In Conversation With…WHITE LIES

As the kings of anthemic rock, ‘Death’ and ‘Unfinished Business’ paved the way for future development and evolution beyond the grasp of any incidental outcome – so nine years on, White Lies’ name still lives and continues to prosper.

With latest album ‘Friends’, the London trio tread further afield, edging towards the glittering end of the indie rock spectrum but still firmly rooted in the pomp of synth rock. The release has seen the band find new levels of endearment and relevance, within an industry where the rules have changed, White Lies continue to prove that there’s still room for joyous sing-along’s and climatic builds – and thank goodness for that.

Since ‘Friends’ was released at the tail end of 2016, White Lies’ touring schedule was kicked straight into full ascension, seeing the band travelling overseas to the US and Mexico, along with a boat load of live dates across the continent and closer to home. Now approaching the final dates in their ‘Friends’ tour, we meet Harry McVeigh (Vocals/Guitar) and Charles Cave (Bass/Vocals) in Manchester to talk about the band’s longevity, the whisperings of new material and the allure of heavy metal bands.

We’re at the British Sound Project today, an event that celebrates home-grown music. Ready for tonight’s headlining slot?

Charles Cave: “Very ready. Yeah, looking forward to it. We’ve had some good shows recently, and hopefully this won’t be an exception.”
Harry McVeigh: “It’s been a little while since we’ve played in Manchester, hasn’t it?”
CC: “Little bit yeah…”
Charlotte Holroyd: “November.”
HM: “Albert Hall, yeah [in] November. Actually almost a year…”
CH: “Doesn’t feel like it but yeah, it’s true.”
CC: “God this year has gone quickly.”
HM: “We always have good shows here.”

The nine year anniversary of White Lies’ first public performance passed earlier this year. Reflecting back on that Hoxton Bar & Kitchen show, what was the feeling within the band leading up to that night?

HM: “Terrified. I think that was the biggest thing we’d done in our lives up to that point.”
CC: “I’m not sure that anything’s really topped it, in terms of nerves, in terms of that [level of] fear and pressure… Maybe one of the Glastonbury shows, the first time we did the Other Stage at Glastonbury.”
HM: “Yeah definitely [we were] very nervous… It’s quite nice to feel like that sometimes, especially afterwards when it’s all done, it’s like blissful relief.”
CC: “We were very well rehearsed for it – bearing in mind we only played five, six songs or something. We rehearsed for three weeks solid, like, every single day.”
HM: “We played a few warm-up shows as well.”
CC: “We weren’t nervous because we were unprepared, we were nervous because it was a big deal.”

How did the show go down?

CC: “It was great. We’re here today, aren’t we?” [Laughs]
HM: “It probably wasn’t even that great but I think all that was required of us was that it wasn’t really s***. And it wasn’t. So we signed a record deal, and that’s the reason why we’re here now.”

When you wrote ‘Death’, I’m sure you could’ve never imagined that it would have found the resonance that it did, but further to that for it to be featured in a vampire movie (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) and then feel like it was written for the scene it soundtracks. Have you watched the film, and what did you make of it?

CC: “I did watch the film… We heard about the request for it, someone emailed to say “There’s an Iranian vampire film being made, they want to use your song. They don’t have the money to pay for it, basically, but they’re like begging us to use it.” We kind of went whatever, fine. Then when we were in LA once – this was six months later, or something – we got this email [saying]: “The Director of that Iranian vampire film, that ‘Death’ is in, is coming to the show and she really needs to meet you guys,” and I think that we’d all just forgotten about it, that it was even happening.

“And then, after the show we had hosted some very basic hello to a bunch of people in an upstairs balcony at the venue and she was there, and she cornered me – she’s really nice but at that moment, so intense. You know when someone corners you when you’re obviously trying to say hello to a lot of different people [in quick succession], and she was just so intense about the movie. It slightly put me off at that point, I have to be honest, because she was almost just like desperately selling it and she was kind of saying “Do you definitely have to fly to Mexico tomorrow morning? Because it would be really good if you could stay in LA so we could have a screening of the film,” I was just a bit, like, “Cool. I’m glad the song’s working for you and good luck with the movie” but geez, you know, it was really full on.

“But then two years later or something, a friend was writing an article about [A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night], or an article about up-and-coming foreign films – anyway, she emailed me and said “Can I get a quote from you about the film because of your song being in it?” and I said “I haven’t seen it, have you got a link to watch it? And I will actually watch it, fine.” And she sent it. And I watched it. And my girlfriend was just like, “F*** this is an amazing film. Really brilliant.” And I, at that point, had to ask for the Director’s email address and just write, “I’ve finally got around to seeing the film. You know, yes it is absolutely brilliant.” So I guess it’s perhaps a lesson that sometimes, sometimes when people are kind of fanatical about what they’re working on and [are] wanting to talk about it, it is because, it is actually really great. A lot of the time, it’s because they’re absolute mentalists. But in that case, she was right. And it was great, and it’s a real honour to have the song used in that way.”

You’ve been on tour since ‘Friends’ dropped last year, has it felt good to be back on the road and playing every night?

CC: “The headline tour that we did, when we played at the Albert Hall in Manchester, I would probably say that it was the best headline tour we’ve ever done – for lots of different reasons, really practical reasons. It’s great to have four albums worth of songs to pick from – the more albums you write, the better your set’s going to get because you basically just play singles, or you just play the best songs from each album, perhaps three off each, and that’s obviously going to make a great set, so I think we really enjoyed that. Also there’s certain places in Europe where actually, our career has gone up with this record, which I am a bit surprised about because usually that doesn’t happen with bands on the fourth record, they’re usually kind of cruising down. But Germany, Belgium, and Holland – Holland especially, we’re stronger than ever, and we’re selling more tickets than we ever have so it’s a wonderful feeling.

“There was a pretty big gap between the last two records, and to be honest with you, I think Harry and I worked for so long on ‘Friends’, writing it… I mean, a year maybe doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a really long time to be sat in a room, mostly, writing songs, [and] wondering if they’re any good. So I absolutely had no idea if it was a good album by the time we‘d released it, I just didn’t. And so when we started seeing lots of messages from fans going “My favourite one since the first,” that kind of sentiment in different forms, I was just thrilled, just absolutely thrilled – and since then, that’s kind of been the resounding feeling behind the whole tour and the whole campaign. Which is people loving White Lies more, or at least, as much as they did when they first saw us on the first record, so that’s everything we could ever dream of really.”

At this stage, I feel you could bring out any White Lies song at the live shows and it will go down a storm.

CC: “Oh I’m not sure, maybe. There could be a few duds we could pull out.”
HM: “Easily.”

Maybe I’m just biased. Are there any tracks that you wish you had given a place to on the set list – or maybe, there are ones that you now regret including?

CC: “Oh no, they never stay in if they don’t work. I’d like to start playing ‘Mother Tongue’ again, I miss playing that and it’s a nice three minute short, sharp pop song. I enjoy that. We really love playing ‘Streetlights’ and we haven’t played that in ages, I know that some of our fans don’t love it as much as other songs but we absolutely love playing that song.”
HM: “‘Taxidermy’’s good.”
CC: “Nah, it’s alright. People like it. Not sure I love it. Even that song ‘Goldmine’, we played that for a while. That went down really well. That’s quite a fun song. Anyway yeah, there are some, I always regret… we never ever learned how to play ‘Tricky to Love’ live – I really like that song, it’s really different.”

What’s been the most important thing that you’ve learned whilst being a member of White Lies?

HM: “You don’t learn anything being in a band apart from how to play a musical instrument reasonably well…”
CC: “…How to cut a lemon with a spoon.” [Laughs]
HM: “I think we’re all, for sure, better musicians now, than we were when we started. So that’s a good thing to learn, and that’s nice. I’ve enjoyed that… I mean it’s not just come out of the band, but its part of being in a band, as you want to get better.”
CC: “I think certainly being in a touring band does teach you patience quite well, because you have to employ patience quite often and I do find it amusing in places like airports – where you see people going mental and getting really worked up about a delayed flight or having to check in their luggage.”
HM: “Yeah you get really good at sitting in a seat for two hours and it not being problematic.”
CC: “[I’m talking about] people getting worked up over situations that they have no control over, and being in a band there’s a lot of… I don’t know, like, vehicles breaking down and getting stuck places, or just having to drive for 16 hours and stuff like that. So you learn to really laugh at it, well we do anyway. Almost the more dour the situation, the more readily we’re able to rip it apart and laugh about it.”
HM: “It’s a good life skill.”

Going back over your career and giving focus to each album release up to now – Which one do you think is the strongest, which one do you feel most connected to and which one do you feel you struggled most to produce?

HM: “I don’t ever listen to our music to be honest. Playing it live, I think the strongest and the one I feel most connected to is probably the first [‘To Lose My Life’] and I think it always will be, just because that marked a great turning point in our lives and set us up for what we are now. The one I’m probably least proud of is the second [‘Ritual’].”
CC: “Yeah I think we’d all agree on that.”
HM: “I think the hardest one to make was probably ‘Friends’ actually.”
CC: “Yeah I think so too. Trying to listen as an impartial fan, almost, I like ‘Big TV’ best.”
HM: “That’s a strange choice.”
CC: “I just think there’s so many good songs on it… It was probably a bad time to do it, but when we finished ‘Friends,’ I went out for a very long walk and I listened to all of ‘Friends’ – and like I said before I found it very hard to judge it at that point, I kind of went “Well it’s done, isn’t it?” and then while I was on the same walk, I immediately listened to ‘Big TV’ and I have to be honest, I did go “F***, this is so much better.” It’s so much bigger sounding [when listening to the two records] side-by-side, that’s not necessarily a good thing because it’s a weird sounding album ‘Big TV,’ when you actually listen to it next to ‘Friends,’ everything’s really flamboyant and the drum sounds are a bit mental, a bit wrong sometimes. It’s pretty wild, but, I think there’s a lot of good songs on it. Even the slow songs on that record, the real album tracks like, ‘Heaven Wait’ and ‘Change’… we did this thing on Twitter the other day where they tweeted from our account, you have to pick your favourite song from each of the four albums and so many people picked ‘Change’ from ‘Big TV’.”
HM: “It’s a good song. It’s a nice piece of music.”
CC: “Yeah. I think ‘Mother Tongue’ is great, and ‘First Time Caller’ is probably my favourite White Lies song and even like, ‘Be Your Man’ is really good, and ‘Getting Even’. The recording of ‘Getting Even’ is absolutely fantastic, I never feel like we’ve quite managed to replicate that live, it’s good, but it’s such a huge rock song with a lot of production on it, that it was always tricky doing it live. Yeah I love that album.”

Now for the random round – If you started a heavy metal band, what would you be called?

CC: “I like heavy metal bands who have got really long names, and I think ‘Please Take A Seat, Satan Will Be With You Shortly’ is a good name for a heavy metal band – or at least a good name for an album title. But I actually made a couple of pieces of dance music a few years ago, just for a laugh, and decided to put it up on Soundcloud and I did it under the name, Mastress – and I think ‘Mastress’ is a really good [name] maybe I’ve wasted it because I think it could be a really good, really good band name. I also like the idea of maybe lengthening it to ‘The Infallible Mastress’ – so it’s a bit like, the Inflatable Mattress. I think that’s pretty cool.”

What’s something interesting that happened to you when you were a kid that your band mates don’t know about?

HM: “I flew a plane for 45 minutes, when I was about 11.”
CC: “Did you? I definitely didn’t know that. That’s pretty cool.”
HM: “Yeah my Dad’s got pictures… It was like a light aircraft, one of my parents’ friends had it, and we flew from Gloucestershire to Wales, or something, [for like] an hour flight. There’s a photograph of me flying it with no one in the co-pilot seat.”
CC: “S***, that is really cool.”
HM (jokingly): “Nailed it.”
CC: “I don’t think I’ve ever talk about this; I don’t know why this has just popped into my head – I think I’m just thinking about a similar age. I almost choked to death on the fatty rind of a piece of bacon.”
HM: “I don’t know this. I did not know that.”
CC: “Actually I would’ve been with Jack, although he wouldn’t have been sat with me. Our primary school did this thing called PGL, I don’t know if you did it? [to Harry] People joke that it stands for ‘Parents Get Lost’ but I don’t know what it actually stands for, it’s just some b******* camping weekend you do when you’re 10. And it was during breakfast that I tried to eat this piece of bacon rind, and it was like a four, five inch piece of bacon rind, and it fully lodged and stuck all the way down my throat. I was just choking and choking and choking and choking, and everyone’s was just like “What’s up with you?”… and I had to reach my hand down my throat and pull it out.”
HM: “That’s horrible.”
CC: “It was really horrible. I was fully in tears and everything.”
HM: “Sounds like a horrible experience. ‘Choking On A Rind’ is a good name for a death metal band.”
CC: “Yeah that is good.”

In the case of a Zombie apocalypse, what would be your go-to strategy for survival?

HM: “Bunker. Easy.”
CH: “Always a good one. What would you do if you ran out of food though? You can only save so much in a bunker.”
HM: “How long will the zombies last without food? I think just holding yourself up somewhere, barricading your front door. In my flat, I think I’d be safe.”
CC: “You’d be pretty good in your flat… I think I’d go for a small to moderate sized hotel, my thinking is this – hotels always have lots of food, lots of long-lasting food, and they always have a basement that you can lock yourself in, and they also have a roof that a helicopter that can land on. Chances are, even if the hotel was ambushed at some point by zombies, you could hold them off well enough from the basement where you’ve got an unlimited supply of food and then pick your moment, and if you manage to communicate with someone, saying “This is where I am. I need a helicopter.” You can probably just about get up to the roof in time to get the helicopter.”
HM: “Or get a nice big yacht.”
CC: “Yeah because zombies can’t swim, can they? But they can walk at the bottom of the sea, can’t they?”
HM: “I don’t know which zombie lore you’re following. I don’t think a zombie would be able to follow a yacht.”
CH: “Yeah just find the nearest body of water and you’ll be fine.”
HM: “Even if they were a Michael Phelps, you could still sail faster.”
CC: “Ok. Good shout. You’d need a lot of food on a yacht though, or you could just fish.”

What are your thoughts on the recent return of Friendly Fires?

HM: “Great news.”
CC: “I’m happy for them. Well, I’m looking forward to hearing some music. No point returning if the music is s*** but I don’t think it will be. They’ve spent a long time working on it, so yeah, good on them. I’ll probably go down to Brixton and see the gig.”
HM: “I’d be up for that.”

Who’s the most famous person you’ve met?

CC: “Probably Paul Simon.”
HM: “You met Brad Pitt once, didn’t you?” [to Charles]
CC: “Yeah he’s probably more famous, more recognisable. I did meet Brad Pitt. Yeah it’ll be Brad Pitt. We recently became best friends with Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis.”
HM: “Yeah that’s pretty good, but I didn’t meet them though.”
CC: “Oh yeah, you didn’t.”
HM: “Dave Grohl rubbed me on the back once.”
CC: “Yeah he did, gave you a back massage.”
HM: “That was good.”

So I know you’re working on some new music, can you tell us a bit more about that at the moment?

HM: “Its early days. I don’t really know what we’re doing on the record yet, I think we’re just figuring it out. We’ve wrote a couple of good songs this week, I think probably the best we’ve written for the record so far. We’re moving in the right direction.”
CC: “I have a funny feeling… I think for ‘Friends’ we wrote about 20 [songs] I’m feeling maybe for this one, we’ll write more like 30 actually.”
HM: “Oh yeah. Do we have the time?”
CC: “We’ll just have to make the time I think. We’ve written six or seven, and like Harry said we’ve written two good ones this week – two that are a lot better than the first four, that at the time, we thought were actually good, and it might be that we only use one of those first four and we use these two new ones, that means we’ve got three.”
HM: “I think on this album, it’ll be very obvious when we’ve got the ‘album’, and I think we’ll write until that point. I think we’ll write 10 songs, that before we start recording we’ll know will be the songs that make the album. That’s my gut feeling.”

White Lies’ fourth studio album, ‘Friends’, is out now – and available to Stream/Purchase here.

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Charlotte Holroyd
Editor, Creator and Founder of Bitter Sweet Symphonies. A lover of music and cinema, who's constantly attending gigs and in search of a great experience.

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