White Lies’ debut album To Lose My Life is a great album. Darkly anthemic, over-the-top English-schoolboy lyrics, sounds like three early 20-summats have been raiding their older brothers’ 80s cassette bag.
So when the band toured back then – wayyyy back in 2009 – I sat down with bassist/lyricist Charles Cave to chat, and found that he is, in fact, the world’s most earnest (and ergo, dull) chap on the planet. Drummer Jack? A sparky one. Liked him. We chatted after the show. Didn’t meet singer Harry McVeigh that time, though, but adore his belter of a voice.
Fast forward all Walkman-stylee to now, and White Lies have a new album out. It’s called Ritual and it’s darkly anthemic, has over-the-top English-schoolboy lyrics, but now sounds like the three 20-summats have the iPod clicketyclicking between 90s-era Depeche Mode and the Editors. It’s still a good album, mind, but is a bit more…err, mainstreamy. And synthy.
But I got a soft spot for White Lies. So this, time, I asked to chat with Harry. Surely he’s more edgy? Interesting? Acquired road legs from all the tours? Drank more than a shandy? Kissed a girl? With tongues?
Harry McVeigh, bless him – like Charles Cave, bless him, and Jack Brown, bless him – is just a really nice guy.
White Lies are capable of making really good music. And there ain’t nothing wrong with no nice guys in music. Believe me. A lot are overconfident dickheads.
But I kinda want to send CharlesHarryJack away on a sordid and filthy weekend, steal their clothes, give ‘em keys to a hotrod, and make ‘em use Fear and Loathing as a shopping list…you know, just muddy them up a bit, see what happens.
But until that time, here’s an interview. With scores based on a very scientific ranking system I call “THE WLL-E: White Lies Levels of Earnestness.” The reactions are based on my near-literal responses during the conversation.
Here’s my chat with the lovely, nice Harry McVeigh.
How is this little venture out to North America doing for the band? Are the new songs sticking more? How are they feeling for you when you play them live now?
We’re pretty settled with the new songs now and have been playing them for a few months now, but these are the first shows we’ve really done since the album’s been out so it’s really nice to play to people who’ve actually heard it. And we’ve been having some good shows. I think tonight (in Toronto) will be good as well. We had to cancel New York, though, which is a bummer …it would have been good to play New York.
[Laughs] Yeah, suppose.
Last time you were on tour out West, I spoke to Charles about the evolution of White Lies. He said that when it came to the band, you were confident in the fact that you weren’t really confident in anything at the beginning; that you just sorta said, ‘fuck it, let’s just do it.’ Are you more comfortable now in your own skin as a band?
Oh definitely, definitely. I think you can hear that on the second album. I certainly can. I feel that it’s a more confident record and more ambitious record. We had a really good time making it, actually, and that came from the experiences we’ve had together over the last couple of years and we’ve just grown as musicians and as people and it makes it so much easier.
What do you think you’ve learned, then? You’re schoolmates, you start a band, it morphs into a different band, it’s you against the world, you record an album and everyone goes apeshit and then you tour the world. And then you’re faced with doing a second album. Did it freak you out a little bit? Was there any pressure?
Maybe, right at the beginning. We hadn’t written anything for two years, so it was kind of weird, yeah, starting to write again. Me and Charles just sat down in my living room with my laptop. It’s just strange when it gets to that point when it’s “okay, right, we’re going to write something now.” But it was fine, actually, and we settled into it really quickly. I was actually surprised by how quickly. On tour you have a LOT of time where you’re not doing anything at all, you’re just there with yourself and your thoughts, really, and I think that really got us ready for writing again. It was just so pent up. We were kind of frustrated with not doing anything creative, I guess. We were just ready to make the next record.
But again, the themes are still pretty heavy-duty. Bless Charles, and his lyrics.
Yeah, they’re about serious things, definitely.
How do you make Charles’ words your own? Do you sit and chat about them? Does he say “here’s where I’m coming from with this batch?” Or do you come at them yourself and apply them to your own life?
Honestly, I think when we first write the songs it’s more about making the songs sound good, and making the melody powerful and strong. And I think it’s more, well, I hate to say it, but it’s more of a mathematical process from the beginning. More things to think about. But when it comes to performing the vocal take on the album, I guess I really do have to think about what it means to me, and what feelings I want to convey, I guess. So that’s when I try and give an emotional performance.
Do you fancy writing any lyrics yourself?
It’d be a really scary thing to do. I don’t think I am, and I don’t think I’ll ever be that good at writing words. Which is one of the fundamental reasons Charles has to do it, and he’s a very good lyricist and me and Jack aren’t. It just wouldn’t make sense.
It’s got to be the records he’s worked on. Especially when we were writing the record. I hadn’t actually listened to a lot of his back catalogue, when his name was first passed around as a possibility. So I went and downloaded The Fragile by Nine Inch Nails, which I’d not really listened to before, and I think that’s one of the best-sounding records ever made now. I really loved the combination of a lot of electronics with rock music, so that was something that really impressed us. That Alan managed to pull a record together like that is pretty exciting.
He’s known as having some cool recording techniques, playing with sounds and being quite the knob fiddler. For you as a guitarist, and him coming at it from a more electronic perspective, was there anything that you found particularly interesting about the process?
No, it was cool. We were all on the same page. He’d never try to suggest anything that we didn’t want to try and I think that was the main thing about the record, that we’d try anything. The best thing about Alan as a producer, genuinely, is that he’s a really likeable person, and really nice guy. And I think that’s 80% about being a producer, or perhaps 80% about being good at your job. He’s just really easy to get along with and to create an atmosphere in the studio is not an easy thing to do. The main thing that he brought technically to the record, after we’d tried all this crazy stuff with electronics, and other things, I think sewing it together at the end is a job that only Alan could do. He’s an amazing mix engineer. And his mix of the record is probably 40-50% of the record.
It’s quite pristine.
Yeah. I mean, just to make it work – you can hear everything clear on it.
It’s quite an accessible album. And obviously your label is now behind you, ensuring that you’ll be on tour for the next 800 years. White Lies seems to be one of the few alternative bands out there that’s getting a good hand with marketing. Which, in this day and age of is pretty amazing. But with that territory comes pressure. You guys had a pretty long go on touring for the last album.
I am actually looking forward to it, at the moment. Obviously we haven’t started properly but I am looking forward touring properly and getting out there everyday…and staying on a bus and having that routine. It’s all been a bit disjointed until now. So there’s UK and Europe which is just coming up now. And yeah, you’re right, we do have the support of our label behind us, which is really great.
And which is really unusual.
Yeah, it is. We’re lucky.
So many bands have to do so much promotion themselves.
That applies especially when we come over here. It costs us a lot of money to come over here. We owe the label and insane amount of money but hopefully it all be worth it. Hopefully.
Fingers crossed. Who’s driving all your film stuff? I said to Charles that I always thought White Lies was a band for a soundtrack to a film that didn’t yet exist….
…and yet now there’s more filmic stuff attached to this release. Who’s driving that? You? Charles? Jack?
All the film things we’ve done on this record is just a more interesting way to market it. I’m not sure who actually it was, I think it comes from the marketing people in the States. But it was something we jumped on board with, because it’s more interesting than looking at a boring advert for a record. And especially the weird one in London – us and our future selves – that was really good fun to make. And Charles wrote quite a lot of the dialogue for that. And it was really interesting to just be a part of. I felt like a little kid being in something like that, cos I’m not really an actor, but yeah, it was good fun. The music videos, that’s really driven by the guy who commissions them at the label. I think he’s really good at his job. That was really out there. [The ET-inspired “Bigger than Us”]
It was made partly out of chocolate but also out of concrete. They kind of revealed that to me at the last minute that I was going to have to punch my way out through chocolate mixed with concrete. But anyway.
Awesome. I was reading a review of the LA show the other day. And everyone always talks about the themes on the album – which are pretty heavy – so it’s very easy to take White Lies as very serious. Do some people think you’re too serious?
Yeah, I think that’s a definitely a problem that crops up a few times.
The review said you seemed to be having a bit more fun with the songs.
We take everything we do with a biiiiiiig pinch of salt. People don’t really see or think about it. We have fun making the songs and playing them. If you’re a musician, and a lover of music, well, we’ve got the best jobs in the world so it’d be silly not to enjoy it.
Do you think people miss your sense of humour in it? I mean Charles’ lyrics can be, uh, interesting and he said you were the most funny one of the band who went out of his way to annoy the rest of them.
[laughs] Yeah. We take our music very seriously. We love it. We love doing it. But yeah, it’s just entertainment. It’s an escape, it doesn’t need to be super-serious. I mean, we write about serious things, and there’s always such a heated debate over our band. And we always divide opinion, quite a lot actually. And in a way, I quite like that. That some people really love it and some people really hate it, but I do sometimes read reviews that are both positive and negative and think, you should just sit back a bit and enjoy the music. Forget about all the stuff that goes ‘round it.
…. Oh wait a minute, he has a point, Harry does. He has a point. WELL PLAYED, McVEIGH. You win this round.\m/
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