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April 2019
Feature:

White Lies: "We don't believe our own shit"

White Lies have battled their share of industry bullshit to reach what they describe as a milestone record - fifth album, ‘Five’.
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Published: 10:28 am, January 31, 2019Words: Josh Williams.
White Lies: "We don't believe our own shit"

Indie almost-veterans White Lies have returned with their fifth album appropriately titled ‘Five', and in a North London pub, Harry McVeigh and Charles Cave are in unanimous agreement that the last track on the album, the epic ‘Fire & Wings', is their favourite from the album.

"It's a good achievement for us, that song. It's a departure a little bit from stuff we've done before, and it's kind of got a great complexity and depth to it and atmosphere to it," Harry explains. "It's a track I've gone back to a lot since we recorded it and I've enjoyed it much more than I thought I would."

Charles, unsurprisingly, agrees: "When we were working on it in a demo stage, I was a bit wary of it. It's one of those songs that requires to be executed properly and quite professionally. It's not a song that sounds very good as a demo cos I think when you're recording or writing a song with really distorted heavy guitars, you need really good distorted guitars otherwise everything just starts sounding like shit!

"When we were listening back to the demo I was like, is this tasteless? But we managed with the help of our trusted engineer and obviously Alan Moulder as well to make it sound amazing. I can't think of any better mixer in the world to mix that specific song, but then again I don't think anyone could do a better job than him so luckily we had him on board!"

After 2016's ‘Friends', the group found themselves without a label. "I guess there was a little bit of pressure, we self-funded it so after we recorded the record we were thinking, ‘Oh fuck, are we actually going to get a record deal?'" Harry explains.

"It was all a bit weird," Charles believes. "We didn't get too involved with it, we kind of didn't get dropped in a way. BMG were like, 'We have to drop you cos the German investors that own our company say we have to drop acts that don't break even, but then we wanna re-sign you!' We were like, ‘Well how does that work?' But we just didn't pursue it. We knew it would take too long to sort it out, so we just went elsewhere."

However, while the group weren't worried, they felt lucky they "were able to find another label who are great, PIAS.

Seven-minute epic ‘Time To Give' was the first taster from the record, and Charles insists: "It was never intended to be that long! We wrote a four-minute version of it, the demo that we made, which had that chromatic kind of passage in the middle, and again at the end. But when we went to work on it with [producer] Ed Buller, he was like, ‘I really like this section but what you could do is you could keep changing key. Basically, you could keep going up then after four or three repeats you then go back. You're back where you began, but it doesn't sound like that because people's brains don't remember where you started'.

"The way it started was we got our little four-part sequence for the outro, and we just copied it like eight times or whatever. The idea was we just fade out on this cool outro, and then when we started recording it we hadn't programmed a fade out at all, and we were all recording and playing, and playing, and playing.

"Jack just kept playing like, ‘I'll just play to the end whatever', and then at one point I said, 'Y'know we should really figure out how this song is gonna end because at the moment we don't have an ending', and Harry was like, 'Let's just do the whole thing! Just leave the whole thing'. We really never ever planned it."

"One of the last things we did in the studio was record the vocals on the outro," Harry advises, to which Charles admits: "I was writing the lyrics for that outro at like 10pm on our last night, it was the last thing we wrote and the last thing we finished."

Harry explains: "Live that song is gonna be a challenge! We actually played it the other day on Dutch radio and even doing it that way was quite difficult. God knows how long it's gonna take us to learn!" "I'd like to open the set with it when we start touring just so it's out of the way!" Charles says. "It'd actually be a very good opener, but also we could all just relax after we play it. Like, if that goes well, then the rest is gonna be a breeze. I don't want to save that for the encore, like the whole I'm just gonna be like, ‘Fuck! Gotta fucking play that! Gonna fuck it up."

Charles believes the song is "a great achievement and the fact that, yes albeit in Holland, it's been playlisted on their national radio in the way that a Dua Lipa song is playlisted here just speaks volumes about it."

"Without an edit as well" Harry interjects.

"Yeah! Bands and artists that are working with any kind of manager or label are told if you are intending to make popular music, you're best off writing a three-and-a-half-minute song to release as a single, and it really ought to have a chorus before the first minute, and all these kind of things. It should do this, should do that. It reinforces that that is actually a crock of shit, at least in the Netherlands!

"I really do think a band that has these kinds of things in their career at any point, you do you absorb that fact. You absorb that kind of encouragement, and it means that next time you come to write a record, you push yourself a bit more and you feel freer to do different things.

"Like, if the formula did work, and you wrote a three-and-a-half-minute song that was a massive smash, I just think it would be a pretty sad place to be because then the next time you come to write a record you would go, ‘Oh we know it works, shit I guess we just have to do that'. Whereas when Harry and I go to write the next record, we'll sit down and be like, will anything we write end up playlisted on Dutch daytime radio? What more could you ask for?"

The record sounds more like classic White Lies compared to the previous record, and the group returned to working with producer Ed Buller who in Harry and Charles' own words was "under house arrest."

"He couldn't leave the country cos he was applying for a green card, so we went over to LA and spent a couple of weeks with him," Harry explains. "We always wanna work with Ed, we know what he can deliver for us because he, more than anyone else, understands what our music is about. We get along quite well, and it's probably fair to say most bands would struggle a bit with that cos he's quite an eccentric character. He can be quite difficult to work with I suppose, as can we I imagine.

"Basically, we contacted him and said do you wanna work with us for a few weeks on the songs? Not actually on recording or any sort of production, but just literally songwriting in a room and arrangement and figuring out just how to get another ten or twenty percent out of the pieces of music that we'd written."

"It's weird this album has just been very effortlessly attracted people to wanna work on it which is an alarmingly good sign," Charles explains. "Alan [Moulder] was very keen to work on it, we have a great history with him. When I emailed and said we'd like to maybe work together on this record, I sent him the demos, and he basically replied like, 'It sounds like you're making your best album yet let's do it', and then was very very accommodating in figuring out how we could make it work.

"The whole process of making this album was so encouraging, and everyone that was involved really wanted to be involved. We didn't feel like anyone that was involved was just there like cos it was just a job. People were going out of their way to be involved in it and compromising.

"Given that we were self-funding it, things like that only happen if the music's good so we have to remain very encouraged that our fans will have a similar reaction."

2019 doesn't only see the release of ‘Five' but is also the tenth anniversary of the group's debut album ‘To Lose My Life…', will they be celebrating it at all?

"It would be madness not to do at least a few shows in celebration of that album," says Charles. "We are like very aware and totally supportive of the fact it's still a lot of our fans favourite record and represents a very special time. It's the kind of record I can imagine does have quite a strong effect because it's very teenage and quite dramatic and emotional and cinematic sounding album.

"It's a very potent album. I'm not saying that's not necessarily a good thing, but I can see why it's stuck with a lot of people. Our fans would love us to do something to celebrate it, whatever we choose it won't be that much but if we can play a bunch of shows in the cities that have always been good to us around Europe for example and maybe we'll get to Mexico or the States as well that would be wonderful! If we could do that, that would be great. We'll try, we'll just have to see what happens."

Charles does admit, however, that he's not listened to ‘To Lose My Life…' in quite a while.

"We were in Australia, and clearly someone working at the restaurant had recognised us and just put the first album on. While we were eating dinner from start to finish and we just sort of like, ‘Ah fair enough nice to hear it!'"

"We all love that record," Harry is keen to point out. "I love all of our records in a way, they all mark a moment in time. With the first album being ten years old, I suppose we've thought a lot about what mindset we were in when we were recording that and how we felt when we were making it.

"It's nice to think back on all of that cos we were still so young and naive and with Ed Buller looking after us, steering through all of that. It was a good time for us, everything fell into place, and we're all very grateful for that record cos it's given us everything. It's the reason that we're here now."

Of course in those ten years, the group have picked up a lot of fans with some moments sticking out more than others. Harry thinks the weirdest thing a fan can do is get his autograph tattooed.

"I've signed people's arms before, and they've got it tattooed onto them afterwards. It's so weird!"

But Charles disagrees: "I don't find it as weird when people are trying to invite you to their wedding and stuff."

Harry continues on this tangent though, saying: "My autograph is incredibly hideous. I don't know why anyone would get that tattooed on them, and the most annoying thing is whenever anyone gets that done they're like, 'Can you sign my arms?' and you're like, 'Yeah, sure', and I'll just scribble something on… but then it looks like shit cos y'know it's quite hard to sign on human skin! Then the next time you see them, they're like 'I got it tattooed!'"

Charles believes the band have a "very good relationship with our fans," and continues: "It's very flattering, but we don't have much of an ego. We don't believe our own shit, we would far sooner pick holes in our work than we would like bang on about how great it is.

"I think to really enjoy that kind of intense fandom, you need to love yourself, and you need to really love your shit, whatever you're peddling. For us, we're so English about it. We're so self-deprecating and pessimistic in some ways. I certainly find it very uncomfortable when people are intense after shows, cos I know what that feels like, but I just don't understand how you can think that about our music!

"I would get worried if myself or any of us were starting to be like, ‘Yeah I'm really hot shit' or ‘Everything I do is amazing, people should worship it'. Maybe that's why we're not a stadium-level band.

"When it boils down to it, I do believe that we write good songs, songs that are better than a lot of songs cos we work very hard on it, and I do think they're fantastic, but to become an arena band, you have to believe your own shit so much.

"Even the thought of tweeting some of our lyrics fills me with cringing sensations and it probably shouldn't! It just does. Maybe that's the reason we are where we are, which is in a wonderful position where we're able to kind of tour around Europe, relatively anonymous in our day to day life like walking out and about, but play to 2000 people every night - it's fucking wonderful!

"If it was a choice between that or playing arenas but having to be a bit of a dick, and suck yourself off the whole time, I think I would pick where we're at right now."

"There are a lot of arena bands that don't do that," Harry is keen to stress.

"Like who?"

"Arctic Monkeys?"

"Alex Turner definitely enjoys himself!" Charles roars.

Harry disagrees, though: "They take the piss out of themselves all the time! They're very self-deprecating, I'd say they're very English about it."

Some fans do stick out more than others though, as Charles explains: "There are some die-hard fans that are die-hard in the nicest possible way. There's this Polish guy, he comes to all of our Polish shows with his entire family. He speaks about the same amount of English as I speak Polish, which is very, very little, but he's always on the barrier at the front of the shows and with his two daughters and wife, and he knows every single lyric! Like phonetically clearly, and as far as I can tell watching him, he's fluent in English. He just loves it, he just obviously loves White Lies, and he's probably forced his family to love White Lies, which is great!

"He turned up to a festival we did in Austria. He was just there. He'd just driven down, and it's wonderful that, for me. That is the most incredible level of dedication and fandom where someone that doesn't speak English has learned and listened to your music so much they know all of your lyrics and dragged their family around Europe to come and watch you play.

"After a show, he just wants to shake your hand, pat you on the back and maybe have a photo. It's just wonderful, that's as good as it gets for me and makes it all worthwhile." 

Taken from the February issue of Dork. White Lies' album 'Five' is out 1st February.

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