You probably don’t know Leo Pearson‘s name. You probably don’t think you know his music and his band, The White Liars are certainly in their early stages. You will, though, have most definitely heard some of the records that he has had a hand in – from his production and remixing work with U2 to Elvis Costello and Brian Eno. Those days of big budget records are behind him, for the moment anyway, as he concentrates on producing bands such as The Things and R.S.A.G. and stepping out from behind the mixing desk to front the distinctly rootsy White Liars for three Irish gigs this week in support of their self-titled debut album.
First, though, a bit of history…
I’m a producer by trade, started out doing electronic music many, many years ago. I got to work for U2, Elvis Costello, those kind of guys before I stopped that and started concentrating on younger bands in Dublin, the garage scene end of things. With the bigger bands I started out as a programmer, which moved into working on production but I wanted to produce stuff myself so I had to go back to the start. Brian Eno and U2 was like going to school for me, it was a real education and I enjoyed it but I wanted to paddle my own canoe.
What direction did that take you?
I spent a summer going to gigs in Dublin, although there wasn’t a lot going on I have to say. The first band I ever did was The Subtonics, the Mighty Stef‘s old band, and through them I met a lot of the other guys. Unfortunately it was a scene that never really took off. I made half of The Things record and tried to push them to get out of the garage ghetto. It was great fun, they’re mad bastards. We did it in the countryside in Kilkenny, which was a bit of a shock for them. That was all good, then I just started writing…
And so The White Liars came into being. Or not quite…
It was all recorded myself, I played every instrument. As soon as it was time to start gigging I had to put a band together. I’ve never been the frontman before, it was kind of strange. I got NC Lawlor in, who’s a great slide guitar player. Dee (Doyle, vocals and guitar) has her own band as well. It’s a funny situation but three of the band are making their own solo albums at the same time as doing this. Everyone can hold their head up which makes for a real nice dynamic on stage.
Why not record with other musicians at the start?
I didn’t have a band at the time but anyway it was my own private, personal thing. I made it a year ago, went to India for three months to leave it alone. It was more an exercise in, and this will sound terrible, personal development. I’ve been a drummer, a bass player, engineer, producer blah blah blah but I’ve never been a singer. Then people liked it and I started to get a real buzz about playing live for the first time in a few years, I thought I’d be terrified but I really enjoyed it. I think I’ve caught the bug now. I shouldn’t be talking about a second album already but I am really excited about it and we’re halfway through it already.
How does an Irish band end up sounding so enthralled by American roots music?
When I first got really into music when I was twelve or thirteen, roots and rhythm and blues were where it was at for me. That was always there, then I got into the country stuff through the Band. I love George Jones and that kind of thing but I could never go that way myself, the way I sing is the way I sing. That’s what happens when I open my mouth. I’m so bad at mimicking stuff too, if I try to channel something it comes out completely different at the other end. With the White Liars there are bits of everything in there but it’s about the songs rather than what genre we fit into. It just so happens that I love early fifties rock n’ roll. I have a very tough time when I walk into record shops to buy something modern to listen to as a producer and leave with a load of Jerry Lee Lewis albums.
Is it proving hard to find new bands that you want to work with as a producer?
Honestly, yeah. I’m very lucky to be working with R.S.A.G. at the moment. We bonded over the record shop problem. His first record is phenomenal. There’s a lot there. He tells me he’s really happy to be working with someone to push him. His new demos have world music elements in there, mixed with a bit of Jerry Lee piano.
You’d share a love of 50s music I guess, especially rockabilly?
Rockabilly’s very cool at the moment in certain quarters but its pastiche stuff isn’t it? I don’t think anyone’s pushing it in a new direction. It’s more about the clothes than the music. The tattoo guys have always been there and I have nothing but respect for them in that scene and it’s great that their getting moment but it’s not something I’d feel comfortable doing. As a producer though, my own studio is now regressing. The plan is just to get people playing off the floor. I won’t have Pro Tools in there, my idea of making a record is not staring at a fucking computer screen all day. I want bands to get back to that but the problem is that a lot of bands can’t play. When you set them up and they’re facing each other you find out who can do it and who can’t. I’m designing the studio to be an eye opener for bands. It might be a bit disheartening but if they stick with it they’ll become great players. When we did the Elvis Costello record (When I Was Cruel) the Attractions came in, saw the song and were given two takes. It was really exciting and I want to capture that.
The White Liars is out now. The band play Roisin Dubh in Galway on Thursday 20th, Bridgebrook Arms in Kilkenny on Friday 21st and Purty Loft, Dun Laoghaire on Saturday 22nd.