Interview: White Lies
- Feb 20, 2009
White Lies and Glasvegas' combined wardrobe feels almost dreary enough to induce a solar eclipse. Friendly Fires, sandwiched in between the overlords of quintessential British doom and gloom are left to try their damndest to recall their Notting Hill carnival-inspired festival shows of August and lighten the mood. And at the bottom of the pile, Florence Welch; the gawky, infuriating monster to the 'Machine squawking over harps in a dingy toilet somewhere nearby soon. But she's already bagged a Brit award. So the future must be as orange as her flittering fringe.
Inside the Academy, or the O2 Academy as it's now soul-crushingly known, the walls of White Lies' shoebox dressing room are quaking. Florence is 'sound checking', which loosely translates as bashing a drum in time with the heart rate of Pete Doherty experimenting with a defibrillator. It's far from the glitz and glamour of the O2 Arena dressing rooms the West London trio shall doubtlessly be gracing this time next year, but bassist (and self-confessed guru pulling the strings and keeping the lies as white as false teeth) Charles Cave is in his element, adorned in black as if condemned to a life of perpetual mourning. He crosses his legs.
Josh Holliday: Three weeks on the famed NME tour. How's that turned out?
Charles Cave: Only a week left. And then we're going to... what's it called again...? Europe.
JH: Right, that unheard of territory. Aside from tour itineraries and introductions let's delve into sincerity, or lack of. For a band so young, your lyrics perhaps focus on aspects you wouldn't necessarily expect from them. Do you feel in some respects, it's difficult to interpret them as a genuine product?
CC: I don't think so. Even when the lyrics are stories, I think the main focus and emotions of the stories are so obvious you don't really have to take everything so literally. Loads of people are always saying all our songs revolve around death but that's not really true. Even when it's mentioned it's not meant literally. None of us are really bothered about how we're going to go or anything like that. It's to do with the kind of loss that goes with it, how it feels to lose someone; whether it be a parent, a son, a friend. I think anyone can really relate to that.
JH: So is it from personal experience, or just a generic viewpoint?
CC: No, everything has to come from personal experience. I couldn't write anything that was completely detached from myself. How can you be creative if it doesn't come from personal life experience? If you were living in a white asylum box, then you'd have nothing to write about.
JH: I think you might have something to put to paper if you spent your life contained in a blank box...
CC: If you were born in there and never learnt to speak then you just... you wouldn't...
JH: You wouldn't be able to really write then, would you...?
CC: I don't think anyone can really write lyrics that are completely irrelevant. Even when they're fantasy and story, inspiration for that has to come from something they've gone through, even if they don't know it and it's written subconsciously.
[Florence bursts in, Motel bag in one hand, lemons, honey and lozenges in the other whilst darting across the room screaming]
JH: It's quite important to gauge exactly how seriously you take yourselves. Perhaps a Dali-esque moustache wasn't the best way to address that...
CC: No, you're probably right. I got rid of that. We don't take ourselves seriously at all, but we take our music ridiculously seriously to the point of dangerous obsession. On tour we're pretty fun. Florence can vouch for that. We can get down and have a pretty good time.
JH: I suppose you've got familiarity on your side this time round, having toured with Glasvegas extensively as well as Friendly Fires on a previous NME jaunt...
CC: It's odd actually cos we've been getting on best with Florence and her band. Not that we don't like the others but maybe it's an age thing. Friendly Fires and Glasvegas are lovely people but lovely people that tend to keep themselves to themselves a bit more.
JH: Glasvegas beg to differ; they reckon they're showing you the ropes on how to rip the UK apart. Having said that, it's not all spanners in the works. They did say your album would become the best of this year.
CC: They do seem like the wise old trees. And they're like a proper family unit on tour. They've got cousins and brothers managing and tour managing and lighting so they're all tied in somehow. They have their kind of family and it's something of a Mafia situation. You don't want to piss it off. We stay in our box, they stay in their mansion.
JH: What was it that made you decide you didn't want to make music in the vein of Fear of Flying any more? There's a stark contrast to the dark tales of doom and gloom of your debut...
CC: It's hard to explain because we were doing Fear of Flying when we were 15 or 16, which is obviously an intense age bracket. You change as a person and effectively grow up and we were as impressionable as the next teenager with what you wear, what you listen to and for us being in a band, what we wanted to sound like. That's linked to what we listened to and we had new favourite bands every week so we'd say let's write a song like that this week.
JH: So you were doing anything but being yourselves effectively?
CC: We almost thought the worst mistake we could make was to be ourselves. Let's do what people hopefully will want. The significant change with White Lies is that we got so fed up and became quite bitter about our lack of success and maybe recognition. We couldn't understand why no one was paying attention. So one day we sat down and decided it wasn't working. We lost a lot of support though; we deleted our MySpace page without any token farewell gigs and sent messages out saying where we could be found. This sounds lame but talking in terms of MySpace as everyone does nowadays we had something like 8000 friends and then said if anyone's interested in what we're up to, head over to our new site. We got loads of messages back saying 'what the hell is this-is this a joke' but then within a week we had 200 friends. And that's the state of it. It demonstrates that a site like that is a very bad indication of who's behind you. If we weren't confident about White Lies being successful, we were confident about being happy with it.
JH: Finally, if nothing's set in stone, do you see White Lies as another brick in the wall or is this the final product?
CC: I think as musicians, we'll always be evolving. But we certainly feel like this is a safe vessel to be in now. We're very comfortable with the band and the sound that's coming out of us. But we'll take every day as it comes. We're already excited to see what shape the next record will take. We can't write in the back of a tour bus so nothing's under way as yet but it can all happen very quickly. We don't settle for any tracks that we don't feel are substandard. A producer told us that when David Bowie went in to record Hunky Dory he got told to play every song on a piano only using two fingers and if it still sounded amazing, then it was a brilliant song and that's really stuck with us.
JH: Have you done that exact thing then and followed the steps of Bowie himself?
CC: Um well I'm so bad at piano that two fingers are about all I can manage. Luckily Harry's pretty good so he can hack at least four.
Next: Josh gets aboard Glasvegas' tour bus for a chat with the band...
Photo: Steve Gullick