White Lies - Q&A
With their fourth album released last month, White Lies' frontman Harry McVeigh chats to us about the band's influences, festival experiences and teenage years.
Q. Tell us about your new album 'Friends'. What inspired the album and what was it like working with James Brown?
The inspiration for any of our records is often quite hard to pinpoint. Part of the process for Charles and I when we're writing is to listen to a huge amount of music, usually two or three hours a day and try to draw inspiration from very specific parts of songs. Often it'll be something like a drum groove or an interesting melody or scale and we'll work from that, it could even be something as simple as a nice tempo. Working with James Brown was very inspiring for us, he is able to do things in the studio that we can't even dream of, basically you can discuss with him what sound you're going for and he can make it happen! I would love to work with him again.
Q. I never quite got to the end of the maze on your website. Can you shed some light on the idea of the maze and your involvement in developing it?
Our artwork is born out of nothing more than an image that we like. We work with a great company in designing our record sleeves and we discussed a lot of options with them. As soon as we started to develop the maze idea we knew it would be a great fit, it really reminded us of some classic 1970's prog rock sleeves and Charles and I had been listening to a lot of that kind of music whilst writing. We loved the colours of it as well as we felt the record had a lot more lighter moments on it and we didn't want to pair that with a black and white image. The website was a really nice continuation of the whole thing and I think it was really well executed, I'm glad people have enjoyed it.
Q. You’ve released four albums, can you tell us about the development of your music since your first album, ‘To Loose My Life’.
So much has changed since we made our first album. I think a lot of bands would recognise the fact that it's really hard to recapture the naivety and nervous energy you have on your first record. We were very lucky to have had the response we did to the debut as it allowed us to make a lot of mistakes on the three after it! I still don't think we've made a record as good as our first but I think we will in the future, having said that I'm really happy with how 'Friends' turned out. Out of all our records this was the one where we were most in control of the process and we've really made the record that we wanted to make. It took us years of practice to get that right.
Q. You’ve just played at the Metropop festival in Lausanne. What are the most memorable performances you have to date and why?
The first Glastonbury is always an eye-opener. I love watching bands on the TV playing Glasto for the first time because it's so overwhelming and you always get a sense of that awe and extreme nervous energy, I had a complete memory blank when we first played the Other Stage because I was so nervous! It's such a powerful experience to watch 50,000 singing your songs, I think every band feels a lot of love when they play at that festival. Also on our first album we played two nights at Brixton Academy which was special because it was a venue I grew up with to stand on the same stage as my childhood heros was a great moment for me.
Q. Can you tell us about the most profound moments so far in your musical career – considering you have been together since your teenage years.
Having our first album go to number one and also touring Europe for 'Friends'. When we heard the news on the first record it was a very exciting moment, it made it clear to us, perhaps for the first time, that this was our job and we had landed. It was made more surreal by the fact that we were in the middle of Siberia at the time shooting a music video for 'Farewell to the Fairground', naturally we celebrated by swigging from a bottle of vodka! Touring the fourth album has, on many of the shows, demonstrated to us that we're here to stay. To have so many people turn up to the shows and still love the music is so great after so many years, for the first time on this tour I began to think that we actually had a proper career, I feel like we could be doing this for another decade!
Q. How did you go from your original band ‘Fear of Flying’ to ‘White Lies’?
We had so much teenage baggage with 'Fear of Flying' and we felt we had to draw a line under it all and move on. We didn't want to be thinking about songs we had written when we were fifteen years old as we started to produce some music that was so obviously a step up. 'Fear of Flying' taught us so much about how to write songs and perform but I think most people would have made the same decision to move on and I'm really glad we did because it kick started our whole career.
Q. What bands have influenced you through the years?
It's almost unthinkable how many different bands and musicians have had an impact on 'White Lies' over the years, we are always listening to music and I think bits of everything find their way into your subconscious. If I was pushed though I would say that 'Talking Heads' were a huge early influence for us when we first got interested in writing music as teenagers, they were probably the first band that we listened to who were truly groundbreaking and individual and we found that very inspiring. On a personal level, and I know it's a cliché, Hendrix was the person who made me pick up a guitar and I still listen to his records all the time, he was special.
Q. Where do you usually gather songwriting inspiration? What is your usual songwriting process?
From anything and everything, you rely on your subconscious to provide you with a lot of your inspiration and it's just a collection of all your experiences. Honestly it's a hard question to answer because you're not thinking about what's inspiring you as you're working you just sort of get on with it. Having said all that, as I mentioned before, Charles and I spend 2-3 hours a day when we write listening to music and drinking coffee and we often find moments in everything we listen to that inspire us. One of the keys, for us, to creating anything is to expose yourself to as much as possible, whether it be film or music or writing. One of the best things to come out of streaming technology is how easy that is to do now!