by / November 4th, 2009 /

Interview with White Lies

It’s been one of those oft-mentioned rollercoaster years for indie darlings White Lies, due back here in December for Heineken Green Spheres gigs on the 9th in The Academy, Dublin and the 10th in The Opera House, Cork with support from Neon Indian and the Kissaway Trail (Get free tickets from Heineken Music).. Their epic, dark debut To Lose My Life kept the Gaga juggernaut off the number one spot in the UK in January, meaning they’ve very quickly become the current designated Great White Hopes (pun intended) of the British rock world. State caught up with them and ruminated on how far they’ve come, touring like a mother and tiny Russian mining towns.

You’ve supported Coldplay on this tour, is the experience of playing support to such a huge band completely different from doing your own gigs, audience-wise?
Jack WL: We’ve done similar kinds of gig in the past but it’s always much different to doing your own show. I think it’s a bit of a shock at quite how different it is ‘cos sometimes you go and play to an audience of like 40,000 people and really feel like no one is interested and you can try your hardest and push them to show some response and sometimes it just won’t happen and other times you can do a show and you feel like you’ve got everyone’s attention and that’s really great. There’s not really many opportunities for any band in the world to get to play to that many people and for that reason it’s something you have to just embrace and take it for what it is. It’s something you can definitely get better at and I think we are getting better at it as we go along. We’re coming to the end of the Coldplay tour now and these are the biggest shows, so hopefully we’ll see a reaction because if anywhere, these are the places where people may already know who we are. We’ve gone to places like Scandinavia where 99% of the people have no clue who we are, so it’s nice to be doing this as well.

You’ve been doing the festival circuit this year, I caught you at the Open’er Festival in Poland, it’s bizarre to think you do a constant round of gigs all summer. Is it completely faceless or do you gain anything from it?
Jack WL: I think, for me anyway, the festivals are a really great thing because this year it’s been us playing to a lot of people who don’t know who we are. Especially this year, it’s been a chance for us to do all of the festivals in one year, I think as a band you only really get one chance to do that because it’s your first year as a band. You go around the whole world doing all of the festivals and hopefully you’re at a stage the next year where you can’t really do that. So it’s been an incredibly tiring summer, and it doesn’t really stop in the summer, it goes through to the end of the year for us. There have been some amazing festivals, slightly weirder ones, like the one you were at in Poland was one of our favourites, even though we almost had to pull out of it because our bus broke down so we had to get a few people from the festival to drive five hours, pick us up in a car and drive us back, but it was such a good thing that we did that one. It’s the kinda thing where you don’t know, you genuinely have no idea what response you’re going to get somewhere you’ve never been before but we were really into it, it just clicked really well, that was a highlight of doing the festivals.

Was Glastonbury another highlight? Was it a big deal for you?
Harry WL: Glastonbury was probably another one of our other favourites, it’s the same for every other band that plays it, I think, it’s such a legendary festival. It’s certainly one of the biggest festivals in Europe, if not the world, so you’re guaranteed, no matter what kind of band or what kind of music, a big crowd. We had a huge crowd at Glastonbury so it was a really, really amazing show and a real eye-opener to us as to what’s possible.

You’re going on tour with Kings of Leon after this, and when you see how huge they’ve gotten over the past few years, do you think it’s something you personally aspire to, as a band?

Harry WL: Well, Kings of Leon have also just made it, on this record, in America as well, which is really great for them, ‘cos they’ve obviously been trying to do that for a long time. I think that’s a dream for any band, to be that size, and to be able to tour America the way they are. It’s a really cool place as well, we’re playing places we’ve never played before, never been to before, never heard of some of the places, so it’s gonna be really amazing. Kings of Leon are certainly a band we look up to a lot in terms of their career. They’ve really nailed their live shows, they really work hard and really work well together as a unit, they’re like a real family on tour, it’s something that I think a lot of bands aspire to.

UK bands tend to establish themselves in the UK before attempting to crack the US, whereas you’ve been touring there almost in juxtaposition with touring the UK. Is getting a grounding there important to you?

Harry WL: Yeah, it’s a lot easier, as a UK band, to make it in the UK, people respond to music from the UK a lot more easily. America’s somewhere you have to spend a lot of time, obviously because of the size of it. Also, the music-listening public in America are slightly more fickle and tend to switch off things a lot more quickly, you kind of have to keep driving it into them. I think our music could work in America, it’s just gonna take a little while and a lot more hard work.
You’ve obviously made some inroads into the market there, do you think you’re getting a positive reaction so far?

Harry WL: I think when we played Lollapalooza this year we saw the growth in the size of the crowd and the response to our music and how many people knew it. Coachella was one of the first festival we played this summer and there was a huge difference in between those two shows, so it’s working, slowly but surely, we’re getting there. We were discussing with our label and our management how well we’ve done in the last year and how good the foundations we’ve laid around the world are, not just America, but Japan and places like that. So we’ll just have to wait see what happens and build on that.

You were known as Fear of Flying previously, with the exact same line-up. What was the reason for the name change?
Jack WL: The band that we were playing under, from the ages of about 15 to 18 or 19 when we started White Lies, was the band we were doing in school and on the weekends. It was something we really enjoyed doing but it wasn’t something we took particularly seriously or dedicated much thought to, it was quite a throwaway, enjoyable thing for us to be doing at the time. When we got to the stage when we thought, we actually do want to make music properly and take it seriously and thought we’d concentrate on songwriting and we did actually write some really great songs, the songs we’d written previously didn’t really apply to what we really wanted to do. We would have felt a bit like we had this collection of songs attached to our name which were nothing really to do with us. With that in mind, we decided that the best way to give ourselves a clean slate, and we were in a position where we could do that, we had a gap year and we were going to go to university, and decided that the best way to do this is to throw everything out of the way and just start completely afresh. The old band never did anything commercially, we did two very limited edition singles which only sold out when White Lies became popular, so it was a long, steady learning process for us. White Lies is us doing what we actually always wanted to do once we were able to do it.

You worked with Stephen Street on those singles, which is amazing…
Jack WL: Yeah, he showed us a lot of good faith and really helped us out. Even when we started White Lies, we needed a place to demo our first track, which was ‘Unfinished Business’, he let us use his studio. He wasn’t actually producing, but he lent us his room and he’s always been good about stuff like that. I definitely think that we’ve learnt a lot from working with him in the past, if anything he was the first person we did proper recording with, so it’s a pretty good standard to go in at.

Is there anyone in particular you would like to work with, production-wise?
Jack WL: We’ve been discussing this recently, with the next record, and there’s a few people we’d like to work with, there’s one in particular…

Harry WL: On our first record, we’ve worked with some amazing producers, and obviously Alan Moulder mixed the record, and he’s a real genius, he’s someone we’d like to work with again in the future, if he’ll have us. I think we’d also like to get the producer on the first album involved in some way as well. It’s still a very open book at the moment, there are loads and loads of people we would love to work with, it’s just choosing them. I think the most important thing is that you get along with who you work with as best as possible ‘cos you have to spend a lot of time with them, so that’s the next step, really.

Are you planning on writing the ‘difficult’ second record whilst touring or will you take a break and get it down then?
Harry WL: We haven’t written anything while we’re touring so far ‘cos I think it is something we find very hard. But I think we’re planning to hack at that within the year, whether anything will come from it, I don’t know, probably not. But it’s something we’re gonna try and see what happens. We’ll probably start writing early next year.

Joy Division comparisons aside, who actually made you want to be in a band? Who has influenced you?
Harry WL: I think we all have very varying tastes in music, there are very few bands we truly agree on collectively. For me, the band who really made me want to be in a band, and to sing and play guitar, were Queens of the Stone Age, when I was growing up. You don’t necessarily hear that in White Lies’ music, but I always regarded Josh Homme as a bit of a hero. I really like the way he makes records, I really like the way they sound, the way he writes the songs and he’s an amazing guitar player. He was someone who definitely inspired me to want to make music.

Are there any of your contemporaries who you admire particularly?
Jack WL: Yeah, all the bands we tour with when we do headline tours are bands we have to respect and like their music in the first place. So usually a good way to measure what we’re into at the moment is by seeing who we’re touring with. The tour we’ve got at the end of the year, we’ve got a band from New York called Violens supporting, we’re big fans of them. They haven’t taken off yet, but if they do I think it will be a really great thing, they’re a brilliant band. Wild Beasts are doing a few dates with us, I really love their new album. There are bands people wouldn’t expect us to love, like Crystal Castles, who we’ve had the chance to tour with before, and have worked on songs with us, which is amazing. Same with M83 as well, who have also done us the honour of remixing one of our tracks. That’s another good way, actually, usually the people who do remixes for us are people we really love, you can always tell which ones we like the best.

We’re seeing bands become incredibly famous via their MySpace pages on a regular basis now, but how important do you think social networking is in how music is consumed?
Harry WL: I think MySpace is incredibly important for music nowadays, you can go on the Internet and find any band you’ve heard a whisper of. It’s great for new music, even those bands who don’t have a record out yet, you can go and find them straight away, that’s really cool. It’s also really great for communicating with your fans and that’s something that’s very important for us. Well, actually, Charles and Jack do, I’m not great with computers…

Your music videos are really interesting and, shall I say, arty? Is that an aspect of the band that you have much input in? Are you a visual band?
Jack WL: Yeah, it’s definitely something we really care about. I think, from the start, we were never prepared to just let someone make us a video and just do what they said or whatever. But I think at the same time we were never under any illusions that we had the time or mind to make something that would really be an exciting video. We wanted to make sure we did something that we thought was really great in terms of videos, they’re a great, great tool for every band, especially these days. It’s just such an interesting way of getting your songs across and it’s a real chance to add something different to it and be different from other bands. With that in mind, we were very selective over who we chose to direct the videos, and we used the same director for all three of the singles. We found this Swedish director [Andreas Nilsson] who’d done some work before with bands like The Knife, and he had the best ideas for us and the ones that really seemed like no one had done them before. We’re quite a visual band and we have quite a cinematic sound so I think we wanted to get that across in the videos. So we just said, here’s the money, just go and make whatever you feel suits us, because his style is something we really liked. It’s really been brilliant to see the videos, in my opinion they’re three of the best videos made in the last year. I think it’s really great that we did take the time to find someone we wanted to work with, we have now a continuity throughout the album.
They’re certainly really great to look at, very cinematic…

Jack WL: We’ve had some adventures doing them, like ‘Farewell to the Fairground’, we did in northern Russia and it took us over a day to get there, four flights, crossing Russian borders and all kinds of scary stuff. It’s the kind of stuff we never would have done if it had just been a regular big-name director, they wouldn’t have sent us to northern Russia to minus 15 degrees, so it was a good chance to do something like that.

Have you landed on a sound or vibe for the new album? Something quite different from the first?
Harry WL: I love the production on the first record, it’s very sleek and very smooth, but I think we might move away from that a little bit, maybe make it a little bit… I hate the word edgy, but a little bit rough around the edges. Have a little bit more feeling in it I suppose. I certainly think the songwriting and the musical direction will be a lot more accomplished. We’ve been playing together for a year and a half now, touring and playing our instruments, and I think we’ve improved so much in our performance and our ability to play our instruments and that will definitely be reflected on the next record. It will be different, I think it will just be a step up. The themes and the sounds of the band won’t radically change, but it will just be… better.