White Lies Talk Punk Venues, Dance Music, South Korea + New Album ‘BIG TV’
If you were lucky enough to squeeze into the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen in London last week, you got a real treat, as White Lies returned after five years to the tiny venue where it all began. In addition to celebrating their anniversary, the U.K. post-punkers previewed material from their forthcoming third album, ‘BIG TV,’ which arrives Aug. 20 via Harvest Records in the U.S. and a week earlier in the U.K. Bassist and backing vocalist Charles Cave spoke with Diffuser.fm during last week’s shows about the challenges of playing punk venues, the band’s love of classic songwriting and their plans to tour behind the new record, the follow-up to 2011’s ‘Ritual.’
As we speak, you’re gearing up to play a run of three concerts to celebrate the band’s fifth anniversary and launch new material from the upcoming ‘BIG TV.’
Yeah, we had the first one last night, actually.
How did it go?
It went great. We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, partly because the last time we played London was 18 months ago, and that was headlining Wembley Arena, which is like 10,000 people, so that was a huge moment to finish up the last record on.
So, we thought the most appropriate way to kick off this next one was in a completely different way and to go back to where it all started: a really small, intimate show. We wanted to really expose our material, because you can’t hide behind the lighting and the scale when you are in a venue like that. It’s pretty much as punk rock as a venue gets. Our main goal is that if people react to the songs in a venue like this, then we know when we get to a big venue, it is going to work. But yeah, it went really, really well. And with two more to go, I think by the time we finish, we will be on fire.
How many of the new songs did you debut last night? It’s a pretty immediate album, so I imagine it would go over well, despite the audience being unfamiliar with the music.
Yeah, that’s how we feel, too. That’s the kind of album we wanted to make. Every song has an entry point immediately, whether that is melodically or lyrically or the feel of it. We wanted it to be immediately available to both our fans and to new listeners. And, that’s what we’ve basically found in the performance.
We are basically going to do five new ones every night; one will be different each night, so there will effectively be eight on rotation. They all went over well. Obviously ‘There Goes Our Love Again’ is the single, so people know that one. And ‘Getting Even’ was a free download, so people know that. But, it’s pretty amazing the amount of fans that were there singing along to songs that we haven’t put out, just from YouTubes of other gigs we’ve done. So, it’s just a testament to people latching onto them quickly and easily getting into the songs, being able to sing the lyrics back when the album isn’t even out. I think when we started playing new songs from the last album, they were usually sandwiched between two songs from the first record that people know so well, and it took a while to get our confidence and conviction in the new material the same as the old material, but last night, everything just blended into one. There were no awkward shifts into the new songs. It was just so immediate. I feel really good about everything.
In the last five years, the popular rock scene has changed quite a bit. When White Lies came out, there were other bands that had a similar post-punk sound. A lot of those bands have changed or gone away, and it makes your sound seem a little more unique on ‘Big TV.’
In my head, a part of that is our determination and passion toward classic songwriting. A lot of the music that has become popular in the last three years doesn’t have that same connection to songwriting. A lot of popular music now is rooted in dance music, which is very repetitive. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s just that harmonic changes, extensions of chords, key changes and even an interesting middle section, that is just not on the agenda for popular music these days.
Maybe a way that we sound almost old fashioned now is because we still really care about that stuff. Maybe it is the bands we sound a little like, Tears for Fears or some of those other ’80s bands who were very much interested in that kind of songwriting, or other huge bands like Crowded House, or great classic songwriters like Nick Cave or Neil Young or Tom Waits or all kinds of things like that, even Seal. We just care about that. That’s where our passions lie at the moment anyway. After a while, we might want to make a few pieces of music that are just for dancing, but that’s not what we are interested in right now. That’s what sets us apart from the mainstream, at least a little bit.
Obviously you guys have a bigger fanbase in the U.K. than in America. Do you think British audiences are more receptive to that classic songwriting?
Not really. I’m not sure, but I don’t think I detect a trend in that thing in terms of place. I think in terms of Northern Europe, where we have our biggest territory for fans, I guess they do have a tendency to lean on more intense music, whether you’re talking Northern Scandinavia, which has a huge thriving metal scene and always has, or Germany, which still very much enamored with bands like Depeche Mode. Marilyn Manson still does really well in Germany, and other bands that have a darker edge. Occasionally we play in Italy or Spain, but I guess when the temperature is good, and they have beaches they can go to, its not such a thing they’re after.
We’ve had a lot of great experiences over in America, though, and the bands we’ve played with in the past are very much in the same category as us in terms of songwriting. We did a tour of the Midwest with Kings of Leon, and if anything, they are getting more and more toward the traditional songwriting. I’ve heard tracks over the last few years that are pretty much just straight country songs. So yeah, I don’t see a pattern geographically, and American songwriting is just a minefield, there is just so much incredible stuff. Whether it is country music, things like Emmylou Harris or Townes Van Zant or Mickey Newbury. And then there is all the great rock bands that you have produced, so there is not a shortage of great songwriting in America.
Beyond the Reading and Leeds festivals, are there any shows you’re particularly looking forward to or new things you’re hoping to do?
Yeah, we have shows coming up in South Korea, which I think will be really interesting. We’ve had great shows in Asia before, but we’ve never been to Korea. That’s going to be really exciting, and it’s worked out that we have two days off there, and I’m always game for a two day holiday in a new place.
We are also playing Russia on that tour, and I looked up the place we are playing in Spain, and it is this idyllic beach festival with turquoise water and people swimming all day. Then the music starts really late, and we play at 2AM. That’s going to be just great, but I’ll probably get to tired from laying in the sun all day and swimming in the sea I’ll have to take a nap.
Then we have the American tour in October, where we play some of our favorite venues like the Bowery Ballroom in New York and the El Rey in L.A., and Chicago and Austin and all kinds of places we love to play. Then the big European/U.K. tour will happen at the end of the year. And who knows next year? It’s just the beginning right now, so we are all getting focused on what’s to come.