With their new album Five just in the shops, God Is In The TV caught up with White Lies drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown for a chat before seeing the band in full flow at a well-populated and triumphant Birmingham O2 Institute.
GIITTV: Your new album, Five, is sounding great. It does sound more complex than previous albums, is that deliberate?
JL-B: Yes! I think we are naturally inclined towards expanding our sound and our ideas as we get older. It’s a gentle constant progression for us rather than revolutionary change between each album. A lot of it comes from confidence in the studio environment too, we feel much more at home than ever before. With a lot of help from our excellent engineer – James Brown, we are getting to grips with what it takes to produce our own music.
Five albums in ten years is pretty prolific these days isn’t it?
I’m not sure! It feels about right to us, it allows us to make the records we want to make, and tour them properly. But we have been surprised to see a couple of bands who are now going to release TWO albums this year! Fair play to them, but that is something that we would really struggle with I think.
I counted twelve key changes at the end of opening track Time To Give! That must be pretty interesting to play live?
We are only five shows into this tour far but no disasters with it so far! I think we became so obsessed with how tricky it was going to be to play live that we really doted on it in rehearsal. It’s the sort of song that needs to be absolutely nailed live to make it worth doing, and it’s been opening the sets so far on this tour in a really wonderful way.
Ten years ago, your debut album went straight in at Number One. Was it a surprise how immediate the success for the record was?
At the time it was a massive surprise. I think we were naive at the time as to how much money and effort by our label was being invested in making that album a success. But in all honesty, if it wasn’t a good album, people wouldn’t have connected and all the money spent would have been in vain. Looking back, maybe with all the energy around that release – the sort of thing you simply can’t fake – it shouldn’t have been such a surprise.
I saw White Lies on the NME tour in that year (2009), with Glasvegas, Friendly Fires and Florence + The Machine. What are your memories of that tour (if any!)?
Great memories. The point of those tours was to break bands and so everyone in the bands were pretty green to how it all worked. We learnt a lot from each other as we went along, from show to show. The venues weren’t huge and we often found ourselves sharing dressing rooms with Florence’s gang, and those were great times. She’s a wonderful person, and I think it was lucky for us all to share that experience. There were a few big nights on that tour.
There have been some pretty nice physical versions of the albums, like the set of six 7″ singles for Ritual and the picture disc of Friends. How important is the physical product to the band in these days of streaming?
Still really important! Physical albums still make up a large portion of what we sell, and we have a good reputation I think around the quality of the physical releases we have put out. We take great pride in it. And the artwork for ‘FIVE’ has been a bit of an adventure for us, using a lot of kobigraph (a written form of braille), and working hand in hand with the RNIB to produce genuine braille lyric books.
The previous incarnation of White Lies was called Fear Of Flying. Do you have any memories from those days? What was it like working with Stephen Street?
Stephen was such a big influence on us in our early days. He’s one of our best mate’s dad, so in a weird way we never really had a full appreciation of his legendary status at the time, but he was good enough to allow us time in his studio for free when we were still cutting our teeth as a band on the weekends and after school. The Fear of Flying days are somewhat glorified sometimes by people who reference it, because at the time we didn’t have any interest from anyone anywhere. But for us as a band, catching MegaBuses around the country, playing dive gigs and paying crooked promoters to play their venues when underage – it was all a learning experience that we have kept with us throughout the years.
Are there any bands around now that you think of your contemporaries, in terms of a similar approach or sound?
There are lots of bands we like, but in all honestly the music we make and the way in which we make it is fairly unfashionable! A band who I think hold some similar sensibilities and are really doing well is Blossoms. I think they have a lot to give as band, and I cross my fingers that they’ll continue to flourish.
Does the White Lies tour bus have everyone listening to the same music, or is it a case of headphones? If the firmer, are there any tour favourites for the band?
Yeah after the show we usually get the bus sound system cranked up pretty loud for a couple of hours. No one is ever really for sleep straight after a show, we need a few hours to wind down. Usually we end up playing a lot of dance music until we get drunk enough to listen to Boy in Da Corner from start to finish. That happens at least once per tour. But honestly we just pass the spotify account around and everyone has a fair crack at playing something they like. Rarely do choices get booed off.
What can fans expect from the upcoming tour?
Big shows! Big production. Long sets too! We have had trouble in choosing songs to cut, so we just haven’t. We are just playing longer sets and making sure we feel like we haven’t missed out any important songs. Honestly, having five records now is a blessing and a curse. So much to choose from! But we think it is the strongest set we have ever played with a very good balance between old and new.
A week or so later and the band are putting the initial UK leg of their huge European tour to bed with a show at Birmingham O2 Institute on the 15th February 2019. The venue is already pretty packed early on when Boniface, the working name of Canadian Micah Visser and his band, take to the stage to deliver half an hour of pristine, hook driven synthpop that sounds like it is designed for arenas, stadiums…wherever the music takes them, really. With a commercial sound that’s maybe part Snow Patrol, part Temper Trap and part early A-ha, they have hit on a formula that may just result in success. The songs are certainly all present and correct, and when Visser leans over a vacant keyboard to play a chiming synth riff upside down, well…that alone is worth seeing!
Boniface are a good fit for tonight’s headliners White Lies. Also seemingly more interested in their sound than their look, (all appear in plain black t-shirts as if not wanting to take any attention away from their songs), the band have never been ‘look at me’ star types, but have now built up a sterling five album body of work which is high on quality; records that never overstay their welcome but each add something to the evolution of the group’s sound.
Doubly brave by taking the stage to Talk Talk‘s majestic ‘Give It Up’ (follow that!) and then kicking off with that song ‘Time To Give’ (check the interview, kids!), White Lies make an impressive entrance and sound HUGE, the tasteful but at times also quite extreme light show adding to the drama of that epic opener. The debut album’s ‘Farewell To The Fairground’ is like a comfy old t-shirt in comparison, it’s familiar sound lapped up by a vociferous crowd.
The new record, Five, is well-represented with seven of its songs receiving an airing, ‘Tokyo’ in particular already being greeted like an old favourite. The synthpop of previous album ‘Friends’ is also a big part of the set, with ‘Is My Love Enough?’ and ‘Hold Back Your Love’ being thrown in relatively early and having a turn-of-the-80s Ultravox feel about them.
Debut single ‘Unfinished Business’ still sounds immense and is truly one of THE great 21st Century debut 45s, the slow build to its climax as effective as ever it was. White Lies don’t do a lot of actual fast songs, but ‘Take It Out On Me’ from Friends is one such example, an instantly catchy tune that would surely have been a big hit ten years ago before the Drakeisation of the Top 40.
Another dramatic moment is when the stage gets even darker, shrouded in blackness, for the title track of perhaps under-appreciated third record Big TV. There’s a definite touch of early Visage in there. That can obviously only ever be a good thing.
Early single ‘Death’ meanwhile is given quite the treatment, tempo changes from verse to chorus and a pummelling lightshow that brings to mind My Bloody Valentine‘s incendiary Loveless tour. Another early hit, ‘To Lose My Life’ ends the main set before frontman Harry McVeigh returns alone to perform a touching solo voice-and-keyboard run through Big TV‘s ‘Changes’, before the rest of the band join him for the melancholic brilliance of the new record’s ‘Fire and Wings’ before a rousing, life-affirming sign off with ‘Bigger Than Us’.
White Lies’ star continues to be in the ascendancy in these harsh times.