Q&A With White Lies

British trio White Lies—guitarist/vocalist Harry McVeigh, bassist Charles Cave and drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown—just released Ritual (Geffen/Fiction), which follows up To Lose My Life…, the band’s commercially successful 2009 debut. The 10-track sophomore LP was co-produced by Alan Moulder (Depeche Mode, Killers) and was written over a five-week period when White Lies wasn’t crisscrossing the globe in support of its first album. Though McVeigh, Cave and Lawrence-Brown are all barely old enough to drink legally in the U.S., the threesome has been playing together as a band since their mid-teens, first as Fear Of Flying, which released two singles produced by Stephen Street (Smiths, Blur), and then under the White Lies moniker. The trio will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. We recently caught up with Cave via email.

MAGNET: You guys are from the London suburb of Ealing. What can you tell Americans about Ealing, a place most of us aren’t familiar with? Do you guys still live there?
Cave: You know, in terms of a place to grow up in, it isn’t too dissimilar from an American suburb. It’s very green and family orientated but with pockets that are pretty rough around the edges. It covers a pretty large area in London, so there is a great diversity in the houses and the shops. We have a very large Polish community historically. We don’t live there anymore, but mine and Jack’s parents live very close to each other. We visit all the time. Growing up there, we certainly didn’t feel like typical London-bred boys. I travelled into the city to go to school and for a while that was exciting, but it was my weekends and evenings back in the suburbs which were probably most influential to the person I am today. I remember so many different stages of life in and around Ealing. Between the ages of 15 and 17, so much changed. The girls we were badgering became restless with us and the fairly placid pastimes we had and began going into London at the weekend to meet older boys and sneak into clubs, leaving us behind. We had no interest in all that; to us it was exciting to be wandering the quiet streets with a shopping bag of beer and go looking for parks to break into and sit on benches talking and laughing all night. It’s strange going back there now in some ways. I think I have such a bold picture of what the place is to me that I find it almost distressing when shops change and new things pop up whilst I am away. It’s like watching a close friend or family member age and see certain things disappear that were once so important to the character.

The Brand New Heavies, Dusty Springfield, Jamiroquai and Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience hail from Ealing, and Freddie Mercury and Pete Townshend went to art school there. What is the music/art scene like in Ealing these days?
I have to say I am not aware of much of an art scene at all. Having said that, I am sure there’s lots going on all the time. We still have Ealing Studios fully functional, and whilst they don’t offer film of the same caliber as they used to, I think some good stuff gets done there. When we started playing together in a band, we definitely weren’t competing against any other bands as far as we could tell. We felt like the band of Ealing in our adolescence.

What music were you listening to when you decided to start playing in a band? How does that music compare to what you listen to now?
Well, I listen to so much more music now than when we started. I still love Nick Cave and Talking Heads and Tom Waits. They are like old shoes that just keep getting better. I am listening a lot to Alva Noto, especially his album with Blixa Bargeld, which came out last year. I’m also listening to Neil Young a fair bit and really embracing the American spirit of songwriting. I think the most recent Arcade Fire album personally disappointed me, and I wanted it to be a Darkness On The Edge Of Town for this time, so I have gone back to albums like that and After The Gold Rush. That music is still so exotic to me and I love it. It really makes me yearn to be touring America again.

Your pre-White Lies group, Fear Of Flying, released two singles that were produced by Stephen Street. How did an unknown teenaged band get to work with a producer of such acclaim?
He was a friend’s father. Simple as that. It was a wonderful piece of luck. He started by doing one track for us as a favour without having heard anything at all. He was so impressed by the potential of us as 15-year-old boys that he gave us a few more days of his time.

Did you guys switch names from Fear Of Flying to White Lies purely so you could play a different style of music? Was it part of making a fresh start?
At the time, it was a necessary aesthetic shift for us to rid ourselves of some bad memories and bad songs. Looking back on it now, I think it was a profound reaction to a growing cynical music business and really made people listen to the first work we were really proud of.

Your debut album, To Lose My Life…, debuted at number one of the U.K. album charts. How do you think a band with only a couple singles out prior to that can accomplish that? Do you guys now expect all of your albums to hit the top spot on the charts when you release them? Are you worried about any backlash down the road?
Good timing and substance to back the hype helped. We practiced so much before we played a live show that we felt confident on the starting blocks. Our record label were very supportive, and all in all, there was a great campaign selling White Lies as a band. I am not worried about a backlash as it’s already happened. I suppose it could get worse, but I don’t rally care. The bond and the passion within this band goes so far back already that I just don’t think anyone will truly understand it. The critics in the U.K. are, on the whole, a very sad group of people and love to hate. Our success bothers them almost as much as the fact that we all went to private school. The hypocrisy is almost hysterical and leaves them looking very pathetic indeed. We have a worldwide fanbase that our music has moved and inspired, and I don’t really think you can knock that. We are still being lead by creative impulse and, in some degree, taking blind swipes at music and lyrics. I hope the more albums we make, the finer we will become at our craft. People here review albums like they are the dying words of someone. They scrutinise every last experiment as if they suppose we are standing behind it saying, “This is the best thing we will ever produce, and we want to be eternally judged for it.” What they fail to see is we are learning and having a wonderful time. I will let everyone know when we have made something I feel ready to be judged on.

After that album came out, you guys toured constantly, opening for Snow Patrol, Coldplay and Kings Of Leon, headlining and playing festivals and TV gigs. Do you enjoy touring? Was it hard to find time to write your second album being on the road so much?
We didn’t write anything on the road. I can’t think how that would work. We wrote once all that was over. After not writing for two years, it felt amazing to be working again, and this album was written in five weeks. I do enjoy touring, but it does get hard when you realise that before you can make another album you have to do a bit more living. There is a liminal feeling of being a troubadour, carted around the globe to unravel your crafts and try and sell to passersby that almost numbs the awareness in me of living. I feel like I am in an interlude to life on tour. But I am and always will be a restless person, so I love the excuse to keep moving.

Alan Moulder co-produced Ritual. How did you hook up with him? Would you like to work with him again?
He mixed the first album so we already had a good working relationship with him. I am sure we will do something together in the future.

Max Dingel co-produced both of your albums and seems to have been involved with you even back in the Fear Of Flying days. I’m not familiar with him. What can you tell me about him and how you have come to work with him so often?
He is a fantastic engineer primarily with a vested interest of love to the band that is second only to our own. Having him working with us on our music is wonderful. He feels so involved and so much a part of White Lies. He grew up in Germany but came over to England in the ’90s to work and has built up an incredible wealth of skill in the field through working with Alan and some of the best producers around.

How did the process of recording Ritual differ from the first album?
Well it was much much simpler. The songs were all demoed, and the ideas were all totally refined and in place from the five weeks of writing before we went into Alan’s studio. The emphasis this time, in terms of the work done, was on enhancing what was already there and laying down the best vocal takes and drums takes we could. It was a much more relaxed and creative work ethic than the first album, which felt a bit like squeezing blood from a stone.

Your video for “Bigger Than Us,” directed by Jonas & Francois (Depeche Mode, Madonna, Kanye West), is a YouTube hit. Was that the intent, working with such a big-name directing team?
You know, I have to be honest: I just don’t care about music videos at all. They are a moving advertisement, and that’s about it to me. Why anyone who wanted to make films would chose music video as their genre is beyond me. In my opinion, almost 99 percent of the time, the video waters down the song, and vice versa. It is great that Jonas and Francois were able to make something that got people talking, and really we have the record label to thank for arranging that collaboration.

When do you guys come back to the U.S. to tour again?
We will be back in May/June for a tour, hopefully hitting some of the smaller cities we played with Kings Of Leon, too.

What else do you have in store for 2011?
Lots of shows and festivals. I suppose in some ways it depends on how well this album connects with people.

Opening for Muse, you guys played to 100,000 people at Wembley Stadium in September. Did you ever imagine in the Fear Of Flying days something like that would ever be possible?
No, I suppose not. Funny really, isn’t it?

—Eric T. Miller

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