‘Surreal to be sitting here’

John Paul White of The Civil Wars speaks to students and his former teachers in The MANE Room in the Department of Entertainment Industry. White was a student in the program when he attended UNA.

by Life Editor Ann Harkey

John Paul White, the male half of The Civil Wars, spoke with students and faculty members within the Department of Entertainment Industry Oct. 12.

“John Paul is a victim — or graduate — of our program,” said Walt Aldridge, UNA professor and White’s mentor while he was in college. “John is a testimony that every now and again the good guys persevere in this industry.”

White was asked to talk to entertainment industry majors about how he made it into the industry and to answer questions the students had.

White said he was humbled when he took the stage in front of approximately 50 students.

“I don’t really have a speech,” White said. “I don’t mind singing in front of people, but talking is strange. It is surreal to be sitting here now.”

White’s career took off when he decided to come back to UNA and intern under Aldridge at FAME records in Muscle Shoals. After struggling to find his voice, Aldridge gave him some life-altering advice.

“Walt told me ‘I know you love Rage Against the Machine and Merle Haggard. You got to be able to find where they converge,’” White said.

After recording a CD that did not get marketed due to the recording company changing CEOs, White said he was frustrated.

“I was so burnt and fried and bitter by then,” White said. “Walt told me about a songwriting camp in Nashville.”

White ended up partnering with Joy Williams on his first day at the songwriter’s camp.

“As soon as she started singing, I definitely sat up,” he said. “When we started singing, this strange thing happened. The second time, it clicked.”

White responded to a student asking about the origin of the band’s name and told the simple story.

“(Williams) called and said  ‘The Civil Wars’ and I instantly got it,” he said.

He described the name as a play on the conflicts — or “wars”— in life.

“It will always be about love or lack thereof,” he said.

White said the main catalyst for The Civil Wars’ success was featuring their song “Poison and Wine” on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

After retelling how The Civil Wars came about, White gave what he said was important advice to the class.

“You’ve got to be a little crazy (to follow the music path),” he said. “You’ve got to have that look in your eye.”