At the start of their North American tour, Britain’s White Lies sat down with QRO. In the conversation, Charles Cave (bass), Jack Lawrence-Brown (drums), and Harry McVeigh (guitar/vocals) talked about coming back to New York, playing extensively in Mexico & their large fan base there, making music videos in Tijuana with David Pablos, playing smaller cities, making their new record FIVE (QRO review), being able to play it all live, playing from Ukraine to QRO, not coming up with a record title, and much more…
QRO: How is it, being back in New York?
Harry McVeigh: It’s good – it’s been a nice couple of days, actually. We arrived the day before yesterday – we had a day off yesterday, which we don’t normally get. And it’s a great city to have a day off in. We had a really good time.
QRO: Because a lot of times, you probably don’t get to see that much of the city.
Charles Cave: Not often.
HM: Chill couple of days, a bit of shopping, and just wandered around. It’s a great city; it’s really fun.
CC: We’re at the kind of the point in our career where we have a pretty good lay of the land of quite a lot of cities around the world, having visited them for one day, two days at a time, constantly, over ten years. We know just enough of the city to actually have a bit of a relaxed time, go to a few familiar places, and not totally feel like…
The first time we were in New York, the second time in New York, we were literally wandering around with maps.
QRO: I saw you at Mercury Lounge.
HM: Yeah, that was a long time ago.
Jack Lawrence-Brown: That was our first show here.
QRO: But it seems like you only play America once or twice per record…
HM: Usually once, even. It costs so much money to get here. Costs a fortune.
QRO: You did already get to play FIVE in a U.K. tour, correct?
HM: And in Europe.
QRO: So this is not the first time playing it…
CC: No! [all laugh] That would be terrifying…
White Lies playing for “Death” live at Bowery Ballroom in New York, Ny on October 3rd, 2013:
QRO: After the U.S., you’re playing five dates in Mexico, which is a pretty extensive tour for there for most non-native acts. I know you’ve played Mexico before, but is this the most you’ve played the country?
HM: It is, actually. We’ve got an amazing fan base in Mexico. A lot of people want to come to the shows. Especially in Mexico City, but I think that’s a given, it’s a massive city. But we love it. It’s a great place to be.
QRO: Indeed, that’s the same number of shows that you’re doing in the U.S…
CC: To be honest, two of the shows in Mexico are festivals, but even just on the headline shows, we’ll end up playing in front of 8,000 people, but in the U.S., we’ll probably end up playing in front of 3,000 people, 4,000, for the whole tour.
Mexico feels like an extension of our European fan base, in a way. Culturally, there is that link. It’s great. I’m really looking forward to being in Mexico City again.
When we were teenagers, we all owned this Rage Against the Machine DVD, called The Battle of Mexico City. I remember I thought, watching it, ‘What a place!’ Perhaps it doesn’t quite kick off as much for us as it did for Rage Against the Machine [laughs], but it’s still…
Last time we were there, we headlined in Mexico City, and it was one of the most memorable shows of our career, if not the most. Even to the extent that Jack has convinced his parents to come out. I wish all of our family & parents were gonna be there.
QRO: The ones coming up…
JLB: We’ve got two shows in Mexico City this time.
QRO: You’re doing Corona Capital…
HM: The Corona Capital is in Guadalajara.
CC: We’re doing Corona Capital in Mexico City another time of the year, like September or something like that.
QRO: You even did your most recent music videos in Mexico, with David Pablos. Are you the second-biggest Brits there, after Morrissey?
JLB: Morrissey is huge in Mexico.
HM: I think David definitely helped with our profile in Mexico, and we made a couple of videos with him on the last album. But the reason we work with him is he’s just a great director. And making those videos in Tijuana, it’s such a unique place to make music videos, and such a great experience for us, as well. It’s so alien to anything we’ve experienced before. It’s such an incredible, strange place.
It’s definitely fed into our love for Mexico, that time we spent in Tijuana, and spent with David.
QRO: How long did you spend there?
HM: We spent a week there.
We weren’t filming every day, so had some time to ourselves to wander around, experience the place.
Tijuana, it’s such a unique place to make music videos, and such a great experience for us, as well.
QRO: Were you at all trying to make sure that locals didn’t think that you were boorish Americans?
CC: We were also in some locations not frequented by the frat sort of people.
HM: Like the locations David chose, like that bar, a really sketchy part of town.
CC: Really sketchy.
HM: It was one of the great things about making video with David. You never see that kind of stuff as a tourist. One of the best things about working with him, for sure.
CC: I really loved that week, in general.
And I usually, I have to say, usually hate making music videos. Because it’s usually just really tedious. You condense it into twenty-four hours. It’s usually a twenty-four hour shoot, having to stay awake, do the same thing over & over again, and actually usually quite a boring thing.
Whereas, in this one, the shots were so rapid, there were going to be so many shots, that we were moving so constantly, always in interesting location, and in a place so rich, and vibrant, culturally. Even when two of us weren’t needed, ‘cause it was only one of us filming, we still wanted to be there anyway, just hang out, see what was going on.
I think that’s partly down to David, as well. He’s really got an enthusiastic energy about him. He’s constantly going around, encouraging everyone, letting everyone know that what you’re doing is really great and beautiful and it’s going to be good. Other times, perhaps you find directors who are just like that [serious stare] looking in the camera, and occasionally you’ll get a thumbs up.
I think David will continue to be an amazing feature film director, TV series director. He’s just one of these people who has no qualms about going right up to people and giving them not just the pep talk, but the pep backrub as well…
White Lies’ video for “Tokyo”:
QRO: Of the two new videos, “Tokyo” looked easier for you three, as you were in just one room, but did the many locations for “Believe It” make it more fun to make?
HM: That’s probably fair, yeah.
CC: It was night.
HM: They were both great. “Tokyo”, we were in that really weird house, the most bizarre architectural creation I think I’ve ever seen. So that was kind of fun, really. It was all good, to be honest.
“Believe It” was more interesting to make, yeah.
White Lies’ video for “Believe It”:
QRO: In “Believe It”, there would be a shot of one of you, then reaching to another of you, but in a different place, with only the arm showing. Was that the first person’s arm, or just someone else?
JLB: We do all our own stunts.
CC: We’re method…
QRO: You did say that you went to each other’s shoots…
JLB: It could be argued that we weren’t required, but we did it anyway, ‘cause we’re good boys.
QRO: They couldn’t find anyone with the pale English hands…
HM: [laughs] Yeah, you’re probably right. That’s very true.
CC: It was a great trip.
I feel like, maybe next time, I’d still be happy to work with David, but I feel like we need to do total contrast.
Arguably, our most popular video ever was the “Farewell To the Fairground” one, and that’s the only one we’ve done, otherwise, that’s been in a bleak, icy, snowy scene. I do think it would be nice to go back and do something with a more Scandinavian backdrop.
White Lies’ video for “Farewell To the Fairground”:
QRO: Did you at all worry that the two videos would be too similar, being same director, same city, same band, same album?
HM: We got treatments for the videos, and we saw straight away, from the treatments, that they were going to be very different.
I think he doesn’t really like treading the same path, either. He wants to do lots of different things, and we know that about him, so we were comfortable to make another video with him.
QRO: You weren’t at all tempted to do “Tokyo” in Tokyo?…
CC: Couldn’t afford that. Cheaper to film it in Tijuana.
QRO: To be fair, it’s cheaper to do a lot of things, versus a lot of other places, in Tijuana…
CC: That’s a lot of the draw.
We could just play two big shows in The Netherlands, two arenas or whatever, but instead, we go around, play all the slightly smaller shows in all the different places.
QRO: Particularly happy that you’re playing in Querétaro, a QRO favorite because it’s postal code is “QRO”…
CC: It’s one of those things where we’re like ten years into our career, and we’ll end up announcing a show in a place that I, to be honest, did not know existed. I kept seeing that one coming up, and I was like, “I never heard of that place before…’
Mexico is absolutely colossal. There are plenty of places where we haven’t been. It’s still kind of the Wild West, in terms of touring. We can’t just drive around on a tour bus, like we do in Europe. You have to fly, and you have to be pretty well escorted.
QRO: Also, a lot of bands, when they play non-English-speaking countries, they’ll just do Mexico City, they’ll just do Tokyo. It’s neat when a band does not just the capital – especially when a country’s so big.
HM: We learned, early on, putting in that kind of groundwork, really, really pays off. When we first started being in this band, we did a lot of touring in Europe, when we were, even back then, playing what I suppose you might describe as ‘B towns’ in the Netherlands, in Belgium…
QRO: I noticed that you have four dates in The Netherlands…
CC: We’re doing very well in The Netherlands.
HM: I think we’re gonna play like twenty shows in The Netherlands, this year.
You have to think about, okay, we’re very privileged, in a way, we live in London, which feels like, more or less, the epicenter of the United Kingdom a lot of the time [laughs]. We have to think, ‘Oh, would we necessarily just drive two hours to another town, just to go to another show? Well, no, we wouldn’t.’ You can’t just expect people to all come to Amsterdam, to go to the show there.
QRO: I think it’s also very special to people who live in those other towns, when someone comes to their town.
HM: Oh, absolutely.
CC: It gives people a little bit of ownership, in a way. It’s just this kind of thing of like, even though they’re in this position of watching a show, and in some ways that’s quite a passive position to be in, I think there’s this thing of, ‘Welcome, you’re in my town. We’ll look after you.’ It’s wonderful.
JLB: They’re always quite keen to see if you’re having a good time, as well.
I think we made a conscious decision to do that. We could just play two big shows in The Netherlands, two arenas or whatever, but instead, we go around, play all the slightly smaller shows in all the different places. It’s great.
QRO: You’ll also be playing Russia & Ukraine – have you played either of those before?
CC: We have, quite a few times.
HM: We have played one show in Ukraine, but that was a long time ago.
We go to Russia I think on every album. We actually do quite well there.
QRO: You do much better in non-English speaking places… [laughs]
HM: The shows have gotten better & better in Russia, as well, as the venues have got better.
It’s interesting, playing a lot of places in the world, seeing how much the venues have improved, over our career. The only place they haven’t improved, is the U.K., actually. [laughs]
QRO: I suppose in the U.K., they were already at a certain level…
All: No… [laughs]
QRO: Kind of funny for a band once named ‘Fear of Flying’…
CC: Now we fly everywhere…
White Lies playing for “Mother Tongue” live at Bowery Ballroom in New York, Ny on October 3rd, 2013:
QRO: How was making FIVE?
HM: It was great.
CC: We were just saying earlier, I think, in many ways, it was the smoothest, and most enjoyable process of making an album, so far. There just weren’t many really kind of ‘blockades,’ especially creatively, especially once we had a little collection of demos, of sketches written. Everything flowed really quite nicely.
We went out to Thousand Oaks in California, with Ed Buller, who we’d worked with before, who’s living there now. We did two weeks of ‘nip & tuck’ on the songs, in the purest form, and started to bat a few production ideas around with him, too, in a quite coarse way.
That was really great, and I think in hindsight, that was the absolutely right decision to do that, and so many of the highlights on the record actually became so because of work we did during those two weeks, especially “Time To Give”. If we hadn’t gone out to California, I don’t think we would have recorded that song – it was almost forgotten about.
Ed is just great at elevating arrangements of songs, up to where they need to be. I think with a song like “Tokyo” as well, which has done so well for us, Ed was very pivotal in steering the production towards, in some ways the kind of ridiculous level that it ended up at. He just said, “Go to town with it.” Thing like, with the vocal line in the chorus, being quite syncopated rhythm, it was his idea to have synths mimic that as well, to really enhance it.
When it came to recording, we kind of new what we were recording. We were all excited to be working with James Brown, engineer again – he’s a very easy person to work with.
I think, in many ways, it was the smoothest, and most enjoyable process of making an album, so far.
I guess the only tough thing is, I think we’d all be happy to do exactly what we did, again. When, I don’t know if that’s the best idea, but it definitely works. It really works.
HM: In the course of making the five albums we’ve made, the process has been honed in. And people we’ve worked with over the years – you kind of remember the good ones.
QRO: I noticed that – it seemed like this record had people you’d worked with before…
HM: Everyone we worked with on this album, we’d worked with before, at lease at one point. Including Alan [Moulder, mixing], even the studios. We just know the process now, and just whittle it down to what we know works, really well.
QRO: But this one you self-funded, before signing a new record deal with PIAS.
HM: Yeah, we were without a deal, but we just wanted to get the record made.
For a band at our level, like, you know, you don’t really make any money, selling albums, anyway. So the whole thing is just an advertisement for what we’re doing now.
It’s just about affordable for us. On the very edge of it.
QRO: I suppose that the current set list is heavy on the new record?
CC: It is, quite, yeah. And to be honest, that wasn’t something that we planned, really, to do at all, before.
We learned everything. It’s the first album where we’d ever learned everything, maybe since the first one. We usually just earmark the tracks that we have a good gut feeling are going to go down best, and learn those. But this time we were like, ‘Feels like everything’s pretty strong. We should try everything out.’
We don’t play “Finish Line” so much anymore, and we don’t play…
CC: Well, we have been playing “Denial” a bit. I feel like there’s one more…
HM: “Believe It”.
CC: “Believe It”, yeah. But we have played everything, over the course of the tour, and ironed out the set list from that.
But the reaction to this album has been, by far & away, the best since the first, for sure. To the point of a lot of people even saying that, straight out, “This is my favorite album since the first one.”
We started the tour, and people kept writing to us, being like, ‘I really want to hear this song from the new album.’ ‘Why didn’t you play this one?’ So actually, we found ourselves coerced into playing more of the new album than we would naturally tend to do.
We started off this tour playing two-hour-long shows. We’ve had to rein that in a little bit since then – save that for when we’re fifty-years-old or whatever. But it’s a strong set list. No one goes away feeling disappointed. We can’t always play everyone’s favorite song, of course, but people seem to be very, very satisfied.
It’s the first album where we’d ever learned everything, maybe since the first one.
QRO: Are you keeping the same set list, night-to-night, or varying – perhaps varying which older songs you play?
JLB: We change more than we have in the past. I feel like that’s a sign of confidence. We feel like we can do all of the songs justice, it’s just the case of what songs do we wanna play tonight, what songs did we not like playing the night before, what songs are we missing? We have enough material that we can constantly tweak. We can do that ‘til the cows come home.
HM: On the fly, sometimes.
JLB: Even on the fly, we’ve done it now, for the first time, on this tour. It’s been the first time we’ve been able to say, “Fuck it, let’s play ‘E.S.T.’”
QRO: And I have to ask – could you just not come up with a title for the record? Not even self-title it?…
HM: No – we’ll do that on the last one.
CC: The last-ever one.
I think you have to be careful, when naming a record. No matter what, if you name it after a song, you not only give that song an extra weight, but you also almost are saying, ‘That is the song around by which the others sort of orbit around.’
With this record, every song has such an individual identity, has its own significance, and can be appreciated on its own, as well. It just didn’t feel right, doing that, really.
And likewise, with the lyrics, occasionally you can just scan through the lyrics and find one particular lyric that seems to sum everything up. But to take a lyric from one particular song, then you’re effectively trying to spread that lyric over the other songs, and in this situation, anyway, that didn’t work.
It was a pretty spontaneous decision. I think at one point, we were batting over different artwork ideas, and I think I just very roughly mocked something up. None of us could think of a title, so I just put, “FIVE”. I think our manager just wrote back, was like, ‘Great title!’
JLB: “How did you think of it?”…
CC: I’m a fan of numbering things. Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel – loads of acts have done it before.
And then when you do make an album that’s almost more of a conceptual record, by all means, name it.
White Lies playing for “To Lose My Life” live at Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on October 3rd, 2013:
If our first album hadn’t been called To Lose My Life… (QRO review), yeah, it would have been a misstep. And I think Big TV (QRO review) is a perfect name for Big TV. But on this one, it just wasn’t that kind of record.
White Lies playing for “Big TV” live at Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on October 3rd, 2013: