“Honestly, I tried to avoid them, but then I realized the only way I was going to get rid of them was if I wrote them down. I got my phone out and I’d sing these little bits of melody, then put it away and move on. But eventually I got to a place where it was a roar in my head, and that pissed me off.” Due to his experiences as a gun-for-hire in Nashville, White was reluctant to romanticize the creative process, to turn it into a spiritual pursuit. “Then one day I told my wife I think I’m going to go write a song. She was as surprised as I was. I went and wrote probably eight songs in three days. It was like turning on a faucet.”
The songs on Beulah range from folk to country, to 90s-influenced rock. You can hear The Secret Sisters’ beautiful harmonies on songs like “I’ve Been Over This Before”, and White’s familiar acoustic sound emerges in songs like “Hate the Way You Love Me.” But it’s hard not to immediately gravitate toward “What’s So”, a hard-driving song that reveals both his Southern background and his love for swampy rock and roll.
White says that “Beulah” is a term of endearment in his family, comparable to calling someone “Honey”. It’s what his father called White’s little sister, and it’s what John Paul calls his own daughter. But it’s hard not to also see connections to the Beulah of poet William Blake—a place in the subconscious—not quite heaven, but the source of inspiration and dreams. John Paul White seems to agree. “[Blake’s] Beulah was a place you could go in your dreams. You could go there in meditation, to relax and heal and center yourself. It wasn’t a place you could stay, but you came back to the world a better place.”
Listening to Beulah, you are transported to another place—sometimes familiar, other times unkind and uncomfortable, but you always return home changed, and for the better.
Grab a copy of Beulah for yourself here. And listen to “What’s So” from Beulah, by John Paul White below:
Photos from Single Lock Records and Allister Ann.