Brit band White Lies are one of those bands who have quietly achieved a lot of success. Their debut album made it to the top of the charts, back in 2009, and ten years later they are about to release their fifth album, Five. A classic sounding epic guitar-synth band, Charles Cave, Jack Lawrence-Brown, and Harry McVeigh met whist still at school, eventually forming Fear of Flying. Jack had set up the indie label Chess Club, and Fear of Flying achieved some early success, before they decided that they needed a new name, to reflect their maturation into adulthood. White Lies was the result. Harry took some time out to discuss the new album, San Francisco, the name change, and those early beginnings.
Hi there. I understand you live in the States now?
Coming up for two and a half years, in San Francisco. My wife and I. It was my wife’s work that forced her out here.
What’s it like?
I love it. But, we’ve realised we’re going to move back, I think before the end of this year. My wife is tying up a few things with her work, and then we’ll move back to London. But, for the time we’ve been here, it’s been incredible. I think we’ll make a lot of effort to move back here in the future.
Why is that?
There’s a lot of great culture here. Every time – and this is very personal to me – a good band is on tour in the States, they’ll stop by San Francisco. There is amazing food, amazing people. The people are usually good. The weather is usually good. Much better than the UK, certainly. We just enjoy the vibe here, enjoy being out and about in the city, and we’ve made some amazing friends. In my opinion, people in San Francisco are looking out for each other. It’s a city full of immigrants, from all over the world, and they live together quite happily.
So, how did it work, making this new album, while you’ve been out there?
A lot of transatlantic flying. I came back for two, maybe three long sessions with Charles, coming back for a month at a time, and we wrote as much as possible in that time.
Tell me how you approached this new album
We always approach songwriting in the same way, especially now that we have figured out our process. How the record turns out is shaped by what we do in those initial writing sessions. When you have six or seven songs you have a feel for the direction of the record, and what you need to do with other songs to make it balanced. This time, early on we realised we wanted to push the songs more in the direction of how we first started out. We threw the kitchen sink at the songs on the first album, really fleshed them out, made them quite pompous, with a little over-the-top production. We tried to do that same thing with a lot of this album, where we’ve asked ourselves what we can add to this, to make it not necessarily a wall of sound, but again, a little over-the-top, production-wise.
It sounds more eclectic than your previous albums, more going on…
Yeah, it is more varied. We thought it would be something that would work, to have these songs pull you off in a number of different tangents, and taking you to different places. And the production leans towards more guitars on the album. It’s a bit heavier, like how we explored on our first two albums. And we tried to do a few stranger things, with songs like ‘Time To Give’, which was the first song we released.
Yeah, that’s a brilliant song!
I think it’s a fine achievement. I think this song perhaps pushes what we are capable of doing, the furthest. There’s a lot of strangeness to it, a lot of contrast, and takes you on a bit of a journey. Even now, I find it quite exciting to listen to, and I’ve listened to it probably 500 times! But, the way it keeps wrapping up, and getting bigger and bigger, and you don’t know when certain things are going to happen, to explode and kick off. I can’t wait to play it live.
The last track on the album, ‘Fire and Wings’ is one of my favourites…
I came up with that strange riff in the verses, a weird harmonic progression. We had listened to a lot of Scott Walker that day, and came up with that song. His songs often meander, and take you to weird places, and don’t quite settle down. Charles and I also listen to a lot of metal, and the chorus, to me, reflects that. We went hell-for-leather on that chorus, like a huge wall of sound. So, the contrast between the verse and chorus is what helps to make that song. It’s one of our favourites, too. We put it at the end of the album because of the last line, something about the end of the world: “All the greatest boys waiting for the world to end”. A bit cheesy, but it works.
What are your other personal highlights?
I also love ‘Finish Line’. Again, I think it takes you on a bit of a journey. Every section of that song takes you to a new scene, like a fresh palette of sounds at every turn. I’m really pleased how it turned out. It’s a really complete song. And with ‘Tokyo’, we felt right from the outset we had that classic 80s pop song strangeness. But honestly, we’re proud of all the record. A lot of people might complain that the album is only nine tracks long, rather than at least ten, which all our others have been, but that is a reflection of the songs being really good quality, and sitting very well together. All wheat and no chaff! We’re excited for everyone to hear it. But ask us in a year’s time to see if we still like it or not!
I imagine you’re gearing up for the UK tour, the first date of which is in Brighton, and the first time that many people will get to hear some new tracks?
Yes, we’re starting to put together the sounds for the live show, and getting some new guitar pedals! They are like new toys. That was the thing I was most probably jealous of when we were first starting out, and seeing other bands play, and the guitarists with their nice big pedal boards. It was something I always really wanted.
Our keyboard player, Tommy, lives in Hove. We spend quite a lot of time there, not just as a band, but with Tommy. He’s just about to open a micropub in Hove, which we will be visiting!
You all met while at school, is that right?
Yeah, about 15 years ago. Jack and I went to the same school as each other, but I became close with Charles first, and used to hang out with him, play records, and we’d play guitar and bass together. Charles was playing with a few bands, and I was starting to do a bit of singing with some of those bands, so we just decided to play together. And Charles had heard that Jack had got a drumkit for Christmas. He was the only person nearby who had a drumkit, so we started playing together.
At first you were called Fear of Flying, even released a few records under that name, on Jack’s Chess Club label, and started to develop a bit of a following. Why did you decide to change the name?
It was a bit of a gamble, even though we had had some success with Fear of Flying. But that name tied us to what we were doing when we had first started. I think there are age ranges where everyone steps up and moves into adulthood. The story is, we had some studio time, and a really good friend of ours’ dad, Stephen Street, had a wonderful studio, Olympic in Barnes, and we had some time with him. One of the songs we had with him was ‘Unfinished Business’, which ended up on our first album, and it just felt immediately that that was a huge step up, and so we made the decision to change the name, and go out with that song. It caught people’s attention very quickly. Less than a year later we had signed a record deal, and we were touring the world .
And you’re still here!
I think a lot of people would tell you that the music industry can be a managed decline. You have to ride that wave of your initial releases. With us, we’ve stuck to the course. We haven’t necessarily grown any bigger, but we haven’t gone anywhere at the same time. We still attract new people. Mexico seems to be particularly big for us at the moment. It’s where we will likely play our biggest shows. Jack and I were there recently, in Tijuana, making a couple of videos for the last album, doing interviews. It was crazy. They have press conferences! It’s wonderful! You never know what’s going to happen. A song can suddenly catch the imagination. Same with the Netherlands, where ‘Time To Give’ had been playlisted on pretty much all of the major radio stations, and playing the full seven and a half minute version.