This is part two of our White Lies interview (part one is available here).
On the subject of your songs taking off in unexpected places, what’s the most unusual place you have ever wandered into and heard a White Lies track?
Harry McVeigh: I lived in San Francisco for three years, 2016-2019, and a couple of times there, and it was always the track ‘Tricky To Love’, a really obscure track on (White Lies’ 2013 album) Big TV, that we’ve never played live, and I don’t think it particularly resonates with our fanbase, but for some reason I stepped into a few places, even cabs and Ubers, into a random bar in the middle of nowhere, and they’re playing this ‘Tricky To Love’ song! So weird!
Did you sing along?
HM: No! The first couple of times I heard it, I thought “I really know this song!”
CC: I have that with even our much more popular songs. Years ago there was a time when I was in a night club in New York with a couple of friends, and a couple of my friends said “Listen, listen” and I said “What is it?” and it was ‘Fairwell To The Fairground’! I didn’t really recognise it!
Can you enjoy listening to your own records now, not necessarily in public, but for instance would Charles listen to a White Lies album on his evening walk? Do you ned a certain amount of time to pass before you can enjoy one of your albums?
CC: With me, I think it’s almost the opposite, where when we finish a record, I really enjoy listening to it right there and then in the moment. I’ll listen to it for a few weeks and really enjoy listening to it. I’m absolutely not insinuating that playing it live spoils it, but I think it’s because once you start playing the songs live, they kind of take on new identities and then when you think of the song, for me, I think of the live version and forget how it sounds on the record, so why listen to the record when I play it live all the time and it’s in my head that way? But I definitely don’t have that thing that some musicians have where they say “I’m not listening to it again, it’s done now”. I’d hate to be making music that I didn’t want to listen to a bit!
HM: I actually don’t ever listen to our albums, I have to say. I might go back and listen to the odd song, but I’d never go back and put a whole album on. When you make music and perform a lot live, it’s not like being an artist where you make a painting and it’s fixed that way forerver, with music you can tweak it, even in tiny ways, every night you play it differently and you make a mental note of all the things you do and the songs become totally different things and you almost prefer the version you are doing at that point in time than the one that you recorded. I always think it’s a shame that you can’t tour an album before you record it…
Jack Lawrence-Brown: Well you can, but it would be a horribly boring live show for anyone coming to see it, to see us muddle through some songs they don’t know, only to then record them and put them back out!
Some bands do that and play an enormous amount of new material, which is probably more useful for them than enjoyable for the audience?
CC: Yes, we’re in the position now where the set list gets tougher and tougher to negotiate with every album we release. To a certain extent we want to play the new songs that we think will go down well, but we’ve always band where pretty much the objective every time we walk on stage is just to put on the best possible show. We were so up for doing the To Lose My Life anniversary tour, because we knew that people would just go wild for it. We went on and did the whole album from start to finish, for 45 minutes, then came back and did all the hits from the other albums. I think we did something like twelve shows in total for that tour, but honestly when we finished it, I felt like I could have kept on doing that show for ages – it’s just fun and you can just see people having a lovely time. I always find it weird when bands ever do anything but that, so when we are planning this tour that’s about to start, even though we are going out to promote a new album, we will be playing new material but the objective remains the same, it’s how do you make the best possible hour and a half for people.
Of your songs, when I’ve seen the band live, ‘Bigger Than Us’ seems like the biggest song as far as the audience is concerned; is that your perception?
CC: Yes, probably.
JL-B: It’s a song that in a way…it’s not like an albatross, but it’s one that we consider a real success from a tricky second album. I think it’s the one song from that record that we won’t ever drop. It’s very hard though, as it’s almost comically big as a song, it’s a real ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ kind of a track. It’s all the better for that, but it’s like, where does it go in our set list apart from at the very end? Every album we assess whether there is a new song to take that challenge and finish a White Lies show, but maybe we have to accept at some point that ‘Bigger Than Us’ is the ultimate White Lies set closer!
HM: It would be either that or something off the first album – I reckon we could find something else if we really wanted to.
Can I ask you each what is your favourite White Lies album?
JL-B: That’s a really good question! It’s hard to know, because as discussed earlier, we don’t bang the albums on constantly, but I think the one that surprises me when I listen to it, and it’s a bit of a fan favourite as well, but I do think Friends was a really great record. There was something really nice about that record, we recorded it without much in the way of label input or interference.
HM: I think that Big TV’s got to be up there. I think Friends and Big TV were both albums where we were on a bit of a journey from how we made the first two records, which was very gung-ho but with a lot of guidance and a lot of people helping us in terms of production and bringing it all together and making it a proper album and then with Big TV, we realised that you really have to focus on the songs. I like every record in a different way, they mark moments in your life as well, as they probably do with a lot of our fans.
CC: I think I agree with Harry on Big TV – I think it has a very good flow and it ties together really nicely. It was written as a kind of conceptual or narrative album, but even without the lyrics I think there’s just something about the way that the music got put together for that one, that just works. We are under no impression that it was like a hit record for us, but we have talked about doing maybe a couple of anniversary shows for that as well, because I think to play it from start to finish it would work really well as a live performance.
You seem to deliberately not go for an image – was that something that you consciously decided on?
CC: I think basically what happened is that before we played the first gig as White Lies, our manager booked us three warm-up shows under a fake name around the country, so that we could just go and do a couple of dress rehearsals as he knew there would be a bunch of A&R people coming to the first show, and this would give us a bit of practice. I think it was after the first show that someone with us said “When you do this properly, maybe you should just all wear black or something, because it’s going to be a lot easier than sorting out your appearance properly!” And we thought, “That sounds easy, no decisions to make there!” We have moved away from that strict uniform, but we’re definitely not…it was always nice when we used to do press photo shoots when we were signed to a major label, you’d turn up and they’d get a stylist in with all these amazing clothes that unfortunately you never got to keep, but at least you could wear them and look really cool for the photos!
Could I ask you each what was the first record you ever bought (or CD or Minidisc!)?
HM: I can do mine straight away, I bought Michael Jackson’s HIStory, I think it was on three or four cassettes. The first thing I ever listened to would have been story tapes – I feel like I might have had story tapes before that, growing up so maybe my true first record wouldn’t even be music, but yeah it was HIStory and I used to listen to it to death. I would have been seven or eight years old.
CC: I’m the same but I did actually have it on double CD. I remember it cost £24, because it was twice the price of a regular CD!
JL-B: I genuinely don’t know, but I do very vividly remember buying the New Radicals single, ‘You Get What You Give’, which remains an absolute banger. I love the story of that band more than anything. There was stuff before that but I can’t remember it! But I liked reading about them, the bloke that made the record, Greg Alexander, had this enormous global hit and then decided it wasn’t for him and then disappeared for the next 25 years, just writing pop songs with Pink I think.
And what’s the most recent music that you have enjoyed, something current that you’ve been into recently?
HM: I’m just having a quick look on my Spotify, that’s what I always do when I’m asked this question!
JL-B: We took Alex Cameron on tour a few years ago on his first album and he was a lot of fun. He had some great tracks on that first record and then I kind of ignored or slept on the next two records he made, but he’s put out a couple of new singles that I’ve really liked.
CC: It’s not wildly new, it’s 2020, but it’s the newest music that I can think that I’m still listening to, I very much like the Blake Mills record, which is called Mutable Set. I’m still listening to that.
HM: Oh, that is very good.
CC: I think he’s a very guy and that album is very beautiful, very quiet and tender, it’s really, really nice. I don’t love everything he does, but also with Harry we’ve seen him live a couple of times and it’s an amazing show always, he has the best musicians.
HM: I really don’t listen to new stuff anymore, I’m so out of touch! Most of my Spotify, I listen to a lot of Bach…all the time! And Beethoven. And I’ve been listening to a lot of Frank Zappa recently, especially the albums Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe, they’re so good, those records. If we’re talking about new albums, I really enjoyed the Jarvis Cocker album, which I think he made for the Wes Anderson film, CHANSONS d’ENNUI TIP-TOP. I think my French pronunciation’s not bad there actually!
The new White Lies album, As I Try Not To Fall Apart, was released by PIAS on 18th February.